I was at Poverty Point yesterday, photographing the mounds for the upcoming World Heritage Initiative. I arrived at 6:30 as the sun was just rising above the treeline. I was hoping it would strike the east face of the largest mound, Mound A, but it was instead swallowed by a thick bank of clouds. The best laid plans and all of that.
But I spent the next 5 hours walking the site, east to west, north to south and everything in between. I walked around and over all five mounds, over the ridges, along the trails, across the plaza. Back and forth and back again.
When I was nearly ready to leave I hiked back over to Mound A which is also called the Bird Mound. I crossed the highway then up and over the ridges, one by one. As I walked I thought about the dwellings that must have once been there. The structures that would have risen from the marked circles in the plaza where testing had indicated something had once existed. Past where walls would have been, people would have been. Then across the flat plaza.
I felt the strangest nudge of being surrounded by the once active village. Crazy, I know, and I can feel the scientists rolling their eyes. But it was there, really, and gone in a flash. Then again, stronger. It was as if I had walked and walked and walked until, even if only for an instant, I had walked myself into the spirit of the site. The pouch over my shoulder held lenses instead of projectile points. My hand carried a camera instead of a celt or a perforator. And my pre-packaged PB crackers were way different from the fresh fish they would have pulled from Bayou Macon. But still, for a split second, we were all there together.
And always present, always there with us, was the Bird Mound. Not just a mound of dirt but a presence. Even if your back is turned it is there, looking over your shoulder. Such a powerful being with such a strong pull. Even now, in its eroded and damaged state, it can’t be ignored. How must it have been when still completely intact?? Towering over an open plaza and small huts???
More clouds were rolling in, the wind was picking up and the sunlight was being scattered around the site. I chased it, trying to catch it just as it topped the summit of the mound. I sat on the ground for a while and waited, waited for just the right conditions. I listened to the shrill call of the Pileated Woodpecker that had been shadowing me all morning. And watched for deer that never materialized.
I eventually got my photographs, or hoped I had, and got up to leave. There was a real sense of not wanting to go, not wanting to leave the mound. Again, crazy, I know. I can go back tomorrow or the next day or the next. But I didn’t want to leave it.
How did they? I used to wonder how they could leave after all the work they had done to build such a magnificent site. But … suddenly it wasn’t that anymore. How could they pack up and leave the Bird Mound? How could they break that bond? To never return? Was there a ceremony? Some sort of spiritual goodbye? How did they ever tear themselves away from it? And … why??
I hope the archaeologists, in their research and their studies, will some day come up with an answer. But I doubt that will happen in my lifetime. But my lifetime is about as significant as the drop of a single oak leaf in the long and mysterious story of Poverty Point.