Compared to almost-silent Opportunity,
Bunnell rode to his revelation in a cacophony
Of sound. With his war horse heaving
And sweating beneath him, exhausted after their climb,
Surely the surgeon heard his pioneer’s heart pounding;
His mount’s bellowing lungs a’huffing;
The sagging, rain-drenched leaves of the trees
On all sides sighing as he passed by;
And as he gulped in sharp, pine tar-coated
Air, far away, hidden beyond a hundred horizons,
The peaty waters of distant rivers, brooks and streams,
With trembling fingers combing through
His bird’s nest of a beard as he neared
The End Of All That He Had Known Before,
Did he stop, look over the edge and,
Bewildered by his first glimpse of that
Violently beautiful vista, refuse to believe
Nature was capable of such deceit,
Hiding such a heaven away?
Imagine – that very first view of a New World
Of wide-screen wonder!
Hard not to feel so small when faced
With such a fairyland of geology;
Easy to believe that, in the days after Terra’s
Bawling birth, God’s own hands
Reached down from heaven, dug deep into the
Land and wrenched it apart,
Leaving an impossible canyon behind,
Middle Earth brought to life before Tolkien
Had even imagined it: great, granite monoliths
Looming over a valley carpeted with forests
That splashed up against the mountains’ feet
Like Nature’s own tsunami,
All dwarfed by a preposterously-blue sky
Painted with clouds so perfect Constable would have cried.
With startled eyes wide as a Full Sierra Moon
How long did he swoon over that first view of Yosemite?
Today’s Bunnell has treads instead of booted feet;
It leaves no hoof- or footprints behind,
But twin vapour trails of dust and wheel-crushed rock.
Thus a crazy Mason-Dixon line has been laid across Meridiani
By Opportunity, meandering from Eagle Crater to,
Around and then past Victoria as she advanced relentlessly on Cape York.
Her sky is a cathedral dome painted pastel shades of orange, gold
And tan; all hints, all hopes of blue are banned,
Allowed to shine only for a while at dusk or dawn
Before fading out of sight.
And after each frigid rose petal-freezing night the Sun
Which rises from behind the eastern hills
Is just a cold, copper-coloured coin
Surrounded by a coffee cup stain halo,
Half-hearted rainbow sundogs shining on either side.
This is no lush Yosemite. No soul-stirring symphony of Life
Plays here; this landscape is hushed, silent.
The only sounds carried on the whispering wind
Are the popping of rocks beneath her wheels;
The occasional faint hiss of dust wafting
Over the sterile, fine-thick ground;
The tired, wheezing whine of her gears.
For the past hundred sols she has watched the skyline rise
And fall like an ocean tide, in turn hiding
And revealing just a little more of the humpback hills
That have called to her since she crawled around Victoria.
Now, she rolls serenely to a stop,
Impatient for the view as her horizon suddenly drops
Away like a magician’s velvet cloak, revealing…
For endless, F5-filled months we have watched all Endeavour grow,
Always thinking “Will we..?”Always wondering, “Can she..?”
Now we are here. We have arrived.
Without a trumpet blare, without most mortals even caring
Yestersol Opportunity made Landfall at Cape York,
Rolling to and then slowly up Spirit Point,
Impossible Journey complete, disbelief conquered.
To her right: Endeavour’s once-meek eastern hills are mountains now,
And even dimmed by distance Opportunity can see
A dozen different craters carved into their cliffs,
The Future’s Mars’s Mt Rushmore.
And dominating all – The Crater With No Name,
That great Barsoomian bear paw-print clawed into the rock,
Sauron’s Eye were Meridiani Mordor…
Behind: the Tribulation Range traces out its gently
Sweeping curve, a half-buried backbone
Of age-decayed Points and Capes, forever out of reach.
And all around her now: broken boulders, rocks
And stones surrounding the open pit of Odyssey, all
Blown out of the ground when the crater was made
Every geologist seeing these scenes
On their flickering Post It note bordered screen
Is cursing fate that they were not born a century later;
Imagining they were bounding around
This Noachian Narnia, stopping beside each mineralogical
Marvel, bending down to lovingly run their
Fat, gloved hands across its ancient sides,
Sighing at the sight of flaking layers and plates
Mere inches from their face.
What delicious torture they must be going through…
One distant sol Mars-born children will play here,
Giddily chasing each other around these rugged rocks
While their parents stand in silence nearby.
Hushed; gloved fingertips touching tenderly;
Quietly celebrating completing The Opportunity Trail
Before taking cheesy family pictures
Of each other, standing beside Ridout or sitting
In a line on the dusty flight-deck of the great basalt
Battleship “USS Tisdale 2”, shielding their tired eyes
From the midday Sun to look for the diamond dust-
Coated statue of the rover standing high
On Tribulation’s side…
Look closely at the Navcam portraits of this place
While you gaze at that strange, snake-like seam shining
On the ground just past Oppy’s feet and
Out the corner of your eye phantom figures will appear:
Here, the ghost of John Muir, leaning
On his gnarled wizard staff, drinking in the view;
There: Ansel Adams’ spirit, his wilderness-tanned hands
Resting on his camera, waiting for just the right dusky,
Dust-soft light… And ahead, standing on Endeavour’s very edge:
Bierstadt, half-blinded by the beauty of the scene,
Eyes closed, day-dreaming of the landscapes he will paint
Of this noble, golden place…
If Opportunity ends her days here, that would be a life well lived.
But who’s to say that one day,
When she has grown weary of Cape York’s clods of clay,
And scaled Tribulation’s tightrope heights
She won’t just roll down the crater’s stadium walls
And set her sights on those asteroid-blasted farside hills?
Would anyone really be surprised?
© Stuart Atkinson 2011
NOTE: This poem has been turned into a poem-poster (“poemster”) by unmannedspaceflight.com’s AstroO, which you can find here: