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Monday, December 1, 2014

The Tractor

Photos by Randy Laird.  Used with permission.


It stood motionless,
the Deere at the edge
of the woods, as though waiting
for something, for someone
to bring the come-along
and finish
what we started.

The bushes moved
in like guerilla soldiers. Stealthy.
The bush hog lay
wounded in the weeds.

And standing in that patch
of angled sunlight,
the heat ticking off
the hours
and minutes
and days
and moments
of reflection and rejection,
it seemed as though I heard a sigh.

The trees, their reply,
a sudden shudder,
showered leaves like trouble
you'd just as soon forget.
Birds burst forth with screams.
Why?  Why?

Had the tractor been brought to clear the brush
or had the brush moved in to claim the tractor?
Who was the warrior here? Who the vanquished?

Insect battalions chant their nightly ululations
and the creepers crawl.

Like a Confederate soldier
fighting someone else's war,
the Deere stands, a silent sentinel
slowly bleeding
precious oil into the ground
and asks us to remember, or
at least not to forget.

Will man ever make order out of chaos
instead of the other way 'round?

Listen to the land.  She will tell you.
Beyond the darkening woods,
behind the hill, you can feel it
a distant rumble
thunder, hoofbeats
the coming roar.

August 14, 2006

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Journey



I spent the day enfolded
in the car, searching for reasons
not to go back to the house,
yearning for something
I couldn't name.


I left the inland desert,
traversed the valley and listened to
the songs of my youth.

A young Neil Young sang

to the old man I'd become
and I was struck with such
a sudden sadness it shocked
me from my reverie.

I looked around at other drivers,

their faces expressionless, 

resigned.

No one saw the difference.

The car rode the crest

of the Sepulveda Pass and eased
into its descent like rolling off
a bed mid-dream. Before you know it
you've hit the floor, slightly hurt
and wondering how you'd not
seen it coming.

The Getty loomed like Mount Zion

in the sky, all angles and white.
The trolley sidled up the canyon wall
like a magician delivering
the sinners to Saint Peter.

The City of the Angels crouched like a cat

below, and the air suddenly changed.

I exited on Santa Monica Boulevard,

and waited at the light. 

The bums are back.
It's like it was in the '80s, 

and everything new is old again. 

The blush of dusk hung
like a dirty persimmon 

on the horizon.

Numb with anonymity, 

I followed the stream
of lights that curled 

back into the valley.

This is all there is. 

No rhyme. No reason.
Just this. 


And more of this.

I stopped at Circle K for milk,

and when I turned the corner
onto Copperhill, I braked.

A coyote. 


In the sweep

of the headlights, he was
beautiful and lithe and seemed
right at home, even here.


I wanted to tell him so.

He trotted easily and crossed the street.

Unafraid. 

He stopped at the edge
of the brush and turned to watch me, 

as if to tell me something.

Go home.


And I cried because home is 

so very far away.


~~ Elodie Pritchartt

Photo by Jeff Ackerman

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Poverty Point - Seeing History in a Whole New Way

The monumental earthworks at Poverty Point were built by laborers who carried 300,000 cubic yards of dirt in fifty-pound baskets. The site’s hallmark feature is the six concentric, semi-circular rings surrounding an interior plaza. Scale model by KiwiMill LLC. Photograph by John Smillie.
Quick!  What do the pyramids in Egypt, the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall in China and the earthen mounds at Poverty Point, Louisiana have in common?  They are all recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites — natural and cultural sites of outstanding universal value, which means they are important to the whole of humanity and should be protected for present and future generations.

What is Poverty Point?  It’s one of the most amazing native-American earthworks in the Western Hemisphere, and also among the oldest. Its discovery has altered the way historians view the evolution of society in the New World. 

Before its discovery the Middle East was considered the cradle of civilization.  But at nearly the same time as the pyramids were being built in Egypt, people in the New World were building cities, establishing trade routes that crossed thousands of miles and creating a complex society in an age that predated agriculture.  Hunter-gatherers were leaving their mark on history in a spectacular fashion.


 I’d never heard of Poverty Point until a few years ago when someone mentioned it in passing.  But that name!  It’s kind of wonderful, isn’t it?  It sounds like the name of a scary movie.  Cape Fear.  Poverty Point.  And so my first question on arrival was to ask about the name.

