The Marmot with the Collar
Diary of a Philosopher

Part III - Moon of Avalanches
Third Summer

M.03.01.03.03 / M.164 - M.03.01.04.07 / M.174

LANGUAGE

English

Full Moon

full_moon

Third Day

M.03.01.03.03 / M.164

Let us record for centuries to come the most astonishing of adventures.

 

I set out at the very moment when the first beam of the moon shone over my burrow. I was all enthusiasm, and my spirit seemed never to have been more alert. Except for the rear quarters, which happened to drag a little, I felt brisk and cheerful.

 

The night, as I said, was magnificent. No clouds in the sky, no mists on the ground. I could count the Pines on the crags of the low mountains, so clear was the air. The snow lay, glistering in the moonlight. It seemed composed of an infinity of little crystals, each of which was surrounded by an aureole, rich in all the colours of the rainbow. My path was simply one of constant enchantment; it was sown with flashes, beams, sparkles, coloured lights, iridescent spangles, stars that scintillated magically, golden or azure. Despite the zeal which carried me forward, I stopped more than once to consider these marvels. Everything was silent in this night full of lights, and it seemed that the noise of the snow which creaked under my paws must resound as high as the starry vaults. I could hear myself breathe; I not only felt, I could hear my blood pulsing in my veins. I recalled what the White Hare had said to me, and I understood that winter could be the season of great thoughts. Unhappily, winter is cold; the more I clomb the more the air stung my face.

 

I do not know how long this fantastic journey lasted. There is no way to count the hours in the universal stillness. This dreamer of a White Hare – did he not say that time in those nights stops and reflects?

 

I think even so that it took more than an hour, contrary to what I had hoped on my departure. I felt toward the end the touches of fatigue; I began to breathe laboriously, and I had shivers that boded ill. At last, I arrived at the foot of the granite pyramid. It was visible from afar. I was still very much awake, and I had no thought of falling asleep. I set myself to work forthwith, scraping the snow with four paws. The frozen crust was soon passed. But in my haste I made a mistake. I drove the gallery too close to the rock, which obliged me to descend at first almost perpendicularly. Even though I pushed the snow behind me, it would always fall back and hinder me. I had to proceed in a spiral, which is far from comfortable. At the third turn of the spiral, the upper stages fell in. I began to think that I would never make an end of it. The wind had piled up the snow in this place. At last I reached the ground, just at the point where the burrow opened. I had at this moment ideas that were still distinct, so at least it seemed to me; but the rear quarters were horribly heavy. I paid no attention; I was about to reach my goal, I had achieved victory. There remained only one last difficulty – hardly worth mentioning. Near to the opening, at one half-Marmot length, the gallery of the burrow was walled up, as always. I set myself forthwith to the task of opening a passage. That took me still more time. I was employing all the strength and courage that remained to me, and I was advancing only slowly. It was hopeless. Never did Marmot make such masonry. At last, I reached the other side. My paw plunged into the void. Alas! This is my last memory.  I feel it still, who remember nothing more. I think that I uttered, without wishing it, a little cry of triumph. All is lost in a profound night. My memory has retained nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing. But what I do know is that I awoke yesterday morning, in this burrow, with eighteen Marmots, fathers, mothers and children, a tribe.

Fourth Day

M.03.01.03.04 / M.165

My eighteen Marmots cut a singular figure when they opened their eyes, when they saw their burrow violated and ascertained the presence of an intruder. Happily, they needed time for reflection to take account of what they were seeing. They rubbed their eyes several times, before they understood. During this time, I too was beginning to awake. My memory returning little by little, I arose with a start, just like last year. All open eyes were fixed on me, and the looks that they threw at me said nothing good. Fast on surprise followed anger. Indistinct grumblings made themselves heard. There is no crime less pardonable than the violation of a burrow. It was up with me, if I had delayed. They would have been even less merciful, as they would have accused me, without any doubt, of recidivism. Am I not this eternal Marmot with the collar, who for two years now have been troubling the sleep of honest folk and whose phantom haunts unhealthy imaginations? In short, I decamped as briskly as possible. The day before yesterday, at an early hour, I recovered possession of my residence, in the forest.

