The Watching Hills


When people eventually reach this place,

Scanning the landscape through visors etched

And scratched by Gale’s windblown grit, it’s not

The gentle hump of Mt Sharp that will call to them,

Not the mesas and buttes of Aeolis Mons foothills

That will make them shake their heads in disbelief,

But what they see on the far horizon.

Past the miles of countless stones;

Past Glenelg’s pale, powdery pits

To where the sky and the ground kiss;

Where mist dulls and dims the great crater’s epic rim;

Where Heaven-high hills painted purple and violet

By the violent twilight, piled upon each other,

Peer over each other’s shoulder to see

The strange creatures that fell from the stars;

Where a stately procession of peaks fades away

To a faraway skyline.



Dry now – dusty, cold;

Museum exhibit mountains already old

When Everest and her Himalayan brood

Were being born.

Rivers once ran through them; icy water cascaded

Over their crimson cliffs to vomit sediment

And silt across the crater floor

In a fan of fines and stones.

The debris of those floods lies all around:

When Curiosity looks down she sees water-rounded

Pebbles embedded in the broken paving stone ground,

The fossilised remains of a giddy geological game

Played by rushing water and stubborn rocks.



If you’d stood here a billion years ago,

Perhaps two, waves would have lapped gently

Around your feet – maybe higher,

Maybe rolled in slow martian motion past your knees,

And looking down you’d have seen stream-

Polished stones swimming past your boots,

Tumbling over and over and over…



–         all gone now: a dry, dead riverbed all that’s left

For a nuclear-powered rover to find millennia later

In a blaring fanfare of scientific glee, her Team

Grinning from a starkly-lit stage as they announce

Their findings to the world, wondering, behind their grins,

How the hell they can get images back from an alien

World halfway across Sol’s system but reporters

Attempting to phone in questions would be better served

By smoke signals, or ouija boards,

Or pigeons with hastily-scrawled

Notes strapped to their scrawny legs.



Yes, future travellers and tourists will love those hills,

Caress their cliffs and ridges with tired sightseer eyes.

Then, bathed in morning’s marmalade light climb, climb,

Trekking up valleys and canyons, winding past ridges

And outcrops before standing in triumph on their summits,

Mountain-conquering, arms-outstretched

Winsletts and DiCaprios, Kings (and Queens)

Of the New World –



But for now all we have are photographs,

Pixelated portraits taken by a slowly roaming robot,

And sadly our oh-so Curious rover

Will never be closer to the Watching Hills

Than she is right now.

So enjoy this view, drink it in,

Roll it around your mind like a fine martian wine

And envy those who, in years to come,

Will walk in Curiosity’s tracks,

Whispering to their partners “Look at that…”



© Stuart Atkinson 2012

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3 Responses to The Watching Hills

  1. Pingback: “The Watching Hills” « THE GALE GAZETTE

  2. Pingback: Stunning New Panorama Shows the Hazy Distant Hills of Mars |Trax Asia™

  3. Pingback: A Curious Find In Martian Rock | David Reneke | Space and Astronomy News

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