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

 

 



Three weeks in Wales, Part 1: Not there yet.

From May 13th through June 5th, my wife and I enjoyed a great vacation in the UK, mostly spent in Wales. For the first couple of weeks of the trip my sister and her family joined us.

It was a good chance to get away from things a bit. Spending time enjoying Wales always seems to help me clear my head and get some perspective, even when I don’t necessarily feel like I have pressing matters to ponder. In the coming couple of weeks I’m going to share some of my thoughts and experiences, and probably a fair number of images, from that trip. It’s not going to be like previous travelogues I’ve done, but I hope it will nonetheless be enjoyable. And for those who have been patiently waiting for me to finish St Cybi’s Well, there will be some particular treats in visiting locations in that book.

So, take a little trip with me …

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London is one of the world’s great cities. And even though as a general rule I don’t like cities, I can usually spend up to a week at a time in London without starting to go stir-crazy.

Here are some quick random images to explain why:

From a recent mosaic near the Millennium Bridge. Not exactly a celebration of peasant revolts, but also not really a criticism of them, either.

 

Take a walk on the wild side.

 

Dr Hoo?

 

The Tate Modern also had a completely magical audio sculpture in the Turbine Hall by Bruce Nauman which I and my brother-in-law Steven thoroughly enjoyed.

And of course, to have a full London experience, you have to have at least one good evening in a traditional pub …

Steven, my sister Celeste, and their daughter Haley.

 

The next morning we drove to the south coast to Kingly Vale, where we enjoyed the 400 acres of ancient uncut forest in the rain:

Yew know what I mean?

That evening we made it to Salisbury, and did some sight-seeing in the area the next day:

Yeah, one of the four copies known to exist. I was happy to see that they had upgraded both their security and their presentation from the last time I saw this copy.

And of course, a bit north of there is this old place:

Yeah, Stonehenge.

 

Crows don’t care about the rules.

Slip inside …

 

That last image is the same one I envisioned as the approach Darnell takes in this excerpt from St Cybi’s Well:

As he crossed the earthen ditch which surrounded the stones some 20 meters out, following the usual paved walking path, he noticed that the shaping of the sound somehow changed. Perhaps it was the mass of bodies crowding in around the stones. But it seemed less to be coming from one particular place, and more like it was just coming up from the ground all around him. Then he stepped off the path, and onto the grass, and he could feel the sound more than hear it. It strummed through his heels, up his legs, vibrations caressing his entire body. It was the springiness, the resonance, which he had felt at St David’s, but infinitely stronger.

Stronger, and shared. Shared, he knew, by every person who walked this ground. By every person who had ever walked this ground. It was as though the earth itself were a drum, and this the taut, shimmering skin which they skittered across.

Slowly he made his way into the circle, almost in a daze. Others moved past and around him, making contact, sharing a smile, a laugh, tears. He had never before been this close to the stones, had never come on those rare occasions when the site was open this way. They seemed impossibly tall, impossibly old. He stepped past the first great upright before him, then paused, and gingerly reached out to touch it. Cold stone, rough weathered, aged lichens. A woman standing next to him had her eyes closed, the palms of her hands also on the stone, and for a moment he felt her mind there, the contact of lovers sharing a glimpse of the eternal. It caught his breath, he stepped back, turned in slight embarrassment and stepped further into the circle. Further into the crowd.

Now the press of people was greater. There were people everywhere, holding hands, praying, chanting, caressing. They were on the fallen stones, pressed up against the standing sarsens, moving. He felt himself drawn further in, pulled in by the sound vibrations filling the space, which became deeper and stronger with every step. He passed the inner sarsen, stood there in the inner circle, the sanctum sanctorum, the Garbha griha, the sacred center of everything.

Around one of the fallen stones there in the center was a space, an opening in the crowd. Everyone peered in, watching a woman in white robes. She was kneeling beside the stone, but not in prayer. Kneeling so that she was at the proper height to reach out and strike the great stone. To strike it with stone-headed mallets. And with each strike, the stone gave a deep, resounding gonging which echoed from the earth, then spread out from the center to touch everything and everyone in a growing, encompassing spiral.

For the third time that day he felt himself grow woozy, felt the world spin. He reached out a hand to steady himself, looking for another person, or another stone, for stability. And he touched one of the blue stones, one of the much smaller uprights which had come from Wales. From Craig Rhosyfelin. It was warm to the touch. Warm, and welcoming.

 

As if that experience wasn’t enough for one day, we also went to Avebury, *another* World Heritage Site:

Yeah, they really are that big.

 

Yeah, really.

 

I’m not kidding.

 

Seriously.

And in addition to the old stones, they have a somewhat newer church there:

Though it’s still old by our standards:

And while that wasn’t yet the end of the day, it was the end of our trip outside of Wales.

Next: the third World Heritage Site in one day. Can you guess what it will be?

 

Jim Downey



Phase two.

