Communion Of Dreams


Three weeks in Wales, Part 3: Under ancient skies.

Part 1. Part 2.

After a very nice breakfast at our B&B in Kidwelly, we decided to hit a couple of our favorite places as we worked our way north to Dolgellau, where we had a cottage for the next week.

First was the National Botanic Garden of Wales, home of the Great Glasshouse, where you can find the most amazing collection of Mediterranean plants from around the world:

We also checked out the butterfly house, the walled gardens, and the broadwalk water feature. We even visited with the guardian dragon:

From the Garden, we decided to backtrack a bit east, to one of my favorite Welsh castles, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons: Carreg Cennen.

I love the views of the surrounding countryside from the castle:

And of course, the interior of the castle ruins is also about as atmospheric as you could ask for:

From there we headed to Pembrokeshire, and one of the most iconic neolithic sites in Wales: Pentre Ifan. Here’s a brief passage from St Cybi’s Well describing the roads leading to this amazing site:

This was widely considered the most important megalithic site in the entire country, yet all it got was this simple sign on a country road smaller than just about any subdivision road in the US. It was frustrating, yet somehow also endearing, because it showed just how much the Welsh assumed that locals would know about the area … and how little interest outsiders would take.

And here’s the passage describing what the protagonist sees when he arrives there:

Darnell came to the ‘parking area’: an extra strip of asphalt, with room to park perhaps half a dozen cars along the road. There was a simple gravel path, a wooden gate, and a very small metal sign from CADW that said “Pentre Ifan.” Darnell pulled over and parked. His was the only vehicle there.

He got out of the car, slung his bag over his shoulder, plopped his hat on his head. The slight mist wasn’t heavy enough to require digging out either umbrella or rain gear.

Stepping onto the path at the gate, he realized that it wasn’t a gravel path, but was instead made of crushed stone. Crushed … bluestone, from the looks of it, when he squatted down to get a better look.

He continued on. Alongside the path was a tumble-down wall separating fields, partially overgrown with hedge and briar. He went past cattle in the field, grazing and occasionally lowing to one another, who took little interest in him as he walked along. Through another kissing gate, and almost suddenly he was standing there before the structure, bare to the sky. One great slab of stone several meters long and a couple wide, supported by three menhir, high enough that he would have to stretch a bit to touch the underside of the capstone. There were a couple of additional uprights at the south end, and several largish stones which had tumbled over. He just stood there for a moment, taking it all in.

Standing there, it is easy to imagine yourself looking over the landscape at any point in the last thousand … two thousand … five thousand years. Because Pentre Ifan is estimated to date back to approximately 3,500 — 3,000 B.C.

Which is the same time period for the initial construction of Stonehenge.

And speaking of Stonehenge … another brief excerpt from SCW, between the protagonist Darnell and Eleazar, a somewhat mysterious old wanderer he has crossed paths with several times, and who he meets at Pentre Ifan:

Eleazar considered Darnell, then stepped around to the side of the dolmen, gesturing for Darnell to follow him. He pointed off to the southwest. “About a mile that way.”

“That’s where the portal leads?”

“No, that’s not where the portal leads. But it is where it came from. It’s where the first circle of stones at Stonehenge came from, as well.” He nodded at the phone still in Darnell’s hand, which was now by his side. “Does that have a map on it? Of this area?”

“Yes.” Darnell raised the phone, tapped the screen a couple of times, then cursed. “Damn. Sorry, no signal.”Eleazar smiled slightly. “Not to worry. When you get away from here, just look up Craig Rhosyfelin, right in the bend of the Afon Brynberian. It’s easy enough to find.”

“Huw at Pistyll Rhaeadr mentioned that place. What is it?”

“In some ways, it is the source. Just as there is a source for a stream which becomes a great river. The source cannot do the things that the river can do, and it cannot be used for good or ill in the same way that a river may be used for good or ill. But it is worthwhile – critical, in fact – to know the source, to know where to begin.”

Craig Rhosyfelin is indeed now known to be the actual source of at least some of the inner bluestones at Stonehenge, something which has only recently been scientifically established. Here’s the description of Darnell driving to the site, and then examining it:

The small back roads from Pentre Ifan to Craig Rhosyfelin were, though it was difficult to believe, even worse than what had brought him to the dolmen. They were little more than cart paths in a slight depression between hedge rows. But it was a pleasant, pretty area, and as he came out of the trees from the west, heading down the long gentle hillside, everything seemed to open up. He was just to the north of the main Preseli Hills. The light mist which had been coming down earlier threatened to turn into real rain, and the local radar had shown heavier storms moving in.

