Looking Backwards and Moving Forwards

Gordon Johnston

Gordon Johnston poses for a portrait at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. (Photo by Reginae Dixon)


Perceiving perspective

Gordon Johnston visited Ocmulgee Mounds for the first time as a third grader. He loved the Earth Lodge but didn’t really understand the significance of the place.

A couple degrees and a few kids later, Johnston finds himself reminiscing on his personal relationship with the Ocmulgee Mounds Historical Park, driven by his interests in Native American mythology, prehistory, hiking and a general love for the outdoors.

“When I got the job here at Mercer I came back to the Mounds and found them much the way they were when I visited as a kid,” Johnston said.

Upon becoming a creative writing professor at Mercer University, it didn’t take long before visiting the park became a routine in Johnston’s life.

“I started coming out and running and birdwatching and walking the trails with my kids and coming to the Ocmulgee Indian celebration every fall,” Johnston said. “I kind of had a long term relationship with the place.”

His reintroduction with the Ocmulgee Mounds made Johnston recognize his growth in mindset since his very first encounter in third grade.

“When I was a child, I thought as a child and spoke as a child. I was interested in the place, I loved going into the earth lodge,” Johnston said. “But I did not have a lot of curiosity about the people who initially constructed (these mounds).”

With time, that lack of curiosity changed.

“I think the biggest difference in my approach to the park now is when I look at it. I’m conscious of the way it embodies a culture that’s really counter to my own,” Johnston said.

Johnston searches for new ways to respect and understand the cultural significance behind the park.

“When I come to the park now I’ll look at the Great Temple Mound over there and I understand now that native peoples came into this place. They looked at the ground and recognized what it was trying to say,” Johnston said. “They tried to amplify what the earth was saying.”

While he deeply appreciates the park, he recognizes the limitations that come with his perspective.

“I’m a lot more conscious of what the place is culturally about, native experience and the indigenous way of seeing the world and landscape,” Johnston said.

Over the years, the Ocmulgee National Park became a sort of safe haven for Johnston.

“Personally this place is a kind of perfect meeting of the wild, the natural and human culture,” Johnston said. “That’s one of the reasons I love to come out. Really really beautiful place. You can feel a human presence here.”