The Marmot with the Collar
Diary of a Philosopher

Part II - Moon of Fatness
Second Summer

M.02.06.01.01 / M.132 - M.02.06.03.07 / M.146

LANGUAGE

English

New Moon

new_moon

First Day

M.02.06.01.01 / M.132

Storms on top of storms! On several occasions lightning has struck the summit of the Dent-Noire. Why was I not there?

Third Day

M.02.06.01.03 / M.133

Dogs are raging. Man also. He mingles his thunder with the sky’s. Several Marmots have been killed. The country is emptying.

Fourth Day

M.02.06.01.04 / M.134

Nature, who has multiplied over the earth races that do evil, has made three to be more formidable than the others: Vulture, Dog and Man.

 

The Vulture is the most terrible of all, because of the power of his wing and his lightning speed. The only animals to escape him are those whose weight does not allow him to carry them away, and still they must fear for their young. He does not fly, he plummets and carries you away; one could call him Fate. He has tawny eyes, surrounded by living flesh, a hooked beak, talons that are always sharpened, a neck that is always turned toward his prey. One shudders at the very thought of his nest, which is a charnel house, of the flight through the air which is made by those whom he dismembers for his young. This death is horrible to imagine, the more horrible as it is slower. The victim breathes and throbs under the hideous beak that tears shreds from his flesh and under the sharp talons that probe his entrails.

 

Even so, the Vulture is less cruel than bloody. It is not he who is cruel, but Nature, who has made him to be born voracious and has told him: “You will live from reeking flesh”. He is hungry, and he hunts after animals, just as we do after flowers. He requires Marmots or Hares, just as we do Clover or Snowbells. He drinks the blood of his victims, just as we drink the dew in the cups of the Gentian or in the goblets of the Lady’s-mantle. It is Nature who has decreed that there should be at least one eyrie of Vultures in each valley, often two, often more. It is she who has hung this eternal threat over every form and every burrow, over all who browse and all who nest. Why has she established these tyrants of the air? Why has she divided with them the habitable world? Who knows? She has mysterious designs, she has inexorable laws, which we cannot fathom, but to which we must submit. Happy are the barren, happy the wives who never gave suck, because it is for the Vulture that forms and burrows are filled! With the Vulture, the spirit of murder reigns in the heavens and hovers over the earth.

 

It is less frightful to fall under the tooth of a Dog than under the talon of a Vulture. A Dog does not carry you away, he does not rend you slowly, he does not dismember you limb from limb; he slaughters you, and it is over.

 

Nevertheless, the Dog is uglier and crueller than the Vulture. He is not hungry, like the Vulture; he hunts for the sake of the hunt, he slaughters for the sake of the slaughter. Certain races are hateful to him; he has a need to destroy them. It is a requirement of his Nature, an instinct that he cannot resist. We poor Marmots are among this number; Hares are also among this number. What have we done to him? What injury must he bathe in our blood? What do we have in common? He hates us for the ill that we have not done him. It is our innocence that is hateful to him.

 

Born fierce, the Dog has cultivated the instincts of a monster in his enslavement. For the Dog is Man’s slave. Most animals grow fat in their servitude; they become heavy, idle in the chase, slow in running. In contrast, the Dog has become more insatiable, more ardent, more industrious, more agile. Men have taught and trained him. They have completed the work that was outlined by Nature. To the instinctive hate that excites the Dog against us is added a new stimulus, the desire to please his master. When he has snatched a Hare or a Marmot, he will set his victim down at the feet of Man, who strokes and caresses him. The Dog is greedy for caresses. He paws for pleasure and swoons under the hand that strokes him. None desires his liberty with the same ardour that the Dog desires the reward of obedience. He has the taste for self-abasement. It is said that Man throws him for food the remains of the hunt, the entrails of his victims, and that he takes joy and glory in this shameful feast.

 

The Dog does not have a fine ear, he has even less a sharp eye; but he has an extraordinary sense of smell. No other animal is so skilful to discover and trace a spoor, it is this which makes him dangerous. He walks with lowered head, scenting right, scenting left. The least whiff of Hare or Marmot makes him start suddenly and fills him with a fierce rapture. Then he lurches forward and pursues the spoor with all the speed of his long and slender legs, baying savagely. He has a particular cry when he hunts, a sort of music, compounded of frenzy and pleasure. He knows not fatigue. In the remotest deserts, under the most blazing sun, on snow or on bare rock, no matter, he runs for hours, for days, panting, his tongue lolling horribly, weary, his paws bloody, but running alway. When his powers fail him, desire sustains him still.

