Thursday, June 30, 2011

Consequential (Northern Arcadia)


Polar hares

          While chatting, the huntsmen, now converted to naturalists, continued on their way, and reached a sort of vale, without surrounding hills, at the bottom of which snaked a more or less unfrozen river;  because of its southern exposure there grew some vegetation on the banks and a certain way up the slopes.  The ground displayed a veritable desire to be fertilized;  with a few inches of topsoil, it would have asked for nothing better than to produce.  The doctor pointed out these manifest tendencies.

        ‘Look, couldn’t a few enterprising settlers settle in this valley, if they had to?  With hard work and perseverance, they would transform it; not to a temperate countryside – I wouldn’t go so far – but at least a presentable patch of land.  If I’m not mistaken, over there are even a few four-legged inhabitants!   Such fellows know all the best places.’

Polar hare  

        ‘Goodness, they’re polar hares!’ exclaimed Altamont, loading his gun.

         ‘Wait,’ cried the doctor, ‘wait, you crazy huntsman!  The poor animals aren’t about to flee.  Come on, leave them be;  let them come to us!’

            In fact three or four young hares, gamboling in the thin heather and new moss, were approaching the three men, whose presence they did not fear;  they ran up with beautiful naïve airs, which hardly managed to disarm Altamont.

Arctic fox

           Soon they were between the doctor’s legs, who stroked them, saying:

            ‘Why use shots for those who seek caresses?  The death of these small creatures wouldn’t serve us.’

              ‘You’re right,’ cried Hatteras, ‘their lives should be spared.’

           ‘Like those of the ptarmigans flying toward us,’ exclaimed Altamont, ‘and the sandpipers advancing gravely on their long stilts.’

Arctic Ptarmigan

          A whole feathered race was approaching the huntsmen, not suspecting the danger the doctor had averted.  Even Duke, holding himself back, watched in admiration.

Arctic sandpiper

          It was a curious sight to see the pretty animals running, jumping and leaping trustingly;  they landed on the good Clawbonny’s shoulders; they lay down at his feet;  they spontaneously offered themselves to the unaccustomed caresses;  they did their utmost to welcome the unknown guests;  the many birds, joyously chirping, called to each other and came from all points of the valley;  the doctor resembled a veritable charmer.  The huntsmen continued their journey by climbing up the soggy banks of the stream, followed by this friendly group;  at a bend in the valley they spotted a herd of eight or ten reindeer, grazing on some lichen half-buried under the snow, charming animals to look upon, gracious and calm, the females bearing antlers as proudly as the males.  Their wooly hides were already exchanging wintry whiteness for the brown and dull grey of summer;  they appeared no more frightened and no less tame than the hares or birds of this peaceful country.

Arctic reindeer

          Such must  have been the relationship between the first man and the first animals when the world was young.

Dr. Clawbonny, Duke, Captains Hatteras and Altamont in Northern Arcadia

Text excerpted from:  Jules Verne, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1864).  Trans. William Butcher.  Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.

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