PRIVATE LIVES: A midnight walk to the Indian mound

Published Nov. 30, 2018

I must be getting superstitious in my old age. I just turned 40, and maybe I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop ever since. Aren't men supposed to get anxious about being 40? If so, why? Why is 40 a better time to be nervous than, say, 41, or 39? Only an imbecile would pay attention to a date just because it represents a round number.

Except . . . I have taken to placing a voodoo doll I got in Key West by my computer. He has a black face and a black beard, and he likes to stand by the candelabrum, which usually has at least one candle burning when I write.

He is looking at me right now. Not at me, really, but kind of past me, as if watching a flock of sheep of which I am one.

Recently I took a walk at 2 in the morning. I've been keeping odd hours, trying to jog loose the demons and the angels within my psyche, so that I can finish the assignment that is long overdue. That particular evening I had an urge to walk, having rebounded most of the way from knee surgery.

I called the landlord's two dogs. Normally they bug me to take them to the bay. They didn't come, so off I went. When I got to the bay I still had the vague discomfort that had propelled my walk. If anything, it had worsened.

For a second I thought about veering off toward an Indian burial mound but quickly nixed the idea.

The part of me doing the nixing pretended to be the old, conservative, fuddy-duddy. Indian mound, indeed! But there was panic underneath.

It suddenly occurred to me why the dogs had not come. They know you are going to a place of death.

I felt the wind at my back, like two hands. No doubt where I was headed now.

There was no sound, but as I ascended I could take nothing for granted. I felt a wild terror. Someone could drop out of that branch behind me and slit my throat!

But there was no one. I sat on the ground, cross-legged, looking over my shoulder every few seconds as leaves rustled. Gradually, a sense of calm returned.

I began thinking about the Indians presumably below me. Had they been Seminoles? The obvious came to me as a surprise: If Indians had died here, Indians had lived here.

That meant Indians had run all around this pristine, suburban St. Petersburg neighborhood, had fished in the bay and hunted for pig or squirrel or whatever there was to eat around here. What was there? A lot more than there is now, I'll bet.

I placed my hands on the dirt and immediately concluded that the Indians' spirits had gone elsewhere some time ago. However, there was something close to the ground, like an aura. This, I liked to imagine, was a layer of thought left by the living in their grief and their desire to honor their departed ones. For a brief moment I tried to imagine a god.

The backside of the mound shows thin streaks in the dirt from kids' bicycle tracks. They like to ride down it and get that rush. I stopped at the historical marker and tried to make out the words embossed in the metal. Finally, I reached around and realized that the sign was printed on the other side, too, where the light was better: On a friendship expedition, Luis Cancer de Barbastros, a Dominican friar dedicated to teaching religion to American Indians, was lured to this mound and clubbed to his death on June 26, 1549, by Calusa Indians.

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I headed home with two thoughts:

That the Calusas (not the Seminoles) must have charmed the friar in some way: "Please come teach us about Christianity." No, it was probably much more subtle than that. Some kind of cryptic message just before the first club descended. (On the other hand, the friar's death might have had nothing to do with religion.)

That one religion is as good as another. And that, instead of worshiping no god and having no religion, I could worship several and have many. If I could just imagine the right god, or gods.

I can conclude, however, that I am not superstitious. My doll doesn't think so, either. He says superstition means believing in things that are not real, unlike the aura and the Indians living and dead.

I wonder whether the friar cursed God in the end. Or did he forgive his murderers, maybe getting off a quick prayer while they were bashing in his skull? Did he die hoping the Calusas would one day become Christians? If so, was that a nice prayer, or was it just one more attempt to control them?

Now we are quiet and without an answer.

Andrew Meacham is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg.