Wild Thyme in Onondaga Park
In September 1988, I was driving east on Crosset Avenue by Onondaga Park's north edge on west side Syracuse. Nearing the Summit Avenue intersection, I spotted a large, dark green patch in the park lawn on my right.
Investigating, I saw wild thyme growing so thick grass was crowded out. Walking on the swatch, thyme's sweet incense aroma filled my nose. Bees buzzed gathering pollen from tiny lavender blooms.
I doubted human intention cultivated this remarkable herb. Rather, it grew with power and purpose all its own. I had recently decided to document such places. Since this was so dramatic, I took photos.
This patch is so large (over 120 feet!) one photo can't capture it. So I stood on my car roof for a wide angle, high level view and took a panoramic sequence.
In October, I showed the photos to friends in Vermont. I noticed an unusual profile of land behind the thyme—a profile too linear to be natural, and probably man-made.
It reminded me of Indian mounds I've seen in NY. I'm curious about these man-made mounds built before written history. I know of nine in Onondaga County. In North America there are tens of thousands.
I devoted hundreds of hours to studying (including aerial surveys) Osco—a cluster of mounds in Auburn, 35 miles west. I wrote a 40-page report, with maps and photos.
Remarkably, because Onondaga Park is one of Syracuse's oldest, this modest mound survived largely undisturbed while a dense residential neighborhood grew around it.
In November, I returned to Syracuse to visit this mound a first time. Location and topography reinforced my impression it's man-made, placed at a strategic high point on the Valley's west side, built higher than surrounding terrain. To the southwest limestone bedrock outcrops, indicating an area closely underlain by a hard rock spine.
Standing at the mound's center, I faced east and had a clear view across Onondaga Valley. In autumn all leaves had dropped; only evergreens obstruct the view across to the east ridge. A level horizon spanned over 45 degrees from Syracuse University's Crouse College all the way south to Brighton Towers. Few places amid central NY's hills and ridges offer such a level horizon.
As I stood on this earth mound's crown, insight flashed in my mind in a bright burst. I knew the Mound is an astronomical observatory to mark celestial events rising in the east. That level horizon is a ruler to accurately measure astronomical events. Basic is Sun's passage from south to north and back as winter & summer alternate.
Two ways can confirm this:
- observe precise sunrise points at equinoxes and solstices, and
- chart solar bearings for those days on a map to plot the sightlines.
Intimation of the Ancestors
I returned to Syracuse March 20, 1989 after living on the road seven months to write and publish my book Dragon and Ice Castle: Rediscover Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
My first stop in town was a store. Inside a woman exclaimed in astonishment, "David Yarrow! I can't believe you're here! I've been thinking all day. I have to talk to you! I got your letter about your Earth Healing ceremonies and I was devastated."
"Devastated" wasn't a reaction I expected, so I waited for her to explain. "Where you plan a sunrise ceremony? I didn't know it's an Indian mound. I lived below there."
She paused, her face dark with pain. "You know my son died in January?"
"No," I replied, "I've been out of town the last few months and returned just today."
I listened as she told how a tractor-trailer struck the car he was in. She began to weep. I embraced her. We talked at length about his death, her loss, her pain.
"He was only 13. Before the accident he told me he dreamed he was an Indian hunting deer and buffalo with bow and arrow, and lived in a village of pole shelters.
"Because the accident was at Onondaga Nation, I met some chiefs and clanmothers. They were so helpful to me to accept his death and express my grief.......
"So when I got your letter and saw that spot is an Indian mound.... Well, that's where he was concieved. I know it. I was sitting there under a tree meditating when I felt the connection happen and I knew I would bear a child."
This was the first person in Syracuse I spoke to on my return. I searched my mind and heart for words to say to this woman of her grief and pain.
"I don't know what is happening here, but I know that it is deep, ancient and powerful beyond anything I could ever imagine. It has touched my life in ways that are undeniable and overwhelming. And now it has touched your life, too. Perhaps if we work together to bring healing to the land we will find healing for our own troubles."
March 21 & 22 were cloudy, and offered no opportunity to mark the sunrise. But March 23 was a cold, cloudless morning.
Using dowsing and geometry to survey the Mound, I stood at its crest's center and faced east. As dawn began to light the sky, I snapped preliminary photos.
Then, to my enchantment, a fiery gold burst of solar orb erupted on the horizon directly behind the dark, shadow of a hill.
I knew this hill well. I grew up at its southeast foot, and hiked to its summit often. My elementary school is at its east foot, and I spent days on playgrounds by this hill. The community garden I organized that gifted me my last name is at its northeast foot. Broad St. begins there; I then lived at it's opposite end—the 1300 block.
I took photos as the sun lifted into the sky. My belief in the site's astronomical use strengthened to note Equinox sunrise is near the level sightline's middle. If the Mound is celestial observatory, builders wanted Sun at Equinox to rise at this midpoint so they could track it's moves on the horizon north to Summer Solstice, and south to Winter Solstice.
Three items about this hill are of note.
First, it's crowned by three huge tanks of the municipal water supply. When I was a boy, a small pond sat at the hill's south foot on Meadowbrook Creek two blocks from it's origin.
Meadowbrook begins very near Onondaga Valley's eastern edge, yet flows east across the ridge to Butternut Creek. This brook was filled in in the 1960's for Syracuse University's Athletic Fieldhouse, the pond is now a parking lot and half a mile of the creek is underground. Across the street from the fieldhouse, in 1974, I founded Comstock Community Gardens, which was intersected by the brook, which began in some backyards in the next block to the southwest.
Second, this prominent, oval-shaped hill is a city park named "Morningside"—appropriate name to mark Sun's rising. West across Comstock Av. is Morningside Cemetery. North of this cemetery is Oakwood, Syracuse's largest.
Third, at the hill's west-facing foot is the Mortuary, where bodies are kept until burial. That cold morn, as I watched the fire of the Sun lift off Morningside Hill, a voice deep in the back of my head said,
"Where else to put the Temple of Death in a sacred valley but the at the Easter equinox point, to mark the point of passage from summer into winter, and back to summer again—of life into death, and back again to life—resurrection point in the cycle of life."
That inner voice and its potent meaning rocked my mind and echoed in my soul.