Thursday, August 24, 2006

Faith Works 8-26-06
Jeff Gill

A Spirituality Made Of Flint

Ching . . . ching . . . ching . . . plink.
Ching . . . ching . . . ching . . . ching . . . tangk!
Multiply times dozens, if you can hear what I just described, and you have the soundscape of Flint Ridge State Memorial next weekend, Sept. 1 through 3, for the annual Flint Ridge Knap-In.
Flint knapping is the process of chipping at a flint nodule until you have a projectile point, an arrowhead or spear point, ready to join a shaft of wood with raw sinew wrappings drying to a tight tough grip. A few feathers, or fletchings, to give stability through flight to the target, and you have a dart or spear to throw by hand or with throwing stick.
Our modern term for throwing stick is adapted from modern South American indigenous language, an "atl atl," or "fish shaped stick." This simple tool allows a flint-tipped spear to fly farther with more impact.
The key, though, is flint, found in a limited number of spots in Ohio, but nowhere else with as much color and contrast as right here in Licking County.
Flint Ridge Flint is a type of flint known by geologists and archaeologists all over North America. Just as resources from all over the continent are found in graves and sites from 2000 years ago in central Ohio, like copper from northern Michigan, shells from the Gulf Coast, and obsidian from the Yellowstone area of Wyoming, so is Flint Ridge flint found in those areas.
But with this one, odd, attention grabbing qualification. Flint Ridge flint, with rainbow of colors from bubble gum to root beer to translucent, is found in remarkably small amount in those places, especially compared to the amount of distant material found in central Ohio.
Mica, a mineral from the Carolina mountains, has been found in bushel basket loads in burials around Licking County from 2000 years ago, a period known archaeologically as "Hopewell," but Flint Ridge flint is seen in the archaeological record in barely handfuls from the same area.
This would seem to mean one of two possible interpretations: that Flint Ridge flint, full of color and variety, was greatly valuable like unto diamonds, or it was a token, with symbolic meaning as a pilgrim’s souvenir. Or both.
Those who have learned today the ancient skill of knapping flint have said that the act of shaping a useful tool, a knife or projectile point, from flint is a process of near hypnotic repetition, rhythm, and finally beauty. The aesthetic aspect of crafting a vitally useful tool from Flint Ridge flint is tangible, as well as visual.
It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to wonder that the work of making everyday implements from our local, uniquely vivid flint, took the makers to a very special mental and even spiritual state.
Add to that the stories I have heard from modern day Native American peoples about Flint Ridge: that this high plateau is up where the rainbow of the sky touches the precious stone of the earth, and brings earth and sky together in a spectrum of colors from violet to red and all nature in between, joining the ground and the heavens in this unique mineral. You feel the special nature of this place in those stories and with the stones themselves.
Go out US 40 and turn north at Brownsville, or east on US 16 and turn south on Brownsville Road to Flint Ridge State Memorial, where a modest parking fee gives access to this rhythmic music of knapping and shaping, the revelation of the earth’s colors and the display of atl-atl throwers making skillful use of the heavenly mineral on a speartip.
Is there a spiritual element to these Licking County materials? Look, listen, and participate, and you tell me.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he also regularly guides school groups around Flint Ridge State Memorial. Offer your perspective on the spiritual elements of everyday life to

Monday, August 21, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 8-27-06
Jeff Gill

90 Years of Wonder and Awe

Park rangers in "Smokey Bear" hats and grey shirts, with a gold name badge glinting under a broad smile. I hope one of them is part of your summer memories from 2006.
August 25, 1906 was the legal birthdate of the National Park Service. The Lovely Wife once wore that uniform, and some of the best memories of our marriage are associated with national parks and our ranger friends, some still in that proud service. When you hear rangers joke about being paid in sunsets and scenery, they aren’t joking (sadly), but they do consider themselves well paid in that category, if no other.
Ohio has NPS units 60 miles south of us, in Chillicothe at Hopewell Culture (formerly Mound City) National Park, and 100 miles northeast with Cuyahoga Valley National Park which I wrote about earlier this summer. Head west on US 30 towards Chicago and you are five or six hours from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where I grew up as the park took shape since it began in 1966. (This weekend I manage to get halfway to 90 myself, so I’m a bit older than the Dunes as a national park.)
From urban monuments like Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the vastness of the Arches in Utah, the National Park Service interprets and protects important cultural and natural sites of many different types. "Interpreter" is the term NPS uses along with many state and metro park systems for the skill and art of presenting a site to the general public. Park rangers and naturalists, as interpreters, have major challenges to face in their work, starting with our American predilection to not want to get out of our cars.
The fellow considered the founder of interpretation as a discipline that can be taught and shared is Freeman Tilden, whose book "Interpreting Our Heritage," is still the common text for rangers and any sort of resource interpreter, now 50 years after his work.
That book is still in print, but a number of his other works are now only available on-line or through used bookstores; Tilden knew that not all the cultural and historic landmarks of the nation were in federal hands and also wrote eloquently and passionately about preservation and interpretation of state and local sites.
His book "The State Parks: Their Meaning in American Life," written in 1962, gives chapter 12 to Ohio, and is almost entirely about the Newark Earthworks. This experienced traveler around the desert southwest, the Atlantic coast, and Colonial historic sites quotes Squier and Davis from their 1848 work for the Smithsonian approvingly:
"…In entering the ancient avenues for the first time, the visitor does not fail to experience a sense of awe such as he might feel in passing the portals of an Egyptian temple, or in gazing upon the silent ruins of Petra of the desert."
Since the citizens of Newark and Licking County chose by voting to approve a bond issue to purchase the Octagon and Observatory Circle more than 25 years before the nation saw fit to establish a national park service, we can only stand in awe of our more immediate ancestors as well for their foresight. We may not have a national park in Licking County, but we are connected to the great tradition of interpretation and preservation that began in the United States and is now a global priority not a hundred years after the first national park program was adopted here.
If you have any vacation pictures with friendly rangers in the scene, or memories of monuments and landscapes that speak to your spirit, this is a good weekend to pull them out and look them over, with a thankful thought to Freeman Tilden, Stephen Mather, and everyone who has accepted a paycheck largely made up of sunsets so they could help interpret and protect our nation’s real treasures.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he also volunteers for the Ohio Historical Society and Licking Park District to interpret their sites around our county. Tell him your story through