The Great Serpent Mound

the great serpent

Although I have traveled quite a bit this year I haven’t gone to any traditional sacred sites. Obligations and finances aren’t allowing for an extended pilgrimage this year but that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t long to step on ancient sacred land. Fortunately for me one of the greatest sacred sites in North America is just a half a day drive from my home. So my friend Val and I came up with a plan for an equinox pilgrimage to southern Ohio where the mighty Serpent Mound holds the light between heaven and earth. We have dear friends who were in the holy land of Peru for equinox and we wanted to connect the sacred lands with our presence.

We headed out early, I waved goodbye to the luminous field full of round bales of hay, braved the early morning traffic and finally came to the open road through the lush mountains and rolling hills of Kentucky. My mother-in-law is a coal miners daughter from Hazard and her connection to this land is strong, her memory has faded but she still wants to go home to Kentucky. I can see why, it is beautiful, peaceful land and the journey is as joyful as the destination. The strong sun of the summer is starting to fade and the magic that is Autumn makes the sky a deep blue and the fading leaves glow.

Just past Lexington we head down a rural road to Adams County Ohio, past tobacco barns full of the harvest, open to let the air dry the hanging leaves. The old stack stoned fences, along side the black board fences, define the land, keeping the horses safe and the past alive. Old homes that have seen much stand next to new metal homes. The charming town of Paris is like stepping back 50 years in time.

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After crossing the Ohio river we are in Amish country. We stopped by an Amish market and picked up food and baked goods as well as sandwiches on fresh baked bread. A quick look in the rock shop full of fossils from the area completes the journey for the Serpent is waiting for us just over the hill. I have been here several times in the last 15 years so it is like visiting an old friend.

The Great Serpent is an ancient effigy mound around 5000 years old. Its mouth is open ready to swallow the cosmic egg and its body is 1300 feet of coils ending in the spiral tail almost like a labyrinth. The body is a few feet high of perfectly molded earth covered with a skin of grass. The curving body lays on gently rolling land giving a look of living velvet. Each of the seven coils points to a different place in the heavens. It is a living observatory of the equinoxes and solstices, moon phases and constellations.

Perfectly aligned with the constellation Draco, The Dragon, the Serpent mirrors the universe on earth pointing to the former pole star Thuban. The sacred geometry of this giant creature makes it aligned to other great sacred observatories, Stonehenge, the Inti stone at Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Like the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl, another winged serpent of wisdom, it is believed to have had wings in the past. I also am reminded of the Egyptian god Thoth, god of Wisdom, who holds the entwined snakes of the caduceus. Wisdom in the message of this Serpent, knowledge of the Universe, understanding of what is timeless in our world.

I walk around the serpent, climb the near-by tower to get a birds-eye view, lay on a bench and feel the cool breeze come off of its body, look over the cliff to the meteor crater below and connect to the heavens in my mind. I thank the Serpent and leave a small offering to further connect the sacred lands of Peru and Egypt. I know I will be back again to ask for more wisdom and healing.

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http://www.greatserpentmound.com

The Mystery of the Serpent Mound by Ross Hamilton

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Minnesota

the lake

In August it was time for another pilgrimage. I wasn’t going to someplace exotic or foreign or legendary. I was going to my ancestral homeland, Minnesota. Not a usual place of pilgrimage for most people but, for my family, it is one of the most important places on earth.

Early in the morning I picked up my mom and headed to the Knoxville airport. We boarded a tiny plane and then changed in Dallas to another tiny plane to the even smaller airport in Fargo, North Dakota. No big planes, parking garages or long TSA lines. I was the only one at the rental car counter and the brown Civic was parked a few hundred feet away. After seeing farm equipment proudly displayed in the main terminal I wasn’t surprised to see that the grounds of the airport were vast cornfields.

We passed sunflower fields, rolling hills, lakes and small towns, all so familiar as we head home. This is my mother’s 81st summer in this land and she is so glad to be where her memories are so vivid and happy. This summer is different, vast changes in our family from last year mean we have to deal with loss mixed in with the comforts of the familiar.

My father isn’t at the table outside the farmhouse waving to us as we drive up. The farm house is now empty and stripped of our family treasures. The barn and granary are gone, now replaced with a modern metal building. The gardens are overgrown and the place lifeless. Our precious picturesque farm that was in the family for 117 years now belongs to stranger that doesn’t have the same cherished memories but sees only old buildings. It is a painful reminder of greed and betrayal.

My Aunt Sally still lives there in a little cottage by the lake that belonged to my great-grandmother Ella. The cottage has been added on to many times and now holds many of the artifacts gleaned from the farmhouse. I spent one blissful afternoon alternately sleeping and reading in a cozy little bedroom while in the background I could hear family talking and laughing over coffee on the back porch. It made me feel like a little girl again snuggled in the attic of the farmhouse.

The weather was hot the first few days so I cooled off in the lake, bobbing around in the shallow water, squishing the sand and seaweed between my toes. In the early mornings we gathered for coffee and coffeecake and tried to make sense out of our senseless losses, trying to come to terms with our lost land. One evening after dusk we went to the shore and lit Japanese paper lanterns to take our hopes and wishes and memories out over the lake. Another chillier evening we took a boat ride around the lake and admired the loons placidly bobbing in our wake and were treated to a low flyover by the resident bald eagle.

lanters

Everyday my family and I did something that was part of our cherished memories, shopped at the old department store, ate pizza and fresh corn on the cob, had breakfast in a town so small that the restaurant is also the grocery, hardware store, bait shop and laundromat. We went a few miles down the road to Vergas (population 388) to watch the Looney Day parade, complete with endless beauty queens, fire trucks and boy scout troupes from the surrounding area. Vergas’ claim to fame is a giant Loon statue in the local park. I ate deep-fried Oreos and Uffda tacos (what you get when Scandinavians make Mexican food). I reveled in the innocence of small-town American life and the gentleness of the local people.

