Awe is the fuel that sparked and sustains my love of learning. A few poignant memories throughout my life that have really distilled this feeling include: Watching Tomorrows World with my Dad and the promised technologies of the future, and the huge distance in time to them; watching a recording of Joe Cocker's wailing performance at Woodstock; attending my first live gig for that matter; studying fractal geometry and zooming through the cockroach-like, yet amorphous Mandelbrot set, just to watch one tiny corner evolve back into itself; seeing a storm of shooting stars on a November evening; watching David Attenborough documentaries detailing the complexity, sophistication and infinitude of life; visiting Petra in the arid Jordanian desert and seeing the ingeniously engineered water system and exquisitely carved temples and tombs of the Nabateans, who maintained life for thousands of years where it is seemingly impossible.
There is however, awe all around me, in every moment. The closer I look and the more I learn, the more awesome the world becomes: In the diversity of the nature in my garden; in the depth of love in the relationships with my friends and family; in the web of history of my land and its people; in the bending of physics and chemistry and complex engineering in the technologies I use every day; in the invisible forces of the stars and the tide and the changing weather.
Awe is a magical, perhaps ineffable feeling that, at the same time as reminding me of the infinite complexity of the universe and how small I am compared to it, reminds me that I (and all of us) are an inseparable part of it. It makes me feel connected and excited and endlessly curious to understand more. What perhaps ties us together is that we can all feel this. This blog is my attempt to look closely at my everyday world every day, to experience that awe, and to highlight, share and remember it.
The first Daily Awe I wanted to share is Ballynoe Stone Circle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. I've chosen this as my first, as I happened to have cycled to it yesterday, and I find it awesome that I have such an ancient record of an inconceivable way of life on my doorstep.
Ballynoe Stone Circle, Ballynoe, Co. Down - Copyright earlyprototype.blog
Having meandered through a natural tunnel of winding hedgerows comprising blackberry, holly and hawthorn bushes I come to a hilltop cleaning and the Neolithic structure. Equidistant between the Mourne Mountains and my hometown of Ardglass on the Irish Sea, the stone circle was created somewhere between 3000 and 5000 years and comprises 50 stones (up to 1.8m high). At its centre is the burial mound with three pairs of stones and a set of three stones that mark the entrance to the site, sit waiting at a distance of about 50m from the mound. Within the burial mound rest the charred remains of two individuals. Who they where, no one knows.
Natural tunnel entrance to Ballynoe Stone Circle
As I walk around the stones I notice that many have deep, cup-like groves ground into them on the side facing the burial mound. I haven't found any information on these or what their purpose was.
Examples of deep grooves ground into the stones
Each enormous stone feels like it was placed with purpose. I discover later from wikipedia: "The entrance is perfectly lined up with the setting sun, on March 21 of each year, which is the half-way point between midwinter and midsummer".
Having spent 30 minutes slowing walking around the stone circle and pondering the lives of people who laid them, I'm delivered back out to my modern world via the natural overgrowth and wonder what would those ancient architects think if they were here now too.
Of course, there are a multitude of questions that come into the mind when you visit somewhere so ancient, so recognisably human, yet so irreconcilable with the way we live our lives now: Who were the people buried here and what did them mean to the people who built their tomb? What was the significance of this hill? What motivated these people and how did they see the world around them? What was the significance of the half-way point between midwinter and midsummer? What did they do for fun? Were they good people? What were the stone grooves used for? Was this a place to mourn or celebrate life? Am I among their distant descendants?
If there are questions or thoughts that come to your mind about this incredible ancient site, or perhaps you have some insights you can share, I'd love you to share them below.