Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Play of Stone & Sky

Under a high, clear winter sky we walked the road to Stonehenge. The winter timing seemed right - the alignments were built around the winter solstice - the old sun dying and a new sun being born. We were only a week out.

The landscape was very open, the hills rolling softly, holding their burials gently. Coming so recently from Scotland the drier, more open landscape was very noticeable.

Frost still coated some of the ground, outlining fallen leaves and there were traces of ice on the puddles but the air was mild. I wondered how the people of the neolithic - the ones who spent so long constructing all their many earth and wood and stone works saw their land, how the weather fell upon them. Was the land already as cleared of trees? Before all their barrows, ditches and cursus' how flat was the land?

We reached the stones - Poppet rebelling after the long walk, after the longer drive, Sprocket more interested but wondering where the magic is and why he can't do any magic, and I was held in awe. I'd read about the stones, studied them so long and here they were.

They played with the light. They drank it up, cast constantly changing shadows. The many people milling around taking photos, selfies, listening to the earphones, didn't matter as the stones themselves were so constantly interesting from each new angle, the sky around us so large. I had not been under a sky so large since we left Australia.

A crow flew down to land upon one of the lintels. There was a pale smudge of moon behind it.

I was in love.

It was a monument built around death, around the ancestors - there were over three hundred cremation burials in the bank and ditch and it was likely that it was built to usher out the old year and usher in the new - let the sun start staying longer, let light return to the lands.

But now, under the high, high sky, it seems to hold a certain peace. The rocks have aged well. The circle built millenia ago, some of the stones fetched from scores of miles away, using millions of man-hours, they stand sure.

Imagined and re-imagined over hundreds, thousands, of years, going through many different transformations, once, in the long ago, Stonehenge would have been approached on the shortest day of the year, the people feasting further away (on fatted pig, in shades of Asterix and Obelix, although their boar was wild), sailing down the nearby river and then disembarking to walk the big avenue. They would wait to see the sun rise again, aligning on this last day of the old year, and then the New Year would begin again, their ancestors around them, and all would be well.

For years I have heard that Stonehenge is a disappointment, that there are too many people, that you cannot get close, but as I walk around, observing the play of light and shadow, how one slant of rock will swallow the sun while its side stays in shade and how things change as I walk around, how the stones fit within the man-changed landscape, all my expectations are exceeded.

I have been to different stone circles, Callanish in the Hebridres, the Ring of Brodgar up in Orkney, as a child I was taken to smaller circles around Aberdeen. I remember a small ring of red mushrooms next to one and wondering about fairies.  Each time they awe me. East time to see the thoughts and beliefs of people so long ago, my people, so long ago, made stone and risen, fills me with wonder. I love to run my fingers along the ancient stone, but it's enough to look.

The stones, the raven, the moon, the high mid-winter sky.
I'm well content.

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