Thursday, February 24, 2005

Our American Stonehenge & The Possible End of the World

I just came back from a walk at the edge of the Mighty Columbia, which is presently calm as a cat in the sun - no wind, no choppy water, no rain, no clouds, just sun reflecting up into my eyes. In July I might be able to take such a situation with some pleasure, and a smug "as it should be" sort of smile. On February 24, it's just plain freaky, and makes all of us Oregonians and Washingtonians feel like we are getting somebody else's good fortune. This is literally true, as the winter jet stream usually aimed at us is currently aimed at Southern California with disastrous results, if you've been watching the news video of beachside properties sliding down onto one another.

It feels somewhat like getting free cable from the previous tenant's pirated cable split, or maybe like your mortgage company making a mistake and not billing you all winter. It feels great, but you know fortune's wheel is going to turn, and you are going to be required to pay back, big time. And yes, the Northwest will suffer some pay-back-type consequences, such as summer water shortages and a sizzling wildfire season.

However, the itchy, undeserving feeling is even more personal than that. Northwesterners spend a lot of time in the fall mentally preparing for the months of cold, dark, grey wetness that can penetrate the soul, let alone the layers of wool and Gortex we wear in hopes of at least some semblance of physical comfort. This year, God has seen fit to lift the burden of cold grey wetness from our lives for nearly the entire winter. We are happy, yet wary of the karmic consequences. We don't feel like we really deserve this, and deep down, we feel that it's just wrong. How can we truly enjoy our summer without experiencing its opposite? It's like good without evil, beauty without ugliness. How can we truly appreciate the good without deserving it by conquering the bad? If we wanted angst-free living, we would have moved to LA. Oops, except they are now experiencing our winter.

It's enough to compel us to keep making comments to each other like, "Is this the end of the world? Ha-ha..." spoken with a quick glance to the side, as if expecting our prophecy to come rolling through the clouds. Well, if this is the end of the world, we Northwesterners are certainly being treated to a nice last chapter.

Drew and I both had yesterday off, and the weather report was, monotonously enough, for beautiful weather, so we took off in an easterly direction for a change.

I had heard tell of a re-created Stonehenge in a small, once completely privately owned town of Maryhill, Washington, about 100 miles east of Vancouver, so off we went to investigate.

Turns out that on a bluff overlooking the Mighty Columbia River and neighboring Oregon, Samuel Hill, a railroad and land baron of the late 1800s to early 1900s, built a full scale replica of England's Stonehenge as a memorial for the soldiers who died in the First World War. The names of the 13 Klickitat County soldiers who lost their lives in the war are inscribed on brass plates embedded in the stones.

My first question was "why Stonehenge, of all things, to pick as your war memorial?" Turns out that Mr. Hill, a Quaker pacifist, was in England during the war and visited the original Stonehenge. He was told that (as some mistakenly believed at the time) the monument was originally used as a site of human sacrifice. This led him to make the connection between such ancient human sacrifice and the continuing sacrifice of human beings in the name of war. So there you go. Makes sense in that light.

Yes, it's rather surreal driving past some bored-looking cows, grazing on adjacent land, to find a full-scale Stonehenge around the next ridge. However, it's obvious from the start that this is an all-American endeavor for the following reasons.


  1. It is complete. As in, it is how Stonehenge would have looked had time not taken its toll. All lintels are in place, as opposed to the authentic Stonehenge, where time has worn away the rock so much that the great stones once resting on and across the upright stones have tumbled down eaons ago. This Stonehenge not only looks practically roofed with the lintels spanning all the outside stones, but from inside, it seems practically crowded with all the huge inner arch stones, smaller secondary stones, and the big flat altar stone. (We started to think of all the cool end-of-movie chase scenes you could shoot while our hero hides from sight around the next stone, running from hidey-stone to hidey-stone...how American are we?...) anyway, Mr. Hill "improved" on the original by replacing all the stones that have never actually been seen by modern man. How American is that?
  2. It is made of concrete. Really. Firstly, stones as big as those at Stonehenge are not easily found, quarried and carried with early 20th-century technology, let alone with stone-age technology, which makes the original so mind-blowing. Secondly, I guess old Sam Hill just loved, loved, loved this newfangled material called concrete. He used it to build an enormous chateau for himself as well as his Stonehenge. So I supposed it's actually a ConcreteHenge. Is there anything more American than the overuse of concrete? Hardly. So it only stands to reason that the American Stonehenge is made of smaller stones encased in tons of concrete.
  3. It's got graffiti on it. I'm sure the Maryhill Museum (which the aforementioned chateau now houses) tries to keep on top of the idiots with spray paint, but the idiots often have them outnumbered. Lots of idiots with spray paint. Also very American.

For more information, you can go to http://maryhillmuseum.org/about.htm

Anyway, it was a beautiful day. Hope the world doesn't end or anything.

1 comment:

Dean said...

Man, Americans are so American sometimes...