Situated in northeastern Louisiana a few miles outside the town of Delhi along the banks of Bayou Maçon, it was named after Poverty Point Plantation, a 19th century farm that belonged to Phillip Guier who settled in northeast Louisiana in 1832 with his wife, Sarah.  He acquired the land in 1843 and in 1851, the plantation became known as Poverty Point or Hard Times Plantation.

“Mr. Guier moved down here from Kentucky,” said David Griffing, Poverty Point Site Supervisor.  “There was actually a place up in Kentucky called Poverty Point,” he continued, “and we think maybe he named it that to make his wife feel more at home.”

Archaeologist Jessica Crawford added, “Yes.  He brings her to this place out in the middle of nowhere and says, “Welcome home, honey!”


We all laughed.  I couldn’t help but think of Jack Nicholson in Stephen King’s The Shining, a frightful smile on his face.  “Honey!  I’m home!”


While the mounds and artifacts were well known, it wasn’t until 1953 when the discovery of a 20-year-old aerial photograph revealed six concentric ridges in the shape of semicircles around an open plaza that people realized what a treasure lay there.  The man-made structure is so large it defies recognition from the ground.  This new information revealed evidence of a highly developed, ancient American culture.

The site consists of six earthen mounds as well as six enormous, nested, C-shaped ridges and a large, flat interior plaza that likely contained big circles of wooden posts.  No other site has a similar design.

Prior to the discovery of the photograph, the land had been farmed from the 1840s all the way into the 1970s, and plowing had leveled the ridges to only about a foot in height, but at one time they were between four and six feet high and about 140 to 200 feet apart.  The semicircles measure a distance nearly three quarters of a mile.  Straightened out, they would stretch for seven miles. 


The ridges served as living space with huts along the top where people lived and manufactured tools and prepared food.  Though the population likely varied seasonally, it is thought that it held from several hundred to as many as 4,000 people, year-round for as many as 600 years.

At the center of the site is a plaza that covers about 37 acres.  It is believed it was used for ceremonies, rituals, dances, games and other activities.  On the western side of the plaza, archeologists have discovered several deep holes in circles of various sizes, which they believe held long poles, possibly serving as calendar markers.  Also located within the plaza are Dunbar Mound and Sarah’s Mound, named after Sarah Guier, who is buried in it.  Evidence suggests that Sarah’s Mound was constructed about 1,000 years after the decline of the Poverty Point culture.


Outside the Ridge enclosure are five other mounds.  “The mounds probably served a variety of purposes,” said Don L. Gibson, Ph.D.  “But their form and their particular location suggest that they were part of the protection system the Indians had set up to protect their way of life.

“They’ve got six mounds that form a square or at least a partial square,” he said.  “They’ve got six rings that form a semi-circle so they looked like there were two methods of using some insurance to protect their activities inside.  Southeastern Indians believed that geometry is the main protection against outside evil.”

Scientists believe the mounds were used for special activities or as gathering places for the elite.

A tram tour gives visitors a relaxing way to view the entire site, which, if hiked, is about two miles long.  For the last day in August, the weather was unseasonably cool with an overcast sky — perfect for enjoying a ride narrated by our extremely knowledgeable guide, Park Ranger Cleon Crockett.

The largest — Mound A or “The Bird Mound” — is believed to be an effigy mound constructed in the shape of bird in flight, flying due West. Today it is 72 feet high, and 600 by 800 feet wide.  Before 3,000 years of erosion, however, this mound was probably over 100 feet tall. 


It was built entirely by hand by hunter-gatherers without the advantage of domesticated pack animals.  This amounts to over 300,000 cubic yards of dirt, carried in well over 15.5 million 50-pound baskets from the borrow pit behind it.  That would amount to about 18,000 dump truckloads of dirt. 

And the most amazing thing of all?  Archeologists believe that Mound A was built from within 30 to 90 days.  Core samples taken from the mound showed no evidence of grass or vegetation sprouting within the mound nor was there evidence of leaching from rainfall within the mound or any residue left from earthworms, grubs, molds or any other boring animals.  That meant that the mound was built in one continuous episode over a very short period of time, during one season.

Riding around to the rear of Mound A, we emerged from a copse of woods to an open field.  Ranger Crockett pointed across to the edge of the woods.

