Written by Jennifer Adele
For our excursion into creative green space this month, we venture a little bit outside of the St. Louis area, to an area many native St. Louisans will visit time and time again… Cahokia Mounds. My very first trip to this impactful location happened as a child at around age eight and it was a sight I will never forget. The size of some of the mounds and the layout of the trails, which back up to woods and fields, are breathtaking. It was once home to the Late Woodland Indians around 700 ACE and was indeed a very vibrant Mississippi River Valley culture. Today it is a clear look back to the past, a glance at the roots of our people and the heart of our land. And, it is a writer’s adventurous and historical paradise.
Ahh… the Great Mounds! The history is long and rich and teaming with details, and in this article we will only get to touch on the basics of the topic. However, for those seeking more in depth information, Cahokia Mounds itself has an amazingly thorough website, complete with video. Cahokia Mounds, located in the state of Illinois, is about twenty to thirty minutes outside of the St. Louis area and is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico.
Now considered to be a part of Collinsville proper, Cahokia originally covered about 4000 acres and included an estimated 120 mounds. The mounds were made of earth dug from borrow pits with stone and wood tools. The earth was then transported in baskets on the backs of the people, and it is thought that over 50 million cubic feet of earth was moved for mound construction. Time, energy, and vision went into this place and people from all over are fascinated by it to this very day. There is imagination and construct, organization, structure, and yet and inherent organic feel. Travelers and scholars from all over the globe visit for a chance to see the mounds and tour the world-class Interpretive Center.
Monk’s Mound is, of course, the largest of all the immediately visible mounds, especially from the main street that runs right through the Cahokia campus. From the very top of this structure one can view the entire St. Louis city skyline and even imagine what our ancestors might have glimpsed in times long before modern construction altered the landscape. It is an incredible creative and mental exercise, especially for the science fiction and historical literary writer.
Woodhenge is also another great spot within the complex of Cahokia to summon the muse. Excavations have partially uncovered five circular sun calendars, called Woodhenges. These calendars were originally used to interpret the changes of the seasons. The reconstructed Woodhenge that is currently able to visit and walk all about represents the third construction and large central observation post. Time spent here at the solstices and equinoxes is sure to bring forth a surge of artistic concepts.
Connecting to our roots, envisioning the past of the land we inhabit, and embracing the cultures that preceded our own… it is a creative endeavor no writer can afford to miss as the Autumn Equinox fast approaches, falling on Sunday, September 22nd this year.