The riot of color outside tells me that fall has arrived in the Midwest. I’ve lived here most of my life but traveled pretty much all over the country. During those travels, I hear the jokes about “flyover” country, and I have to listen about godawful trips through some boring, flat stretch of road. People would scoff at the idea that the Midwest has any sort of mystery, creepiness or “thin” places, where the line between this world and the next are very thin.
To be fair, I once thought like they did. I thought you had to visit Ireland, England or places overseas to find those mysterious places. I missed the fact that in my own backyard, strange and beautiful places abound.
Stephen King challenged me on my geographic blind spot, as he used the landscape of his native Maine to tell stories of mind-numbing terror, gorgeous beauty, and skin prickling mystery. He challenged me to find the mystery around me, instead of looking to exotic landscapes.
True, parts of the Midwest are nothing but flat cornfields. Two hundred years of logging, farming and mining have made the land barren and boring. But, it wasn’t always so. Before the settlers came, the Midwest was a vast, unbroken forest full of shadows, mysterious events and strange mounds that rose about the trees.
These mounds, especially the ones in Ohio, give the Midwest its mystery. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend you visit the ancient, 2000 year old mounds in Ohio, such as Newark earthworks, which is one of the largest earthen observatories in the world. Yes, you heard that right, 2000 years old. Or, visit Serpent Mound, full of mysterious energy and a possible gateway, so the ancients believed, to other worlds.
Serpent Mound, Ohio
See? Mystery is where you find it. It could be in that old museum in your hometown that you never visit. Or, the state park that contains remains from an ancient civilization that no one quite understands. Or, mysterious river towns that no one visits and the inhabitants don’t talk to strangers.
In reality, there is nothing boring about our world. It crackles with mystery, strangeness and unexplained events. The problem is us, and our perception of the nature of reality. We think that science has solved every problem and answered every question. Any good scientist will tell you the opposite: Science is just the discovery of more questions and deeper mysteries. And, many of them are right next door to us.
This Halloween, I challenge you to go and find the thin places. Find the mystery in your own town or ask an older person to tell you some of the town legends. Americans still believe, for some reason, that our land had no history before the Europeans got here. Yet, native peoples have been here for thousands of years. They have legends about the land that we could never dream up or understand. So, if you can, find a native person in your area, and ask them to tell you the stories of their people, about the land you both share.
What you find will surprise you. And scare you. But hey, it’s Halloween. Samhain. All Soul’s Eve…when the veil is the thinnest.