Built Stones and Baked Goods.
26 June 2022
I’m driving east along the A303 with an air of anticipation. I pass a sign that says: Stonehenge World Heritage Site: Please Drive Carefully. Does the henge cause accidents along this road, or am I being asked to alter my driving behaviour in deference to this spiritual spectacle in the landscape?
Either way, a ritual of the road ensues: drive then glance, drive then glance. Is that it, over beyond the copse, about two miles away? Trees and HGV’s hurtle past - drive and glance - until, out of nowhere it appears, closer than I imagined.
I’m disappointed. It looks like a cardboard cut-out. Something that took centuries to build shouldn’t be experienced at high speed. It feels disrespectful. Later, I pass a Greggs at Willoughby Hedge at 60mph and that feels about right. What's disappointing is its context in relationship to the idea I have of the henge in the landscape of my imagination.
All that is required for sticks and stones to leap into life is our own presence, says the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. The more I experience places like Stonehenge, the more I realise that they also exist beyond the physical. In my mind, Stonehenge is more meaningful than the roadside reality.
Stonehenge is just one element in a larger web of places that live beyond their physical presence. Think of Glastonbury Tor, The Shambles, York and Sutton Hoo. There are also the places that impact us on a personal level: local streetscapes that know more of us than we do of them. They constitute a small part of a vast matrix of inherited material culture.
This ecology of place exists within our collective imagination. I liken it to the hidden mycelium matrix that connects trees and allow them to communicate and sustain each other. Buildings and squares, gardens and ginnels are springing points that contribute to our identity and wellbeing. Through the stories they tell and the place they hold within our imagination, they nourish and give context to our lives.
As I glide past the standing stones on a ribbon of tarmac, I glance into my wing mirror. There it is again, Stonehenge, looking magnificent this time, given majesty from the framing, uplifted within the confines of a reflection.
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