In the beginning, the Lord God created man in Adams County, Ohio, just north of Peebles and south of Chillicothe.
On the very western edge of the Appalachians, in the craggy countryside of southern Ohio, the three branches of a small river called Brush Creek converge in a valley lined with pitch pine and chestnut oak trees. A steep rocky bluff rises one hundred feet above the riverbed. And on top of this bluff lies an ancient mound of soil, waist high, built in the shape of a serpent. The snake’s head—120 feet long and 60 feet wide—faces the north end of the bluff, overlooking the river. From there, the snake’s body stretches southward 1,300 feet in loose waves, and ends in a tightly curled triple spiral.
Julia PikeThe Serpent Lesson: Adam and Eve at Home in Ohio
If it weren’t for the detailed map in my hands—a page of the New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer, from DeLorme, with the small state divided up into more than thirty spreads—I’d have had no idea that a road existed here, half a mile from our house. And in fact, the atlas has oversold it: Brown Road does exist, but not in a condition where you could drive a car or even an SUV down it. Nor a mountain bike, unless you were hardcore and could lift it over fallen trees, slide it under branches, and skirt some soggy bogs.
When someone tells me a story, even a newspaper headline, I ask, “Where was that? Where did that happen?” From the context—the who, the where, and the when—I construct meaning. I believe I’m not alone. We have a fundamental desire to understand our environments, to understand how they affect who we are and what we care about.
My wife has always been a kind woman, but during the six months when I was in prison, her kindness grew to be a firm, beating thing. She called me every day and sent small and constant gifts. She brought our children to visit, and the kids soon lost their fury and held their smiles behind their palms, watching me with a kind of incredulous wonder. My wife was so graceful in the newspaper photographs and interviews, shining on me so much of her own quiet light, that by the time I was released I was more a figure of pity, even a scapegoat, than the monster I’d been painted as throughout the trial.