Field Trip to the Serpent Mound

Once again our professor reminds us that we
have not come here to see the Serpent Mound but to see the

geological formations beside it, and
because we want the ten weeks’ credit for only

five long, hot summer days, we dutifully turn our
attention back to the area, nearly five

miles in diameter, containing extremely
faulted and folded bedrock, Paleozoic

carbonates, sandstones, and shales, dutifully noting shatter
cones and the vertical fractures in the rock, all

uncommon in the normally flat-layered rocks
of Ohio, even southwest Ohio. But

it’s the Serpent Mound that draws our eyes again and
again. That nearly quarter-mile embankment of

earth built by Indians a thousand years ago,
the gigantic snake uncoiling in seven deep

curves along a bluff overlooking Brush Creek, the
oval embankment near the end of the bluff most

probably representing the open mouth of
the serpent as it strikes. It’s the largest and finest

snake effigy mound in North America and was
not built over any burials or remnants

of living areas as everyone once thought,
its massive body uncoiling, its huge earthen

mouth unhinged and open, ready to swallow down
anything foolish or blind enough to stumble

into its path. With an exasperated sigh,
the professor reminds us how the landowners

have been most cooperative in allowing us
to examine the site and will we please respect

their property and disturb it as little as
possible and please pick up that empty plastic

bag lying there in the thick ground vegetation
and will we shirkers please pay attention for once

in our lives? We obediently huddle around him, scribbling all
his words in our spiral-bound notebooks, thinking of

Moses instead, casting his rod down before the
Pharaoh so it might turn into a serpent and

devour all the serpents conjured up by the
Pharaoh’s magicians and sorcerers. In a drone,

the professor points out the exposed bedrock and
the dolomite, shattered and brecciated, but we

think about snakes digesting everything but hair
and feathers, even teeth and bones. We think about

curved fangs and glistening scales and the tremendous size
of it all. During lunch with his favorite students,

gulping down tuna salad on toasted rye, the
professor explains that researchers have been studying the

possibility that the effigy may have
been laid out in alignment with various and

sundry astronomical observations. The
professor discusses the closely spaced fractures

and the undisturbed Pleistocene glacial till, while
we shirkers tiptoe around the Serpent Mound,

whispering about Medusa, her voluptuous
body and writhing nest of serpent-hair turning

us hard as stone. About the sweet illicit taste
of forbidden fruit and afterward our crawling

on our bellies and eating dirt all the days of
our lives, gladly, so gladly, with the sweet taste of

the fruit forever on our lips and tongue. After
lunch the professor patiently explains why the

Serpent Mound disturbance cannot be explained by
either the meteorite- or comet-impact hypotheses

or by the gas-explosion theory but may be
somewhat if only incompletely understood

as the result of some ancient volcanic or
tectonic activity, but we’re thinking of

Cleopatra, with her dark hair and her milky
white breasts, bared to fangs which, when not in use, fold back

and lie flat, but which when used, spring forward and then
become erect. Serpent bodies long and cool and

hard, muscles undulating beneath taut snake skin.
Vipers’ pits seeking out the heat, the damp moist heat,

trembling to the vibrations which reach us through the
faulted and folded Paleozoic structures.

Which stir us from our underground dens and thrust us
violently up along the fault lines, our bedrock

exposed. Which leave us shattered, gasping and spent, our
snake hearts dark and deep as the earth from which we came.

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