Stonehenge/Pacifica

In 2014, self went to see Stonehenge.

She signed up for a small-group tour, the only one allowed on the site towards sunset. All the big tour buses had left. The guide, a retired military officer, led the group across a sheep meadow.

This is unquestionably the best approach. It allows the view to unfold gradually. You are reminded that this was how people, in time immemorial, must have approached the monument: in procession. Self could hardly contain her excitement at her first glimpse of the pillars of stone.

The mystery of the site has stayed with her. The fact that no human habitations were ever built around it. What was it used for?

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From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

Well before she saw Stonehenge, she’d written about it in a piece called Stonehenge/Pacifica, published in Wigleaf, 2012.

It was a dream I had, some restless night. One of those weeks or months or years when we were worried about money.

But when were we ever not worried?

First there was the mortgage, and then the two.

And then your mother got sick, and your father died.

And my mother I think developed Alzheimer’s, but we never mentioned it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Stonehenge Appears Off California Highway 1 Near Pacifica

From self’s short short “Stonehenge/Pacifica” (published in Wigleaf):

The whole rose, majestically, from the waves. I had seen this stone monument before, in a photograph in some book. Water sluiced over the massive grey stones, which had a greenish tinge, as though layered with many centuries of moss. The mighty pillars were pitted with hollows.

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Stonehenge/ Pacifica

Self’s short piece, about Stonehenge, published in Wigleaf:

(Excerpt)

It was a dream I had, some restless night.
Perhaps one of those weeks/ months/ years
when we were worried about money.
But when were we ever not worried?
First there was the mortgage,
and then the two.
Then your mother got sick,
and your father died.
And my mother I think developed
Alzheimer’s
but we couldn’t ever mention it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Adventure 2: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

On the way to the Grand Canal

On the way to the Grand Canal:  Self took a trip to Venice with Margarita Donnelly, retired managing editor of Calyx, in April 2013

Pat Shelley, who led the tour to Stonehenge self took in April 2014

Pat Shelley, who led the tour to Stonehenge self took in April 2014

Holy Mother of All Monuments!  Our little band of walkers approached the monument in early evening.

Holy Mother of All Monuments! Our little band of walkers approached the monument in early evening. We had to walk across a sheep meadow. That time of day, the tour buses were finally beginning to thin out.  Our group had the monument almost all to ourselves. It was CHILLY.

Between 6: Stonehenge

Self has been fascinated by Stonehenge for a very long time.  Finally, in April this year, she got to make the trek to the site.

From the English Heritage Guidebook in the visitor centre, self learns about the alignment of the stones.

“Stonehenge has an axis — an alignment that runs north-east to south-west.” This axis is closely tied to “the way the sun moves through the sky during the course of the year; the sunset at the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, occurs on exactly the opposite side of the horizon from the midsummer sunrise.”

“So the alignment of Stonehenge works for both the summer solstice and for the one that happens in winter. But there is increasing evidence from other Neolithic sites such as Newgrange in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney, as well as closer by at Durrington Wells, that the winter was the more significant.  At Durrington, there is evidence for feasting and celebration at just this time of year.”

Stonehenge, April 2014:  What you see between the stones is of equal importance as the stones themselves.

Stonehenge, April 2014: What you see between the stones is of equal importance as the stones themselves.

Pat Shelley, who led the Stonehenge tour self took, standing between the stones to give a lecture on the significance of the stones and their positions.

Pat Shelley, who led the Stonehenge tour self took, standing between the stones to give a lecture on the significance of the stones and their positions.

Fascinating to think that the stones were positioned to control what one sees BETWEEN them.

Fascinating to think that the stones were positioned to control what one sees BETWEEN them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

On the Move: Documenting Our Lives

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is ON THE MOVE.

“On the move whether . . .  on foot, in a kayak, or on a train . . . ”

The prompt on the WordPress Daily Post asks bloggers to document “moments of our in-betweens” that are nonetheless “photo-worthy.”

Here are self’s three representing “not-quite-there-yet” but soon.

London cab, Russell Square, April 2014

London cab, Russell Square, April 2014

To get to Stonehenge, you have to cross a sheep meadow. Here's our group with our excellent guide, Pat Shelley.

To get to Stonehenge, you have to cross a sheep meadow. Here’s our group with our excellent guide, Pat Shelley (You can just see the monument itself, a jagged edge on the horizon. The sense of anticipation was palpable)

Salisbury. Most tours to Stonehenge originate here. It is a very picturesque town. Self tried the cupcakes and a local bookstore and missed seeing everything else, including the Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury. Most tours to Stonehenge originate here. It is a very picturesque town. Self tried the cupcakes and a local bookstore and missed seeing everything else, including the Salisbury Cathedral.

 

Letters 5: Approaching the Stones (Stonehenge)

The stones are a kind of code.  A language, like semaphores.  Only, this code was written in stone.  Massive stone.

The feeling is a little like that of seeing the great Olmec heads (which, BTW, were also made of stone, and were also massive).

The stones seem to say:  We are here!  Throw anything you like at us:  disease, starvation, freezing winters.  We will still be here! We will endure.

Wonder what the ancient Romans thought when they first discovered the site?  They must have recognized and appreciated it, for they never did anything to deface or dismantle it.

Here is the way we approached them (via sheep meadow.  If you happen to see one or two white dots in any of the photographs, those represent actual sheep)

Two of the members of the tour, approaching the monument from the sheep meadow.

Two of the members of the tour, approaching the monument.

From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

Holy Mother of All Monuments!  We are getting close.

Holy Mother of All Monuments! Getting close.

