For the most part, we should plan for life on Mars the same way we might plan for life after a nuclear apocalypse. That is, we can expect to live in underground burrows, like rabbits or prairie dogs.
There must be gold, oil, diamonds, copper, and lithium to even think of something so incredibly dumb. Something must be driving the itch to go there. Something must be messing with the balls of the big boys hoping to get enough lucre up to go. And, except for totally fouling the nest of this place Earth [once] called home, it is no surprise that some wonky South African punk, a generation removed from the Apartheid oscilloscope, is hungry for it.
Sort of like moving out of one shitted up chicken coop into maybe another one? For instance, just imagine anybody going family camping around the ruins of Chernobyl. No takers. But if you’ve got minerals and a way to make money (and, hell, all the externalities blowing upon the vacuous emptiness of space, who cares?!), guess we’ve got a wagon train and folks lookin’ for a new 40 acres and a mule.
Just leave all the tar, and chemicals, and waste, and unsolved nuclear pollution, and post-industrial indestructible indissolvable human debris behind for a new little place to…befoul? No, that c’aint be it! And it ain’t some kind of wanderlust. As for the science angle? Nope. It’s just death, like here. So why, Santa Claus, why? Well, li’l Wendy, iz just anotha opportunity to be lookin’ fer them free raw materials before th’other fella gits ’em first, yee-haw! Ride’m, girl! Ride’m, cowboy! Into the solar system!
Things had lost their luster, kept their glow. An old quarter kept in the pocket, just the pocket of memory, nothing else. Years, dances, people. An old man had roared up to my house on his motorcycle and was gone. The melting snow, too, had melted and was gone forever. An infinitesimal comet paired up elliptically with a smaller orbit will return someday. And we had not. Oh, well. The cubic yards of dirt I had dug day after day will still probably remain for some good time. Not of any further use at some point. Once we had gone, there wasn’t the same use. That’s all. It hadn’t been that important. The gravel. The driveway. The automobiles. All of us had once been so busy, so occupied. We forgot ourselves in our own peerless lives. Once I had looked inside the mica window of an old rusted oven on top of a Canadian island and had been amazed at the blackened reflected eternity. It needed nothing, I suppose, besides a boy’s eye to have seen it once. Had the Italian seen it, I am almost sure he would have been just as happy, no less proud peering at that than the dwindling chambers of a nautilus’ shell’s cross-section, all dwindled in mathematical perfection, no less so than Archimedes once shouting in the first person singular perfect indicative active tense we had later borrowed as the English exclamation for all discovery, “Eureka!” And behind all this the spectral illumination of the moon had continued, like the halo of an evening’s haze outshining itself with nothing to ever bear it any witness besides the comfortable peasants who had once dozed upon the sloping hillsides of Mother Earth, sunken and old and gone away forever.
Most of the cost had been passed on to others. A few shekels here, a few there. No one had argued otherwise—that it was an atrocity. All the villages and all the people in the villages had been wiped out completely. No one could even buy bread, let alone any grain to make a loaf themselves of it with. The Superpowers at hand had continued their embargoes to no avail anyway as usual but not to any extent that was newsworthy. What becomes that is always what crashes on the tarmac at international airports, not the day-in and day-out of people going about living their lives, as is the general wont of most of the planet’s 10 billion. The unimportant folk who, generally speaking live side by side each other, regardless of religion or race or their weird personal habits, had continued not to matter. Only when these had amounted to groupings that were populations of over 10,000 persons attacked by warplanes at the foothills, like massive bacteria cultures growing in agar in some backroom Petri plate, was there the chance of any possible notice. Neither the local news nor the big thumb of the Internet could until then have taken notice. It couldn’t and didn’t have to. That I had traveled onwards with my shaggy goats was just as well. Mine were as unimportant as any other goatherd’s flock. By the grace of Allah, I had had enough meat and cheese with me in my sack to last me a while.
I hadn’t a dime to my name. I hadn’t a penny to yours. I had a reindeer hoof from Pakistan. And a pirate patch from Tangier. The equals sign in the equation was always quite lopsided. There never was any equivalent to things being the same or domestic animals for sure. Walks under rainbows, snowshoes in spring, piles of needles unswept in the fall, I’m sure the cycle of time had abjured the little summering trespasses we sometimes had made crossing lakes, oceans, and a reservoir or two. Never was I an indifferent mathematician. I had held piles of sand in both hands, either one. Watching the grains fall slipping through my fingers was almost always one of my greatest pleasures. Now the Arctic is gone. Now the Sahara. Now the borrowed light of the moon is surrendered back to the sun. Now the great optative is strongly in place. And I fear the sudden death stroke of the aorist will come down and behead us both. Let us not speak a word further then. The great coronal plasma ejaculation is fast upon the Earth, and I wish I had been camping contigo in a thin, collapsible tent in the outback of Australia, where in the morning we’d have blinked away wavering glances of the aurora.
