For over 30 years I’ve made the trip from southwestern Virginia to my home turf in northern Indiana, nowadays to Lafayette (named after the freedom-loving French patriot who fought with Washington) where my mother resides. I know the roads, the tolls, the towns and even the rest stops. There are “home of” famous people markers sprinkled all along the route: Jerry West, NBA star in Cheylan, WV; Bob Evans, restauranteur in Rio Grande, OH; Orville Wright in Dayton; Neil Armstrong a bit further north in Wapakoneta, OH. There are dozens of bridges and stretches of highway memorialized for those in the US military who died in battle. So many lives and names...
Passing through, I’ve visited the Columbus Museum of Art, the Dayton Art Institute, the Cincinnati Museum of Art, and others. Somehow, even though it’s right along my route, and I’d considered it many times over the decades, I never managed to make a stop at the national park outside of Chillicothe, OH. Designated the Hopewell Culture National Historic Site the “cultural name” (like Adena) is a bit of a misnomer, as both monikers are from farmers who happened to own the lands where many artifacts were uncovered and preserved in the mid-19th C.
I was traveling on December 20, 2020, so the sun was setting early and I was halfway through my usual 10 hour drive when I saw the road sign. Something felt fitting to make a stop here on the eve of the solstice. It was cold and windy — storms famously blow through the rolling hills of this famed Ohio River Valley region and I’ve encountered my share.
This site was one of several throughout the county, and seemed to be epicenter of the culture that existed 2,000 years ago (the era of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Jesus of Nazareth) and dominated the Eastern Woodland cultures for 400 years. Within the complexly-arranged and layered burial mounds were hundreds of finely crafted artifacts, with unique materials like sheets of Mica from North Carolina, shells from the gulf coast, and copper from Lake Superior. Regrettably many mounds at this site were leveled when a huge WWI training camp was established in a rush in Chillicothe in 1915-16. I didn’t have time to visit the famed Serpent Mound, but I will soon.
My brief stop was a serene treat. The info center was already closed, and there wasn’t a soul around (at least not in the flesh) so I experienced the entire site of several earthen mounds on my own. As I took in the presence of the place, I tried to imagine that the miles of farmfields I routinely drove through had, for thousands of years, been vast old growth forests, with ecosystems of enormous oaks, maples, hickories, elms, poplars, beech, and chestnuts as far as the eye could see. As I turned to leave, the sun was appropriately beginning to set, the wind-whipped clouds were all aglow, and I felt nameless and as significant as an errant leaf tumbling across the landscape.