Eleazar had been correct; Craig Rhosyfelin was easy to find on the map, and wasn’t at all far. Furthermore, the site had recently been in the news as having been identified as a source of the inner Stonehenge stones, the oldest part of the structure. He followed the directions Andi gave, and after making a sharp right bend he saw it there in front of him: a lump of rock poking up above the narrow little valley floor. Thirty meters ahead there was a hairpin turn of a switchback, and just at the point of the turn was a small area where he could pull off and park the car. He did so. There was no signage, no formal public access path down to the exposed crag. But he pulled off the road, and got out of the car. He walked over to the fence. It was simple cattle mesh with a strand of barbed wire on top, supported by rough wooden posts. Allowing access over the fence was a small, new-ish ladder that went up one side and then down the other. The sort of thing you’d see countless examples of in the Welsh countryside.

He went back to the car, grabbed his shoulder bag. Then glancing up at the sky, decided that taking an umbrella would suffice for the current amount of rain. Opening it, he went to the fence, then over the ladder to the other side. The way down to the little valley floor was clear. He descended.

Standing there, before the lump of rock, it was easy to see why others might have picked this as a possible source for the Stonehenge bluestones. The whole base of the outcrop was exposed stone, in fractured slabs two to three meters in height. Above that was more such rock partially obscured by gorse and other vegetation. Here and there were suitable stones already about the size and shape of the bluestones of the inner circle of Stonehenge, ready to be split off and carted away.

Though there was still evidence of recent archeological digs, there was nothing fresh, and no one in sight. Darnell went down the length of the outcrop to the left, figuring that he would just walk around the whole 60 or 70 meters of the crag to take the entire thing in. He got down to the point of the outcrop and turned back up the valley on the other side.

Compare that to the images we took on this trip:

I think I did a pretty good job describing the site. Especially considering that I’d never actually been there previously.

OK, this is a weird thing. Prior to this trip, I would have sworn that I had actually been to the site before. When we got there, I knew where to park, where to go, what to expect. There were some changes from my memory, with a new gate entrance, etc, but you might expect that with a few years between visits.

But my wife swears that we’ve never been there before. And had I gone, I would have done so with her. In checking back over my previous travelogs, there’s no mention of Craig Rhosyfelin. My memories are nonetheless vivid of seeing the place.

The only conclusion I can draw is that I spent so much time going over the site on Google Streetview and Google Earth, in looking at images of it online, that I manufactured false memories of having visited it in person. It is a very strange feeling to have both the memories and the knowledge that they are not real. Very strange.

After visiting this magical place, we went north, to the cottage where we’d stay for the next week, in the hills above Dolgellau, just behind Cader Idris. Here it is:

More later.

Jim Downey

 

 



“You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs.”

Of late, as I have been slowly getting over the rather nasty bout of parainfluenza I mentioned previously, shedding the more annoying and disgusting symptoms, I’ve also come to realize that just now I am pulling out of the depressive trough of one of my long-term bipolar cycles.  It wasn’t a particularly bad trough, and was somewhat mitigated by the success of the Kickstarter back in the fall. Nonetheless, it was there, as I can see in hindsight.

I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.

Which isn’t true, of course, but that was the emotional reality which I had been dealing with. The “narrative truth”, if you will. A term I borrow from a very interesting meditation by Oliver Sacks at the New York Review of Books website titled Speak, Memory. From the article:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

Let me repeat one bit of that: “Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves.”

I think this is at the very heart of why fiction has such power, and appeal. I also think that it explains the well-documented phenomenon of people believing things which are clearly and demonstratively false, if their facts come from a trusted source.

Little surprise that writers of fiction are aware of this very human trait, and have explored it in all manner of ways. I have a note here on my desk, a scrawl written on a scrap of paper some months ago as I was thinking through character motivations in St. Cybi’s Well, which says simply: “We take our truths from the people we trust.”

And here’s another example, from one of my favorite movies, exploring a favorite theme of Philip K. Dick’s:

 

That theme? The nature of reality.  And this is how the Sacks essay closes:

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

In other words, that reality is a shared construct. A Communion of Dreams, if you will.

Time for me to get back to work.

 

Jim Downey