Welcome the Return of Light at an Ancient Wisconsin Effigy Mound Solstice Observance

Every solstice and equinox, an observance ceremony is held on a small Native American Effigy Mound known as Frank’s Hill in southwestern Wisconsin. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places, and considered sacred by many. The hill – part of the Shadewald Group – is owned by a local farmer named Frank Shadewald, who bought it in order to preserve it. On an adjacent mound, a series of what are known as ‘calendar mounds’ mark the rise and set of the sun at these key times of the year. If the weather is clear this winter solstice, visitors will be treated to seeing the sun align with the series of little bumps along the hilltop. At a time like this of collective mourning, I am reminded of this sacred place and the possibility it offers for solace and recovery.

I’ve known of Frank’s Hill for years, but it wasn’t until the first day of this year that I actually visited the site. It’s one of those oddities of human nature; we take for granted treasures in our own backyard. They seem ordinary and available, so we book a flight to Macchu Pichu instead of making a few hours’ drive north to visit a site of ancient beauty and soul.

As this year draws to a close, and the holiday season looms, I find myself thinking of the good places I went this year; places that nourished and rewarded, places I just might return. Frank’s Hill is one of these. My photographs below record two trips to the site this year; the first one was solitary and frozen; the second, its hot and amusing antithesis.

If you’d like to visit, there will be an observance of the solstice next weekend. Cultural Landscape Legacies has more information. Look under ‘events’.

Frank Shadewald always makes clear that people of all faiths are welcome. There’s healing to be found in this sacred place; and the return of lengthening light brings hope in dark days.

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