 

Certain Dogs, long and low, enter within our burrows. Happily, their galleries are narrow and they must work to widen them. During this time, we flee by another escape, or we dig further ahead. I saw once, in the long corridor of my burrow, the two eyes of a dog aflame. He had reached a constriction formed from the root of a Pine and could not penetrate further. We began to observe each other, he furious, myself calm. This lasted hours. I see them still – those two eyes; if I were to live ten Marmot lives, I would still see them. They expressed one thing alone, the thirst for blood.

 

A Dog is stronger than a Marmot. Nevertheless, if Marmots were to will it, if they could only unite, they would easily have satisfaction of these prowling Dogs who hunt alone on the mountain. But each Marmot family lives for itself. The children flee, the mother flees, the father flees. None thinks to resist. It is true to say that, when one hears the Dog, there is every reason to suppose that Man is not afar, the tyrant and bugbear of creation.

Fifth Day

M.02.06.01.05 / M.135

Let us speak a little of Man, let us speak of him at our leisure.

 

There could be as many varieties of Men as there are individuals, if we had to judge by their spare skins, of different types and colours, which they put on and take off as they wish. But it is believed generally enough that they are not natural to him and that he manufactures them. All that I could see in the time of my captivity has confirmed me in this opinion. It is the characteristic of Man that he makes a multitude of things that none other has ever made before, nor will ever make again.

 

Man is the most defective of animals. He has a mane which, for some, frames the whole face, whereas for others, it protects only the back of the head. It falls out with age, that is to say at the moment when he would have most need of it to guard him against the cold. Otherwise, not too much is known about what purpose it serves. Those who are the best supplied still wear a covering on their heads. As far as can be judged, the rest of the body is naked, apart from the skins in which they dress up. Other animals have each a colour: The Cow is black or red, often patched with white; the Hare is white in winter, russet in summer; the Bear is brown; the Marmot has a graceful coat, shaded from grey to black; the skin of Man alone lacks its own colour; it is half transparent and allows one to see the flesh and blood. That is without example in Nature. Man is himself sensible of this monstrosity, and it is probably the reason for which he covers himself with false skins, which do not belong to him and which he is careful to wear according to their colour. But he keeps his face uncovered, his hands too, which makes one long to bite them. If I were a fierce beast, I would eat lots of Men.

 

Man sits like us and holds himself upright on his rear legs; on the other hand, he cannot walk on four paws. The true method is to employ both methods, as the case requires, just as Marmots do. Man is not stable on his two feet; he always seems about to stumble. He often equips himself with the branch of a tree to steady his gait, which is slow and clumsy. He runs heavily. How could he run lightly, built as he is. There is no proportion between his rear legs, great and shapeless pillars, and his fore legs – shorter and slenderer, which he knows only to use as arms, just as we also do sometimes, but only when it suits us.

 

Man would be the least offensive of animals, because he is the most awkward, if he did not make up by force of industry what Nature has denied him. He has absolutely no sense of smell, absolutely no sense of hearing, his sense of sight is of the most ordinary; but he has an inventive mind. He puts to his eye a long instrument, by means of which he discovers his prey at any distance; he usually carries on his shoulder another instrument, longer still, which he aims against his victims, and from which he projects fire, smoke and little stones, which are round and heavy, which strike from afar those whom he wishes to hit. It can be only a God who has taught him the art of lightning in this way. Why him rather than others, rather than us, for example? What has Man done to deserve this favour? Does the spilling of innocent blood confer a claim in the eyes of heaven?

 

Man is possessed of a charm. Certain species of animal bow before him, acknowledging him openly as their master and serving him with passion. Others fear and hate him. He is not bloody like the Vulture; he has never been seen to murder his victims in the flesh, nor drink their blood. He is not born for murder. He has neither blazing talons, nor a hooked beak, nor sharp teeth. He does not seem to bear against us any instinctive hatred. He is not cruel, only ambitious and jealous. Man desires that everyone should pay him a tribute of submission. His passion is to rule or to persuade himself that he rules. It is his pleasure to surround himself with slaves. Every free being is an injury to him. His dream would be universal mastery. He will not achieve it unless he purges the earth of the free children of the mountain. It is for this that he labours. He kills us, because he cannot enslave us. It is his way of avenging his own impotence. Let him kill as much as he likes, we will not grant him the pleasure of joining his retinue. Races born for liberty bear eternal hatred toward Man and his underlings.

