By Donovan Baldwin
In 55 BC, Julius Caesar beheld the cliffs of Dover from the deck of a Roman ship in the English Channel. In 1982, I beheld the same sight from the deck of a ferry that held my car within its bowels.
I had problems with the subject of history all through school. It was so dry, so boring, so lifeless. It wasn't until I "grew up" and got to go wandering around the world that I began to see history in an entirely different light.
To me, "history" is not just treaties, or battles, or the names of famous men. For me, understanding, or at least feeling a kinship with history, means standing on the spot where those men have stood, seeing the sights that they saw, looking at the instruments they touched, the cup they drank from, the clothes they wore.
In the 1960's I was stationed at a U. S. military base in Bavaria at Bad Aibling, Germany. Almost every day, I walked over several insignificant flagstones set in the ground in a pathway beside one of the barracks. One day, one of my friends showed me some photos he had just printed at the post photography shop.
The post had been a Luftwaffe air base during World War II. When the allies had taken over the post in the 1940's at the end of the war, they had found several hundred negatives. Many of the negatives were still there, and the gentleman who ran the photo shop would help people print up photos. Several of the photos my friend showed me depicted Hitler reviewing the troops at the air base...standing on those insignificant flagstones in the dirt pathway!
To me, that was history.
Years later, a friend took me to the place in Nuremberg where Hitler held his huge rallies. I stood at the exact spot where he had stood, and took photos of my children playing there.
Whether it is Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the White House, the White Cliffs of Dover, the labyrinth of corridors within the bowels of the aircraft carrier Lexington, or driving over Boulder Dam, history comes alive for me when I see what others have seen or the marks they left of their lives.
My love of history taken in this way does not end with the famous and the grandiose, however. In fact, when I recently went to see an exhibition on Queen Hatshepsut, I spent more time gazing at a wooden chair and wondering about the workman who had made it, than I spent on the wonders of the Queen. I spend several minutes looking at simple pots and tools while others ooh and aah over jewels and statues. Lost in reverie, I wonder more about the craftsmen who carved the statue than I do about the ruler it portrays. That's the man I would want to talk to!
Maybe I will get to touch history even a little more intimately. I just bought a little over seven acres of land in central Texas, near where the Comanche used to roam. It is undeveloped and includes a small hill with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. I hope to learn a little more about rocks and artifacts, and scout through some of the overgrown cliff face that forms a portion of the land.
I'm still clearing trails through the brush on my land at the moment, but the other day, I picked up a rock of interesting appearance and stuck it in my pocket. That evening, safe and warm in my easy chair as a small storm blustered outside, I picked up the rock and began to examine it. As I turned it in my hand, it suddenly slipped into a comfortable position. There was a smooth spot for my thumb and each of my fingers found a perfect place to rest. As I looked at it in my hand, it reminded me of crude stone knives I had seen on the Discovery and History channels and in innumerable museums.
As I looked carefully at it, I realized that it more closely resembled stone scrapers that had been used to work the hides of animals. It looks as if spots have been chipped away, by man or by nature, to make the comfortable grooves that fit my fingers so well and to form the sharp edge that could have scraped a deer hide many years ago.
It is worn with time...perhaps with use as well?
I will probably never know, but I will have to learn a little more about rocks and artifacts, and roam around my little hill on the edge of Comanche country some more. In the meantime, my link to history...my rock of ages...sits on my desk beside my computer reminding me not only of the passage of history, but of the fact that I am only here within a pool of that huge river and that someday perhaps someone will wonder about something that I have touched or seen.
I am sure that my little rock of ages past is just an accident of nature, but wouldn't it be nice if...
Donovan Baldwin is a freelance writer living in Copperas Cove, Texas. He is a University of West Florida alumnus, a member of Mensa and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and is retired from the U. S. Army after 21 years of service. In his career, he has held many managerial and supervisory positions. However, his main pleasures have long been writing, nature, health, and fitness. In the last few years, he has been able to combine these pleasures by writing poetry and articles on subjects such as health, fitness, yoga, weight loss, the environment, global warming, happiness, self improvement, and life. He has a collection of articles on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss at http://nodiet4me.com/articledirectory/ .
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