Everything is still. Nothing moves. The wind blows in off the sea but the grass holds still without a rustle, the meadow flowers have stopped their dance, the birds are suspended as if held by invisible strings, coasting on currents of air.
I am up high, as if at the top of the world – or on the edge of the world – clinging to a jagged rock that rises out of the sea. This rock I cling to, it seems to come from nothing, with nothing in sight, no horizon, just the continuous blue of sky mixed with sea.
From up here, though the waves crash with dramatic force far below, their heaving whitecapped fury appears frozen, unmoving.
All is still. A moment ago, there were others, scaling the cliff faces, tottering up and down the ancient stone steps, steps worn away through the ages and by the shuffling of feet – first the feet of the few monks who lived here, now the feet of the thousands of tourists who flock to this historic and religious site.
In this moment, though, I am suddenly alone. It is as though the others have melted away, or perhaps they were never actually here.
I am partway up the craggy rockface. The man-made steps from another time, another millennium, are so narrow that I must place my feet on them carefully, almost sideways. I am climbing slowly, with only the puffins now as my audience, their round little white bellies and bright, multicoloured beaks dotting the brown and grey rocks here and there.
I do not look down. My heart beats wildly.
Behind me and to each side is a sheer drop, hundreds of feet below to what I know are churning, briny waves.
But up ahead, just over the next turn in the stairs, I can see the edge of an alpine meadow. It rests in a crook between two jagged peaks.
I continue my climb up to the meadow and am rewarded with a breathtaking view. Short wind-swept grasses are dotted with tiny white field flowers. The two peaks rise on each side and, like protective walls, they block the strongest ocean winds. Between these rock faces, out beyond the edge of the meadow, is the other side of the ocean. From this vantage point, too, it disappears into blue oblivion.
For a moment, I lie down in the meadow, unwilling to tackle the last leg of the climb to the top. Despite my fear of heights, I have made it this far and I know that when I can gather my courage and continue to the top, I will be rewarded. There, I will be able to touch history.
Monks founded a monastery at the top of this island, possibly as early as the 6th century. Searching for peace and a hermit’s religious life, they climbed into their boats one day and rowed out to this imposing rock, somehow climbed to its peak and, using the stone they found here, built six beehive huts, two oratories, a graveyard and small terraces facing out over the sea. And here they remained until the 13th century.
They grew vegetables on the terraces and survived on these, fish and eggs from the island birds. They also built three wells.
While there is no evidence that it was ever used prior to the arrival of the monks, it feels as though it must have been. There is a myth which tells of the 1400 BCE burial of Ir son of Milesius. More than that, this rock is found in the extreme west and therefore consigned to all that the west in Celtic lore represents – the Otherworld, the afterlife, the place of the gods and magic. Standing here, it is easy to understand why. I can almost see the gods of the sea and the sky clashing in epic battles stretching back forever in time.
Eventually, I pull myself up from the comfort of the grass and continue my climb up the steepening stony staircase. At the final approach, the stairs almost flatten and the land to the side falls away. The drop is paralyzing.
I make my way across the final stretch, nothing more than a ledge on the verge of nothingness, and pass through a stone “doorway.”
Inside the settlement, there is evidence of humanity everywhere, yet it is a soundless and abandoned humanity, cloaked in that noticeable stillness.
The site was meticulously constructed and the carefully-placed hand-hewn stones seem to be exactly as they were left a thousand years ago.
There is a prehistoric beauty here. The stillness is a stillness of the ages. As nothing appears to have moved over the centuries, it is as though even the winds and the rains have not touched these stones.
Standing here, looking out across the blue, I feel time flash backward and forward, and then stop completely as though it has been so for centuries. I feel the power of nature, a coiled energy in the stillness.
As I turn to begin my descent, it is not the shadows of monks I see against the stone walls, but that of a powerful priestess, arms raised, head thrown back as she commands the wind and the rain, the sky and the sea.
In that brief flash, the stillness is momentarily broken and I can see how savage and wild it can be out here.
And then, the shadow is gone, the roaring ceases and all is still once more.
Daily Prompt: For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?
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