Past the Present

Someone wrote a letter to the local newspaper soon after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.  The writer wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  He asked if anyone had even been to the gulf coast of Louisiana … claiming that it’s ugly and who cares if there is an oil spill there?  Seriously.

The gulf coast of Louisiana doesn’t look like Maui or the Turks and Caicos or even nearby Orange Beach but not worth saving?  I guess he couldn’t see the coastal marshes, the nesting birds, the underwater life … not to mention the seafood industry.  There are no resorts there, so, what’s the point?

Sometimes that’s the way it feels with the mounds here.  There are no great houses, no kivas, no pyramids, no tombs, nothing to see … so why try to preserve them?

I was fortunate to take a walking tour of Poverty Point with Dr. Diana Greenlee, station archaeologist.  We were discussing the mounds and she mentioned that they had determined that at least one of the levels of one of the mounds had been constructed in a mosaic pattern.  Instead of just dumping random piles of dirt to build the structure, they actually had a plan … areas of light dirt, areas of dark dirt, forming a pattern.

I could imagine a foreman giving out instructions, sending the workers with their woven baskets into the surrounding area for just the right color dirt.  Then arranging the contents into a pattern that he or she thought was visually pleasing.  Why?  Were the reasons strictly due to aesthetics?  Were they mystical?  Spiritual?  Something to do with engineering and structure?

After all that trouble to build it just so, that level would eventually be covered by another.  And another.  Maybe the same way we repaint the walls or buy new curtains.

Standing in front of the mounds, I can’t see any of that.  No foreman.  No workers.  No mosaic pattern of dirt.  It’s only when I look past the surface, past the present, that those things appear.

Maybe it’s the same with the landowners, the ones who plow the mounds under to plant an extra row of cotton.  They can’t see the history or the stories of the earthworks much like the letter writer couldn’t see the beauty of the Louisiana gulf coast.

I find it helps if you close your eyes.

About Jenny Ellerbe

I am a photographer living, and working, in northeastern Louisiana.
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