Mounds State Park has special meaning for many people in Madison County, and for the folks it draws from across the state and across state lines.
For me, Mounds evokes a series of fond memories, some funny and some poignant.
The first came in 1983, my freshman year at Anderson College. A few weeks into the school year, my roommate Doug and I ventured out to explore Anderson and, quite by accident, came across Mounds Park.
It was a sun-drenched, cool fall day, the sort of day that could make you a millionaire if you could bottle it.
Doug and I ended up spending an hour at the Great Mound, walking around and around its perimeter and talking about what life must have been like for the Adena-Hopewell People who built it for religious ceremonies more than 2,000 years before. That trip to Mounds captivated our minds and gave us a brief mental respite from the anxiety of starting a new life in college. It also deepened our appreciation of Anderson.
As a student employee of the AC sports information department over the next few years, I attended a few cross country meets at Mounds. It was an exhausting course, hilly and rough, and racing at Mounds, where they often trained, gave coach Larry Maddox's superbly conditioned Ravens a distinct advantage.
My freshman girlfriend, Tammy, had joined the cross country team at the behest of a friend. Her participation would help give AU enough runners to qualify for the team title at various meets. But Tammy wasn't much of a runner.
During one race at Mounds, as she lagged behind the field, she managed to draw even with another runner. The girl implored, "It's OK. Go ahead and pass me. I'm injured, and I'm just trying to finish the race."
To which Tammy replied, “I’m not trying to be nice ... pant, pant, pant ... This is how fast ... pant, pant, pant ... I run.”
At another race at Mounds, Tammy was so far behind the rest of the girls that an official had to use a megaphone to admonish coaches, fans and athletes, 15 minutes after most of them had already finished the race, “Please, clear the course! Clear the course! We still have a runner left on the course!”
While Tammy wasn't exactly Zola Budd, she had the courage to complete a difficult task to which she was ill matched. She had a lot of other good qualities, too. One of those was the capacity to see good in the most motley of fools. A couple of years after I graduated from AU, she agreed to marry me.
We now have three children. Our younger daughter, Alix, is a nature lover, and a couple of years ago after her senior year in high school, she and I planned to spend a day together. We quickly agreed on Mounds Park, where she had job shadowed a naturalist.
We toured the interpretive center and the Historic Bronnenberg House and then walked the trails. We speculated about the Adena and Hopewell and about Mounds' abundant variety of trees and flowers and birds.
Alix and I eventually wandered down to the White River, which snakes around one border of the park, and lounged on rocks at the side of the lazy current.
Squirrels chattered in the trees. Under the surface of the shallow water, schools of minnows and bass played a game of aquatic tag, only they were playing for keeps. Across the water, a groundhog waddled out of the underbrush for a drink. Overhead, a hairy woodpecker drilled for insects.
We sat quietly and just watched and listened for hours, experiencing that exceedingly rare and incredibly precious sensation that nature was happening just as it would have happened had we not been there.
I’ll never forget that day. In two more months, Alix would be going off to college. It was one last simple experience for a father and daughter before the next phase in her life took her away to a different place.
For the two of us, the beauty and magic of Mounds Park made that day about as close to perfection as you can get on this Earth.