A Birthday among the Ancient Rocks of Stonehenge

On my fiftieth birthday, I become a pilgrim to Stonehenge. On the evening I arrive, Wiltshire’s wide landscape is swept by a downpour and epic winds. The gates are closed, and all the day-tourists have hurried to pubs or their B&Bs to escape the midsummer storm. It is the after-hours entry time, and I clasp my special, advanced reservation like a golden ticket.

Stonehenge after the rain. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Stonehenge after the rain. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Weatherworn and rain-soaked, I am one of a tribe of twenty-six people huddling silently in the dusky gloom as a guard unhooks the rope that separates the public from the stones. I am pulled into the circle, toward these broad-shouldered behemoths of Salisbury Plain. Miraculously, the rain has stopped, though the last drops continue to drain off my raincoat, streaking my rain-pants and darkening my brown hiking-boot leather with bloodlike splotches.

The evening sun is swaddled in clouds; the filtered light is heavy and otherworldly. I walk beside the stones—the lichen-covered stones—so mottled they look hairy. More shadow than surface. Every blade of the hallowed grass is a slim, green knife too vivid to be real.

After fifty years of seeing photos of Stonehenge, I now stand so close I can smell the musk of ancient rock and the ever-so-slight perfume of damp bluebells. But no touching the stones. No hugging them. No climbing. No eating, drinking, or smoking. No indecent activities—in other words, no copulation or pagan fertility rites. The wary guards insure compliance.

©Laurel Kallenbach.jpg

©Laurel Kallenbach

Yet I have an entire hour to stroke Stonehenge with my eyes: veins of minerals through the sarsen slabs, shards of broken rock, crust of lichen, etched signatures from bygone centuries.

Walking beneath a giant lintel stone, I feel that I have stepped through a portal into the second stage of my life—into a land of uncertainty. At fifty, I’m veiny and far less statuesque than I care to admit. Silver hairs sprout with abandon. My joints complain. Sleep eludes me.

I cross my fingers before each mammogram and every cholesterol test. I have no faith in my own crumbling edifice—certainly not the kind of faith that it takes to build in stone. Faith that’s bolstered by generation after generation who studied the stars and who marked the sun’s rising and setting year after year. Who, like me, witnessed purple-and-black thunderheads roil and move on.

Center of the stones ©Laurel Kallenbach

Center of the stones ©Laurel Kallenbach

Even for those ancient people, the patient watchers of time, there came a day when they split the plain with flint axes, cleaving the wormy soil on a wind-swept plateau. “This is where we buttress the forty-ton rock,” they announced. “Here we build. This is where we begin.”

For millennia, people have come to Stonehenge for reasons we can only guess. For solstices? For healing? For community? My own motives are surprisingly vague as well. I believe I was called to this mythic place—that somehow Stonehenge will be my cornerstone for the decades to come. This is where I begin again.

Inside the stone circle. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Inside the stone circle. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I sink onto the damp ground in the center of a horseshoe of six-foot-high bluestones: an inner ring of dolerite rocks transported hundreds of miles from western Wales. The trilithons in front of me are bone-white against the brooding clouds. Stillness.

What is there to discover here? Dirt, grass, stone, sky. Permanence, impermanence. I simply sit and breathe in my own half-century. Nothing I can do or make will be here in five thousand years. By then, I’ll be as mysterious and invisible as the builders of Stonehenge and all those who have come before me.

 ©Laurel Kallenbach

©Laurel Kallenbach

Rocks have been raised; rocks have fallen. Some face the east; some open to the west. Looking north across the A344 highway is the Avenue, the processional pathway that people once walked to reach Stonehenge from the River Avon.

Next year, the petrol-infused asphalt of the A344 will be torn out, and once again the stone circle will be reunited with the Avenue. Its passage stones, those proud sentries, have disappeared. Cracked and dissected, they were carted off to become chunks of farm fences. But the Avenue’s footprint on the land remains, and the memory of stones points to the horizon, through rippling fields of barley that beckon “this way.”

I sight through the linteled megaliths, over the toppled Slaughter Stone, and beyond the Heel Stone to that ghost of a walkway. My hour here has passed; the sun, shrouded in clouds, has set without fanfare. No farewell display of amber or vermillion streaks the sky. This one day—significant only to me as the anniversary of my birth—is nearly done. Tomorrow, the sun will illuminate a new road—a whisper of a way—for me to travel.

A guard calls. It is time for me to rise and depart this temple of the grasslands. It is time to feel my own legs beneath me, strong and solid—though not as hard as rock. I leave behind no monument, no marker—but if these stones are ancient dreams made solid, then perhaps my hopes for the future will join the circle. I touch my lips to my fingers and offer a kiss to the wet, joyful earth.

