Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sand and stars

In Wind, Sand and Stars (Terre des hommes) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes flying over the desert and seeing high plateaux shaped like truncated cones where the pilots on the Casablanca-Dakar line would occasionally have to make emergency landings. On one occasion he touches down on one of these plateaux, rising from the sand like a polar ice-floe. Leaving the plane, it is clear that he must be the first human being to tread there. 'That white surface, I thought had stood open only to the stars for hundreds of thousands of year.' And yet, looking round he is puzled to see a black pebble lying on the ground... How could this be? 'I was standing on shells to the depth of a thousand feet. The vast structure, in its entirety, was in itself an absolute ruling against the presence of any stone. Flints might be sleeping deep down within it, born of the planet's slow digestive processes, but what miracle could have brought one of them to this all-too-new surface?' As he picks the heavy black stone up he realises what it is - a meteorite. Looking around he finds others, lying undisturbed from where they had fallen, perhaps thousands of years ago. 'And thus did I witness, in a compelling compression of time high up there on my starry rain-gauge, that slow and fiery downpour' (trans. William Rees).

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