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Infographic at the main plaza at Cahokia. Monk's Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

Infographic at the main plaza at Cahokia. Monk’s Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

In this blog, I come to you with stories of everyday adventure; I relay the stories to you like you were an old friend sitting with me around a campfire.  To me, a blog is an extension of the age-old tradition of oral storytelling. I like to paint a picture of where I’ve been or what I’ve been up to and then I like to hear your stories of the same.  Anyway, I find writing about adventures takes the experience and turns it into story and the best stories can become something of family legend.  And “legend” is the category where I’ve found myself for a bit of creative writing recently.

There are 3  ingredients to the story I’m about to share.  The  first is a recurring contest on National Public Radio called 3 Minute Fiction.  3 Minute Fiction supplies writers with a prompt and asks for a story that can be read aloud in 3 minutes (600 words or less).  The stories are judged and winners are selected and read on-air.  I did not win this round of 3 Minute Fiction, but I very much enjoyed writing for it.  The prompt this round was to send “original short fiction in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning.”  (Click here to read the story that won this prompt.)

The second ingredient of the story was my recent travels to Cahokia Mounds and subsequent reading of a book about the people who lived there.  If you’ve not read about my trip to Cahokia and how I climbed the largest earthen pyramid in North America and a World Heritage Site, I suggest clicking here before you read on!   The people of Cahokia, like many other native peoples, had an oral tradition which includes a Trickster character.   In Norse mythology, the Trickster was named Loki.  In the tradition of the Blackfoot has a Trickster named Napi.  In other Native American traditions, the Trickster is the Coyote or the Raven.  No matter the culture and no matter the name, the archetype of the Trickster is all about chaos.  He’s curious and devious. He’s trouble, but he’s also somehow friendly and likable.  I think of the Trickster as the guy who runs around your house hiding your car key or steeling your left sock.  It’s a character that’s not necessarily malevolent, but sometimes causes harm.  He just spins the situation to see where it lands.

The geodes on my desk.

The geodes on my desk.

And the last ingredient of this story is my own adventures as a child.  My grandmother really does live in a house built in a limestone dell along the Mississippi, and the walls are dotted with geodes.  I spent many days as a child running around by the river and collecting geodes to bring back up to the house.  My mom or dad would have to get out a hammer- sometimes a sledge hammer for a big one- and we’d crack all my little treasures to reveal the sparkling quartz inside.  It was magical then, and when I go back to find geodes today, it’s still magical.  There are 3 pieces of geode from the cliff by my grandma’s house sitting on my desk at work, as a matter of fact.

I hope you enjoy my 3 Minute Fiction story, The Trickster and the Tears of the Moon.  And after the story… read alllllll the way to the bottom because I am giving out prizes.

The Trickster and The Tears of the Moon

The night my mother died, the Trickster was at the window. I saw him there with his bushy tail and eyes glinting, and I knew he saw me crying on grandmother’s knee. He was listening too, when she spoke of the tears of the moon.

“On nights like tonight, the moon cries,” grandmother said. “And tears of the moon find pockets here in the hillside.” And she reached into her satchel and pulled out a small, roundish rock with a crack through the center.

I gently pulled the halves apart and my eyes danced across the most beautiful, sparkling crystals inside the ugly stone.

And Trickster saw it too.

“The tears of the moon hold beautiful memories. When you’re sad and need them, the memories will always be on the inside.”

I nodded through my tears and tucked the stone in my pocket.

And Trickster watched where I put it.

Many people assumed the Trickster had left the limestone bluffs of the Mississippi long ago- maybe when the Indians had left or when the railroad had been built. Surely he was gone when we got cable television? But he never left really, and I knew that as a child.

And the Trickster heard Old Magic in my grandmother’s story and wanted the tears of the moon for himself.

As I grew, I often played near my grandmother’s home. I always kept the little geode in my pocket, but one summer day, the stone fell out and landed among the other stones.

And the Trickster found it.

