As I walk along this concrete road, it's not the heat but my heart that sees a mirage. A woman, the color of a tree trunk with hair white as snow and as chaotic as the wind, is waving me into the desert, inviting me into her world. A red earth born of rustic whispers and silent conversations, a culture that moves with the wind and dances with insects. She doesn't ask me to come with her, she shows me how.
Most drivers are encouraging with waves, honks, thumbs-ups and flashing their headlights as they fly past the woman with the tangerine cart. I wave to every passing vehicle; I think it has become an automatic response to movement on the tarmac. I thoroughly enjoy the recognition that happens in a split second when we may or may not catch eyes but share a mutual acknowledgment of one another. A joy surges through my belly as I feel a kind of alliance between driver and walker with a mutual gratitude of travel.
And as soon as they're behind me I breathe in the momentary silence and release any tension my body may have accumulated with the closeness of a large metal body zooming past my slow tenuous body. A chiming shrike sings her song and carries my brain back down to my feet.
I smell the dirt that has crusted in my nose and the flies and I regain our battle for the little moisture left in my body.
The road that stretches for 5,305 kilometers (3,296 miles) slicing right through the backyard of the native nomads is surprisingly diverse. Each day has a different landscape though it is endless on the eyes and the place where sky meets earth holds shadows and secrets that enrapture me every sunrise and fall. I have walked 900 kilometers (560 miles) in Western Australia and it has built a home in my bones. I have slowly begun to understand why this ancient seabed is spiritually rich with aliveness. Solitude permeates every living creature and if I listen more deeply I can hear a song carried through the wind.
It's time for my afternoon toilet visit in the bush and as I tuck behind a place that seems like no human has been there for ages, I stagger between piles of fecal matter strewn with wet wipes, bottles of piss, beer cans and plastic fast food containers rusting next to a goat cemetery. It’s not a town and I’m still 70 Kilometers from a station. The serenity of this wild land quickly began looking like a scene from Mad Max, the filth of post-apocalypse.
A depressive sadness leans into me as I witness the abuse of this ancient landscape. An abuse that is rampant across the planet. As I squat pant-less between trash and bones I remember times when I have thought that my little paper cup or crumbled newspaper wouldn't make much of a difference if left behind. I pull up my pants, waving the flies away just enough to free myself from their ambush for a few seconds before returning to the black road.
When I began this walk, I vowed to leave as little trace behind me as possible. A shit in the bush renewed my commitment to recognize my impact and role to my immediate and ever-expanding environment.
The wind pushes against my face carrying my hat along with it. A car passes at 80 mph. Athena shakes and I think I can feel her shivers like sympathy pains. She looks as exhausted as I do, weathered from pushing towards the sun. I wait for the signal from my feet to regain my momentum.
My eyes have begun averting the cars that propel its passengers in air-conditioned movement towards a more desirable location for their holidays and keep my eyes between the shadows and spinifex. I sing with a desire that the dark-skinned ones will find me, that they'll hear my call and deem me worthy of a true walkabout in their land. One that doesn't exist between backyards, shopping centers, highways and quarries. A timeless yet harsh environment that only the skilled can survive and thrive in.
And so I keep walking, till she waves me in when the sun is three fingers width to setting. I leave Athena under a gum tree, strip off my clothes and head barefoot into the arms of the outback and it's peoples.
Until then, I keep watching, walking and listening.