Carpe Librum: ‘Through Painted Deserts’

Saint Augustine once said that the world is a book, and that those who do not travel read only a page.

Fueled by the belief that something better exists than the mundane life they've been living, free spirits Don and Paul set off on an adventure-filled road trip in search of deeper meaning, beauty, and an explanation for life. Many young men dream of such a trip, but few are brave enough to actually attempt it. Photo courtesy of


Now, as a college student, I’ve “read” my fair share of books for class, and the one thing I can tell you is that reading one page will not help you pass that test on Monday.


Wikipedia might, but that’s another story…


The point is, what kind of story do you want your life to be? Just a page? Or a journal of living pictures that beg to tell more than their allotted thousand words?


It is to this intense desire to “go” that Donald Miller speaks in his book “Through Painted Deserts.”


Most of us have felt it at one point or another: looking at a picture of a far-away empty hammock on a Caribbean isle, of a mountain covered in snow begging for a footprint, of a desert sunset, you can almost hear your heart whisper, “I want to be there. I have to be there. Go. Please go.


Don and his friend Paul heeded that whisper, and it sparked a road trip from the plains of Texas to the wooded mountains of Oregon. “Through Painted Deserts” is a “road-trip memoir” about the three months from point a to point b.


It is not a glamorous trip.


The two live on rice and beans (Not an easy feat, by the way. J-term Costa Rica trippers represent.), sleep in a rundown Volkswagen van, and work cleaning houses when they run out of money.


But they also hike the rugged trails of the Grand Canyon. They see the sun rise over cactuses in the morning and the stars wake through the evergreens at night. They meet people they never imagined. And they begin to imagine greater dreams than the words on the single page of their lives had ever allowed.


I don’t think either of them—empty stomachs, aching muscles and all—will ever regret their decision to leave home.


Miller has a very distinct writing style, and the only way I can think to describe it is poetic. No, there is no rhyme scheme, no verse, no iambic pentameter; but there is a sort of cadence to his words. And he always seems to choose the best way to put them together, even if the words themselves are not beautiful. It is because of this style that the story flows from the pages to your soul.


He’s found that voice inside you yearning to leave, and he gives it a megaphone. It leaves you restless, searching for somewhere—anywhere. It is a reminder that “everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.” It makes you want to LIVE.


“We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?


“It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.


“I want to repeat one word for you:



“Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You never have to be alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”

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