Vergas

Along with the happy memories of life by the lake and endless chatter with my cousins and aunts and the clean, crisp air off the lake, my sister and I had a task. We came to bury my father’s ashes in the family cemetery. We picked out the headstone and my mother also chose a new headstone for my great-great grandparents Clara and Oscar. They moved from Sweden in the 1880’s, bringing their young family from the heart of Stockholm to make a new life on a lake in Minnesota. In this tiny cemetery, nestled in a hayfield off a dirt road, 25 ancestors are at peace, the lineage that the living hold dear to our hearts. Every year we go to this familiar place and talk about each one. Their courage and fortitude to make a new life in far away land gave us all a new future. Once on the whispering wind I heard them say to me “I don’t know why you come, we aren’t here.”

Since the cemetery is small, isolated and privately owned, we were allowed to do our own burial. My sister dug the square grave for the wooden box of ashes and tidied the other graves. Early on Sunday morning my mother said a few words and I read a few prayers. My sister and I together placed the ashes in the ground and each family member added a flower to show their love. My aunt has renamed the rowboat in my father’s honor, a fitting memorial since he rowed every summer morning until he was 90.

Life is simple and joyful when we are on the lake. Coffee and conversation, cool breeze and lapping waves are the elixirs that sooth my soul and link me to my ancestors, the ones that changed their destiny and therefore changed mine.

My Aunt Ellen gave me an aerial photo of our beautiful farm as it was. The waving green fields and trees surround the charming old home and barn. When I look at that picture now hanging in my kitchen I feel the healing that I need to recover from such a great loss. Minnesota will never be the same for my family, but we have strengthened our bonds and commitment to each other in the sadness and know we are finding new ways to be together. Our ancestors are as close as our breath and forever part of our DNA.

In just a few months we will all gather in Tennessee on my farm to celebrate Christmas. Our cousins who live in Sweden are coming and once again we will have endless conversations and laughter. The farm is different but the love is the same.

pies

Two Pianos

pianos

My house has to contain three things to be my home, a fireplace, a cat and a piano. I love the primal joy of essential and mysterious fire, linking me with my ancestors. Of course I’m cat obsessed so a fluffy kitty or two on my lap is pure joy. The piano is a great friend and comfort. I play when I’m happy, sad, bored, got a minute to spare or to accompany singers or my darling violinists.

I was raised in a very conservative religion that permitted few extra-curricular activities. Sports and dancing were out but not music so I took piano lessons from a young age. My teacher, Mrs. Harter, a lovely older lady and church organist, had a white toy poodle, Baby, that sat on her lap during lessons. When I was in high school I took lessons from Mr. Schneller at a music school. He smoked a pipe and drank coffee during my lesson—very exotic and worldly to this sheltered girl. I had the usual scales, new pieces, polishing pieces and every week a hymn to learn so I would be ready for any church occasion. My two closest friends were very accomplished pianists so we played for each other and learned duets. To this day, when my friend Melanie is driving to see her mother in Nashville she stops by and we play a Mozart duet that we learned almost 40 years ago for our 8th grade graduation. Our performance is little rusty at times but we are once again those young girls skipping class to practice our duet.

I didn’t have the talent to be a professional musician so I just play for my own pleasure. Without the standards of performance that trained musicians have, I learned to compensate for my short comings with amateur tricks like White-out if there are too many notes or just skip the really hard, tedious parts. My cats and husband don’t care, they are an approving audience. Alexandra loves having live music even if it isn’t perfect.

When Hamilton and I married, I was determined to have my dream piano, a walnut baby grand. I had always played a spinet but aspired to a bigger piano. So I took our wedding money to a piano restorer and picked out a lovely 1930’s vintage walnut baby grand piano. I made small payments for a few years until it was paid off. It took up a great deal of my 900 square foot apartment but I didn’t care. The dog had room to sleep under it and the girls played “fort” under it. I started them on violin very young and our evenings were spent playing the piano and violin together. I kept that White-out handy to be able to keep up with them when the accompaniments were orchestra scores.

Next month is my 30th wedding anniversary making my piano a part of the family for 30 years too. It has brought us much joy and solace, entertainment and achievement. Now it is time for my piano to go to a new home. It is a bittersweet parting. A newly married couple is coming to move it in a few weeks. It is a big task to move a baby grand, you can’t just throw it in the back of a van. It requires special movers, strong men, equipment and then a retuning. Definitely a high maintenance instrument.

But I haven’t given up playing. In fact I’m playing more than ever on a new piano. My mother’s beautiful Yamaha piano wouldn’t fit in her new apartment so I have it and it is magnificent. It has better quality tone and touch and is truly a joy to play. Mom can come play it any time she likes but it is mine everyday. In the mean time I have what I call my “intensely first world problem” of two baby grands in my family room. There isn’t much room to walk. This is a bridge time between my cherished old piano that has brought me so much joy and my new piano that will be my companion for the next thirty years. A strange time when I say goodbye to an old part of my life while simultaneously welcoming the new. The last few years have been such a transition in my life; the children are grown, the parents gone, the old house sold. I’m ready to leave this long transition time and bid a fond farewell to my old piano and my care-giving years and welcome with open arms my next phase full of the great unknown with an amazing sound track, compliments of my new piano.