If you are going to visit Stonehenge only once in your life, then take a late afternoon or early evening tour.  The shadows are lengthening and the stones look absolutely massive in the fading light.  By then, also, most of the big tour buses stop coming.  When self was there on Saturday, there were only a few people, aside from the 12 in our group.

Also, try to go when it’s cold.  In the summer, this place must be jammed.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Letters 4: Stonehenge, A Language We Still Don’t Understand

Apologies, dear blog readers, for stretching the meaning of this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: LETTERS.

On The Daily Post site, the instructions are:  Share “a snapshot of how we communicate with one another, even if we don’t speak the same language.”

Stonehenge, which self visited yesterday, is a heartstopping monument. The stone pillars meant something to the early Britons. What, we still don’t understand. But just because we don’t know or don’t understand doesn’t mean we can’t recognize the power.  The power of the natural.  The power of the Not-Speaking.

The Approach to Stonehenge. Is. Across. A. Sheep. Meadow.  Please.  My heart stopped at the sight.

The Approach to Stonehenge. Is. Across. A. Sheep. Meadow. Please. A heart-stopping sight.

Around the monument are meadows.  On which graze herds of shaggy sheep.  And self knows that numbers are not letters (duh), but numbers, too, are a form of communication.  In this case, they signify ownership.  Someone owns these sheep.  And this is Sheep # 925’s 15 Minutes of Fame.

Flocks of sheep surround the monument.

Flocks of sheep surround the monument.

The stones speak so powerfully to Pat Shelley (pictured below) that he leads small-group tours there year-round (except for a few weeks off here and there).

The language isn’t just in the stones themselves, but in the site:  the absence of what Shelley called “human garbage” or detritus means that the land here was not close to a human habitation.  Archaeology is the study of sifting through the various human waste of centuries.  As an archaeological site, therefore, Stonehenge is amazingly pristine.  It was meant for the one purpose only — what, no one knows for certain.  But the land is full of clues:  barrows, henges, places where the meadow grass grows thicker than in other places.  The land must have been sacred to this people once.

If you join Mr. Shelley’s small-group tour, be prepared for loads of walking.  But self is convinced that the only way to approach the site is to experience it:  to walk and look at the chalk-y ground, to sight hills and barrows, to view the monument from afar, in freezing wind.  And, only then, approach.

The landscape was shaped in the long-ago time.  Here the land, too, is a kind of language.

Pat Shelley, who led the tour.

Pat Shelley, who led the tour.

There is a Visitors Center, which is completely redundant.  Who wants to look at pictures of Stonehenge when the thing itself is just outside?

What self finds so powerful about the monument is that we still don’t speak the language, but we relate to the emotions.  Can you imagine what the people must have felt, after they positioned the stones?  And this was without the benefit of cranes or lifts or diggers or what-have-you.  The enormity of the physical effort involved — it’s simply astonishing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Letters 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

So far, self has managed to hang on to everything. She made it to London, really really tired, but she’s already been to Stonehenge.

Now, if she can only keep her luggage safe while she takes the train to Southampton (day after tomorrow), she can give herself another big pat on the back . . .

This had better work . . .

This had better work . . .

From the AWP Book Fair in Seattle, at the One Story table

From the ONE STORY Magazine Book Table at the AWP Book Fair February 2014 in Seattle

Hard to believe she arrived in London just two days ago!  Yesterday she took the train to Salisbury (about an hour and a half from Waterloo Station) and joined a five-hour tour of Stonehenge:

The approach to Stonehenge, near Salisbury.  The land around the monument is controlled by the British National Trust.  Visitors approach the site on one narrow road, and no one is allowed to stray off the road to the meadows (except for sheep, who do double duty as lawn mowers)

The approach to Stonehenge, near Salisbury. The land around the monument is controlled by the British National Trust. Visitors approach the site on one narrow road, and no one is allowed to stray off the road to the meadows (except for sheep, who do double duty as lawn mowers)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

The Mystery of Stonehenge

Self did it, she actually did it.  Crossed another iconic monument off her “Must Visit” list.

Thinking and comparing Stonehenge to other sacred sites she’s visited — like Chichen Itza; like Teotihuacan; like Angkor Wat; likeDharamsala; like Jerusalem; like Bethlehem — she thinks it is the simplest, and also the most mysterious.  What would the ancient Romans have thought when they stumbled upon it, thousands of years ago? Below, just a few of self’s niggling questions.

What is the deal with the ancient Brits and circles?  While Mayans and Egyptians have their pyraminds, the Brits have their circles.

Why did they find a child’s body accompanied by a dog’s head with four nails driven into its skull?

Who built it, and how were they able to carry stones quarried from many miles away?  How did they set in place the 40-ton lintels?

Why was the site chosen?

What was it used for?

How much manpower was required to lift those heavy stone pillars, and were they all volunteers or were some — or most — of them slaves or conquered peoples?

Who built the barrows surrounding Stonehenge, all around the Salisbury Plain (all within clear view of the massive stones)?

It is a powerfully cold and remote site.  They closed the National Highway that used to bring gawkers within yards of the monument (for which we can all be truly grateful).  The wind whipped self’s lips to shred, even in late April.  The guide said the tours go year-round.  So, the tours in December must be positively arctic.  On the good side, there must have been only two dozen visitors at the stones when self’s group arrived, in late evening (There is only one tour that arrives in the late afternoon:  Pat Shelley’s.  Highly recommended.  You get the setting sun and the shadows.  Bring a down parka and gloves and wear boots.  The sheep shit dot the meadows)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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