So they’ve announced they are going to live stream the summer solstice from Stonehenge this year. If that’s not a COVID silver lining then I don’t know what is. I’ve lived here for the better part of thirty years but have never managed to venture down to Wiltshire to mingle amongst the faithful pagans to welcome the sun through the upstanding plinths of Stonehenge on the 21st of June and thus summer officially into our midst – so this should be a treat. Mind you, way back when I was fresh from grad school and newly arrived to England with my English lit degree I did manage a meander around the stones as close to Tess of the D’Ubervilles’ style as English Heritage would allow (without of course the getting arrested for murder part). I sure remember being fully awed by the sheer sizes of the stones – the biggest weighing 36 tonnes and standing 7 metres high dwarfing my 5’7” silhouette against the grey stone. I studied Elizabethan and Victorian literature at uni so I always thought this was a moment that needed to be captured in my personal experience little knowing I’d lead a life from then til now at times a little too akin to a Thomas Hardy novel than I’d rather say. But that’s a whole other blog…
At any rate, the monument of the circle of stones which according to the BBC podcast You’re Dead To Me is not actually a ‘henge’ (an earthwork enclosure usually in the shape of a circle) per se (although it is the most famous one in the world) is going to be honoured by druids and us mere mortals alike if you decide to tune in for the sunrise streaming through it as Saturday edges into this Sunday. I am looking forward to seeing this mystical experience for myself (even if it is COVID-19 style via a livecam). I am curious if the experience will move me – make me appreciate what all the fuss of cheering the ascending sun to mark a new season is about and perhaps show me why people annually gather to celebrate “midsommer” – seeing if it adds to my appreciation of the place. I may have missed the official solstice these last 30 years, but every time I go to drop off or pick up Christy from her university down in Cornwall, my timing to beat the M25/A303 traffic means I pass the site nearly unobscured by any traffic just as the sun crests the horizon behind me. A powerful moment in my six and half hour journey. Each time it is a treat. I am able to quickly glance to my right and marvel at this creation casting its long shadows across the grassy Salisbury plain. I look to the side as I pass yet , more than anything, the experience makes me want to look up. Every time. I mentally I cast my eyes higher and look towards the heavens to wonder some more . So I think you can see why I’m excited, right?
There are no records as to why Stonehenge is there. Nothing about its purpose although archeologists and regular old punters have made some pretty interesting guesses over the years: a giant calendar, a gift from aliens, a cemetery or maybe even a healing place. It is definite the construction is aligned with the midsummer’s sunrise and amazingly scientists have worked out that although the upright plinths are local, the 7-8 tonne blue stones that are jointed and hinged spanned on top, like a bit of Fred Flinstone carpentry, are from western Wales – 250km away. Seeing them opens your mind to wonder – How did they get there? What possessed people to such an undertaking? Why just why?
The sheer scale of Stonehenge’s size somehow reminds me of the forests of redwoods we visited in California. Just like in the woods, a sense of a cathedral links to this creation and I am not surprised that Christopher Wren (who designed London’s St Paul’s Catherdral) lived locally to Stonehenge even grafitti-ed his name in two places on the stones. It had to have made an impression. That sense of looking up, the architecture of that inorganic forest of stone drawing your sight and thoughts to loftier places. I don’t have Stonehenge at home but luckily we have a listed redwood sequoia and giant cedar to enthral us. It’s rumoured our garden was landscaped by Capability Brown (who designed the likes of the gardens of Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens and Longleat) back in the 1700s. I’m not trying to name drop but I’m pointing out these trees, the redwood by the house and the cedar holding court at the end of our plot, have seen some history.
And just like the stones of Stonehenge, you stand next to the trees and you are put into proportion so to speak. You feel their greatness emanating out into the world. You touch their bark and feel the solidness of these giants. You feel equally grounded and drawn skyward with your thoughts and appreciation. I wonder if Stonehenge isn’t an attempt to make that connection of grounding and the ethereal. Solid. Stoic. Majestic. Weathered but still standing strong. I ponder whether the farmers had been toiling and scraping out their nourishment from the earth and wanted to give thanks for Life itself and remind whatever is looking down at us that we want to matter. We want to count. We want to pay homage and to stand the tests of time.