As a boy, just under the age of seventeen, he had been told many times, as many are, to clean up his bedroom. And it was upon such an occasion as this when his father—an actual scientist living out the days and years of his washed out scientific career in the backrooms of corporate Siberia—had poked his nose into the boy’s bedroom and received from his son this response: “It’s just following the natural law of the Universe of maximum entropy, minimal enthalpy.” Indeed, it was a mess, and the energy level was next to zero.
This hadn’t been the first time he’d stuck it like that to the old man. They’d had a family policy that if a movie was coming out that had a book to it, you had to read the book first before you saw the movie. That was the way it worked in this family. And when the horror movie Carrie came out, his father had slapped it down. After all, movies like that were trash, wastes of time. But to the kid’s surprise, he learned soon afterwards that this movie was based on a book. So, he bought the Stephen King novel and read it. Afterwards, as he had read the book first, he insisted he be granted permission to now see the movie of this poor girl who, drenched in a bucket of pig’s blood, seeks her revenge.
Yes, and once, having dissected a frog in Biology, he had brought the picked over skeleton of it back home. Having seen a gruesomely comic black-and-white zombie movie on TV once called Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, the boy had been struck by a comically gruesome idea which he did not pass by the usual channel of paternal approval. In this movie, a bunch of teenagers half-jokingly conjure up (to their eventual dread and horror) the dead in a graveyard. The first to rise from his shallow grave is a corpse named Orville. He becomes the eventual ring-leader of a ragtag bunch of zombies who kill and zombify everybody before crossing over the water at nighttime on a rickety hand-poled ferry to the mainland. And the boy, at fifteen years old, buried his dead frog beside the front stoop of his house, beneath a piece of slate for a gravestone on which he had chalked in the words, “Orville, R.I.P.,” where it greeted everyone for a good ten or fifteen more years.
Having come to this coastline many times before, I know I cannot see it anymore than I can see it. I might as well be The Little Prince trying to describe the Fox to the Rose, or the world of the Lamplighter to the Banker. I might as well be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. . . The moment I lift a lens, pick up a ruler, even raise a wine glass to my eye, that world disappears in exchange for one that I have named ‘real’. We have moved the blue planet into its own space and observed it from afar, and by doing so removed it from ourselves. Indeed, the lever that Archimedes claimed that, if given, he would move the world, we have done so already.
Nevertheless, once upon it time, we lived upon the world, as though nestled within a fairy tale. It was, as my small son had said to me long ago sitting beside me on a bench in the grass, “If we are a part of Nature, then the bench has to be a part of nature too, and so is the grass.” There was, however, that Greekish fulcrum in both time & space that lifted this simple and naïve world of the peasant and country poet away, which placed those into the picturesque, never to be returned to again. Still, I think, we can indulge in a harmless glimpse backwards. There, we may quickly gaze upon these forgotten, obliterated places where long ago we were (as well when we were not) from moment to moment, step to step, and time to time.
There is a place called Ontario. I had been there, long, long ago. In it was a lake and an island. On the island was a cabin. There was no running water, and there was no electricity. This was long ago. For water, visitors to the island walked down the pine needle-covered winding path to the lake with galvanized buckets, and carried them full of water back up to the top. To call this a memory is improper. To call this the ‘past’, too, is improper. Neither the past, as it once was, or—might have been—known, nor memory itself, exists anymore. They have all been smashed on the head of a pin, which formerly stood—the pin, or the head of the pin, in particular—as the image or the metaphor for the opposite or counter-reason for time being stretched out. Which is to say that if it were not ‘stretched out’ then everything that was shall already have been. That was the argument. However the instantaneity, the technological ubiquity of everything all at once, the operational ease with and by which any object or factum or ‘thing’ in the known universe can be summoned digitally by the wizard wands which persons today so commonly wield & possess, this has made the dimensions of time itself as we humans (when we were such) altogether, and if not that, then altogether quite, vanished from the planet. What were once imprecise and fallible and even unreliable memories become data points, scattered across a Cartesian coordinate system, perfectly locatable wherever they be, having no more nor any less value or meaning than any other dot or datum, virtually anywhere in this vast nebula qua network. In sum, the eternity of everything has made our own human living somewhere in the galaxy, this ‘Milky Way’, now pointless, useless, and any remaining nostalgia for the rag and bone complex of life itself is become its own remnant that in its hum-drum biology is only a superfluage which so far can’t be gotten rid of, like other things that once were discarded by hands as ‘excessive’, or ‘obsolete’, or ‘gone past’, or ‘let go’.