I crossed a continent, an ocean, and an island and now that I stood at last within the unthinkably ancient ring of stones reared by my forgotten forebears, all I heard in the well of my own soul was the echo of the well-cover when I drew it back. I hitched up my pack, struck my crude walking stick against the wet grass, and headed for the little local museum.
Stepping inside, I found I could proceed no further. The Avebury museum was manned by an elderly gentleman in a dark blue suit. His white hair neatly slicked back, his face arranged in an expression of professional hospitality, he was attempting to elucidate the exhibits for an American couple. Since my fellow Americans blocked the way, I could do nothing but pull off my mist-dampened slouch cap and wait.
Looming over the English curator, the elderly American demanded through loose lips, “What’s so special about this place, huh?”
“Well,” smiled the curator, “Avebury is the largest stone circle in the world…”
“Saw it. Is this the whole town?”
“The modern town of Avebury sits entirely within the ring of …”
“What’s the museum for?” The American angrily shook England’s October chill from his Hawaiian shirt. His voice dripped with contempt for a country whose temperature failed to fit his tourist’s uniform.
The curator replied patiently, “We house a small collection of artifacts discovered…”
Out thrust the American’s finger. “What’s this?”
“I’m glad you noticed that display. This…”
“It’s a rock. We have rocks at home. We don’t build museums for ‘em. Do you have anything good?”
Before the curator could indicate his prize display, the tourist declared, “I’ve seen it.” The Ugly American turned his back and shoved past me out the door, his wife remora-like at his side.
The curator turned his eyes on me, propped up his smile, and nodded in greeting. I admired his resilience — something I had long lost.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” he asked, glancing over my army surplus ski-jacket, weathered jeans, and rough shoes.
I took off my glasses and polished the mist from them. Not trusting contact lenses on a rough trip, I wore an
old-fashioned pair of sturdy black frames. I had stopped shaving the day I quit my job and it suddenly occurred to me that I had not seen another bearded man since I had arrived on the island — as if I needed an appearance guaranteed to distance me further from those around me. But I was not thinking of appearances when I withdrew my savings, tossed a few things in an old army backpack, and flew away over the great Californian desert, across the wide states, and over the rough Atlantic, reversing the course of my westward-driven forebears.
Embarrassed at seeing myself through the curator’s eyes, I was about to demur, but considering the brush-off the man had just received, I changed my mind, saying, “Actually, yes. I’m particularly interested in the excavation of the West Kennet Long Barrow.”
The curator’s smile became genuine and he swiftly ushered me to a series of photographs of neatly stacked finger bones and skulls within the Long Barrow. The more questions I asked, the happier my white-haired acquaintance became.