[photo credit: David Martínez, Denver Museum of Nature and Science]
During the weekend of August 3, 2007 I suffered a stroke. While I didn’t incur the kind of symptoms, such as paralysis and speech impediment, that are common to stroke victims the incident still left me deathly ill. Nevertheless, perhaps because I was too apprehensive to admit it to myself, I wouldn’t know I had had a stroke until three days later when I finally went to the ER because my vision was blurred and doubled and my nausea was relentless. Over the weekend as I prayed flat on my back for my disconcerting problems to abate, I had a dream. I was in a place I knew to be somewhere in what is today the American Southeast, long before the first white men arrived, in a world I recognized as ancient, almost primeval. It was here, in a forested area that felt humid and swampy, that I saw a group of men and women dancing. Their moves were coordinated and ceremonial. The men in particular wore feathered head regalia that covered their eyes–not eagle feathers, but from a water bird. The women, who I couldn’t see as clearly, were behind the men, dancing the same steps. Who were these people? Despite how vividly I saw everything around me I couldn’t surmise who I was among. Perhaps I could have spoken to someone, but I didn’t, most likely out of respect for the ceremony underway. I only knew that I was far from home. Yet, I implicitly knew that I belonged here. People were aware of me but they didn’t pay me any attention. Everyone was either dancing or watching the dance. I was one of the ones watching, when suddenly chaos erupted! A monster appeared in the shape of a giant boar. Towering over everyone, the beast ran rampant around the village. Just then another appeared. This time leaping through the air on immensely powerful legs. Flying overhead, it smashed a grass hut standing on stilts. As the people scattered to find cover, men wielding long spears took position on a nearby hillock. From there they thrusted their spears into the rampaging beats, killing them both. Once the commotion subsided I gazed upon their hulking carcasses, utterly amazed that I had witnessed the slaying of such magnificent and frightening creatures. They were beings from when such giants ruled the earth and humans feared for their lives. Yet, there I was, among the survivors. Several months later, as I walked around with this dream, I was visiting Denver for an academic conference. While in town I went to the Museum of Nature and Science. As I wandered the various galleries containing prehistoric remains and dioramas, I turned a corner and was startled to see the great being pictured here. Taken aback, I instantly recognized that this was one of the monsters from my dream, or at least its reproduction. Did these creatures inhabit the Southeast? Denver, obviously, is faraway from the humid forests where the people known to archeologists as Mississippian once dwelled. Then again it doesn’t matter what science thinks. A dream, especially one this poignant, is its own source of truth. As for why I needed to tell this story now, I can only say that it was time. In fact, it took me the past three days to recover the photo I took that fateful day when I met my monster face to face.