The day I landed on mars

It was the place that attracted me: remote, unvisited by anyone I know – apart from Irene who’s been everywhere;-) – wild, green in parts, slightly hilly but nothing too steep, and above all, unlikely to be hot. I was even looking forward to a bit of stormy weather, but no, not even a hint of rain. Well, maybe a couple of drops one evening.

Golden Eigg Cup (shortlisted for the Scottish Nature Photography Awards, 2014)

Golden Eigg Cup (shortlisted for the Scottish Nature Photography Awards, 2014)

I hadn’t given much thought to those who’d be joining this expedition. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there would be any martians, and I certainly didn’t expect to be the only cytherean.

Do all martians have monosyllabic names? These ones did: Joe, Sam, Zack, Nat, Bob the Emperor. And me. Oh and there was Steven too.

These particular martians laboured 14 hours a day, not because some external force obliged them to do so, but they were clearly driven by some inner voice. Go on, capture another one… you can do it if you push yourself hard enough! Perhaps it was that one final shot that was always on their minds.

It was humbling to observe them as they laboured. My own thoughts of putting my feet up and gazing out across the ocean while listening to the surf pounding the bay – preferably with a glass of Chianti to hand – seemed so frivolous in comparison.

These martians devoted little time to discussion of subject-matter not directly related to the capture. For my own part, furtive glances at pages on topics such as the events that took place centuries ago at uamh fhraing, or on the area’s recent total conversion to green energy, were made in those moments while the martians concentrated on donning their think tanks and páramos.

Once or twice I sneaked off early to pursue trivial questions, such as why the name “singing sands”? And so I learned that it’s because “the dry quartz grains emit a shrill sound when crushed underfoot.” I too emitted a shrill sound when the sand and wind lashed my cheeks at dawn one day on that particular beach.

The martians renamed them the stinging sands and joked about sand and salt sticking to our faces. I advised using an oil-free moisturizer. They were bewildered. These martians were in dire need of some re-education on moisturizer.

But after dinner one day Steven lingered behind and – once the other martians were out of earshot – asked for some moisturizer to prevent his peeling thumb from getting worse.

It was just as well I’d brought plentiful supplies, for I’d forgotten the nikwax, sorely needed by my boots after long exposures in salt water.

Listening to my martian companions was nonetheless informative. I picked up a few gems this way: “My hasselblad wasn’t all that expensive”, “I need a new gitzo – this one isn’t sturdy enough”, “I broke 2 lees today. I’ll have to order some more.” I chipped in with my best keeping-up-with-the-martians line: “I’m saving up for a 5D mark 3.” I think it more or less worked. But when I wondered aloud what was in their think tanks, they laughed heartily and joked that I would definitely win the prize for the smallest gear pack ever, hahahaha. I was bewildered: is small no longer beautiful?

Questions like this, I discovered, worked better one-to-one. Martians on their own are so different from boys with toys. I learned that those think tanks contained their complete arsenal (a martian term), and that what set me apart was my modest 550D and 10-22mm, plus the fact that I had no back-up gear. Exactly how my meagre equipment was related to my cytherean status was not entirely clear.

The upshot of listening attentively to martian discourse is that now, if I wanted to, I could ask reasonable questions about DX3s and 1Ds, discuss the relative merits of zeiss 18mm vs 21mm, and perform L-lens-chatter quite fluently. I could even write an informative blog entry about really right stuff if I felt so inclined.

Walking back to the port on departure day, I met a cytherean named Linda. I don’t usually start up hour-long conversations in the middle of the street with total strangers. But maybe that’s the point: after a week of martians, I was getting desperate for the company of cythereans, and none could possibly seem a total stranger after a martian week. And omg it was such a relief to natter on about the cost of things, accents, where you live and since when, why this, why that, macro, composition, what you learn when you go on expeditions and… there will never ever be enough time to finish a natter with a cytherean.

Several conclusions really: martians, like the sgurr, will always be with us, and one day I may really start saving up for a mark 3 and a zeiss. Meanwhile, they can wait, since I’m planning another trip to mars. I hope I remember to take some nikwax this time: it may do nothing for peeling thumbs but it costs less than my non-oily moisturizer.

One response

  1. This is so amazing! Both the photography and the commentary!


    October 7, 2012 at 02:48

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