 

Man’s empire is expanding. To the extent that he advances, he makes a desert around him and peoples it with his creatures. By which caprice of Nature has she destined for royalty the most evil being to have left her hands? I have no answer; but one thing is certain, Man increases, Marmots dwindle. Of our ancient multitudes, there remain only a few clans on the floors of the valleys, a refuge that is uncertain and increasingly violated. Our fathers did not recall ever having seen in this country the silhouette of a Man outlined against the sky, on the mountain crags. Now this is seen almost every day, at least in summer. They hoist themselves up, in caravans, from cliff to cliff. They push and pull each other along, and do so until they arrive. Then one has to hear them, when they have reached the summit, celebrating with great cries of joy the victory that they have just won over their clumsiness. Not only does Man wish to rule over the animals, he wishes to rule over the earth herself. He has sworn not to leave a single place unsoiled by his presence. Such pride will weary the patience of heaven. Unless the world has been created for the triumph of his iniquity, Man and his glory will pass.

 

I made in my captivity an astonishing discovery: Man could be good, he is even good, sometimes. In vain did I refuse to believe it, but I have seen shining in his eyes the sweet gleam of pity. It takes some acquaintance not to deceive oneself. Those shifting eyes, in the middle of his face, instil fear at the first onset. No animal has a gaze more fixed, no animal has a gaze more fleeting. There is no certainty before those eyes. Even so, one learns to read them eventually. One reads there oftenest thoughts of pride or deceit; but I have read there sometimes, read clearly, a thought of goodness. The day when the Man with the long and fine mane, who used to give me Pine kernels, carried me back to the mountain, I saw in its false blue eyes a real smile. I am persuaded now that it wished to deliver me. It is believed that these Men with the finer manes, who all wear a sort of floating skin, are the females. I believe it too, and that explains why there is greater softness in their movements and their physiognomy. But they are not the only ones capable of kindness. The Man who used to come morning and evening to milk his Cows – did he have a rough mane and wild features! Yet I saw even his eyes shining while he was passing his hand under the neck of a little brown Cow, whom he never failed to caress. He wished me absolutely no ill, not ever. He would willingly have given me a share of his caresses. I rejected them, because of my prison, and today I would reject them still, in liberty. Because finally, what must one think of this being who is capable of kindness and finds not his pleasure there? That is unprecedented in creation. I understand the Vulture, who knows nothing of mercy; I understand the Dog, who is all fawning and ferocity. But Man! How can he reduce to slavery those whom he loves and shed the blood of those on whom he has pity? What is this art that consists in being merciful today and pitiless tomorrow? I call heaven as witness, he is an animal who could be good and who prefers to be bad. This monster is called Man. Fortune fills him with her favours and he strides arrogantly toward empire over the world.

 

Man is the greatest mystery of Nature – after the Marmot.

Seventh Day

M.02.06.01.07 / M.136

It has done me good to say here all I think of our persecutors. It has taken the place of the Dent-Noire. I feel consoled.

First Quarter

first_quarter

First Day

M.02.06.02.01 / M.137

Today is the first anniversary of the death of the White Hare. I have shed tears for him for a whole moon, I will shed tears for several moons still.

 

All Marmots are taught, in their tenderest youth, that there exists a Providence, that the Gods exercise justice on earth and in the heavens, that they favour the designs of the just and are sure to punish the guilty. I ask myself if this religion does not date from the time when the race of Marmots was the most flourishing of all those that inhabit the mountain. It is a religion for a happy people. Men must have one that is very like it today. We poor Marmots believe in what we can! I am sure that Men are wholly convinced of it.

Second Day

M.02.06.02.02 / M.138

The moment has come to take courage. The season is advancing. One must either renounce Philosophy or make preparation for the vigil of the Long Night.

 

Today, once they had signalled the end to their stay with a great carnage of Marmots, the Men retired to the lower pastures. Their herds went ahead. The ringing of their bells made a great deal of noise.

