Threave Castle from Balmaghie

The square monolith of Threave Castle stands off in the distance on its small island in the middle of the river Dee, so quite what the round tower structure in the foreground is I’m unsure. Perhaps it’s a disguised water tank, or maybe it really is an ancient relic.

I was driving through this part of The Stewartry when I spotted the nearer tower. Without thinking I leaped from the car, climbed over a gate, and ran across the field to frame my shot. When I returned to the car a woman stepped out of her cottage door and asked what I was doing. When I apologised to her she said that I was lucky that the bull wasn’t in the field that day.

Threave Castle from Balmaghie

Mossyard Mono

Mossyard Mono


If I were ever to visit another planet….well in my dreams anyway!….I would hope that it had this combination of factors….outcrops of rugged and textured rock, a finely graded tilth in which to plant my potatoes, an atmosphere full of water vapour condensate, and a warm sun on my back!

Ah! That reminds me! I wrote a piece recently that might just be appropriate in that context……here it is….

Candice’s Daily Ramblings

We have catalogued, photographed and recorded using the standard taxonomy for three and a half months now, and we’re starting to see a pattern in the insects that we’ve collected such that we have a fairly comprehensive phylum, with many sorted into class, order and family. The botanists are having a whale of a time as well, exploring the extensive plain where we landed, and are now venturing onto the lower slopes of the ridge. Their collection of material includes a wide range of edible plants that came from along the streams flowing out of the mountains.

Today, though is a day for relaxing. Actually none of us wanted to stop. We all feel totally driven, and our discoveries and the excitement that that engenders is very addictive. At the end of each day, we have gotten into the routine of taking turns in reporting our findings to each other, mainly because, without this, I would have continued cataloging all night or until I  fell asleep over my microscope, something I do anyway when the rain’s beating down in the heat of the afternoon.

So today we found our lab dome locked and all the recording equipment has been collected up for the service engineers to check that they were all working within agreed tolerances. Even the cameras were locked up, though I have my phone.

In fact, we were all given a packed lunch and sketch books after breakfast. The chief has issued a challenge for us all to contribute to an art exhibition in the R&R lounge after the evening meal. This will probably be the one and only art exhibition on this wonderful planet.  Botanical studies are banned of course; no, this is a landscape competition!

It was a good move, it got everyone buzzing this morning. This planet is a magical place. The most beautiful that I had ever visited. The trouble is that most of us have been looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope for the past three months, so doing some landscape pictures seems like a good idea.

The atmosphere is incredibly clear for most of the time and that’s partly because of the downpours that occur each afternoon, but mainly because there’s absolutely no pollution, so visibility from the ridge is well over 250 kilometres, remembering of course that this planet is half as big again as Earth.

Bergen and I have strolled up to a small knoll, and while he chose to start a watercolour of the ridge behind us, I faced west across the plain.

The sky is a deep cyan almost to the horizon but above us, high in the stratosphere I can see some fine filaments of cloud that are incandescent in the hues of the binary stars of the system, the blue of the white dwarf and the orange yellow of the major star. It has taken a long time for me to get used to the double shadow, the one strongly blue and the other a much fainter and a more neutral grey.

Before starting my sketch, I’m sitting, just looking. Making a mental note of each detail. I really don’t want to forget this place. The small hill on which I sit is clear of the large leaved trees and instead, amongst the grey and orange rocks that break the surface, are the pink and blue lichen and the flowering fungi with their bright yellow flowers. This flora is the favourite habitat of the Arthropoda of the order that we have classified as Lepidoptera owing to its similarity to Earth’s butterflies. Here though, the insects double wings are rotated horizontally and the flashes of Crimson against the yellow of the flowers is quite awesome. It’s a really colourful planet.

Though I was tempted to just paint the flowers and butterflies, I want to capture the wide spaces as well. The plain is covered in a type of blue grass, and here and there, but mainly along the river courses, are the flowering trees with their long spikes of purple flowers and further away are the netlike colonies of the very strange lifeforms that are a cross between Monerans and Protocystis that chemosynthesise,  drawing nutrients from certain types of rock here and they’re able to move very slowly around grazing like skeletal sheep on the rocks and lichen.

I am actually waiting for the daily darkling.

Solar eclipses on Earth are relatively rare. Here they happen everyday and you can set your watch by them. The moon is in geosynchronous orbit and although it’s further away than the earth’s moon, it is much bigger and it can be seen all of the time as a steadily changing crescent in the sky. At midday it starts its passage across the yellow star and the light changes quite quickly from what our eyes read as white light, but isn’t really, as we have adjusted to it by now, and steadily the colours change into an ethereal blue, then it gets really dark for the hour and a half that the transit takes. Actually it’s the darkest part of the day because at night the reflected light from the moon gives a yellow half light. It’s quite eerie and a bit scary at the same time. It’s as if all the cosmos is right there on our doorstep, because as the light dims not only can we see the illuminated rim of this huge moon that fills about a third of the sky, but also the blue dwarf, and then all the stars come out. I’m told that if you wanted to break the high jump record, the moment of full eclipse is the time to do it. With the alignment of the giant moon and the yellow star we all weigh a little bit less.

Anyway, with Bergen’s hair now standing on end and the discharge in the upper atmosphere creating a green aurora I have taken this photo on my phone that I am now sending to you.

I’m going to get on with my landscape picture now, so will talk to you tomorrow,

Love, Candice, in the Bandt System, Horn of Edasich, beyond Caph

Ps.   There’s talk of getting this place put on the conserve list to prevent the conglomerates from digging big holes in it and ruining the eco system, like the’ve done on so many other planets. I do hope so.

PPs. Bergen proposed to me after breakfast and I said I would think about it. He’s getting rather fidgety now. Not sure whether it’s because he wants an answer, or it’s because the eclipse has just started. It affects you like that.


©John M Smith    February 2017