In the 1840s, a newspaper editor named Ephraim G. Squier and a physician named Edwin H. Davis, did something huge. They mapped the mounds and cataloged the contents of some of the mysterious earth mounds they found around Chillocothe, Ohio, later called the Hopewell Mounds. These two men changed the way we would come to understand an ancient North American civilization and until this week, I had not a clue.
The quick history is that the Hopewell Mound culture, in what is now central Ohio, was the epicenter of a North American community over 2,000 years ago. For several hundred years, the North Americans in this general area built over 10,000 mounds and precise geometric low earthworks, some in perfect circles, other squares and of exact dimensions repeated in multiple sites. The Hopewell world extended into much of the eastern US (we had visited one site a few years back on the Gulf in Florida) but the concentration in Ohio is stunning.
With no extant written accounts, archeologists surmise that the mounds were most likely used for community rituals and ceremonies, like cremation and burials. They are sited within earthwork “plazas”, which appear to have been built on certain alignments between the Sun, Moon, constellations, and the Earth, suggesting a celestial calendar.
No one lived in the earthworks and artifacts found inside the excavated mounds included animal effigies, objects, jewelry, and ceremonial pipes. Some were crafted from obsidian and grizzly bear teeth from Wyoming; copper and silver from the Great Lakes; shells from the Gulf of Mexico; and mica from North Carolina which suggested that the Hopewell were trading or traveling over a wide geographic areas in their 500 years of a hunting and gathering way of life.
All but about 1,000 of these sites have been flattened, plowed under, built on, and otherwise destroyed as agriculture and development moved into the area. The thoughtful work of these two men opened the door that I walked through this week, allowing me to peek into a page from our collective human history, as mysterious today as the ancient cairns to which Andy Goldsworthy paid homage in my post of last week.
2. Wally Byam came into my life, officially, in June 2015 when one of his creations, our first Airstream, became home to us. This past week we camped for the first time at the factory in Jackson Center, Ohio with fellow owners who were having their trailers serviced, as we were. It turns out we have joined an entire community of wise and experienced owners, a resource for everything from storage tips to campgrounds. I didn’t know anything about this innovative entrepreneur whose desire to camp comfortably led to his version of a towable, long-lasting travel trailer. His vision was function, comfort, ease of towing. Our vision was finding an esthetically pleasing and efficient home on the road as we continue our pilgrimage. In another surprising realization, we find that in addition to our new home, we have joined an entire virtual community. The synchronistic connection continues.
3. About fifteen years ago when my son was at Earlham College, in Richmond, Indiana, we visited the city of Columbus, Indiana after hearing of some of its architectural treasures. We squeezed in a second visit this week and here, the genius of J. Irwin Miller became more clear to me. This man’s vision included a belief that the way a city feels about itself is reflected in its architecture.
When his church was planning a new building in the mid-1930s, Miller, then the Chairman and CEO of Cummins Engine, offered to hire a world-class architect for the construction of the church. He offered to pay the fees and the offer went out to Eliel Saarinen for the project. The story is that Saarinen, then at the height of his career and very much in demand, turned it down. The persuasive Miller met with Saarinen and explained his vision for the city. Saarinen took the job and the first of the more than 60 world-class architecturally significant building was completed in 1942.
Miller, whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most socially responsible businessman in the country, set a model for responsible corporate citizenship that continues to inspire to this day.
4. On a hot summer afternoon, we headed west of Terre Haute, Indiana on the way to the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College where nearly 50 years ago this fall, I entered as a freshman on a path that changed my life in tumultuous and often-chaotic ways.
In reflection, my path was in fact exquisitely influenced by the founder of the college, Mother Theodore Guerin. This woman came from France in 1840 with a handful of fellow Sisters of Providence in answer to the call to establish a school for girls in the wilderness of western Indiana. The women arrived, moved into a house the first winter and survived. Over the next few years, the feisty and independent Mother Guerin found herself in conflict with the bishop who oversaw her work and who actually removed from her position for her belligerent attitude, excommunicating her from the Catholic church. She was later reinstated by a more understanding bishop and oversaw the growth of the motherhouse and the college, became a beloved leader, educator, and spiritual advisor. She was named a saint by the Catholic church in 2006, one of about 12 American saints.
When I returned to the campus on this late summer afternoon, I wandered into the building that had been the dining hall, finding a sign to the new shrine. One of the sisters greeted me and in an exchange that was filled with grace, she listened to my story and welcomed me home, as an alumnae and daughter of Mother Guerin. Those simple words were immensely powerful for me to hear as I continue to unravel my connection to this courageous woman pioneer whose life’s legacy continues to influence me to this day. And where, I ask, is my own pioneer taking me today on this pilgrimage?
I invite you to continue to travel along with us.