The Marmot with the Collar
Diary of a Philosopher

Part I - Moon of Fatness
First Summer

M.01.06.01.02 / M.021 - M.01.06.04.07 / M.035

LANGUAGE

English

New Moon

new_moon

Second Day

M.01.06.01.02 / M.021

I am reminded of a wild dell that Marmots inhabited in former times, and that they abandoned because the glacier encroached on the better meadows. One could count in those days three or four burrows. It was little enough likely that my wife was there. I wished nevertheless to have a clear conscience in this matter. One gets strange ideas. I thought to myself that perhaps she wore also a collar, that perhaps she had been chased away like me, and I pictured her already philosophizing in one of these lonely burrows. We would have philosophized together.

 

I set out yesterday at first light, and I assured myself that there had been no Marmot in the burrows for many years. They are in ruins.

 

So, here I am, a widower, definitely a widower. My wife and my children are no more, since they are no where. May the Gods have pity on their souls and may wisdom keep me in place of a family!

Third Day

M.01.06.01.03 / M.022

Although my excursion of the day before yesterday did not meet with the success for which I had briefly hoped, it was not to no purpose.

 

I had first to descend to the burrows which are beneath my cliff in order to climb back up the valley, following its stream. As I was making my way down there, between some thickets of Rhododendron, I met Master Badger, a neighbour from other times. What was he doing there? He was hunting, without doubt. Friendship between Badgers and Marmots is not great. These nocturnal prowlers are not our cup of tea. Even so, he recognised me and let out a grunt of surprise.

 

- You, here?

- So?

- Then they let you go?

- Who?

- Your captors, of course!

- In fact, it’s your curse. Eating the whole summer to sleep from the fat the whole winter! Call that a life?

- What do you mean, the whole winter?

- Exactly, you don’t even know what winter is.

 

During this exchange he began to snuff at something and to look at me askance, at my neck, in a peculiar manner. I was already drawing up, ready to defend myself valiantly, when he made a sudden about-turn and took off with all the speed of his legs. It is this collar!

 

Badgers are a race which it is better not to rub against. My curiosity was nevertheless piqued, and I would have wished to talk an instant longer. Where to catch up with him now? He will flee at first sight of me.

Fourth Day

M.01.06.01.04 / M.023

I cease not from turning over in my mind what Master Badger told me.

 

I would give what remains of my left ear to know if he were present when they seized us, or if he saw only the ruins of our burrow.

 

And this winter, of which he speaks like the summer! It is probably the same as we call the Long Night, – these Badgers have a language of their own; – but what proportion can there be between the summer and the Long Night?

 

When he says that we eat too much in summer and that we then sleep from our fat, that is pure calumny, the calumny of an animal that is jealous and taciturn.

 

Is it our fault if we are fat in this season? All animals are the same, and the Badger a little more so than the rest. You had to see his fat bouncing while he was running in front of me. And supposing that Nature has given us more of an embonpoint than him, would she not have reason to do so, seeing that we dwell high up, and that this embonpoint keeps us in place of a double coat of fur when it is cold?

 

We eat, it is true, with a rich appetite; but at least we eat delicately. We do not feed, like him, on worms, grasshoppers and the most disgusting fruits of the earth. Nor is dry grass, from which so many other animals subsist, a dish for our use, with its musty taste. We live only from shoots swollen with sap, from tender grasses, from velvet fruits and Pine kernels. It is the luxury that I allow myself in my solitude, to eat still more delicately than in the past. Previously, I would share the meadow with a family; today, I have the whole of it for myself, alas! This allows me to live from flowers. Rare are the ears of grasses that I pick at. Grasses have absolutely no perfume. But the Golden Clover, with succulent leaves, the Lovage, whose umbel cracks and bursts under the tooth, the Cinquefoil, the Saxifrages, the Orchid with its voluptuous perfumes, the Daisy with its blue gleam, the slender Fleabanes, the Yarrow with its bitter and fortifying scent, and the Wormwood whose aroma intoxicates: this is the menu of a Marmot luncheon. One knows that one is approaching a burrow in that all the flowers are cut down. There is none left around mine own within a circle of a hundred pawsteps. The little valley with the stream is happily rich, without counting the crevices between the boulders, always fresh and abundant in flowers. The drops of dew that one discovers in the morning in the leaves of the Lady’s-mantle moisten my peaceful repasts. A Marmot is a dainty creature, and I make no attempt to conceal it. This weakness becomes a Philosopher. Never did a coarse eater think delicately.

