Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Moon-eyed Finns

Situated to the west of my hometown in Georgia is a mountaintop called Fort Mountain.  It’s a spot that always figured prominently in our summertime visits to the States because of the 3712-acre (1500-hectare) state park that occupies the top of the mountain.  When the kids were small, we never failed to make at least one trip to the park each summer so they could enjoy a round of mini-golf and cool off in the park’s lake, one of the highest in the state. 

At 2848 feet (868 meters), Fort Mountain is not an extremely high peak, even by Georgia standards.  But from the west, where the mountain plunges over 2000 feet to a flat, broad valley, it appears like a towering rampart. 

You might be mistaken in thinking that the striking view from the valley of this natural barricade was the inspiration for the mountain’s name.  It’s more complicated, and strange, than that. 

Near one of the mountain’s summits, a short distance from rocky cliffs that overlook the valley far below, is the mountain’s real namesake, a primitive “fort” of low zigzagging walls made up of loose rock.  The builders of this rudimentary structure are a mystery, and archeologists doubt that defense was even its intended purpose.  Still, popular speculation is that Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto’s men might have constructed the walls as improvised fortifications when passing through the area almost 500 years ago. 

Conquistador Hernando de Soto, probably never 
mistaken for a Moon-eyed Person himself.

The native Cherokees had a different explanation.  According to a legend of theirs, the rubble walls were built by a race of “Moon-eyed People” who lived in the area before them.  Adding to the mystery, the Cherokee said this tribe of fort-builders were blond, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and able to see in the dark. 

Some people have seen these stories as enticing evidence for the hoary legend that a Welsh explorer, Prince Madoc, sailed twice to America three hundred years before Columbus and settled among the Indians. 

I used to joke with my kids on our visits to Fort Mountain that they, in fact, are the Moon-eyed People, because of their blue eyes and blond hair.  And because they, like all Finns, can see in the dark.  Or so it seems to someone like me who needs all the bright light he can get. 

I’m reminded of this now that we’re at the end of November, it’s dark by four o’clock, and the very gloomiest time of the year is still three weeks away.  Already for several weeks now, I’ve been going around the house in the evening turning on lights for members of my Finnish family who somehow haven’t noticed that they’ve been sitting there for an hour reading in the dark.  Being a Moon-eyed Person certainly has its advantages during these dark Finnish nights – at least you can save a bundle on electricity bills.  


  1. I recall Fort Mountain. I figure the Cherokee--or maybe a preceding Nation--built the wall. Maybe not as a fort but for some other reason--religious, social. Who knows? I rather doubt that the Spaniards, just passing through, would have taken the time to construct fortifications as labor-intensive as those. If they were to have built a fort, it would likely have been constructed of logs and earth. Just the trouble of moving all of that rock for a brief stay would not have been very smart; likely not even possible in the time-frame they spent there.

    Did not know that Finns could see in the dark. Your compatriots are X-Men.

  2. I saw a paper by an archaeologist who completely discredited the idea of the Spaniards having anything to do with the "fort", so I think you're right -- home-grown origin for the fort.