“What’s your road, man? - holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. Where body how?”
— Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
Run to the desert
You will see all that you need to see
Run to the desert
You will be all that you need to be...
— Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
The landscape stretches before him, a seemingly endless expanse of hard, baked earth, as if God’s gardener had tilled the soil and left it to dry during the worst of the August heat. An endless expanse of land, plains, mountains, rocks. It soaks up the soul as quickly as it does the water from his thermos.
Many footballers spend their holidays in warm climates, on the beach, the border between the water and the land. Not Eric Dier. He searches for something greater — not the contrast between the elements, but the grandest expression of but one element, and what lies beyond it.
For what is the desert if not the apotheosis of the beach? Endless sand, the baking sun, desolation, dust. The red rocks of Marrakesh call to Dier this time. There is little life here. There is the MEANING of life here.
The professional footballer’s career is short and fleeting. One moment you’re an English lad growing up in Portugal, the next you’re playing in London in the Champions League final, the following your mentor is gone, you’re struggling for fitness and your place in the side you helped take to the top. It is a time to contemplate the infinite.
Why not the desert? Can the future be divined in the expanse of the wide-open expanse of the Moroccan skyline? You’re asking the wrong questions.
What is it that he hopes to find? That too is the wrong question. The journey begins with a single step, or in Dier’s case, a £250 EasyJet flight from London Heathrow. First class? Never — this is not a vacation, after all, this is a pilgrimage. To charter a private jet is to fall victim to the trap of hubris, and is that not the very thing one wishes to escape from? This is not a journey of excess, this is one of discovery and contemplation. Travel swift, pack light — a black hoodie, a cellphone, a backpack, and an open spirit.
And a drinks trolley in the aisle when one needs to pee.
Endless theologians, scholars and poets have written about finding one’s self in the desert. Photographer Richard Misrach would capture the American desert in his camera lens in all of its stark glory and call it beauty. “The desert,” he said, “may serve better as the backdrop for the problematic relationship between man and the environment. The human struggle, the successes … both noble and foolish, are readily apparent in the desert.”
But he also called the desert “A very barren place, a very lonely place, a very boring, uneventful place.” Perhaps it can be both, a place for a restless soul caught in the drudgery of a lifestyle to which he perhaps was never fully suited, a means of discovering the world within a single sand dune.
And once there? Ahhhhhh. Tranquility. The open sky, the dry North African air. Can a mind find clarity through wandering an unbroken landscape of rocks and dust? Can a footballer find his defensive positioning in the desert? Unclear. But that’s not the point. Perhaps there is no point. There is only this moment, this now, a rug, some friends. A hot cup of mint tea and a cyprus tree under which to sit, and think, and be.
Respite from fame never lasts. The world always intrudes, all journeys must end. When his teammates return from Dubai, or the Caribbean, or Tenerife sporting tans, hangovers, and big smiles, more exhausted upon their return than when they left, Eric Dier returns with a new-found peace, a story to tell his mates, a dusty black hoodie, and a mind clear as the desert sky.
Everything matters. Nothing is unimportant. Come to the desert, wanderer — it is but an EasyJet away from enlightenment.
There is a desert I long to be walking,
a wide emptiness:
Peace beyond any
understanding of it.