History is a lot like a high school football game: Crowds of people attend so lots of stuff probably happens but only the score will ever be remembered a thousand years from now. And who got pregnant under the south bleachers.
The prehistoric monument of Stonehenge in England is a good example. Sure, it has sundry astronomical correlations, is acoustically super-groovy, and has a lot of anthropologists and geologists all hot and bothered but all this really yields us are some interesting theories.
There’s the spooky ritual sacrifice theory, popular among teenagers at Halloween and those who don’t completely understand the Druid religions. There’s the aliens theory, which involves a landing site or some sort of signaling device that tells the Greys and other slimy things where to go and what to do with themselves. There might be blood-lettings involved there, too, I don’t know. Then there’s the ancient burial grounds claim, the healing geological hot spot proposal, and the sound stage for Neolithic instruments hypothesis. I favor the celestial observatory idea. Because stuff there does line up pretty well with other stuff when the Earth moves.
Any man-made enigma still standing after five thousand years naturally fuels awe and speculation–and art. Clonehenges have cropped up around the world, testament to the power of this inscrutable riddle. There’s Cheesehenge….…Carhenge….…Cupcakehenge….…Candycornhenge. (Apparently, all henges must begin with the letter C.)Okay, somebody needs to sober up and try again.That’s just wrong.
Art fails aside, there has been at least one noble attempt at replication in the United States, the first of its kind in the world. Sam Hill (not the “What in the Sam Hill?” guy, but the “Gosh, that’s a lot of money!” guy) commissioned a monument in the state of Washington to honor the fallen soldiers of World War I while the battle was still raging. As a Quaker, he wasn’t so into killing and he wanted something big and bloody to grab the emotional attention of the American populace. Apparently, someone had told him Stonehenge was a sacrificial altar (it wasn’t) (well, we’re pretty sure, but, you know, no living witnesses) and he figured that represented the amoral carnage of war aptly enough.
Hill’s version opted for reinforced concrete instead of local rock which some call inauthentic but I say is timely and apropos. After all, slabs of rock were as modern as you got in 5000-years-old England, so there. How exactly Hill’s engineers pulled it off is unknown but as always, there are theories. I like the IKEA one.
He built a home and small community around it, too, and named it all Maryhill after his wife–I’ll give you three guesses what her name was–but it burned down before she could ever set foot in it. Not that she ever would. Hill’s wife hated the Pacific Northwest and moved her brood back to Minnesota only six months after he settled them in Seattle. I haven’t seen Seattle yet but she might have a point. Then again, I have seen the Midwest in winter so the woman was clearly nuts.
Sam, himself, is buried near his monument at an undisclosed location so when you add up the burnings and the buryings and the bloody war references, there’s plenty to jump out of your skin about if you find yourself there all alone in the silence and are disposed to skin-jumping. Because spooky.
But considering the place closes promptly at dusk, you don’t have to worry about getting caught there with the non-living after dark. The only protection you’ll really need against bodily harm at the Maryhill Stonehenge Memorial is SPF 30 and a water bottle.
Human sacrifice being out of fashion these days and this particular Stonehenge replica being built at a slightly different and annoyingly celestially-inaccurate angle and latitude than the original, you might as well leave your dagger and star chart at home. Or you can just suit up in your cosplay wizard gear and try to blend in with a modern Druid ritual.
Still, it’s worth the drive for the hugeness alone (16-foot-high monoliths!) and the acoustics are pretty cool, too. Which will be tested, along with your patience, by today’s unkempt congregation of road trip tourists.
You know the type. They open all four doors more or less in unison on a dust-encrusted Nissan Altima and stiffly emerge while empty Pepsi cans and Butterfinger wrappers tumble out onto the ground in a diabetic waterfall. They ignore this and instead blink around dumbly like cows in the sun while they stretch and complain about the heat. You can tell which one of them had the idea to come here–that’s the only one who’s actually walking toward the monument. The rest are shuffling around in resentful polygons near the car, confused about suddenly being in a place without a coffee bar and Wi-Fi.
