The title of this post comes from John Updike's 2008 article "Visions of Mars," which appeared in National Geographic. It ends with this paragraph:
The dead planet is not so dead after all: Avalanches and dust storms are caught on camera, and at the poles a seasonal sublimation of dry ice produces erosion and movement. Dunes shift; dust devils trace dark scribbles on the delicate surface. Whether or not evidence of microbial or lichenous life emerges amid this far-off flux, Mars has become an ever nearer neighbor, a province of human knowledge. Dim and fanciful visions of the twinkling fire planet have led to panoramic close-ups beautiful beyond imagining.
I like the phrase "beautiful beyond imagining." In the article, Updike describes how the late 19th century astronomer Percival Lowell elaborated a history of Mars as a planet inhabited by beings on the brink of extinction. Later, Orson Welles infamously capitalized on colonial and industrial-era anxieties with his broadcast of "War of the Worlds," which imagined our Earth as a paradise for the dying Martian race. We know now that whatever life Mars may have nurtured no longer animates its surface. The desiccated Martian landscape most likely serves as a preview of what our own world will look like long after we've left it. Nevertheless, Updike describes Mars as "mostly dead," a world of persistent movement and change. Although there is no life as we know it on Mars, this "flux," as he calls it, is a quality of life.
I don't mean for this to be a sad post, especially on David's birthday. Lately, I've been reading Ecclesiastes, so ruminations on transience are inevitable. Our son is almost nine months old, and though each day with him moves too quickly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Updike wrote a wonderful poem about the Rovers that I long have regarded as "our poem." Now "our" includes Lev, whose curious gaze and intrepid roving has transfigured our daily life, "beautiful beyond imagining":
“This planet needs our shovels’ bite
And treadmarks in the dust
To tell if life and hematite
Pervade its arid crust.”
“There’s life, by all the stars above,
On Mars—it’s you and I!”
Blithe Spirit cried. “Let’s rove, my love,
And meet before we die!”
from "Duet on Mars" by John Updike