350 days of plague: menhirs and Mercury

A worrying surge in the Belgian COVID numbers last week, though it seems to be tailing off and we're still below the levels reached at the end of December And what changes things a lot is that we are now getting vaccinations, if not as quickly as the UK or US (but still quicker than most of the world); U and B both got theirs last Thursday.

Also continuing to work through the Best Ever Indian Cookbook and did the spicy lamb and potato stew recipe, which was very nice indeed.

My menhir expedition last week went a little more thoroughly than I had anticipated, covering a dozen menhirs and dolmens, and a tumulus that you can actually walk inside.

This week is one of those moments when you can see the planet Mercury if you have a clear south-eastern sky at the time of sunrise. (Or north-eastern if you are in the southern hemisphere.) Three years ago there was a particularly good evening apparition (to use the technical term) and I managed to see the planet for the first time in my life. I got up early both on Sunday and this morning to try again – trickier because it's much lower in the sky on spring mornings than in the evenings. On Sunday I went down to the pond thinking that I could see the rising planets from the top of the observation towerTorenvalk observation tower, getting up at 6 and there by 6.30. Unfortunately there was still enough low-level haze to the east to blur out Mercury (and Jupiter, which is nearby at present). At 7.20, with ten minutes to go before sunrise, I spotted a surprisingly bright object in the sky which I had not seen before. But as I keep watching it became clear that it was an aeroplane catching the sun's rays. That's my chance gone for this spring, I think; the forecast for the next few mornings is cloudier. Still, I was able to admire two more sculptures by Ad Wouters, the Torenvalk (kestrel) itself and an impressive leaping frog.

I can't resist quoting Kurt Vonnegut's description of the inhabitants of Mercury from The Sirens of Titan:

The planet Mercury sings like a crystal goblet.
It sings all the time.
One side of Mercury faces the Sun.
That side has always faced the Sun. That side is a sea of white-hot dust.
The other side faces the nothingness of space eternal. That side has always faced the nothingness of space eternal. That side is a forest of giant blue-white crystals, aching cold.
It is the tension between the hot hemisphere of day-without-end and the cold hemisphere of night-without-end that makes Mercury sing.
Mercury has no atmosphere, so the song it sings is for the sense of touch.
The song is a slow one. Mercury will hold a single note in the song for as long as an Earthling millennium. There are those who think that the song was quick, wild, and brilliant once – excruciatingly various. Possibly so.
There are creatures in the deep caves of Mercury.
The song their planet sings is important to them, for the creatures are nourished by vibrations. They feed on mechanical energy.
The creatures cling to the singing walls of their caves.
In that way, they eat the song of Mercury.
The caves of Mercury are cozily warm in their depths.
The walls of the caves in their depths are phosphorescent. They give off a jonquil-yellow light.
The creatures in the caves are translucent. When they cling to the walls, light from the phosphorescent walls comes right through them. The yellow light from the walls, however, is turned, when passed through the bodies of the creatures, to a vivid aquamarine.
Nature is a wonderful thing.
The creatures in the caves look very much like small and spineless kites. They are diamond-shaped, a foot high and eight inches wide when fully mature.
They have no more thickness than the skin of a toy balloon.
Each creature has four feeble suction cups – one at each of its corners. These cups enable it to creep, something like a measuring worm, and to cling, and to feel out the places where the song of Mercury is best.
Having found a place that promises a good meal, the creatures lay themselves against the wall like wet wallpaper.
There is no need for a circulatory system in the creatures. They are so thin that life-giving vibrations can make all their cells tingle without intermediaries.
The creatures do not excrete.
The creatures reproduce by flaking. The young, when shed by a parent, are indistinguishable from dandruff.
There is only one sex.
Every creature simply sheds flakes of his own kind, and his own kind is like everybody else’s kind.
There is no childhood as such. Flakes begin flaking three Earthling hours after they themselves have been shed.
They do not reach maturity, then deteriorate and die. They reach maturity and stay in full bloom, so to speak, for as long as Mercury cares to sing.
There is no way in which one creature can harm another, and no motive for one’s harming another.
Hunger, envy, ambition, fear, indignation, religion, and sexual lust are irrelevant and unknown.
The creatures have only one sense: touch.
They have weak powers of telepathy. The messages they are capable of transmitting and receiving are almost as monotonous as the song of Mercury. They have only two possible messages. The first is an automatic response to the second, and the second is an automatic response to the first.
The first is, “Here I am, here I am, here I am.”
The second is, “So glad you are, so glad you are, so glad you are”
There is one last characteristic of the creatures that has not been explained on utilitarian grounds: the creatures seem to like to arrange themselves in striking patterns on the phosphorescent walls.
Though blind and indifferent to anyone’s watching, they often arrange themselves so as to present a regular and dazzling pattern of jonquil-yellow and vivid aquamarine diamonds. The yellow comes from the bare cave walls. The aquamarine is the light of the walls filtered through the bodies of the creatures.
Because of their love for music and their willingness to deploy themselves in the service of beauty, the creatures are given a lovely name by Earthlings.
They are called harmoniums.

Go on, say it: “Here I am, here I am, here I am.” And then, “So glad you are, so glad you are, so glad you are.” It'll make you feel a bit better.

One thought on “350 days of plague: menhirs and Mercury

Comments are closed.