With my trip to England this month, I thought it would be fun to share again my reflection on a past visit–specifically, to Stonehenge. I don’t plan to head out that way this time, but here’s a story about the last time I was there.
I swear Stonehenge was laughing at us.
Not literally, of course, I don’t mean it like that. But in a metaphorical, immense, stony kind of way, Stonehenge was definitely laughing.
I think Stonehenge is maybe about an hour or two bus ride outside of London. I say “bus ride” because I think tour buses are all that go there; tour buses and druids, maybe. I was on a tour bus when I went there. Tour buses usually make me sleepy, which is why I’m not so sure about the time length to get there. I woke up quick when we got there though. Stonehenge is not something to be slept through.
Everyone piled off the bus and the tour guide herded us through the turnstiles. There is an admission charge for Stonehenge. Doesn’t seem entirely right, that. We had to walk past the gift shop (there’s always a gift shop) and then through a tunnel under the road. They’ve been talking about moving the road, and also the gift shop and the parking lot and that way Stonehenge would be out by itself. People would walk over the fields to reach Stonehenge, and reclaim that natural, earthy feeling. It sounds nice. But they were talking about it last time I was there too, and they still haven’t done anything about it, so we’ll see.
Having been there before, I wasn’t surprised this time when I came up out of the tunnel—not by the crowds or by the ropes.
The sheep, though…I didn’t remember the sheep. There is a road near Stonehenge, but there’s also a lot of green fields, and some of them (fairly close ones too) had sheep in them, albeit behind a fence. The sheep just stood there, poking their noses into the grass and staring placidly at the crazy humans come to look at the big old rocks. I wondered if the farmers mind all the tourists. Not much they can do though, and anyway, that has to be the ultimate case of coming to the nuisance.
I was talking about the ropes and the crowds, wasn’t I? Well, there’s both around Stonehenge—ropes and crowds. On account of the ropes, the crowds can’t actually get in amongst the stones. As a result they tend to cluster at the point nearest the tunnel entrance, up against the ropes. I walked all the way around. You can do that, and by the time you walk halfway the crowds have thinned dramatically.
I’d so like to touch Stonehenge. Not to do anything to it, just to put my palm flat against it and touch it. It’s a hard impulse to explain. It’s about connecting with something so old, making that connection to time and history. There’s something quieting about Stonehenge. So solid, so immense, so immovable. History ebbs and flows around it and Stonehenge remains. It was there before the Windsors, before William the Conqueror, before King Arthur, before the Romans; it’s been there for so long that no one really knows anymore how it got there to begin with. However it happened, someone a long, long time ago built something that’s still there—not complete and entire anymore but still there—five thousand years later.
And what does modern man do? We put a rope up around it and tell everyone that they can’t get too close. As if it was fragile or something.
I know, I know—people are idiots; someone would think it was clever to carve their name into Stonehenge. They have to protect it somehow. But really—post a guard or something, because those ropes just look silly. They’re maybe a foot off the ground, and, next to those huge weathered boulders, they look as strong as candy floss by comparison.
That’s why Stonehenge was laughing. It was there before our civilization was born, it’ll be there after it’s gone. They can put ropes up and keep everyone at a distance, but it’ll be there after the ropes too.
When I had looked my fill I walked back to the gift shop and bought a shirt. There were two options; I chose the one that just said “Stonehenge” and showed the silhouette with a blue night sky wheeling above. I rejected the one with the red sky that said “Stonehenge Rocks.” I like puns probably better than the next person, but that’s just silly and undignified. Stonehenge may be laughing, but for all that, it is still extremely dignified.