Fifth Day

M.03.01.03.05 / M.166

A curious thing, I feel much less discouraged by this second check than the first. It is almost a success. I was so close to the goal this time that I can be assured of reaching it under favourable circumstance. This snow undid me. The snow is the cause of everything that went wrong. If I had not had this gallery to excavate, I would have had time enough to enter, to touch the eighteen frozen Marmots, and to carry off at least one to my great hall with the Holly leaves.

 

What has not succeeded for me this year will succeed in another. Perseverance is the watchword of the wise.

Sixth Day

M.03.01.03.06 / M.167

There is only one black mark in all this, that is the years which roll away. I have scarcely two still to live, three at most. Rare are the Marmots who undergo eleven times the sleep of the Long Night. Two opportunities are hardly sufficient.

 

This world is out of joint. Of two alternatives one must be true: either life is too short, or the path of wisdom is too long.

Seventh Day

M.03.01.03.07 / M.168

I would bear my part in these disappointments easily, if I were sure that my experiences would be of service to others. The work of science should be collective; generations should pass on their inheritance. Who will read these tablets? Who will profit from my toils. All is decadence today. Perhaps I am the last philosophical Marmot.

 

Last Quarter

last_quarter

First Day

M.03.01.04.01 / M.169

The mountain remained white last year until the middle of the Moon of Love; this year, it is green before the end of the Moon of Avalanches. I have never seen so precocious a spring. Most of the avalanches fell during our sleep. Flowers abound in the meadow, at the margin of the forest, and I suspect that shoots are beginning to push up before my old burrow; at least there has been no more snow on the edge of the precipice for several days now. – I will return there shortly. The flowers up above have more aroma than those here.

Second Day

M.03.01.04.02 / M.170

I made only one observation on my awakening, but it is singular.

 

Our sight does not return to us at the same instant that we open our eyes. There is a moment, very short, but appreciable, during which we cannot see, even though we may have open eyes. Then, for a time that is also very short, but equally appreciable, we see objects all at the same distance, one stuck alongside the other. The sense of distance is the last to return to us.

Third Day

M.03.01.04.03 / M.171

I think continually of my adventure of this year without being able to explain to myself how it could happen that I was not jolted awake by force of will. To fall asleep when one is reaching the goal! For I was about to reach it. I lay down and curled up, according to our custom, against the back of a fat mama, a good old Marmot, whom the zeal for science has never consumed. I felt her, I touched her, this frozen Marmot, object of all my desires, and I fell asleep next to her!

 

By dint of seeking to recall what happened, the imagination is stirred and I make up memories for myself. I think at certain moments to recall that I embraced her with my two paws and that her skin seemed cold. Illusion. The fact is that I recall nothing at all.

 

Even so, I draw from this adventure an argument more in favour of the idea that the Long Night is not one long night. There is every reason to believe that the sleep of my eighteen Marmots began on the day when the weather changed and it became suddenly so very cold, at latest the following day. From this instant they were plunged into what we call the Long Night. But, from that moment to the one when I fell asleep myself, I saw with my own eyes the sun set and rise three times.

Fourth Day

M.03.01.04.04 / M.172

The weather is finer and finer. Today I began my removal. It will take two journeys, perhaps three. These tablets are heavy.

Fifth Day

M.03.01.04.05 / M.173

I did well not to delay longer. A young couple was in course of taking possession of my burrow, to spare the trouble of digging one. They appeared not a little astonished to see the Philosopher, forever solitary, return; but they did not put up any resistance; they took very wisely the decision to go elsewhere to establish themselves. I heard clearly the old mother muttering, down there. I think the husband was of her family of last year. Let her mutter as much as she wants!

Seventh Day

M.03.01.04.07 / M.174

My remove is complete; now I am completely settled in. What a beautiful spring!

 

One thing alone disturbs me. Our terrace is becoming crowded. Apart from my neighbour’s children, there are two more couples who have just established themselves. It is not that there are more Marmots than the previous year. On the contrary. Never have Vulture, Dog and Man decimated an innocent population with less pity. That is exactly why our tribes continue their movement of retreat. They flee before Man’s invasion of the mountain. So many neighbours will hardly help my meditations. One’s liberty must be defended toward and against all.

 

I have thought to remark that I was the object of conversation and deliberation between the newcomers and the existing inhabitants. It would appear that decision has been made to leave me in peace.

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 03.01 (English)

Richard L. Hewitt
Kamuzu Academy, Malawi

2020