You see, he had been collecting little, ugly, balls of rock like my grandmother had given me. He’d haul them back to his tree to look for the magic tears of the moon, but could not crack any of the stones. Soon his tree was full of stones that were full of magic but that the Trickster was unable to get to.

squirelBut when he found my stone, he rejoiced because the magic was finally his. He took it to his home where he could barely fit in the opening because of all of his stones. And he bragged to the birds nearby about the magic he had found. He showed them the crystals and told them about the tears of the moon.

I cried that I’d lost my stone and the summer and autumn wore on. The Trickster spent his time in his crowded tree, staring at the beautiful crystals and thinking himself very clever.

Winter came and winter stayed. I had not thought about the Trickster until one snowy night, under the full moon, I saw him sitting on my grandmother’s porch barely able to lift his head.

Hello, Trickster said to me.

Trickster! I said, startled. Why do you look so ill?

I’m hungry, whispered the Trickster. I have no food and the winter has been 
so long.

Isn’t your tree full?

It is full. But I have no acorns.

Then what is it full of, Trickster?

I cannot tell you.

Then I will not help you.

And I could see in his eyes what he was hiding.

You’ve found my stone, haven’t you Trickster?

I have found many stones with much magic and they belong to me.

Then use your magic stones for a meal, I said to him.

I can’t use the magic, he sighed.

And I knew the Trickster had learned. The tears the moon cried the night my mother died were not meant for him. That magic was only for me. And even though he had my stone, the magic stayed with me.

________________

Contest announcement!

Write your own 3 Minute Fiction and share it with me on Adventure Foot and you will WIN a tube of Nuun Hydration!  (I am an Ambassador for Nuun Hydration- wonderful electrolyte drink tablets… read more here)   Your prompt is the following:

Write a story/myth/legend featuring the Trickster.  (Your Trickster may take any form you like… but I want to know what that guy has been up to!) 

Rules:

600 Words or less.  You can submit your story on my Facebook page, in a comment on this blog or by email to laura  sievert  at  outlook dotcom  <- no spaces… you see what I’m doing there.

ANYONE who submits a Trickster story wins, up to 10 winners. 

I really hope I get some entries. Creative writing is awesome. Have fun with it! Contest ends July 6th or when I get 10 stories… whichever comes first.

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Doug and I take in the view from the top of Monk's Mound at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site.

Doug and I take in the view from the top of Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site. You can see the St. Louis Arch in the background.

Have you ever dreamed of visiting something iconic, inspirational, and culturally significant to the history of humanity?  The Pyramids of Giza. Persepolis in Iran.  The archeological remains of Pompeii in Italy. The Temple of Apollo Epicurus in Greece.  The Taj Mahal in India. Stonehenge in Northern Ireland.

In 1994 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched an initiative to compile a list and work on the preservation of the most important cultural and natural sites in the world.  This list of World Heritage Sites is awash with one jaw-dropping wonder of the world after another.  It includes all of the sites I listed in the paragraph above and more.

Stone artifacts/axe heads found in various burial pits near Cahokia.

Stone artifacts/axe heads found in various burial pits near Cahokia.

Now to visit the amazing sites I listed above would take a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money.  But what if a true wonder of the world, a record of the technological achievements of man, a significant stage in human history preserved in the archaeological record, and an exceptional example of a civilization that has disappeared was located just two hours from where you’re sitting now?  Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to go and check it out?

Ladies and gentleman, I give you: Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois.

Recreated village scene at the visitor's center museum

Recreated village scene at the visitor’s center museum

My own trip to Cahokia (pronounced Ka-Hoke-ee-ah) came from one simple truth: we were tired of being in the car.  My friend Doug and I had just run the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky and were headed home.  Over 5 hours into our trip home, I spotted a brown historic site marker on the highway and exclaimed, “We’re right by Cahokia Mounds! I’ve always wanted to see it!”  Doug made an impressively quick decision and an equally quick lane-change with the car, and just a few miles down the road, we arrived at the park.

Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico.  At its height, the chiefton-based civilization covered 4000 acres, included numerous villages around the main city structure, and was home to nearly 20,000 people.  These Mississippian people flourished from 800 AD to approximately 1200 AD and had highly structured communities with a complex social system which included art, agriculture, community, trade networks, and many scientific and engineering achievements.  In AD 1200, Cahokia was larger than London.

The Cahokia Mounds site today, as it was in AD 800, is organized around a central Grand Plaza and the largest earthen pyramid in the US, Monk’s Mound.  Monk’s Mound and the 100+ surrounding mounds are made of earth and wood using stone and wood tools.  The earth was transported primarily on people’s backs in woven baskets.  It is estimated that Monk’s Mound- with a base that covers 14 acres and a height of 100 feet- is comprised of over 22,000 cubic feet of earth.  Anyone else’s back sore thinking about moving that much dirt?

Monk’s Mound was a cultural focal point and once was topped with a massive building where the most important chief would run the government and conduct ceremonies. Other mounds were built for other purposes.  Most contained burials, and some may have just been built to elevate the residence of important figures in the society.  Today some of the mounds have been excavated and amazing artifacts have been recovered and preserved.

Infographic at the main plaza. Monk's Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

Infographic at the main plaza. Monk’s Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

All of the mounds have been cataloged and numbered.  Of particular interest is Mound #72.  The excavation of this small mound found over 300 ceremonial burials, mostly of young women in mass graves.  Atop of this, an elite male, estimated to be 45 years old was buried on a platform of flat beads made out of shells.   The shells were arranged around the body to resemble an eagle or hawk.  There is a recreation of this chief’s burial inside of the park’s interpretative center which is truly amazing.

The interpretive center of the park is very nice and the displays are engaging for kids and adults alike.  There is no admission to the center, though there is a suggested donation of $4 for adults, $2 for kids and $10 for families.  Along with many wonderful artifacts like tools, beads and pottery, there is an auditorium which shows a film every hour as well as a recreated village to explore.

Since Doug and I had stopped on the way home from an exhausting weekend, we did not have the time to explore the true breadth of the park, however we did take the opportunity to climb to the top of Monk’s Mound.  Under cloud dotted skies, the view from the top of the mound was vast and gorgeous.  The St. Louis Gateway Arch and skyline, 7 miles away as the crow flies, was clearly visible to the southwest. Farm fields and lakes spread out to the north.  And all around, you could see tops of the mounds which made up this ancient city.  It was easy to imagine how inspiring this vantage point would have been to the people who lived here.

"Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi" by Timothy R. Pauketat is available at the Quincy Public Library.

“Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi” by Timothy R. Pauketat is available at the Quincy Public Library.

The top of Monk’s Mound is made even more significant by its placement in relation to the rest of the structures in the society.  Its crest falls at the point at which the sun rises during the equinox, making a strong connection between the chief and the life-giving sun.  Another unique structure at Cahokia is a sun-calendar known as “Woodhenge.”  This site, discovered in the 1960’s, was built of concentric circles of enormous cedar posts that aligned with the sun at the equinox, and would have probably been important as both markers in the calendar and for ceremonial gatherings.  One of the rings of “Woodhenge” has been recreated at the park and can be viewed both up close and from the crest of Monk’s Mound.

Now listen, AF readers… I don’t normally get bossy with my advice, but I’m telling you:  Go to Cahokia. 2 hours from Quincy lies a site of significance to the whole world, and you shouldn’t miss it.  I’m glad I finally had the chance to visit, and I plan on returning to walk more of the grounds and explore.  For further reading on Cahokia, visit:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/198

http://www.cahokiamounds.org

And check out this book (also available at the Quincy Public Library): http://www.amazon.com/Cahokia-Ancient-Americas-Mississippi-American/dp/0143117475

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO ENTER MY ADVENTURE FOOT PHOTO CONTEST! WIN AMAZING PRIZES FROM NUUN HYDRATION AND V FUEL ENDURANCE 

Also, a special hello to Amanda… who we met on the top of the pyramid.  🙂  Hope your adventure was fun and educational!

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