There is a remote road on the far west side of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. Sealed but single tracked, with an occasional passing place. You are unlikely to see anyone there unless they are out hiking those barren hills. On a cold, wet day, the sort of day that I think about as I write this, isolation is the dominant feeling.
And then you see a stone standing there, just off the road, but not of the road’s time. A small fence protects it, though I sense that it doesn’t need such protection. Conspicuous by its presence in this featureless landscape, at least featureless of human constructs. A single upright stone, purposefully placed there at some point in time. A stone standing in a place where there are no purpose built or placed objects. Dwarfed by the hills around, it stands there, a testament to time, to presence, to human presence.
The stone appears to freeze time in its being there. Now, the past and eternity are all captured by its existence. I march on in my life, the seasons and years go through their cycles, the stone remains.
It is not excessively large. It does not exhibit strength, in the sense of physical capacity. It does though exhibit power in its presence, in its staying through time.
I think about this stone from time to time. I have not seen it in a while, but I’m sure that it is still there, outlasting those who positioned it, but announcing their presence on this earth - the past, now and eternity, all in that moment that you set your eyes on it….and then remember its presence.
I am reminded of the Brecon Beacon stone while staying in the far west of Alentejo in Portugal. This area is populated by Neolithic menhirs. Simple, but striking boulder constructs, that dot the landscape. My first thought when I saw them was that they had been deposited here by ancient glaciers. Apparently not. There is purpose to their presence and appearance, as determined by early man - aliment with the planets, mapping the land, expressing eternity through the metaphor of stone.
Most of these constructs are boulders, some balanced on others. However, not far from where we are staying is a standing stone. This stone is much larger, both in bulk and height, than the stone in Wales.
Human habitation is still very much present in this corner of Portugal.
Still in this stone’s presence, I experience human presence from the past…time stops. I experience now, as I look onto it. And I experience eternity, as I see the passage of time, through to the future, as I look on at its presence.