“There’s a black bear, right across over there.  See him?  I can see him.”

As the bear lumbered quickly back into the shelter of the woods, I thought about the hunter-gatherers who found game so plentiful here.  I imagined an Indian wrapped up warmly in a bearskin cloak during the cold winter months. No remains of clothing have ever been found, so what they wore is anyone’s guess.


Although no one knows exactly why the Poverty Point people settled exactly where they did, they obviously liked the margins of the ridges like Maçon Ridge. This afforded them high ground, which kept the site dry during seasonal flooding and afforded good living conditions adjacent to very rich bottomland forest, abundant with plants and wildlife and fisheries.

Mound B is a domed mound.  Although domed mounds were often used for burial, no excavations from Poverty Point have revealed burial sites.  Mound E is a large, flat, square-shaped mound. Offsite sits Lower Jackson mound, which is privately owned and is about 1,300 years older than Mound A.  Mounds A, E, B and lower Jackson form a straight line that runs due north and south.  It is believed that the Poverty Point people purposely aligned the later mounds with the lower Jackson mound to form that north-south line.


“In terms of the artifacts, Poverty Point probably contains just about every kind of artifact that was made by the archaic peoples in the eastern United States.  It also has some artifacts that were not made by the general southeastern peoples or other eastern peoples,” said Dr. Gibson.

Besides the enormous earthworks and mounds, another hallmark of the Poverty Point culture is long-distance trade.  The later cultures didn’t build the large mounds. 

“The other difference is the trade was not nearly as extensive as it was during the heyday of the Poverty Point occupation,” said archeologist Robert Connolly, Ph.D.


Since there were no local stones on the Macon Ridge, rocks were major trade goods. They acquired stones from the Ouachita, Ozark and Appalachian mountains.  Even copper from the Great Lakes 1,400 miles away.

“Rivers were almost certainly used in bringing in the trade materials because we’re talking about such a massive volume of material.  In fact, we’ve estimated over 71 metric tons of foreign flint occurs on the Poverty Point site,” said Dr. Gibson.

The predominance of fish and reptile bones at the site suggest most of their food came from slow-moving water.  Indeed, archeologists have discovered what at one time was a large lake where only farmland remains today. 

Fishermen may have used cast and gill fishing nets weighted with plummets to cast out for the fish. 

“You really don’t have to angle to catch fish.  You can set out traps,” said Gibson.

These traps did the work for them while they did other things such as making tools or hunting. 


“It put an awful lot of food in their larders.”

Other game was also plentiful, including rabbit, deer, ducks, geese, turkeys, etc.  Spears, arrowheads, cooking balls, tools, pottery, beads, ornaments, effigies, etc. have been found in abundance at Poverty Point.  Many of these items indicate that there was a social structure in the culture, which differentiated the important from the common person.  A visit to the main museum at the site is an eye opener to the civilization that had heretofore gone unnoticed.

Poverty Point is only the 22nd World Heritage Site in the US. 

“This is a huge win for Louisiana,” said Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne.  “The World Heritage designation solidifies Poverty Point as one of the world’s greatest archaeological treasures.”
Poverty Point State Historic Site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 and provides access to the area museum, video and seasonal tram tour. Children under 12 and senior citizens are admitted free. Poverty Point is located in West Carroll Parish, east of Monroe, on La. 577. For more information, visit www.LaStateParks.com or call 888.926.5492.








Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Winter


Winter is a sigh,
a surrender
a secret whispered in
the creak of trees,
bones that bend
and sometimes break
in the breeze.
She shuffles in
On her walker,
Carried by the scent
Of burnt hearths
And hearts that
No longer quicken
At the promise
Of tomorrow
She sleeps
later every year
And fades
Like photographs
Too long in the sun
Each memory
A blow, the trail
Of a tear that’s
Forgotten why
It’s crying.
~ Elodie Pritchartt, October 29, 2014

A Winter's Tale

In the quiet morning
beneath the cashmere calm,
behind the dog's soft snoring
and the purring knead of pinked flesh,
a chill threatens from the door
that won't quite close.

The wind teases
the cracks around the casement,
searches for purchase on the slippery ledge,
its sucking need just outside.

The winter sky has gone
dull white, a rictus that sucks
the color from the earth.
And no thousand trees' brown
fingers can pull it back.

