Sun streamed through the wide canopy of huge Live Oaks growing in front of the historic remains at Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park.
The trees were some of the largest oaks I had seen in a long time, but even they were dwarfed by the earthen temple mounds rising behind them.
Under the picnic shelter I stepped close to an interpretive exhibit to read more about the Native American community that once lived here, their village situated at the base of the mounds. Part of the “Southern Cult” or “Southeastern Ceremonial Complex,” the very site I stood on, could have been a religious center for centuries.
I followed a path past blooming wildflowers and a small stream until I reached the base of the tallest mound, standing about 36 feet high. A wooden staircase led to the top, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take in a view that inspired leaders 800 years ago.
As I climbed, the tree canopy came closer and closer. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Carolina Chickadees tittered to each other; in the distance a Pileated Woodpecker hammered against a tree trunk. For a moment, I leaned against the railing, listening to their varied sounds.