Fifth Day

M.01.06.01.05 / M.024

When I think of this Long Night, whose hours no one has counted, of these whims of the sun, of these two moons that have gone astray, of this fatness, from which the mischievous allege that we sleep, of this strange torpor that overcomes us when the Unhappy Moon arrives, I am seized by ideas that give me vertigo.

 

It is absolutely necessary that I should see Master Badger once again.

First Quarter

first_quarter

Seventh Day

M.01.06.02.07 / M.025

He eludes me. During eight times twenty-four hours I have lead the life of Badgers, turning night into day and day into night. I have traversed the whole mountain by the light of moon or star, and I caught up with him only to see him making off as if a pack of hounds were suddenly baying at his heels. He no longer bothers to look at me, he scents me. It must be that this collar has preserved the odour of Man. A Badger’s fear of Man is greater even than ours; it is out of fear that he sets out only at night.

 

This life is contrary to Nature. I cannot sleep during the day. The sweet light of the sun drenches my eyelids even at the back of my burrow. And as far as these nocturnal travels are concerned, they are suited only for cravens and mischief-makers.

 

I will take great courage tomorrow, and I will go to see Master Badger at his home, in the full light of day.

Full Moon

full_moon

Second Day

M.01.06.03.02 / M.026

Useless! He will never let himself be approached. This collar savours of Man – evidently.

 

The sun was already high over the horizon when I arrived at the Badger’s sett. I approached softly, with a little speech all ready, to calm his fear. I did not wish to betray my presence until I was at the very entrance of his sett and I had him prisoner there. I ran the risk of being badly received, Badgers are arrogant and have a brutal temper; but there is absolutely no disgrace in suffering for science. Accordingly, I approached without noise; then, revealing myself suddenly, I said to him, ‘My friend’… I had not completed the word before I was tumbling three or four times head over heels, while the Badger fled as fast he could. He passed over my body.

Third Day

M.01.06.03.03 / M.027

My resolution is made. I will not sleep. I wish to count the hours of the Long Night.

 

Not to sleep – it suffices to will it thus. I can will it thus.

 

I will do more. As soon as other Marmots are asleep, I will arise and I will go to break in to one or more of their burrows. I wish to know what this sleep really is.

Fourth Day

M.01.06.03.04 / M.028

Since I made this decision, I feel calmer. What good does it serve to have recourse to a neighbour’s advice? In the pursuit of science, it is necessary to aid oneself. Deceit and illusion reign everywhere. It is not by hearsay but by experience that one discovers the truth.

 

However, so as to have nothing with which to reproach myself, I went this morning to make one last reconnaissance of the Badger’s sett. He did not return, and most likely he will return no more. This is an accursed sett. He smelt there Man.

Fifth Day

M.01.06.03.05 / M.029

The season advances. I must prepare. While I was trying to sleep, to recover from my nocturnal journeys, all the Marmots of the valley gathered in their great harvest of dried grass, as a bed. I am late in this.

Last Quarter

last_quarter

First Day

M.01.06.04.01 / M.030

I cut the grass which I need, yesterday and the day before yesterday, in the little valley with the stream. I laid it out in the sun and turned it several times, to make it dry more quickly. But the days are not long enough and the dews are abundant. Patience!

Third Day

M.01.06.04.03 / M.031

Today I was able to transfer the whole harvest into my bedroom. Now I am well installed.

 

One matter still exercises me. How will I close my burrow?

Fourth Day

M.01.06.04.04 / M.032

I must not wall up my burrow, as do other Marmots. I must be able to enter and leave. Even so, I could not leave myself exposed in a burrow that is open to the rigors of the Long Night. This is what I have determined to do. I have been to look on the mountainside for two leaves of slate, which I will shape with claws and teeth so that they close my gallery exactly, at two points not far from each other, one Marmot length at most. I will be able to remove them and put them back at my pleasure.