Something perches on the sill,
spies through the shutters,
ruffles it feathers and waits
for the shattering.

Poor Monster.

It is consumed with lonely
and it wants only
you. Wrap yourself in dread
and wait for the final signal bell.

The last train leaves at dusk.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Natchez Kittens in Desperate Need of Home







Have you seen the “W” kitties?
They have lived in the NACHS Shelter for most of their little lives. Until a week ago they had never seen the sun, never felt the cool grass beneath their paws, and never had the freedom to run.
The fact that the “W” kitties have been in a cage most of their little lives is not their only setback. They have the unfortunate “luck” to be born with a neurological problem. In other words they don’t always land on their paws like most kitties. (They appear to have gotten into a little wine!) These lovable kittens have a little trouble walking, jumping, and playing; but they are survivors!
Wardell (solid black) is the one that was tested in order to identify the cause of the coordination problems he and his brothers were having. Even though he went through painful testing, he still loves people. Wardell is also the first to venture out and try new things. He is the leader of the pack!
Wayne is the only black and white kitty. He is the lover boy!! He will curl up against your leg; look up at you with his eyes saying,” I love you.” Then he will rub his little head against your hand.
Wade (solid black) is loves to snuggle and he especially loves belly rubs. Wade likes to play and chase his brothers.
Waldo (solid black) was the timid one. Now he is very visible and having a grand time. His lack of coordination is the most noticeable. His rear end has a hard time following his front which causes him to occasionally tumble; however, he gets up and tries again.
I have the privilege of fostering these precious “drunk” kitties and have enjoyed every moment. They have been neutered, had shots, and want someone to love. They are litter box experts and have no other problems except slight coordination difficulties. They need to be indoor kitties or in a fenced in yard (they are unable to climb).
Immediate short term foster care or loving homes URGENTLY needed.
Please see them before saying "no".
Contact: mariegasquet@cableone.net

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Suicide is Painless

Suicide is Painless


People will go to any lengths for fame, won't they? In the May, 1800 edition of a Natchez Newspaper, Thomas Thackwood advertized his upcoming public suicide by pistol -- one shot for the abdomen and another for the brain (his own, that is), promising his audience plenty of staggering, convulsing and grinning.

Heck, if you've got nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon, why not?

"C'mon, honey! Grab the kids. Let's go to the killin'."

Not to be outdone, however, he warned readers not to be taken in by claims of Mr. Touchwood, whose public hanging, Thackwood claimed, would only be staged.

I don't blame him. If I'm going to a killing, it better be the real deal.

You can read the ad here.

And, yeah, I couldn't resist: Mr. Thackwood went out with a bang.

*Posted by Elodie
*Photo not the man in the story. Just an old photo.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Childhood Memory Resurfaces in a Cast-Iron Coffin


A guest blog today by a new friend, Ann Dupont from Shreveport, Louisiana.


        The story I am about to share is true, historical and — some might say — rather dark. The fact that it led me up the front steps to Shantybellum.com to ring the doorbell and ask about pictures of magnolia trees seems a bit funny now but I'’ll always consider meeting Elodie Pritchartt to be my personal legacy from a mysterious young woman who died almost 200 years ago.

        I was 9 years old, living in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1955. No one had ever heard of cell phones back then; no one carried a camera. Something happened one day that those who knew about firsthand probably never forgot, but nobody else ever knew anything about it unless they happened to read one account in the local newspaper. It happened one day and was pretty much over and done with the next, but the memory has haunted my thoughts for over 55 years.
        My father was working on the campus of what was then called Northeast Louisiana State College. Nearby a construction crew laying a water line to a home being constructed along Bayou DeSiard, off Lakeshore Drive, accidently hit a brick tomb or crypt and the entire enclosure collapsed, revealing a cast-iron casket which had a glass viewing window, protected by a removable cast-iron plate, over part of the top. The body inside the coffin was in perfect condition, so well preserved that even a wreath of magnolia blooms and leaves encircling her upper body was still intact.

        The coffin was taken to a Monroe funeral home the day it was unearthed where my parents, along with hundreds of others, went to view it that night.

        The petite young woman was buried in a black silk dress that was clearly visible as was a lace handkerchief and reportedly a diamond ring on one hand. Unfortunately the glass window was cracked when the bricks collapsed and the body began to show signs of decomposition, so it was hastily reburied in a Monroe cemetery the following morning.