Excerpt from Chapter 8 of St Cybi’s Well, titled “Pentre Ifan”, which I wrote 18 months ago:

Darnell nodded. “Sure. Now let’s take a look at that satellite map.”

He pulled out his phone again, tapped it a couple of times. Soon they were looking down at their current location centered on the map, with the resolution such that Pentre Ifan was off on the very left edge of the screen. St. John pointed at a slightly lopsided ring due north of Craig Rhosyfelin about the same distance from Pentre Ifan. “There. See?”

Darnell zoomed in on the image. The ring expanded until it was about half the size of the screen. It was actually a double ring of trees, bisected by a chevron of a single line of trees. “Yeah, OK. Not a perfect circle. Looks like it has a bit of a pinch on the east side, almost as if pointing that way.”

“Exactly!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you.”

St. John pointed at the screen. “Points due east. That’s because before it was made into a hill fort, there’s evidence to suggest that it was a henge.”

“Huh.” Darnell looked at the image again. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“And I think that it wasn’t just any henge. I think that it was the precursor to Stonehenge.” St. John looked at Darnell, and there was a slightly mad gleam in his eye. “In fact, I think that the henge which was there was disassembled and then transported to Wiltshire and rebuilt as the iconic structure we all know today.”

Go ahead, take a look for yourself.

Then take a look at this item from yesterday. Here’s a good excerpt:

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” he said. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

The dating evidence suggests that Stonehenge could be older than previously thought, Parker Pearson said. “But we think it’s more likely that they were building their own monument [in Wales], that somewhere near the quarries there is the first Stonehenge and that what we’re seeing at Stonehenge is a second-hand monument.”

I scare myself sometimes.

 

Jim Downey



“Your lot got the right idea, I say.”

I wrote the following for Chapter 12 of St Cybi’s Well some months back. It’s set near the visitor’s center at Stonehenge, and occurs just as the pandemic influenza* is getting started in the UK, when people aren’t quite sure yet what is happening. The main character, Darnell Sidwell, sees a group of protesting people, and finds out that they’re members of the ‘British Defense League’, my fictional version of this group.

Before he got to the front of the protest, he looked over the fence, saw something of a party going on. People drinking, dancing to music from a portable sound system, standing around smoking. A couple of young men were standing beside the fence, watching the crowd flow by, passing a bottle back and forth.

One of the men saw him looking at them. “Wotcha lookin’ at?”

Darnell walked over to them. He stopped a couple of paces before the fence. “Nothing, really. You?”

“Oh, a Yank, are ya?” The man seemed to relax a bit. His friend, who had been looking down the road, turned to look at Darnell as well. “Jus’ watchin’ this lot go by. Havin’ a bit of a laugh. You got any cigs?”

“No, sorry, I don’t smoke. Yeah, I’m a Yank.”

The friend spoke. “Your lot got the right idea, I say.”

“Howso?”

“‘Bout the illegals.” He turned to his mate. “We should do that.”

“Yeah, kick ‘em all out,” agreed the friend. “All the Pakis and Blackies. They the ones what got this flu goin’. ‘Cause they’s dirty.”

“Uncivilized,” added his friend, taking a long pull on the bottle, then handing it over to the other.

“Flu?” asked Darnell, feigning ignorance.

“Yeah, the flu. What’s got ever’one comin’ here.” He gestured towards Stonehenge. “All the nutters lookin’ like Druids or Harry Potter. Ain’ you heard of it?”

“Um, no, I was just coming over to visit Stonehenge. Isn’t it always like this?”

“Nah. There’s a flu goin’ ‘round. Bad one,” said the man.

“People dyin’,” said the other. “Gov’s tryin’ to hide it, but word’s out.”

“Me aunt’s a nurse o’er London. She tol’ me mum.” He gestured behind him, towards the party going on. “Others heard ‘bout it too. Then some heard th’ nutters were coimin’ here, thought that we’d have a chance to make th’ telly.”

“Ah.”

The first man tilted up the bottle, drained it. “Say, got anythin’ t’ drink in your bag, there?”

“Just water.” Darnell smiled. “It’s a bit early for me.”

“Yeah, well,” said the second man, “ain’ for me. Drink’ll keep the sickness out. Alcohol kills it. Ever’one knows that.”

“Sounds like good advice,” said Darnell, turning to walk away.

“Hey, Yank,” called one of the men.

“Yeah?” asked Darnell, pausing.

The two men exchanged glances. The first one said “You seem OK. Word to th’ wise: don’t stick around too long.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

From the news yesterday:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Following that news item, Bend the Arc Jewish Action issued the following statement:

“Registering everyone of a certain religion to a list? We’ve seen that. It doesn’t end well.

“There is no way American Jews will ever find it acceptable for anyone – anyone – to be registered, singled out, profiled, discriminated against, or in any way mistreated by the government on the basis of their religion in this country. Mr. Trump’s suggestion is as terrifying as it is abhorrent.

