Two years ago I participated in the Walk with the Ancients. This was a pilgrimage that walked around 70 miles from the Native American earthworks at Chillicothe to the Octagon earthworks in Newark. Here’s the story that the Columbus Dispatch did about it at the time.
Obviously, I walked the distance barefoot.
There is evidence for a Great Hopewell Road that traversed the distance. The road probably ran in a straight line bounded by parallel mounds about 100 feet apart for the full distance (though the current state of evidence demonstrates around 15 miles of it). The curator of archeology for the Ohio Historical Society, Dr. Brad Lepper, suggests that the road was used for pilgrimage between the two locations (I’ll not go into the reasoning). I will say that the Octagon at Newark is a lunar observatory that lines up with the 18.6 lunar moonrise cycle.
Aside from my interest in Native Americans and Ohio history, one thing that attracted me to participate in the Walk with the Ancients was the pilgrimage aspect. Pilgrims often go barefoot, and it was a chance to combine all of that in one long trek.
That first Walk with the Ancients was converted to a class at the Ohio State University — Newark (so the general public is generally not invited, as they were for the first one) and this year was the third one. It was conducted in mid-September.
However, for the past two years they were not able to end up at the Octagon itself, since it is now the site of a golf course, and access is allowed only 4 times a year. I wrote about an earlier access day in The Octagon. You can see both the earthworks (Octagon in the upper right), attached circle mound in the lower left) and the overlaid golf course in this Google satellite picture:
Anyways, to get to the point, yesterday was another Octagon Open House, and the OSU-Newark class took advantage that to walk the final two miles to the Octagon and have some Native American ceremonies on the site. We original walkers were also invited, so I went and participated.
What I decided to do was to park at the golf course and then walk down to Geller Park, where they were starting. This was about a mile and a half. Now, as of Saturday night, I wasn’t sure I’d do it that way, because I was so foot-sore. But by Sunday morning, while I still felt just a tiny bit of tenderness, there was really nothing to stop me.
This walk to the starting point is not really interesting like a hike — it is just along city streets. Well that, except that I also took a shortcut.
It turned out that I could get there with a shorter route by heading down a dead-end street and clambering over some railroad tracks. (On the official, return trip to the Octagon, they really couldn’t do that and had to stick to roads that crossed the tracks at real crossings.) That dead-end street led to a little amusing situation.
Right near the end of the road, about 2 houses from the tracks, two little girls (one maybe 7, the other maybe 11?) were playing in front of their house. They positively glared at me as I walked past. I imagine part of that was just because, being a dead-end road, very few strangers were ever on it. But they also had to notice my bare feet.
Just as I got to the tracks, I looked back again, and now their mother had joined them. Obviously, I was odd enough that the kids felt the need to have their mother check things out. I can just imagine them thinking that maybe I was some sort of hobo looking for a train to hop (because obviously hobos are poor, and I didn’t even have shoes . . . ).
The ceremonies and the walk were great fun. I got to connect with some of the original walkers (when you walk and camp together for 7 days, deep friendships often result). All told I probably walked yesterday about 5 and a half miles. There was the walk down to Geller Park for the starting ceremony, the walk back with all the other walkers from this year and some from past years, and then once at the earthworks, I walked around quite a bit. (In fact, I made a point of walking the perimeter of the Octagon and the connected circle.)
By the way, in case you can’t tell, that large circle has a diameter of about 1054 feet.
Here are a few pictures. First, a view from Geller Hill in Geller Park. The Great Hopewell Road ran right there at the bottom. Flint Ridge is off in the distance to the right.
Next up is the prayer circle for the opening ceremony. The man with the drum is Mark Welsh, a Native American and spiritual leader for all of the walks. This shot also shows some of the students. The student approaching Mark is holding burning sage, which is used as part of a purification ritual.
Here we are at the Octagon earthworks. You can see them in the background (they are not tall, about 5-6 feet; they just cover a lot of area). These are the original walkers who also walked today.
Finally, the Newark Earthworks Center gives guided tours during the Open Houses. Here you can see Dick Shiels, Director of the Newark Earthworks Center explaining what we know about the Octagon.
Dick is the one who organized the original walk (though, if I remember correctly, the original idea came from Bob Pond, author of Follow the Blue Blazes), and he is the professor who conducts the class that now includes the walk.
What I find so amazing about all this is how just a predilection towards going barefoot can lead to the idea of participation in a pilgrimage, which led to meeting a bunch of really interesting people, and which continues to this day to enrich my life with culture and history and friendship.