Description of a Desert


by Ann Plato

They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way. Thirsty, their souls fainted in them.

It is difficult to form a correct idea of a desert, without having seen one. It is a vast plain of sands and stones, interspersed with mountains of various sizes and heights, without roads or shelters. They sometimes have springs of water, which burst forth, and create verdant spots.

The most remarkable of deserts is the Sahara. This is a vast plain, but little elevated above the level of the ocean, and covered with sand and gravel, with a mixture of sea shells, and appears like the basin of an evaporated sea.

Amid the desert there are springs of water, which burst forth and create verdant spots, called Oases. There are thirty-two of these which contain fountains, and Date and Palm trees; twenty of them are inhabited. They serve as stopping places for the caravans, and often contain villages.

Were it not for these no human being could cross this waste of burning sand. So violent, sometimes, is the burning wind that the scorching heat dries up the water of these springs, and then frequently, the most disastrous consequences follow.

In 1805, a caravan, consisting of 2,000 persons and 1,800 camels, not finding water at the usual resting place, died of thirst, both men and animals. Storms of wind are more terrible on this desert than on the ocean. Vast surges and clouds of red sand are raised and rolled forward, burying every thing in its way, and it is said that whole tribes have thus been swallowed up.

The situation of such is dreadful, and admits of no resource. Many perish victims of the most horrible thirst. It is then that the value of a cup of water is really felt.

In such a case there is no distinction. If the master has not, the servant will not give it to him; for very few are the instances where a man will voluntarily lose his life to save that of another. What a situation for a man, though a rich one, perhaps the owner of all the caravan! He is dying for a cup of water—no one gives it to him; he offers all he possesses—no one hears him; they are all dying, though by walking a few hours further, they might be saved.

In short, to be thirsty in a desert, without water, exposed to the burning sun, without shelter, is the most terrible situation that a man can be placed in, and one of the greatest sufferings that a human being can sustain; the tongue and lips swell; a hollow sound is heard in the ears, which brings on deafness, and the brain appears to grow thick and inflamed.

If, unfortunately, any one falls sick on the road, he must either endure the fatigue of traveling on a camel, (which is troublesome even to healthy people,) or he must be left behind on the sand, without any assistance, and remain so till a slow death come to relieve him. No one remains with him, not even his old and faithful servant; no one will stay and die with him; all pity his fate, but no one will be his companion.

Piece first published in 1841. Via

About the Author:

Ann Plato (born 1824) was an American writer.