Just got back from a very quick and yet pleasantly full trip to England. Among the highlights was heading out toward Salisbury so that we could visit Stonehenge. Lots of people had sort of discouraged us from going, saying that they’d gone and been disappointed because you can’t get close to the monument anymore–which is true, in a sense. There’s a cordon at knee height that encircles the stones, twenty or so yards away from them. Still, since we were there in April, mid-week, the crowd was small and we were able to amble around the perimeter at a slow pace, taking it in. In some ways, the most exciting view came not there, but in the car when we had almost arrived; we crested the last hill on our way there and suddenly, there it was. We were all struck by this shock of beholding.
I am really glad we didn’t succumb to other folks’ recommendations that we skip this visit. Being present in this place mattered to me in ways that I can’t yet put clearly. While we were there, I couldn’t help wondering about the other people who had also made a point of coming to this place. What were they encountering? Could any of them put it into words? And if they could, would their words help me find mine?
I’ll never know, of course. Those are not the questions one can ask of strangers.
While I don’t know what they might have put into words, I do know what they put into pictures. We saw folks making lots and lots of pictures–with everything from a tiny cell phone to a pair of digital SLR cameras carefully calibrated to create a stereoscopic image. And as we picnicked, I paid attention to their act of paying attention. Throughout our lunch, I photographed everyone who paused nearby to take a picture, made a record of their effort to record. For some reason, several folks asked Rob to take their pictures during that interval, so I recorded that as well.
This set of pictures tickles me. But here’s the thing; I made them partly to protect myself, to avoid the hardest part of being there. Because places like Stonehenge risk paralyzing me, at the same time that they strike me as one of humanity’s few sources of hope. More, perhaps, about this terrifying paradox some other day. Far sooner, I’ll try to put into words something more manageable about Stonehenge and the other celestial sighting site we visited during the trip–The Royal Observatory at Greenwich.