Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making Music in the Desert

There are only 40 known singing sand dunes in the entire world and one is right here in Doha.
Katie scales the dunes, January 2013
Soul-replenishing, mind-refreshing, a wonder of the natural world.
But not necessarily pretty.  The way to the dunes is a vehicle locked highway that funnels into an under-construction, single lane road teeming with concrete and steel laden 6, 9 and18 wheelers.  Every day, all day, these trucks caravan purposefully into the nothing-out-there…and back again.  Electrical towers, wires and pipe march across the sand and rock as far as the eye can see.   Disintegrating (not-ancient-since-Bedouins-lived-in-tents) mud like structures dot the landscape along with facility compounds and an ocean sized field of totaled cars.
whatever did you think they did with all those crashed-out vehicles anyway?
And the dunes themselves?
dear foreigner - clean up after yourself!
I avoid the traffic heavy highway by diverting through Al Wakra with its beautiful new hospital, strip malls and oyster sculpture:
Oysters, pearl divers, the sea - cornerstones of Qatar's history
I drive through Al Wakeer, with its salt-resistant eucalyptus trees, mosques, and grocery after grocery named Al Wakeer Grocery.
English spelling varies but it's the same name in Arabic
At the last roundabout, I tuck my SUV between a rumbling concrete truck and a flatbed and stay there.  (Passing is dangerous!) The exit to the dunes is unmarked and hidden behind heavy red and yellow barriers.  There's no buffer between the thundering highway's "here" and the quiet behind the fence "there."
But with the turn, as long as I ignore the traffic behind me, look past the discarded tires, band of power lines and horizon-to-horizon stretch of pipe…
I am alone.
The dunes look out of place in the rocky desert…like the sky rained a giant cat box in an area without cats to scatter it.  Still, there's something special about the composition of these particular mountains of crescent shaped, golden, curving, rolling, circling, soft, silky grains.
Under the right conditions, the sand sings.
at the crest - listening
Climbing the dunes is strenuous.  Wind whips the sand into a frenzy around me, pricks my skin, burns my eyes.  Sand is in my hair, teeth, ears, nose, underwear.  Grit chafes my middle. Flies buzz my head.   I try to remember not to lick my lips (ick).
A stray Cheetos bag tumble-flips across the dune's face.  A Coca-Cola bottle and scattered charcoal give away the landmark's popularity.  Mounds of rock and wind-swept pockets of deep untouched sand seem to indicate no one's camped out here for a while.   A helicopter circles twice and I wonder if there's a reason for that.
Just below the crest, I sink into the warm grains to hide from the punishing wind.  Granules patter over the dune's lip and collect at its foot in a frothy, tan-hued foam.  I dig my fingers deep to where the sand is cold.  It smells wet.
With the wind's help, the dune is constantly in motion - moving slowly across the desert one grain at a time.   When conditions are right, the skittering flecks hum, like an airplane preparing for takeoff. The sand can be manipulated into song too.
I dig my heels into the warm and pull my body forward.  The mountain moans.  I scoot across the face of the dune, faster and faster.  Sand pours over my hips, rushes across my legs.
Slow and low, a cello's swelling D-note…the sand sings. Thrumming, humming, moaning, roaring, groaning, growling, engine soaring.


Peggy said...

YES! Magic. After spending time with you at the singing dunes, and exploring China's Loess Plateau, I feel like there ought to be (college?) credit somewhere. The Friday tours you lead are invaluable -- and ought to be on the desk of everyone who has learned how satisfying it is to get to know our world.

Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

Hey, where's the "like" button for this comment? Thanks, Mom!

sheri levy said...

Cindi, Your writing enthralls me.I can't wait to read a story set in this country. I'm in love with the culture, the people and the children. Awesome!!

Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

Wow, thanks Sheri!