7: “An Apple a Day...”

Cyrano’s rocket launch was the effect of an elaborate practical joke, one that has worked entirely too well. And the skin lotion he had coincidentally applied has drawn him Moonwards. Cyrano doesn’t know about transatmospheric descents, but he foresees that his will be very bumpy and that he will need all the good luck he can get. Now he is about to realize the dream of every science-fiction space traveler: adventure on a strange new world.

This episode is completely different from the ones that precede it. Cyrano will show that his voyage to the Moon has been well worth the peril.

After falling for a very long time, as I surmise after the fact (I was falling so fast that I must have lost track), all I can remember is that I found myself under a tree. I was entangled in three or four rather large branches I had broken in my fall. An apple had squashed against my face and made it all wet with its juice.

Fortunately, as you will soon learn, this place was the Garden of Eden, and the tree I had fallen into was none other than the Tree of Life. You would be quite right to think I would have been killed a thousand times over but for this miraculous good fortune. Since then I have often thought about the common belief that falling from a great height would cause one to suffocate before hitting the ground. I have concluded from my experience that the belief is wrong. Either that or the energizing juice of the fruit had dripped into my mouth and recalled my soul — which had not yet wandered very far away — back to my corpse, which was still warm and ready for life.

Indeed, no sooner was I on the ground than my pain went away even before it could engrave itself on my memory. The hunger that had greatly afflicted me during my voyage remained only as a faint memory of having been lost.

Hardly had I gotten up than I noticed the shores of the largest of four great rivers that come together to form a lake. The spirit or invisible soul of the herbs wafting over the countryside delighted my sense of smell. The stones were rough and hard only to the eye; they were careful to become soft when anybody walked on them.

I first came to a place where five long stands of trees came together. The oaks in those groves were so immensely tall that they seemed to raise to the sky a manicured garden of tall forest. As I looked from their roots to the summit and down again, I wondered whether the ground was holding them up or whether they, themselves, were carrying the ground on their roots. Their mighty brows seemed to bear up groaningly under the weight of the celestial bodies they supported. Their extended arms seemed to embrace the sky and beseech the stars to grant them their pure beneficence before its influence lost any of its innocence in the bed of the elements.

On all sides, flowers that had no gardeners but nature stimulated and pleased the senses with the breath of their natural scents. It was impossible to choose between the pink of a wild rose and the bright blue of a violet nestling among thistles; each was prettier than the other. It was springtime for all seasons. No poisonous plant sprouted lest its birth betray its conservation. The creeks recounted their travels to the pebbles. A thousand little feathered voices made the forest ring with their songs. Their melodious warbling so filled the air that all the leaves in the forest seemed to have taken on the speech and aspect of a nightingale. Echoes took such pleasure in the music that their repetition seemed to express a desire to learn it.

Beside the woods were two prairies where bright emerald green stretched as far as the eye could see. The mixture of colours that springtime attached to hundreds of little flowers blurred one into another, and the waving flowers seemed to run after themselves to dodge the caress of the wind.

The prairie looked like an ocean whose far shore could not be seen. My gaze was exhausted from looking so far without finding the other side, and my thought quickly went in search of it. I doubted that it was the end of the world and preferred to think that such charming places might have obliged heaven to join with the earth.

In the middle of this vast and perfect carpet, a rustic fountain flowed with silvery water. Its border was crowned with a greensward studded with daisies, buttercups and violets. The flowers crowded around as though to see who would be first to admire its own reflection.

The fountain had just been born and was still in its cradle. Its fresh, young face showed not a single wrinkle. The ripples it spread wide around itself kept coming back to it as though to show that it regretted leaving its birthplace. As though ashamed to be seen caressed by a parent, it murmured as it pushed back my hand that impulsively reached out to touch it. The animals that came to drink — they were more capable of reason than those of our world — seemed surprised to see that it was broad daylight on the horizon while they saw the sun at the antipodes, and they almost dared not lean over the edge for fear of falling into the firmament.

I must admit that the sight of so many beautiful things made me prickle with the pleasurable tingling that the embryo is said to feel when it is infused with its soul. My old hair fell out and was replaced with hair thicker and longer. I felt my youth rekindle, my face become brighter, my natural warmth gradually mix with my bodily moisture and my age recede by about fourteen years.

Reading this chapter a century later, Rousseau would have loved it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the father of modern nature writing, might have applauded especially the phrase les fleurs, sans avoir eu d’autres jardiniers que la nature — “flowers that had no gardeners but nature.” However, where Cyrano systematically humanizes an idyllic nature, Rousseau sees man as separate from it yet living in harmony with it:

Un mélange étonnant de la nature sauvage et de la nature cultivée montrait partout la main des hommes où l’on eût cru qu’ils n’avaient jamais pénétré. — La Nouvelle Héloïse I, 23 (1761).

An astonishing mixture of wild and cultivated nature showed everywhere the handiwork of men in places where they would seem never to have gone.

Rousseau — not exactly noted for a sense of humor — might also have raised some eyebrows at Cyrano’s unceremonious and irreverent entry into paradise. At the same time, Voltaire would have chortled with delight at the slapstick comedy that turns the Garden of Eden story upside down.