Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hating the Trees

Saturn may be in one quadrant of the sky when I emerge from my refuge in the Carcassonne Montes, or in another when I march across the region with the music of Brahms echoing among the stars. But from wherever I stand, Saturn does not grow smaller or larger. Nor, if I stood still in one place for a year, would it ever wander the sky.

Because of the sun, Saturn waxes and wanes. It enlarges from the sliver of God’s thumbnail with its ring illuminated as a jabbing spear to an oblate spheroid, visibly flattened at the poles, as the sunshine reflects off its cloudtops to its moon Iapetus, locked in synchronous rotation, always showing one face, and one face only, to the planet it hates.

Yes, Iapetus hates Saturn, just as the moon hates the usurper Earth, forever locked with its man in the moon staring down on the blue-white planet, always doomed to dance as the junior partner.

Yes, Iapetus hates Saturn, thus turns its back on the ringed wonder and stares alternately into the heart of the solar system with its warm, rocky worlds, or into the void past the empty bubbles of Neptune and Uranus to the spiky, rubble-filled chasm beyond the shattering cluster that is Pluto.

It is a place perfect for a hermit, always turning his back to the world, to the universe, to God and Mammon. Betimes I stare towards the sun – one of the few allowed to stare at our own sun and not be blinded or suffer the indignity of staring at it through a pinhole lens. Betimes I stare into the void and wonder at the emptiness of Pluto, and how, a thousand years into the future, I might get there when Iapetus becomes too crowded.

That is my fear. That is why I hate Saturn with a passion that would stun Iapetus with its vehemence and violence.

Saturn draws them, it draws them out from the heart of the warm solar system to the cold fringes where the glory of the ringed one hangs in the sky, beckoning them with fantasies only the likes of Bradbury or Clarke could create for them. And because the other moons, in their boredom, cling to the gravitational plane of the planet, thus denying a view of those rings, those damned rings, that damned set of rings that make Tolkein’s rings of power mere playthings in the hearts of man’s imagination, they will come to Iapetus.

And I cannot stop them.

Some may go to Titan. The engineers, the terraformers, the financiers and businessmen. They will see the raw materials lying before them, shrouded in clouds, fit to feed the commerce of the universe, and there they will go.

But the artists and dreamers, the geologists and explorers, those nitwits who wander the earth in the exact paths of Lewis and Clark and say “It does not matter that others have gone on before, I care only that my feet trod here for I, too, am an explorer,” they will come. And though I turn my back on them, though I rotate synchronously with my desire to be alone, my desire to hide my face so as not to stare clown-like down at the planet of my birth like the piteous moon, they will come to see my face. My face. And what will they see? They will see a reflection of the stars. A reflection of Saturn in its ringed glory, if we stand just so. And in the darkness, if, perchance we are in the shadow of a mountain or an outcropping, they may stare into my face and see a reflection of their own and be satisfied that they, too, are hermits of Iapetus.

Hermits. Hermits.

One word that deserves the company of no plural.

So I begin to hate the letter S and the company it promises to bring.

I walked some of the paths of Lewis and Clark. At Astoria, Oregon, I wandered among the sitka spruce and imagined following the explorers as they walked the paths in the forest, knowing they had seen the great ocean, knowing that when winter ended they had a choice.

I saw their fort – the replica built years later. The bunks, the chairs, the cramped spaces and the palisade wall spoke to the hermit within.

They said, quietly, with sadness, knowing they would not be obeyed. They said: Go away.

The trees, pointing toward heaven, roots entangling the undergrowth and dirt and rocks and each other, clinging as if the force of gravity were weak, pointed toward the sky and told me to leave. At night the treetops clawed at the moon and stars like ragged teeth, like the seeking arms of sea stars hunting for clams to devour with their extruding stomachs. If you flee, they said, pointing towards the stars, you will not be devoured. You will survive.

So I begin to hate the trees that willed me to leave.

Hating the trees, turning my back on the color green, letting the green paint I had foolishly painted on the walls of some of my refuges flake away until Iapetus’ natural, beautiful, greys and blues and reds came out in striations, soothed my soul. Turning my back on the color green once and for all severed my unbilical to the warm heart of the system, the tie to that cold blue-green planet until I could turn my back on it and not feel pangs of remorse or regret.

That is when I truly became a hermit, when the touch of earth or grass on my bare feet caused me to break out in hives. I had to go or die.

Still, fools send me green. They hear of the Hermit of Iapetus, stranded a billion miles away on that black-and-white world of frozen swirls of dust and ice and ash, and insist I must miss the green green grass of home.
The crueler ones, when they realize they will not trap me with thoughts of green and trees and color and the useless prancing of fawns and baby rabbits through the forests of a billion miles from where they stand to where I stand and stare not at them but at the stars, send me songs.

Deep in December, the damnable man sings, it’s nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow. Deep in December, our hearts should remember.

And follow.



When I am dead, a skeleton whose empty eyes stare through the glass of my helmet – I will not die indoors, but only basking in the eternal darkness of the star-spangled skies of Iapetus – when the dust of ages obscures my view of the view of stars and, perhaps, micrometeors pock the glass and scratch it and my flesh lies as dust in my boots, I still will hear that song, its rhymes and meters.

So I hate the senders of songs more than I hate the letter S. More than I hate the color green.

It is Bradbury’s Warning, and Bradbury’s Curse.

He writes of hermits. All in the guise of explorers or astronauts or children cruel in their wish to see mommy and daddy eaten by the lions or mesmerized by the invading aliens. They are his hermits. But he warns his hermits: Danger lies not on the planets or moons or times you visit, but with what you bring in your head. Mars was heaven because the astronaut-hermits wished it so, and thus went to their doom and lie now, buried under the dry martian sands by ancient machinery built and dedicated aeons before they were born to defend the soil against the intrusion of memory.

Songs are the subtle traps that bring memory out of the black holes where it has been thrust, damaging the brain with massive bolts of furious radiation that cripples even the staunchest of hermits. It is no wonder we turn our backs on the world and keep turning as the world tries to capture once again the surprised clown-faces we possess.

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