The Negev Desert was a land of extremes – by day a white-hot griddle; by night a blackened skillet; at dawn a copper pot; at dusk a painted gourd. Its unforgiving rocks and sharp scent reminded me of my early childhood in Texas and Kansas, where the harshness of the land had somehow made me feel strong. Did the Bedouin woman trudging along the road feel that way too?

But the gloomy Northern California coast where I’d later grown up had zapped my strength under a depressing blanket of fog. I knew without knowing that to dry up all my tears, I had to escape to a hot place. Now the merciless desert was restoring the strength I’d known as a child. I could feel my life energy surging up into my bones. Or was it the rumble of a giant semitruck grinding to a halt as I stuck out my thumb on the side of the highway?

“Climb into the back,” the driver shouted over the idling engine. Catapulting over the tailgate, I clung to a rough wooden bench as the colossus lurched forward. Like a prairie schooner, a canvas tarpaulin offered shelter from wind and sun. From its oval opening, the road spool out behind me like a wide-angle screenshot. Here and there, the greenhouses of an agricultural outpost broke the monotonous beige of rock and sand as the road wound ever deeper into a narrowing chasm and the hours slowly passed. Just when I thought we’d reached the end of the world, the brakes hissed and the truck ground to a stop at the top of a ridge. I had just enough time to scramble out before it barreled downhill, showering me with dust in its wake.

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