Third Day

M.02.06.02.03 / M.139

The more I reflect, the more I am persuaded that there are profound meaning and great truth in the last words of the White Hare. The sleep of the Long Night would have as its sole cause the cold, which penetrates from without to within; this would be a phenomenon of the same order as those of freezing and melting. If the Long Night were long enough so that the cooling was complete, we would die; but the cooling is not complete; a warm hearth remains in our hearts, whose action takes over when the temperature becomes milder.

 

This theory has a great deal to say for it.

 

It is somewhat akin to what happens to plants, at least to all those that do not perish at the approach of the Long Night. Beeches, for example, in the base of the valley, or Larches, are frozen without, at the moment when we awake from our sleep. They have leaves no longer, their wood is cold, and their sap flows no more. But a hearth of life remains at their centre, which communicates its warmth gradually, to the whole trunk and to all the branches, when the season is more favourable.

 

The same theory would explain, besides, the instinct which carries us to stuff our burrows with hay, to close their galleries precisely and to press ourselves as closely as possible against each other to sleep that sleep. One would understand also, at a pinch, the insensibility of which we are accused during the time when we sleep. Our skin, cooled completely and all over, is as if dead. One would have to prick to a certain depth to meet with any feeling.

 

If other animals are not subject to this sleep, they must have warmer blood or a better coat of fur, perhaps both.

 

The more this explanation beguiles me, the more impatient I am to hold within my arms a frozen Marmot. When will that be?

Fourth Day

M.02.06.02.04 / M.140

I feel reborn and my joy renewed. I am clearly on the right track. This point won, the rest will follow of itself.

Fifth Day

M.02.06.02.05 / M.141

Today, I saw a White Hare passing, at some distance from my burrow. I know just about where to find his form, and it would not be difficult, perhaps, to befriend him, like the other. But the one whom I loved is dead, and I will not allow any successor, at least for the time being.

 

I observed that his fur was already turning white. I infer that the Long Night will begin early this year.

Sixth Day

M.02.06.02.06 / M.142

If my theory is equitable, it is easy to understand what made my previous experiment fail. I was cold. Also, what an idea to dig my burrow higher than all the other Marmots, and on the side of the valley that doesn’t see the sun! I divine immediately why I was the last to awake. In colder country one melts later of necessity. If I didn’t fall asleep even earlier, it is only by a miraculous effort of will. What I suffered is no longer a mystery.

 

This time I will take more equitable measures. I will begin by making a burrow that is properly warm, on the other side, in the sunniest spot and as low down as possible. From tomorrow I will be on reconnaissance, to find the propitious place. Must I also sleep, it will only be later, and I will have the time to make at least one journey to come and feel in their burrows the first sleeping Marmots.

Full Moon

full_moon

Fourth Day

M.02.06.03.04 / M.143

I have passed three days in travelling. I descended very low, much lower than the pastures where the Men and their herds are presently.

 

At last, I found a place to my liking, on the other bank of the torrent. It is a difficult place, cut off by great walls of white cliffs and covered with forests that are almost impenetrable. It is very warm under these cliffs, which lose no ray of sun, and it is not impossible to dig a burrow there, amidst the debris that has accumulated.

 

Despite the proximity of Man, I hope to be safe there. Nowhere did I see his spoor. This forest alone seems to have been respected by this great destroyer of forests. Its approach is doubtless too difficult. The trees are falling through age, and the debris heaped up on the ground has been rotting there for centuries.

 

Nevertheless, I will await my remove until the Men are further off.

Fifth Day

M.02.06.03.05 / M.144

No surprise that I succumbed. I am already feeling cold here. And there has yet to fall a single snowflake.

Sixth Day

M.02.06.03.06 / M.145

These Men are not budging. I can hold off no longer.

Seventh Day

M.02.06.03.07 / M.146

The Men are there still. No matter. I leave today. I call on these Gods who are called just. My protection is in their hands.

 

I really cannot wait any longer. I have much to arrange down below, if I am to be ready.

My Tablets are in order, in their chamber. I will wall up my burrow, as is our custom, so that others will think it occupied. After that, fare well!

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 02.06 (English)

Richard L. Hewitt
Kamuzu Academy, Malawi

2020