Inspiration in Stone
by Jan Baughman

Today is the day, the one after 12, 530 on which I will lose my prehistoric virginity. I shall march through the Plain to this place of my dreams, position myself facing west on the Slaughter Stone and offer my existential soul to the Gods. And I, I shall be transformed to the summer solstice of the Bronze Age; my life shall be filled with drama and inspiration at last.

I pack the Volvo. Don't need much, mind you; this is a purely spiritual adventure. Sandwich, Diet Coke, walking shoes, camera, car phone, map, and the like. I head west -- how fitting for this explorer. I estimate that my journey will take several hours. I will park the car somewhere in the Salisbury Plain then hike to the glorious monument. Should be there in time for a magnificent sunset.

I am driving west now, keep heading for Exeter. At least, I assume I'm driving west. One thing I have learned while living in England is "know before you go." The Brits, they are different. Unlike in the States, their motorways don't indicate which direction they are heading; they usually don't even tell you the number of the road you are on. So, before I leave, I make a list of towns I will need to pass through, and the largest town in that direction in which I am headed... Today, it is Exeter. West.

Better pay attention to my driving. I think I'm heading west. Haven't seen any signs yet. Well, it doesn't need a sign. I'll bet that Mount Everest and the Great Pyramids don't have one. I will know when I am close. I'll sense it, I'm sure.

One advantage of British motorways (besides how smooth they are and how people drive in the lane that is appropriate for the speed they are traveling) is that there is always a place to pull off (probably because people always get lost for they don't know what direction they are headed in). It's very convenient. In fact, I think I'll just pull over here and check my map -- I'm not finding my towns. I think I'm going west, but when the bloody sun doesn't set until 9 p.m. it's hard to tell... Well, looks okay; carry on!

Hmmm, just can't imagine why there aren't any signs yet. Guess the Brits are just more subtle. If it were in Arizona there would be tourist traps along the way with snack bars and souvenir stands selling genuine imitation miniature replicas (assembly and batteries required). I really seem to be in the middle of nowhere.

Well, this is interesting, I'm in the middle of nowhere and suddenly I have military jets doing military exercises right over my head. I guess they have to do them in the middle of nowhere... Watch where you're going -- hill ahead, can't see over. Up to the top and...

WHAT? It can't be... must be a replica, a tourist trap, after all. No, there is a sign for the turnoff. It is a sign for STONEHENGE. My Stonehenge. Sitting, majestically, gloriously, surrealistically... and absolutely incredibly, right next to the freeway. No chicken and egg question here -- build a freeway, and they will come. I guide the Volvo off the motorway and follow the signs for the Stonehenge parking lot, across the street from Stonehenge, next to the Stonehenge gift shop. I sit in the car and eat my lunch, throw my walking shoes in the back, debate about bringing the camera, but I do...

I come to a ticket booth. Self-guided tour or those headphones in various languages. Who cares what there is to learn about Stonehenge? I shall not wear the headphones. Celtic priests do not need headphones to understand.

I take my ticket and follow the concrete path under the highway past some unexpected bulldozers and there I am, face-to-face with those slabs of stone. It looks so small. I walk towards it. And I see that it is not It that is small, it is I who am small. It is roped off, I cannot perform my ritual. Too many people took authentic souvenirs, or chiseled contemporary graffiti on the prehistoric stones, or laid their bodies on the fallen rock, or touched them and changed their position and thus, their Karma...

I walk in circles around this place. I must take in every detail. Soon, I don't mind sharing this experience with the footpaths, the tourists, the bulldozers. It is mystical, in spite of it all. The jets flying over become an amazing contrast between ultra-modern technology and a prehistoric engineering feat that will outlast them all. Outlast us all. The bulldozers make me laugh at myself. We create technology to simplify or enrich our lives, yet what technology did it take to drag these particular stones into this precise arrangement and create a monument whose purpose is unknown, yet whose power still stands...?

This arrangement of stones, in a great plain, next to a highway, under a flight path -- it is amazing, humbling, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring. If you go to England, forget the non-existent signs. Head west toward Exeter, to a place you will never forget.

Published June 12, 1996
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