Once this herd is successfully pushed towards the entrance with threats and bribes, they immediately divide into two groups: those that need a good spanking and those who can focus. The focusers get into it. They read the plaque, they touch the columns, they take pictures, they wonder things. The corporal punishment group needs no introduction. They are easy to spot, they have a uniform: Pasty white muffin tops that squeeze out over shorts, flip-flops that look like they have been chewed on by at least six different dogs, T-shirts designed by drag queens in rehab…and that’s just the dudes. The girls look like they are on their fifth cigarette break in a porno shoot. Both genders parlay in decibels suitable to a Mets game.
Dude1: “Where’s the &@$% bathrooms?”
Dude 2: “There aren’t any. No amenities.”
Dude 1: “That’s stupid. Whyduhya think somebody made this stupid &@#% thing for?”
Dude 1: “But, I mean, what’s it for?”
Dude 2: “Dunno.”
Dude 1: “But it’s, like, in the middle of &@#% nowhere. Why would anybody put something this &@#% stupid in the middle of &@#% nowhere?”
Dude 2: “I don’t give a &@#%. Stop talking to me.”
And all this while they’re standing directly in front of the informational plaque that explains who the &@#% Hill was and why he built this &@#% thing here. Cosmic. But not to worry, in very short order these individuals become too hot, too bored, and too urine-filled to linger and so off they go again, fast as the 4-cylinder will take them to the nearest town and the sticky embrace of a familiar fast food restaurant with enough bacteria on the toilet seats to kill a Kodiak bear.
Bonus: If you look at Maryhill on Google Earth, you’ll find ever-present circular tire tracks of people who have traveled all the way across Washington to do donuts in the Stonehenge Memorial parking lot. Dude, if those are supposed to be crop circles, you’re doing it wrong.
When the current tourist herd is gone–and before the next pungent wave of Axe body spray arrives–it’s delightful to just stand in the wind and inhale the sweet smell of sun-warmed earth around you. Or close your eyes and listen to the sparrows twittering softly in the white oaks next to the monument. Or investigate cool bugs. Or sit on the giant stone-ish altar and pretend you rule the Universe. Oh, yeah.Well…the sun is still up and there are windmills of Brobdingnagian size visible off in the distance through those columns so it’s pretty easy to guess where I’m heading next.The Windy Point/Windy Flats wind farm, as it’s called (with no irony whatsoever), supports 90 square miles of these 415-foot-tall electricity-generating pinwheels just up Highway 97 from the Maryhill Stonehenge Monument. And when I say up, I mean up. The road vaults you over 1500 feet above the flood plain in just a few miles. The views are spectacular.This is a far more meditative tourist attraction in that there are no tourists. You can stare in peace for hours at these slow motion hulks mindlessly chopping the air up into equal slices day in and day out.They sound like jet aircraft engines on whisper mode–whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, wump…whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, wump. I don’t know what the “wump” is and I don’t want to know.It looks like the War of the Worlds recast in rural Washington with extremely undangerous alien craft. The worst these things can do is throw a little sun glare at you around 4 PM.But they do cast one hell of a shadow.
Maintenance guys have to climb several hundred feet straight up the dark insides of these giant metal backbones to service the massive turbines. Maintenance guys should get paid a lot.
Once you get over the creepiness factor of believing maybe they are aware of you and will soon all turn around in eerie mechanical unison to stare at you with their humongous, eyeless daisy faces before closing in and dicing you up like fresh, wet garlic, it’s actually quite soothing to watch. Then you get sleepy, then hungry. Then you start calculating the distance and time to the nearest Smoked Caprese Panini and a beer. And non-lethal bathrooms.
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Special thanks to Bill Gerth, Faculty Research Assistant at the OSU Plant Clinic, for exercising his insect identification superpowers.
July 18, 2010