Bike Odyssey 2014 – Day 49 (July 5) – Ohio weirdness
Tip of the Serpent’s tail
There’s a distinctive kind of weirdness here – sometimes I think it’s the creepiest state in the Union – I first met it 24 summers ago, driving to Chicago from New York with a raging toothache, the summer my father died. It has to do with Ohio people – the absence of them. And with huge, neatly trimmed lawns all around the most featureless bungalows you’ve ever seen. Do people live here, you wonder? Or rather, do people live here? Aliens. maybe? Admittedly, the only kids I’ve seen playing outdoors, across 9000 miles (a boundary passed today) of America, I saw today in rural Ohio. But then – how could that mistake occur? Real kids? Playing? The prosecution rests. Aliens. I think the prehistoric inhabitants of this area must have sensed it, in the land. The Mound Builders, as they’re known. Or Mound People. I prefer Mound Builders – reserving Mound People for the people who best deserve this title, the contemporary citizens of Ohio. Huge. Mound-shaped. During that drive to Chicago in 1990 it felt like I’d landed on the planet of the fat. Today I was here to pay my respects to the Great Serpent Mound, an astrological monument dedicated to natural forces (unlike the work of the militaristic mound builders, seemingly a different crew, dedicated to conquest, hierarchy, and subjugation. One a culture of domination, the other of reverence. Humanity… the same as ever, it seems.) Just last month prehistoric inhabitation of the Americas has been put back once more, in time, to 100,000 BC.
The snake and the stars
At the Serpent Mound a few dozen Ohioans were gathered. Reluctant children, bossy grandmothers, crazy uncles – one of these, who clearly hadn’t read the information available at the site regarding the pre-Indian date of the Mound cultures, recited each sentence from the list of the Serpent Mound’s astrological measuring functions (left), prefacing each one with a stentorian, ‘Now, how could an Injun…?’ for the benefit of the child accompanying him. His tones were scathing enough to have graced the Roman Senate. Quomodo potuitne (a favorite Ciceronian sally) barbarus? It wasn’t clear if Uncle’s aim was simply to ridicule liberal injun-loving archaeologists everywhere, or to pave the way for his alternative theory, perhaps derived (like mine to explain today’s Ohioans) from the Ancient Aliens TV channel. Unusually, it seems, the Serpent Mound is built into a meteor impact crater; there are many other such earth sculptures from the same inspiration, more, perhaps, than we’ll ever detect. But what a beautiful American meditation.
There he curves off into the distance…
19 miles north of the Serpent lies Hillsboro, as a tragic a town, in its own way, as I’ve come across. It’s pierced by many roads, none of which seem able to come up with a reason for visiting Hillsboro, a place suggestive of one of those magician’s assistants through whom the swords pass without drawing blood. The country fair was taking place today in the center, if such a word fits, of Hillsboro (loudspeakers provided rock music loud enough to hear 15 miles away), featuring some 30 food stalls and whirl-you-around devices, all of them brought from out of town and run by bored bigger-town slickers whose faces expressed entirely appropriate contempt for the few Hillsboro folk able to face the noise and taste the vile food. They wore a strange look, the locals, stunned and appalled as if last night had brought an attack on the town by one or more mass murderers. The heat, the screaming loudspeakers, the awful food and drink… I almost tried some fries, but, although sign language explained the price ($4 for a tiny cup) no amount of signing on my part, or even shouting, was able to communicate the idea of a napkin to wipe the grease from face and fingers. I rode the remaining 160 miles to Ashland (of all names!), Ohio, gripped by a stunned and appalled feeling to match the look on Hillsboro faces. What has happened to us humans?