I will start with the story of how the Stones of Stenness hummed.
I was on my honeymoon in 2005, touring Scotland, which I am always keen on repeating. I have returned to Scotland every chance I got since 1998 when I first flew there and felt its peace. Since my then-husband, Scott, had also been to Edinburgh before, and I had friends there, we ended the tour with that familiar, gorgeous pile of hills, outcroppings and cobble. But that tale can wait. This setting is of the most memorable part of our journey, in Orkney with the standing stones.
Anyone versed in Scotland knows that Orkney contains some impressive stone age settlements and standing stones. The most famous are: Skara Brae, discovered again when a sandstorm uncovered the stone-walled village amazingly preserved; the Ring of Brodgar, one of the most complete circles of stones of its size in the UK standing; a nearby cairn tomb, Mae’s Howe, celebrated for its intact-ness, and the “Viking” graffiti left in runes by ancient tomb raiders–“Ingegurd is one horny bitch”, or some such. [Some things never change.]
I was happy to wander the Skara Brae village and the Ring of Brodgar at leisure, since the city bus brings tourists out there with regularity, and leaves us for a long duration. The surrounding trenches are still there, and the stones are 15 feet high. Impressive. The guidebooks and placards ponder the mystery of “why” the stones were placed there, and how they were brought from so far away. Something celestial, lunar, stellar, and religious. I was not in too much quandry over the “why”. I saw in my mind a tent topper of skins and weave that was erected to mark a festival, overtop the stones, with a market and rituals going on underneath and far and wide. Yes, aligned with the solstice. Yes, a secular marketplace. Yes, a place for religious gathering.
And then we wandered back onto the bus, and were taken over the isthmus where Stenness and Maes Howe reside. For that stop, the bus driver would only stay for five minutes–enough time to snap a photo and get back on. “Get your pictures, or you can catch the next one, it comes ’round in an hour.”
There are no services nearby, not even a portable toilet. So, of course, Scott and I rushed off the bus to get our pictures. But as soon as I deposited both feet on the ground near Stenness–only four of twelve original stones still standing, up to 19 feet high(!), wedged into a circle like tomahawk blades facing one another–I instantly felt the humming.
I heard the humming? I knew the humming. I can’t say the stones were humming, but I can say that I felt like I was standing inside an enormous cello. The vibrations of the note…seemingly many simultaneous notes as chords…so old, they left grooves in my tissue…my every cell. It was low, strong, sublime and profound.
“Do you feel that?” I asked Scott, who was taking photos with our new digital camera. Only about 5 other people stepped away from the bus, but only a few feet before skittering back.
“What-?” I remember him saying from behind the view finder. Now that I think of it, I don’t really remember if he got off the bus, but surely he did. I felt alone with the stones, and felt certain that I knew the mysteries. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t articulate them without sounding cliché and uninformed. I was not an archaeologist, or anthropologist, or any other -gist. But I got the gist of it, meaning the heart of the matter.
I merely heard the stones hum, and instantly resonated on their frequency. It did not matter if I could articulate it at the time. Time, for that matter, seemed unimportant. But that, too, broke in. We were herded back onto the bus and off to the cairn. To this day, I regret that I did not stay the hour. I would have sat still, listening. Perhaps I would have understood their story.
I asked myself later if I had imagined the sound. Someday, I will go back there and feel it again. Maybe the experience won’t repeat itself. But I wonder why the Ring of Brodgar, so famous and complete, did not strike me like a bell, as Stenness did? Is it because of the past usage of the circle, or their comparative ages? Could I have past-life history with one and not the other? Could it be that the modern tourist crowds drain the energy of the most-visited one? Or maybe just being around multiple others leeched out my ability to commune with Brodgar, while very few of passengers got off the bus at Stenness, already weary of awe?
This short tale reminds me that I have always been fascinated with Place. Not every place is special–but Place can be somewhere that heals, hurts, erodes or inspires. Place gives context to the experience I have in that place. Journeying to a place that does not “resonate with me” can certainly be neutral or no big deal, but for many places, I cannot feel settled in my body without matching some overtone of the place’s vibration. However, matching unattuned vibrations in my body feels harmful and I become agitated and restless until I can leave again.
Yes, I now live in California, and you can say I’ve picked up the habit of talking about “vibe”, but that would be inaccurate. I’ve always been this way, and born elsewhere, there was no one else talking of this. I have been a vibe feeler my whole life. I’ve collected stones in every vacation spot and remote workplace I’ve been to. Sometimes stones are just a memento holding the essence of my experience there. Just a token. But sometimes, I have been drawn to feeling the particular wobble of stones, and I’ll bet you have, too.
I just HAD to have that moonstone ring in college. I paid tons for it. I just HAD to stand on the mystery spots along the roadside, where the magnet of gravity seemed skewed from vertical. I know the frequency of New York City (high energy, jagged planes of shape), as well as Atlanta (tumbling kaleidescope of color and vibration, confusing and profuse). I feel at peace in Scotland with its gentle rocking, be it the granite or my blood heritage. I feel “sedimentary settling” in Michigan, I feel my curiosity piqued in Pennsylvania, I feel “out of orbit but intact in myself” in British Columbia and I feel “drawn very thin” in Southern California. This is not because of the culture, though there is undoubtedly cultural matching to a place’s nature: Parts of Germany feel hostile and though the land is green and lush, aggressively claustrophobic to me; The Netherlands feels moderately electric with a regular pulse.
Like many pilgrims, I don’t travel to a place to be enthralled in the tourist trap; I am there to feel the FEEL of the place. I, too, want to be alone with the great monuments (get out of my photo!), but I also want to wander the back alleys and sit in the sunlight where the cats do. I want to know what it feels like to live there as a human. I want to click into the rhythm. And I’m amazed and intrigued when I discover a new stone, because stones–large, well-known ones like Stenness or small, anonymous ones like the cobbled streets in Edinburgh–keep the history. Stones are the ones that were here first, and will be here long after. They are the record keepers. They hum with stories. I hope to tell many more on their behalf.