On the Road

This Saturday was a refreshing break from the usual routine. Rather than the usual getting up to see Stacey off to work, today we set out toward the southerly reaches of this northern Carolina, toward Town Creek Indian Mound. So, today, you’re going to get a light, rambling post.

It is just around the corner as far as driving goes, so it is a little ridiculous that in all the years I have lived in the state, this is the first time we have made the trip to see it. Still, we couldn’t have chosen a better day to do it. There was cloud-dappled sun and temperate air the whole day.

We took the windier, only slightly longer, back roads to the site, breaking up the trip with a visit to Pittsboro for a visit to our favorite African importer. We weren’t there long (we had places to be), but I found several chess pieces to fulfill a promise to some spirits. That the stone pieces themselves were red and green rather than black and white was all the more appropriate, making me glad to have waited for the right pieces rather than picking up a set to harvest.

The trip takes us from the red piedmont into the sand hills, and that was delightful in itself. Stacey is reacquainting herself with our botanical landscape for palo purposes, so we spent a bit of time just talking through the plants we were seeing. The shift from one to the other is sudden. We turned from one state road to another and suddenly everything was different. The air, the sun, the color of the soil, the sorts of plants, even some of the birds, changed. The spirit of the place changed, too. The piedmont isn’t exactly heavy, but the tenor of the sand hills is lighter, as if there is always a breeze moving through it on the subtler level.

The Town Creek site overlooks a river and has been restored to provide visitors with a glimpse into the Pee Dee culture which flourished and waned before European contact. Part of the broader Mississippian complex, the centerpiece of the site is the reconstructed mound, complete with a reconstructed temple. There was a group holding a gathering of some sort on the lawn in front of the visitor center today, but they seemed uninterested in the site itself, so we had the palisade and its buildings to ourselves for most of the time.

Well, to ourselves and the carpenter bees, skinks, dirt daubers, and toad.

Carpenter bees were the proper residents of the place, playing in the doorways and humming busily within the buildings. As we passed through the narrow clay walls of the entry gate, the contained space vibrated with their buzzing. As we passed in and out of buildings, one or two of them would pause in their dance with each other to face us with their round, intense attention.

The temple mound (built by its original inhabitants atop a ruined lodge) was vibrantly green, shaggy except for the ramp and entrance into the temple building. While there are dead in this land, the most distinctive spiritual presence was the land itself. There was a song to the place, too, a tune I could pick up and hum easily. The bees knew it. I wonder what it was like at its peak, when there was a people weaving themselves and their spirits into it.

Listening to the account given of the culture, built up mostly from comparative evidence since the Pee Dee themselves were long gone when the site was discovered, I was struck by the similarity in some ritual elements between Mesoamerica and Mississipian culture, most especially by the account of ritual ball games and of the annual cleaning of houses and relighting of the sacred fire. Old, old patterns in these lands, even with all the efforts made by Europeans to erase them.

The Pee Dee were one of the people to make use of the black drink and the gift shop takes advantage of that to sell yaupon tea (also a book on North American astronomy which I may need to pick up sometime). So, as I have written this post, I have sipped on some tequila, nibbled on corn chips, and finished my first cup of yaupon tea. I think my second cup is just about ready. Hello, America.

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