As I was growing up my father often told me about his one and only visit to Stonehenge. He was a young man at the time, stationed in England during World War II.
Now, my father was a very good storyteller, so he embellished his account with descriptions and impressions not only of Stonehenge itself, but also of the Salisbury Plain. I vividly remember the expression of quiet excitement on his face as he talked about the ground he walked upon, the flora he observed, the clouds drifting in the huge expanse of sky above him, the feeling of the sun on his face, and the breeze ruffling his hair. I felt that I could picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye, and perhaps I could. I don’t really know.
The most interesting part of his story, though, was that when he finally reached the stones, holding his hand out to touch one of them, he felt a buzz of energy coming from the stone. This shook him to his toes. None of his army friends could feel it so, naturally, they didn’t believe him. I believed him, though, because I knew my father didn’t have a belief system that encouraged him to imagine strange metaphysical experiences. Nevertheless, he obviously treasured his memory of that mysterious moment of inexplicable wonder and awe. I treasure it as well.
I’ve never been to Stonehenge, but I have visited Carhenge. Carhenge stands on a grassy plain outside of Alliance, Nebraska, far from the Salisbury Plain. Instead of stones, the builder used vintage automobiles painted grey. While it has been meticulously fashioned to be a duplicate of Stonehenge in physical size and placement, the only magic encountered there is that which one conjures for oneself by allowing imagination to take hold. Personally, I found the experience quite magical, which is reassuring. It means my imagination is in good shape.
As I approached the monolithic structures of Carhenge I allowed my eyes to shift focus — just a little bit — and found myself gazing at what truly looked like the stones of Stonehenge, as long as I was careful not to look closely. The breeze was warm and gentle, and the sky was wide open with wispy clouds scudding gently across it. There were wildflowers growing here and there, and no other people were near. As I wandered about, I found myself smiling in wonder that someone would expend so much effort to erect this strange replica out in, essentially, the middle of nowhere. How is it that a person imagines such a concept, and then actually follows through with it?
The September issue of Smithsonian Magazine contains an article titled “What Lies Beneath,” which is about the discovery of structures and objects buried several yards below Stonehenge. This is a groundbreaking discovery, but hardly definitive. As the article points out, “What we know is always dwarfed by what we can never know.” I like that. It means our collective sense of wonder and awe about Stonehenge will never be fully satisfied.
The older I get, the more I find in the ordinary world around me that triggers this sense of wonder and awe. I realize how precious it is, and that many people forget to take notice of it. All around us are wonderful things that can send our imaginations soaring. I suppose most people find it easy when looking at something as stupendous as Stonehenge. We shouldn’t forget, though, that even the Carhenges of this world are awesome. It, quite simply, depends on how we choose to focus our gaze. When we remember to look at things with our imaginations engaged, the world is truly an awesome place.
By the way, Carhenge is a very popular roadside attraction. In fact, in June, 2014, Carhenge was named as one of the “Top 3 Quirky Landmarks” by USA Today. You can read more about it at http://carhenge.com/#sthash.U7uAH5Fl.dpuf
Credits and Acknowledgements:
Carhenge images retrieved from Carhenge of Alliance Nebraska Blog: http://carhenge.com/photos/
History of Carhenge: http://carhenge.com/history/
Stonehenge image: Copyright © Mary Ann Sullivan; http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/stonehenge/stonehenge.html
“What Lies Beneath,” Smithsonian Magazine, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-lies-beneath-Stonehenge-180952437/