“This runs counter to everything we believe in as Americans and Jews and we will not stand idly by as fear and bigotry are used to dominate our politics.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

St Cybi’s Well is set in an alternate time-line to our own, where the United States has become a ‘Constitutional Theocracy’ in part as a response to the 9-11 attacks. It’s fiction.

At least, I intended for it to be fiction …

Jim Downey

*What is referred to as the ‘fire-flu’ in Communion of Dreams, set 40 years later.



When self confidence fails.

At Stonehenge:

As he crossed the earthen ditch which surrounded the stones some 20 meters out, following the usual paved walking path, he noticed that the shaping of the sound somehow changed. Perhaps it was the mass of bodies crowding in around the stones. But it seemed less to be coming from one particular place, and more like it was just coming up from the ground all around him. Then he stepped off the path, and onto the grass, and he could feel the sound more than hear it. It strummed through his heels, up his legs, vibrations caressing his entire body. It was the springiness, the resonance, which he had felt at St David’s, but infinitely stronger.

Stronger, and shared. Shared, he knew, by every person who walked this ground. By every person who had ever walked this ground. It was as though the earth itself were a drum, and this the taut, shimmering skin which they skittered across.

Slowly he made his way into the circle, almost in a daze. Others moved past and around him, making contact, sharing a smile, a laugh, tears. He had never before been this close to the stones, had never come on those rare occasions when the site was open this way. They seemed impossibly tall, impossibly old. He stepped past the first great upright before him, then paused, and gingerly reached out to touch it. Cold stone, rough weathered, aged lichens. A woman standing next to him had her eyes closed, the palms of her hands also on the stone, and for a moment he felt her mind there, the contact of lovers sharing a glimpse of the eternal. It caught his breath, he stepped back, turned in slight embarrassment and stepped further into the circle. Further into the crowd.

Now the press of people was greater. There were people everywhere, holding hands, praying, chanting, caressing. They were on the fallen stones, pressed up against the standing sarsens, moving. He felt himself drawn further in, pulled in by the sound vibrations filling the space, which became deeper and stronger with every step. He passed the inner sarsen, stood there in the inner circle, the sanctum sanctorum, the Garbha griha, the sacred center of everything.

I’m at that point in the novel where I have lost track of how it is going. Whether any of this is any good. Whether it will just confuse and disappoint my readers. Whether it is worth continuing.

This happens. I know it. I have been in this place before. And when self-confidence fails, only my self-discipline gets me past the lurking paralysis. Chapter 12 is almost finished. Momentum continues.

Jim Downey



Call it a ‘practice run.’

Been a while since I posted an excerpt. Partly that has been due to the fact that a number of  different things have conspired to slow down my writing progress the last few weeks. But I finally seem to be making good headway again, and thought I would share a bit from today’s efforts:

Darnell nodded. “Sure. Now let’s take a look at that satellite map.”

He pulled out his phone again, tapped it a couple of times. Soon they were looking down at their current location centered on the map, with the resolution such that Pentre Ifan was off on the very left edge of the screen. St. John pointed at a slightly lopsided ring due north of Craig Rhosyfelin about the same distance from Pentre Ifan. “There. See?”

Darnell zoomed in on the image. The ring expanded until it was about half the size of the screen. It was actually a double ring of trees, bisected by a chevron of a single line of trees. “Yeah, OK. Not a perfect circle. Looks like it has a bit of a pinch on the east side, almost as if pointing that way.”

“Exactly!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you.”

St. John pointed at the screen. “Points due east. That’s because before it was made into a hill fort, there’s evidence to suggest that it was a henge.”

“Huh.” Darnell looked at the image again. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“And I think that it wasn’t just any henge. I think that it was the precursor to Stonehenge.” St. John looked at Darnell, and there was a slightly mad gleam in his eye. “In fact, I think that the henge which was there was disassembled and then transported to Wiltshire and rebuilt as the structure we all know today.”

 

The site they’re discussing is Castell Mawr.

 

Jim Downey



This may seem familiar.

As I’ve noted over on Facebook, sometimes it feels like I am writing a Dan Brown novel for people who actually know history and can think for themselves …

… anyway, here’s an excerpt from the end of the latest chapter I thought might amuse:

“Yeah,” said Darnell, nodding. “There were a couple of places where some standing stones had been set back into the walls. These looked like they were the same sort of stone as up at Barclodiad y Gawres, and they actually had similar markings on them. But the most curious thing was a larger standing stone in the very center of the room. This was more than a meter tall, and had a sort of bulb or sphere at the top.”

“Phallic images were fairly common …” started Megan.

“Yeah, but this didn’t really come across like that. It was more like a globe on a stand, with a very distinct spiral carved into it that started at the very top and coiled down to about where the equator would be.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. it was a different kind of stone from everything else, too. I’m not sure, but it looked to me to be the same sort of bluestone used at Stonehenge.”

“Really? That’s wild,” said Megan.

“Yeah, but the wildest part was that it felt almost … warm … to the touch. And when I did touch it, for a moment I almost thought I could hear someone talking, whispering in the distance.”

 

Heh.

 

Jim Downey