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Note: Since 2013, when I wrote this, Stonehenge has undergone “renovation.” The highway has been removed, and a new museum has been created. For information about visiting Stonehenge, visit the English Heritage website.

Read more about my travels in England:

©Laurel Kallenbach

©Laurel Kallenbach

Eclipse at Cannon Beach: Don’t Miss These Other Oregon Views

Cannon Beach, Oregon, is right in the Path of Totality, so people will be flocking to this beauty spot. When you’re not watching the solar eclipse (wearing proper safety glasses, of course), turn your gaze on some of the other lovely scenery. Here are a few glimpses of the beauty of Oregon’s most iconic beach.

First, look up! The sun is not the only thing of note: clouds can create a stunning visual on the coast.

Elegant beachfront houses pale by comparison to the grandeur of the sky. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Elegant beachfront houses pale by comparison to the grandeur of the sky. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Next, take your shoes off. Wade, play in the sand. Get your toes wet.

You can walk for miles along the coast; giant Haystack Rock is always there as a milestone. ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can walk for miles along the coast; giant Haystack Rock is always there as a milestone. ©Laurel Kallenbach

When the tide is low, the rocks jut out more than at high tide. These are covered in barnacles and other tiny sea creatures.

Craggy rocks at Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Craggy rocks at Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Even after the sun goes down, Cannon Beach is lively, and people build fires in the sand to light the night. The best way to end the eclipse of the century!

There's nothing like making s'mores around a fire on a cool summer evening. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s nothing like making s’mores around a fire on a cool summer evening. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 —Laurel Kallenbach, freelancer writer and editor

Travel Like an Artist

I rarely host guest bloggers, but creativity coach and world traveler Cynthia Morris offers inspiring advice about how to travel with all your senses. Treat yourself to a unique travel experience—whether it’s to the next town or across the globe—by following Cynthia’s joyful tips about Slow Travel. —Laurel

by Cynthia Morris, Original Impulse

I lead a workshop in Paris and elsewhere called Capture the Wow. Unlike tours or classes that teach you how to paint or draw, Capture the Wow is a playful invitation to become unabashedly receptive to the delights that surround us every single day, whether at home or away. Basically, I help people lure out their inner artist in a city devoted to art. What could be better?

I’ve been traveling this way for so long, it would be hard to imagine not setting out with a notebook (or two) in hand. I have shelves full of my sketchbooks, resplendent with stories, shapes, color and memories. It’s easy to whip one out to recall a special moment or share it with a friend. Sure, I could do that with a photo but it’s not the same.

Always have a sketchbook on hand to write or illustrate your adventure.

Always have a sketchbook on hand to write or illustrate your adventure.

But beyond the sketchbook, what does it mean, exactly, to travel as an artist? As I prepared to take my artist to Japan (I’m there now!), I set the intention that this was a trip for my artist. That I would come home with insights and inspiration for my art and my life.

In addition to the intention, I also practice the following approaches when I travel, and invite you to as well. I invite:

  • Openness to synchronicity and random surprises rather than being attached to an overly-full agenda.
    • Willingness to adopt a slower pace, perhaps even stopping to take things in more deeply.
    • Using the sketchbook more often than your camera to capture things that move you.
    • Veering off the well-worn path offered in popular guidebooks.
    • Bringing out the camera selectively, perhaps using a theme or photo prompts.
    • Reflecting on experiences and how they contribute to our art.
    • Seeking out local artists and artisans.

This ability to tap into the wonders of the world is what allows artists to make art, musicians to compose great symphonies, and photographers to see what the average person misses.

CynthiaMorris_WOWartsupplies-copy-1For the first time in 19 years, I took time off completely from work to go to Japan. No clients, no classes, no writing. I wrote this in advance of leaving so I could still keep my promise of sending a bi-weekly newsletter. I’ll be filling sketchbooks, writing daily haiku, and making watercolor postcards. I can’t wait to see what inspiration and actions come from this time of traveling with my artist.

What helps you travel like an artist? Leave a comment on Cynthia Morris’s Original Impulse blog.

Bring out your artist by traveling with Cynthia Morris in 2018! Spaces are filling up for Orvieto, Italy in May, and Paris, France in June. Treat your artist to a life-changing artful adventure!

Cynthia Morris, Certified Professional Coach, is an author and illustrator who has spent 16 years coaching writers and artists through the process of unlocking their creative genius. She created Original Impulse to help people organize their creative ideas and develop processes that help them put more work out into the world. Cynthia helps creative people finish projects that matter.

Copyright 2017 Cynthia Morris. Visit http://www.originalimpulse.com  and finally start enjoying your creative talents.