Among The Stones Of Memory

At Calanais, I reflect on time, art and memory

Nick Barlow

--

It’s July 1993. I’m at a disused airfield south of Birmingham watching a man in a furry alien suit run around a stage. Then he strips out of that, leaving him in just a bright yellow posing pouch as he starts climbing the lighting gantries.

It’s July 2023. I’m standing in a field on an island in the North Atlantic. It’s raining and I’m looking at some very old rocks.

Part of the Calanais cross, July 19th 2023

It’s what we’ll later call 2323 BCE, sometime around midsummer. July hasn’t been invented yet (and neither have posing pouches or Birmingham) but the stones are there. Maybe slightly more, maybe slightly fewer than I saw — perhaps they’re adding a new one that month — but they’re there.

Some time long after that, but well before me, they’ll start calling this place Calanais, and some time after that some others will start calling it Callanish. The stones will be part of their landscape, but not as I saw them, or as the people who first placed them saw them. This land is damp and windy and grows moss, so peat forms around the stones, slowly burying them. The peat doesn’t grow quick enough for anyone to notice, but every year, every generation, the ground around the stones get a little higher, and they get a little shorter.

It’s March 1990, and a singer is visiting the stones for the first time. He spends hours sitting overlooking them in the drizzle, thinking and writing copious notes on everything they represent. In the years after that, the stones will become a central theme for one of his next albums, and then he’ll follow that by writing a guide to the megalithic landscapes of the British Isles.

In 2023 I’m looking at the stones and thinking of the art that’s brought me here but then it comes to me that these stones are art themselves. And not just the structure as a whole, but each stone in itself is a statement, an end result of active decisions made. It was chosen, it was moved, it was placed here, the ground as the frame it’s fixed in saying look at this, this is important.

Sometime after BC becomes AD, but before both become BCE and CE, the stones stop being a place and become a mystery to be explained. They call them Druid and Heathen, words that had no meaning back when they…

--

--

Nick Barlow

Former academic and politician, now walking, cycling and working out what comes next. https://linktr.ee/nickbarlow