“Armadillos at Whispering Mound” contemporary figurative painting
In college, I went on “campouts” of sorts. I would leave campus at the last minute with hardly any planning or gear and just take things as they came. The only objective was to get away, clear my head and maybe find a fossil or two. I would hide my car near a bridge and walk up shallow rivers, using these as paths to explore the land. At night, I would sleep on a sandbar or an Indian Mound at the edge of a field. There I dreamt about the first people and how they lived in the river bottoms when the only roads in Mississippi were foot paths no wider than a deer trail.
The mounds were special places to me. They were doorways to lost civilizations and the spirit world, and they were always built along rivers, so they made great places to sleep after a long day hunting fossils in the sand bars. I particularly enjoyed the smaller Indian mounds because these were usually isolated by themselves at the back sides of fields or clearings with no roads or markers of any kind. There it was quiet, and I could watch the stars rise up out of the trees. Most of the time, I’d throw my rucksack down and sleep right on the ground without even thinking about how far away I was from my car or how I’d ever get home. All I had was some water and sardines, but it wasn’t hardship. I was a poet wandering across the land. At night the spirits whispered secrets.
Once I fell asleep on a mound quite by chance, simply because I had let it get dark on me, and the mound just happened to be there at the right time. It had been a great day, so I hadn’t paid attention to the time. I had found several choice pieces of petrified wood, including several with flakes of amber and beetle trails, and I had seen all sorts of animals, including a bobcat and a mother turkey and her chicks. I had also eaten some wild mushrooms, so I was having quite a time.
I hadn’t ever slept on this particular mound before, so I didn’t know how close any roads or houses might be, but I felt safe and secure because it was a dark moonless night. So I laid down and went to sleep without a second thought.
When I woke up a few hours later, the full moon had risen directly over the mound, and the moonlight was bright as daylight. I looked around, and it was bright enough to read a newspaper. I couldn’t have been any more exposed if I’d laid down in the middle of the Walmart parking lot. On top of that, a heavy dew had fallen, and an armadillo was eating the remains of a banana right beside my head. After the initial panic wore off, the situation struck me as being absolutely hilarious. I jumped up laughing my head off, and that armadillo took off like a rabbit. I hadn’t ever seen one run that fast, before or since.
After that, I moved back down into the woods and went to sleep. The next afternoon, I retraced the river, found my car and drove back to Mississippi State. As I cross the parking lot behind the dorm, I smell lemon-scented deodorizer coming from showers, and the spell is broken. Someone has thrown a stack of credit card applications and other trash into the stairwell. Back in my dorm room, I look into the mirror and see that I am no poet wandering free. I am just an engineering student with bad skin and an 80’s equivalent of a crew cut. I grab my books and walk to Thermodynamics. In front of the cafeteria, the Baptist Student Union is having a bake sale, and there are posters from Chi Omega sorority telling everyone to vote for homecoming elections. I have all sorts of stories to tell, but there isn’t much point in talking to anyone.