Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Stonehenge serves as prism for Summer Solstice magic
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   07/05/2002)

We found ourselves in Stonehenge at summer solstice among thousands of adventurers and seekers yearning for the sun to rise early and kiss the huge rock at the center with its first rays. We had been in England ten days, and I had been eyeing Stonehenge as a place where one might stretch the bounds of a European vacation.

We had no idea how to get out to the circle after closing time, when we left our room in London to board a train that day. Three days earlier we had taken the official tour, paying to walk through a gate in the chain-link fence surrounding Stonehenge. We had held electronic voices to our ears, while the expressway some fifty meters off sizzled and groaned, destroying any chance at real communion with whatever spirits dwell in ancient rocks separated from us by rope barriers even inside the fence. Still, it had been inspiring to watch the stone circle and nearby burial mounds growing at our approach on the open plains near Salisbury, a beautiful medieval town with a gorgeous cathedral. Later on the evening of that first visit, we had entered that cathedral, arriving in time to partake of an Evensong mass sung by a teenaged girl choir, while, exhausted from our journeying, we winked in and out of some resplendent dreamland.

For three days afterward I nurtured the idea of returning to Stonehenge for summer solstice and a different sort of reaching after divinity. With no supplies for camping and no idea how to get out to the actual rocks after closing time, my wife and I took off anyway, feeling vulnerable yet awed by our adventure.

Among the passengers on the packed train to Salisbury we met a dark-eyed young woman from South Africa. She was working her way across Europe and was on her way to Stonehenge. And we met a freckled, auburn-haired woman in her thirties--a paleontologist and member of a dance troupe--also headed there. At the train station in Salisbury a blond young Englishman with some resemblance to Brad Pitt joined us. He had returned recently from Thailand to be with his lover, who had since dumped him, leaving him broke and bewildered in a working class town.

We five need not have worried how we would get out to the henge, or circle. It was like going to Woodstock. Follow the hippies from the train station, where taxis queued up. We climbed into a van and were soon there.

The driver deposited us in a field where a caravan of cars rocked and rolled past as we walked the last mile or so toward the henge in time to syncopated rhythms of drums. We realized with a thrill the drumming was taking place among the stones themselves as we walked past colorful Gypsy buses, some horse-drawn, decorating a nearby field. Cars of all descriptions were parked on the grassy plain and stretched into the distance on one side. Volunteers in day-glo green vests checked parcels, confiscating anything that might damage rock or flesh. We poured our wine into an inoffensive plastic bottle and were let through.

Stonehenge rose before us dramatic and unfettered. The fence had been removed and, as night fell--about 11 p.m. in this northern clime--floodlights bathed the giant gray lithes with light. Twenty-first century Druids were in full regalia. Nicely tailored robes, and garlands or antlers decorated their heads. Many carried staffs topped with amethyst and other eyes of crystal in well-tooled settings--or else serpent-shaped staffs made of thick spiraling vines that were varnished and glistening. Others blew on wooden horns or conch shells. Hare Krishnas were some 20 yards east of the henge, chanting, banging tiny drums, dancing and swaying blissfully.

Then we were among the giant rocks, touching them, leaning on them, while devotees danced, thumped and banged huge drums and chanted. A pregnant moon rose between two of the stones. Someone set off bottle rockets, splashing the night with fire. Pagans and Wiccans scattered flowers and leaves. Tourists with their children watched guardedly and bemused. Young English boys here on a lark tossed back pints of beer, and latter day hippies smoked roll-your-own cigarettes laced with hashish. An other-worldly quality took hold. King Arthur in chain mail, queens and jesters wandered the shifting grounds as did camera crews. A golden river of headlights swelled the crowd all that short, short night, as a procession of Druids and Pagans, complete with torches, spiraled toward the heart of the circle to greet the sun.

Someone sacrificed the floodlights and darkness and light switched places. The now-black faces of the stones were silhouetted in a golden glow from the east about 4 a.m.. The drumming and dancing and chanting began in earnest then. For nearly two hours the exhortations rose and rose yet more to a crescendo. Later, at the very moment the sun should have kissed the stones and then the assembled crowds, the rain came. A cold English drizzle set in. Exhausted, we gathered our ponchos and water and bread, then walked away from this place of ancient mysticism reborn, searching for any way home.