I think it’s in the way the light falls, angling through the trees, hitting everything with a bright touch that is so alluring. Approaching Stonehenge, we traverse rolling plains. This morning gentle wind whips the summer wheat, and flips the leaves over. They look like schools of silver fish swimming in a blue sky. I have always wanted to see Stonehenge. With hippies for parents, I’ve know about this rocky formation for as far back as I can recall. What fascinates me and drives me most crazy is that no one knows for certain what it is, how it got here, and what the original purpose was behind its being constructed. The stones have remained, worn down by wind and rain, but the burning urges of the humans who created it have been entirely lost to the years that have passed. We’re left with only speculation; all that amounts to is scientific rumor.
Like all of England, the sky in the south is low and changing. Clouds roll over in fluffy groups, looking lofty from this vantage point, but I dropped down through them on the way back to earth and could see from the plane window how very close to the ground they were. They’re temperamental things, these clouds of England. A whole day of them may pass without even a single drop of rain. Alternately, it could be bright and blue and the clouds as white and airy as cotton wool and next thing you know, it’s a downpour.
We get hot coffee in the refreshment stand just outside the gates. It’s a funny thing about the British, you can find a pub, or six, in every small town, but coffee shops are reserved for shopping malls, airports, and, happily, busy places of interest. They also sell ‘rock’ scones, cucumber sandwiches, and brie, basil and tomato subs. We’re not hungry. We had cider and oatcakes at the campsite this morning.
We’ve arrived early so we sip our drinks and wait for the gates to open. Six little birds flit about the fence posts reminding us of our children. We try to catch a picture of them, but two fly off. “That’s about right,” I say. One of ours has flow the coop already, and the next in line will as soon as he can get his wings under him. Back at home baby birds had just hatched in a nest just over porch light. Just before we left they were so big, they looked stuffed into that small, grassy cradle. “That’s how I feel.” Our nineteen year old commented.
Aside from the birds, there are large groups of people arriving by the bus-load. We sit and, without seeming to stare, try to guess nationalities. There is an entire cricket team, looking smart in their neat shorts and cardigans. There is nothing more British to me than the wearing of shorts with a cardigan. Another group hosts a tightly angled accent. Is it highlands Scottish? Irish? There is one young man wearing a black T-shirt with a skull and silver chains on it. He’s friendly despite this garb, and is the only one in the group who smiles at me. I know, were my girls with me, this would be the one they would remember. While I’m off to get another coffee, they all get up and leave and Neil realizes there are not, in fact, English speaking at all.
With the caffeine coursing, we walk through a short tunnel and come to Stonehenge. Due to literally thousands of years of human occupation, there are numerous places in England that are just as interesting, old, and historically significant as Stonehenge. I have visited cathedrals where they’ve been saying Mass since the eleventh century. I’ve been to Lindisfarne, that water-ringed Island where Christianity first landed in these parts. England, and I suppose all of Europe, is rife with historical sites and ancient structures. Even with all of that, there was something mystical about this monolithic, geometrical stone ring. With the plains rolling away in every direction, it sits all on its own as the center of this small world. At intervals the stones line up. On the solstice, the sun rises and sets through these gaps. I can hardly think that was accidental. I stand in the exact spot and look through the gap in the stones. I can feel the weight of the millions of eyes that have gazed just so before me. Like the ping of a tuning fork, I recognize the magic that is at play.
Exactly half-way around the structure, we feel the first few rain drops. Absorbed in the ear piece, detailing the imagined history of this place, I hadn’t noticed the sky had darkened and the wind had picked up. Within seconds, it’s pouring. Neil gallantly gives me his rain-jacket. He’s wearing a polar-fleece, I’m wearing cotton. We’re camping tonight so with no way to get things dry after this, he deems I will have the worst of this after the rainfall. We try to stick it out, to continue to stand on the open plain and marvel at the monolith. The rain wins out. By the time we reach the tunnel, my pants and shoes are soaked, I drip and my feet squelch on the stone walkway. We stop in at the gift-shop to pick up presents for the kids.
When we exit fifteen minutes later, the sky is again a bright blue.