        The ornate Fisk coffin still bore traces of orange and black paint. There was a sterling silver nameplate engraved, "St. Clair Wade" that listed the woman’'s age as either 30 or 39 and the date September 7, 1814. The nameplate was also damaged but there was a capital "H" and other small, indistinguishable letters before the St. Clair but no other information.

        A local historian named John Humble said he thought there was a good chance the woman could have been one of Benjamin Tenneile'’s four daughters. The Tenneiles had once lived on the property where the coffin was found.   It was part of the Magenta Plantation, which had been previously owned by Col. Frank P. Stubbs's’ family before the Civil War.

        In searching genealogy websites for information regarding the Tenneile family, it didn’t take long before I found a biography on genealogy.com for Benjamin Tenneile, born around 1750 in Prince William County, Virginia, who died June 30, 1811, in "Bayou de Siard, Monroe, Ouachita Parish, LA."

        Naturally I would find this tiny text around 11 p.m. but there was no mistaking what my tired old eyes were seeing in the last paragraph:

"In 1955, while workers were laying a water line for a home being constructed on Lakeshore Drive in Monroe, a brick tomb was accidently unearthed. On the casket was the name 'St. Clair Wade,' age 30 or 39, and the date September 7, 1814.

"The property had at one time belonged to the McEnery family and was called Magenta Plantation. It was thought at the time that the young woman may have been Mary St. Clair Morrison, wife of Joseph Wade. The connection with the Tenneile or McEnery families is not known."

        There is an early entry in the record books of Ouachita Parish in 1809 that reads, "The first marriage license to be recorded in Ouachita Parish was in 1809 when John Hughes, a farmer of Bayou de Siard, was authorized by law to celebrate the privilege of marriage with Mary St. Clair Tenneile."

        So, with that, I finally felt like I had found closure for the bits and pieces of a strange, mysterious story a 9-year-old child’'s impressionable mind would hold onto indefinitely, but the realization that this was but one such story of men, women and children buried in Fisk cast-iron coffins whose remains were later found to be perfectly preserved has led to a desire to learn more.

        So how did this story lead me to Elodie'’s front door? In researching the partial name "St. Clair Wade", one historian somewhere along the way referred to "St. Clara Wade". Elodie had posted beautiful old pictures of a young woman in Natchez named Clara Wade. Guess what Clara had in her front yard? Two huge magnolia trees. 

Two heads are better than one but that’'s not saying much when two women who have probably watched too much Law & Order try to figure out what "St." could be an abbreviation for or why Clara Wade would have been in Monroe.

        It’s been interesting and fun putting the puzzle pieces together and I am so happy to have gotten to know Elodie.





As I was searching for photos to go with this story, I came across a few stories about similar mysterious cast-iron coffins.  You can read one here.    Also, if anyone has any information on what the "H" or the "St." in St. Clair Wade is, we'd love to hear it.  ~ Elodie

Cherry Grove: A Ghost Tale




All around the old place,
the dead visit. The
day he opened up the trunk

of that sweetgum tree,
and before we saw the
horseshoe hanging inside,

something brushed against
my face. I heard a nickering
far away, and the smell of oiled

leather and candlewax.
A few days later Lloyd
found an anvil half

inside an oak tree, back
by the old barn. It was ten
feet up that tree, and

the color of storm clouds
when the air smells like metal
and electricity breaks

it right in two. They say
a shipwright lived
there once. I know.

I've heard him hammering.
That was before the rumor 
of the slave revolt across 

the road. Nineteen men killed, 
tortured, all for the sake 
of a child's tale. A child

named Obey. No excuses.
The crape myrtle we cleared from
the back forty bled claret-

colored sap, and stuck inside
one old, stubborn knot
was a skeleton key.

The silver lying all around,
tarnished forks and bone-
china plates. Papa said

she burnt that house a’purpose,
took the tram to the train
and left town. Nobody

Ever saw her again.
But to be frank, I don't
believe it.

I saw her walking in the fog
one morning, early. Picking bones,
rearranging bricks,

breaking twigs over and over.
She saw me too.
We've been talking

back and forth, she and I,
between the branches.

~ Elodie Pritchartt