For those of you who may have wondered where I’ve been, I just returned Monday night from twelve days in England. My trip was enriching, wonderful and as I post in the weeks ahead about my writings and my progress in getting them to all of you and others, I imagine I’ll see even more how my adventures have changed me as they always seem to do.
It had been twenty-four years and change since I’d visited the place in England with the big rocks, arranged in that unique and iconic structure by the ancient Druids for reasons we once believed to be astrological and possibly mystical. Hell, it could have just been something for them to do to pass the long days watching sheep eat their full (a condition that never seems to come) across hillsides in which one with a keen eye can easily locate every shade of green known to the universe. But recent evidence marks this unique place north of Salisbury as “the domain of the dead”, or a place where prehistoric peoples cremated and buried their kin. I don’t know about you, but for me, that changes everything.
When I walked up onto the site, I felt a surge of adrenaline that I didn’t remember from my days as a restless teen. The stones are bigger than I had imagined or remembered, and they stretched further to the thick and gray sky than I had anticipated or recalled. And the way the crows flew off a set of high, craggy precipices and back onto a new set called to mind the way we foolishly jump around on hot pavement looking for a spot yet uncharged by the sun. And even in their understood composition, the stones, as still as death itself, seemed abundantly alive. They seemed to watch the weary travelers that encircled them in the same way those who built them did nearly three millennium ago. I posit that you simply cannot walk the entire circumference of these ancient and unmoving structures without feeling some sense of connection. And it’s a fearful and awesome connection.
It’s a connection to the dead.
The wise old fossils of Stonehenge seemed to be waiting for all those who captured their images into their cameras and collected them onto any number of trinkets (even I bought one to wear to my next band gig as if by some archaic duty) to join its architects under the grass from which the droves of sheep – an unappreciated force of nature, it has to be said – would derive their continuous nourishment. These giant deposits of earth’s crustier disposition seemed to scoff at our concert concerns, smothering them with handfuls of mineral and understanding as if to say that we’re all just part of a cycle of life that is far less permanent than bedrock and rainy soil. Unto all of this world we are visitors, plain and simple, not just this well-visited place. We may invent gods above or below and we may write about them for billions to read but we and they are no more significant than the dead we surround or the sheep that carry on with their chewing, ignoring us until they lose their sweaters.
As I climbed back into the car I felt a little like a boy who had been scolded. Perhaps I was just tired from driving back up from our trip into the outskirts of Cornwall, but whether it was in that moment that I shed some idealism or became aware of its shedding from a time so many years ago, I definitely felt winded with a dire need to grab more tightly onto life. I suppose this reaction is quite the same as many of us have after seeing such overwhelming sights such as Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon, but you see, there is still room in those experiences to say we are significant beyond these natural wonders. We are humbled by them, yes, but we’re still seeing them as if they are our gifts to record and enjoy. To sidestep the issue of a higher power, suppose we assume that we lucked out with these magnificent planetary anomalies and that with a little careful planning many of us are afforded the gift to visit them just to say “we were there”.
Stonehenge is a little different. For over two-thousand years, generations of people dragged these stones as they dragged their dead, to a place they decided would stand the test of time as they understood it. “Here you will learn,” is the story they appear to be telling. “Here you will learn what you truly are and you will see that you are the same as we were. You will toil and effort to make sense of why you are born and why you will die as you sample from this life and in the end you will see that it was in those efforts to define it for yourself, for all and for eternity that you stopped living. We did this so that you would come to the realization that you are not to spend so much time gazing for answers from our creation but to eventually turn your eyes away to the sheep; they do not move in blind allegiance to a shepherd simply to surrender their flesh and their skins but they do so to find new places to continuously graze.”
It is to do that we are, I thought to myself, as I took one last look at the monstrous maze and began walking back to the car park. It is to occasionally (or as we please) drag out stones and arrange them for only so long as they make us understand that we are fortunate beasts of this earth and little more – which to me is more than enough. I thought this as my girlfriend and I drove away from the site with more than a hundred miles to go before we could again enjoy some food and a pint together.
And now, if you don’t mind, it’s time to get back to my stones.