Speaking of the tests of time, I reckon should include in our “new normal” both dawn-breaking Stonehenge solstice-casts and my new dawn-breaking weekly scavenge to the local supermarket. During one such “test” last Tuesday morning, having hoicked my stash of jute eco-friendly shopping bags into the back of my Volvo at 530am so I’d only be 10 fully masked and trolley sanitised people back from the entrance of social distancing shopping at Tesco, I was forced to consider what could be done in these trying times. En route to the store I had on Radio 4 (of course) and Farming Today was on, the subject: arable farming. Over the discussion of the synergy of farming using fallow fields to graze sheep while other fields flourish, my brain went from fallow to furlough and I thought about the workers “resting” while we await the next time to plant. I don’t mean to get all Biblical on you but you’ve gotta admit these days do sort of demand that filter and vocabulary – I mean there have even been locusts in the forecasts…so how could ‘reap what you sow’ not come to my mind? Or is it sow what you reap? I always get mixed up but the message being I wonder what I can do? Really do to make a difference in this situation? Not sure I am gonna be able to start rolling giant boulders from Wales to Kent to make a lasting mark so I asked myself is there anything else?
Zoning in on the farmers I considered the current fascination with seeds and growing right now. Many of us, more than usual I would suggest, are turning our hands to the soil to have the satisfaction that something can be coaxed from it. A blossom or a vegetable – something either way to sustain us. Sow what you reap- reap what you sow. There are seeds we can sow right now, prep the soil and tamp it down, water regularly, it’s not too late and not an impossible feat. Prepare for the future – how? If not in the garden then online, via post, in person, it dawns on me I can’t just garden – I can sign up to vote. It is my democratic right to do so and I do not want to waste it. I can vote for creating the world I want to life in.
There’s mystery in planting a seed in a Styrofoam cup much like Robert Fulgrum mentions in his poem, “All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. It is not just a right but a power in it and choosing your crop well with purpose and with an objective for providing for you and your family. It is not a popularity contest (lima beans might have been faded out by now if that was the case!). The choice has to be based off of what is good, most nutritious for you – broccoli and Brussels sprouts have got a bad veggie rap but look what they can do for you. Fight disease. Build defences. Beat, some say, cancer. Reap what you sow, sow what you reap. In Ecclesiastes we are reminded “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” With so much at stake we can have no more complacency. We’re gonna have to weed and water and nurture our “plants”. It is not enough to stick a plant in the soil (a person in office) and expect them to flourish. We need to be as attentive to them as we want them to attend to us. Read. Write. Educate ourselves so we can stay connected so what we’ve planted can grow the right way. Prop it up with a stake, spray it with spray if needs be when the bad bugs descend. To thrive it needs us as much as we need it.
The substance, the harvest, will come and some years will be good and some not so good. Pray for rain and sun whichever you need most. But pray. Not just by pressing hands together to ensure the plant goes up miraculously towards the light and life. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family and friends. If you don’t like the rhetoric, change it. You get to decide the dialogue – don’t they say whispering to your plants helps them to thrive? Whisper and write and communicate. Don’t just bad mouth the thing for exposing its roots and bending in the wind, keep it propped up. No need for adulation just keep trying to get it to grow well and do its job. And when a bad one come along, uproot it, lift it out and put it on the mulch pile. Then move on.
We need to keep growing and providing an environment for all to thrive. Every colour of the palate celebrated. Each its own sacred fruit with a unique offering for all to reap what they sow. And finally, when it comes, don’t refrain from sharing the goodness. When you share everyone wins. Imagine the cornucopia of goodness you will have produced for your Thanksgiving table. November is not so far away. It’s time to get to work. So go get your hands dirty. God knows we have a surplus of hand wash to clean them. Wash your hands to get the soil out from your nails and clear your palms of the embedded dirt, just don’t wash your hands of this. Plant your seeds well. Care for them. Sign up to vote and then do it. Make the world the place you want it to be. Mindful farmers who share the crops to keep us all well fed.
Then after you’ve done the work or even while you are doing it, don’t for get to treat yourself with a look up. If you are not fancying the solstice then please consider watching The Aeronauts (its free on Amazon Prime!). A beautiful semi-biographic adventure film with a great story to keep you on the end of your seat. It is based off of a book called Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air by Richard Holmes. Personally I loved the whole thing, but especially the final words uttered by another Wren, the fictional balloon pilot, Emilia Wren,
“We took to the skies in the name of discovery, to find something new, to change the world. But you don’t change the world simply by looking at it. You change it through the way you choose to live in it.
Look up. The sky lies open.”