Fifth Day

M.01.06.04.05 / M.033

My doors are made. They close very well.

Sixth Day

M.01.06.04.06 / M.034

I experienced a thrill of pleasure on seeing this morning that it had snowed around my dwelling.

 

This snow has reminded me that I have greatly neglected the account of my adventures in captivity. I must take advantage of these last days to finish it.

 

I was an object of curiosity in the Prison of the Cows. When someone came at hours other than those of service, which happened nearly every day, it was ordinarily to look at me. I often saw around me a circle of visitors.

 

All these Men were ugly, each one more so than the next.

 

Even so, I make two exceptions.

 

The first is in favour of the one who would come to look after the Cows each day, morning and evening. I finally grew accustomed to it. It threatened me sometimes, but without doing me any harm. It had the appearance of not remembering that I had bitten it. I appreciate also that it loved its Cows. One of its pleasures was to stroke them along the spine and under the neck.

 

I make a second exception in favour of a Man of the other type, of the type which covers its two legs in a great floating skin. That one would come to see me often, at all hours of the day, alone or with children, and would bring me each time some fruits. I never touched them before its eyes; but I was weak enough to touch them when it was outside. They were, for the most part, fruits unknown on the mountain. Some I would have thought tasty in freedom.

 

This Man had long hair, very fair, which fell over its back, strangely twisted and knotted. It had white skin, and great eyes, of a false greyish blue, which tried sometimes to smile. But the eyes of Men are incapable of smiling. It is only Marmot eyes, clear and truly blue, which can smile.

 

More than once it wished to touch me. I did not allow it, although it seemed to reproach me for having so little trust; but I never tried to bite it. I confined myself to drawing back, growling, and it would withdraw its hand.

 

One day, it brought me a Pinecone, which still had a few kernels. It wished to make me eat from its hand. I was nearly persuaded. It seemed happy to offer me this fruit of the mountain. I held back even so. The following day, not finding any more kernels, it looked at me askance, lifting its finger in a manner that was half friendly, half threatening. It was its gesture when it made a reproach. This Man had done me only good. It appeared to feel sorry for me in my captivity. Nevertheless, I never trusted it. Its eyes could even have wished to smile, they were still Man’s eyes. The eyes of Men speak always two things at once.

Seventh Day

M.01.06.04.07 / M.035

I don’t know if they intended to restore my freedom or if I owe this to an oversight of my warders. If anyone wished to restore it to me, it is the Man with the long fair hair and the false blue eyes.

 

The fact is that one fine day  the Man of the Cows found a way to cover my head, doubtless so that I would not be able to bite it; after which it took me by the collar, released me from the thread that held me prisoner and threw me in a black hole. The Man of the false blue eyes was present while they were treating me in this way. I heard it laughing.

 

A little time later I felt that they were carrying me, but I was still in this black hole and my head was still covered. I began to suffocate. It was the Man of the false blue eyes who was carrying me. I recognised it by its voice. But it was not alone. Some children were with it, laughing and chattering a lot. I think that it was carrying me hung from its arm. This lasted an infinite time, several hours. In the hands of anyone else I would have been dead a hundred times over from anger and distress; but a remnant of hope sustained me, because it was the Man of the false blue eyes.

 

All of a sudden I feel that I am being placed on the ground and they are opening the black hole. A breath of air reaches me. In the same instant I see that I am delivered, by enchantment, from every type of impediment; I make a leap and fall amidst a circle of Men, who watch me, laugh, clap their hands and let out cries. The one of the false blue eyes was bent over me. I think truly that this time its eyes were smiling. But I did not take time to look at them; I hurled myself out of the circle by the first opening, and began to run as fast as I could, straight for the heights. I was accompanied by their laughter and by their loud cries. Some had the appearance of following me; but this time I would have outstripped one of their Dogs. I kept up my speed until my four paws failed me all at once. I was at the end of my strength, but I was free.

E. Rambert: La marmotte au collier (1889)

trans. R. L. Hewitt: The Marmot with the Collar (2020)

The Marmot with the Collar
A Trilingual Edition

Part 01.03 (English)

Richard L. Hewitt
Kamuzu Academy, Malawi

2020