This post is part of a series on Ray Bradbury and his book, “The Martian Chronicles,” which will run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
This is one of my favorite of the smaller vignettes in the book. The list of reasons at the beginning for men going to Mars, including all the opposites – because they were afraid or unafraid, happy or unhappy, looking for something or leaving something, etc. – feels to me a bit like the famous opening to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. At any rate, it does a good job painting Mars as an unusual frontier and describing the Loneliness, the sickness that struck the first men to leave Earth for a new life on Mars.
THE GREEN MORNING
Bradbury, like a lot of fantasy and scifi authors, does some of his best work adapting well-known stories to his fantastical setting, in this case, the Martian landscape. We’ll see at least one more notable example later in the book, but here he tells a Martian version of the Johnny Appleseed tale. Benjamin Driscoll arrives on Mars only to faint because of the thin air and to be told he may have to go home – that some just can’t handle it & he might be one of them.
Driscoll won’t have any of that, so he gets himself a job planting trees to produce more oxygen, and for a solid month he does just that, but he only moves forward and never looks back because it hasn’t rained and he doesn’t want to be discouraged by looking back to see nothing growing. And then, one night, it pours. The rain falls heavily for two straight hours, and Driscoll falls asleep drenched but happy.
In the morning, he decides to look behind him for the first time since he started planting the trees. And when he does, Bradbury writes simply. “It was a green morning.” Trees of all kinds have grown overnight, not into little sapplings, but into great, full-grown, tall, majestic trees. Something about the Martian soil and rain or something has created this impossible result. Driscoll is overwhelmed, and when he takes a deep breath of the wave of oxygen that blows out from the new forest behind him… he faints. Again.
It is a classic Bradbury moment. He loves the humor-twist, as much as he enjoys the chilling, terror-twist, and as a reader I often think I see him winking at me from inside the pages of his story. Driscoll’s going to be fine, and more to the point, the Martian atmosphere is going to be fine for the larger numbers of settlers to come.
And now, the initial, hesitant pioneers that Bradbury called the ‘lonely ones’ in “The Settlers” are joined by an ever-growing number of people that he now describes like locusts. Not a flattering description, and as a reader, we get the sense that the dam is about to break and the flood-tide is on its way to Mars, and that perhaps this may not be a good thing…
The three references to time in the first two and a half pages of the story foreshadow the fact that we’re in for a time story. The old man at the gas station talks about time being “crazy up here,” and as Tomas drives on into the Martian night he speaks first of there being a “smell of Time” in the air and then of being almost able to “touch Time.” And then, of course, we have a meeting between past and future, between Earth man and Martian.
Tomas and a Martian named Muhe Ca have a conversation – by telepathy, of course – and the big issue that soon emerges is the question of who is past and who is future. The cities that appear alive to Muhe Ca are but ruins to Tomas, and that appears to settle the conversation, though of course both of them are hesitant to think of themselves as part of ‘the past.’ Muhe Ca rightly says that no one really wants to see the future, as the inevitability of death and decline of things we love – not just ourselves, but the places and people we love – isn’t something we really want to see.
Three quick thoughts before leaving “Night Meeting” behind. The first is that this is the peaceful, friendly exchange between Martians and Earthmen that the reader always knew was possible from the very first unfortunate encounter in “Ylla.” It’s interesting that Bradbury puts it here, after the Martian world has all but been wiped out, but he does include it, and for that I’m glad.
Second, we see a bit of Spender’s fears beginning to come to pass. In “The Green Morning” the town that Driscoll leaves from to plant trees is called First Town, which seems natural enough, even if unimaginative. Here though, we see Tomas speak of Green City and Illinois Highway, and of all the Oregon lumber now on Mars to build a mini-Earth here. These images juxtapose somewhat with the old timer’s comments early in this story about not expecting anything from Mars, about just enjoying it. This idea of honoring it, or even learning from it that Spender and Wilder spoke of in ” – And the Moon be Still as Bright” doesn’t seem to have room in the rapid expansion of Earth-culture on Mars.
Third, and last, though this Martian, Muhe Ca, doesn’t seem to be from Tomas’ own time, the old timer does say that there are natives still about. So, Bradbury has at least planted the seeds that perhaps not all of the Martians are gone, and indeed, we shall meet some yet…
Next time, we’ll look at “The Shore,” “Interim,” “The Musicians,” and “Way in the Middle of the Air.”