I am re-posting an article from three years ago, about my hometown, and Memorial Day 

 

Forty-five years ago, Memorial Day became a national holiday.

But in Waterloo, NY, my hometown, this year will be 150th observance of Memorial Day.

Often called “Decoration Day” in some parts of the U.S., it was conceived after the Civil War, as a call to remembrance of the soldiers who died in the war.

 

It now commemorates the soldiers who have died during all of America’s wars.

 

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The residents of Waterloo first held the ceremony in 1866, and have never failed to mark the event since then.

Fifty-eight villagers had died fighting for the Union Army.

Many of them fell on the same day, holding the line at Gettysburg.

Some were draftees. A good number of them were immigrants. German, English, Irish, Canadian, they died along with the native-born.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1966, for the centennial of the event, the village was recognized by gubernatorial, Congressional and Presidential proclamations as

The Birthplace of Memorial Day.”

Waterloo’s ceremonies were not the earliest memorial services, nor were they the sole inspiration for our national day of commemoration.  Nonetheless, the village should be recognized as a “birthplace,” because it was the first community to institute a non-sectarian, community-wide, official event.  All businesses in the village closed that day, and the commemorations have been consistently observed, in peacetime and wartime, each and every year since 1866.

 

 

In Waterloo, it was never “Decoration Day;” it has always been called “Memorial Day.”

 

Civil War pictures

 

In 1866 the entire country was already in mourning, and trying to come to terms with the loss hundreds of thousands of citizens.

It was a nation of widows, orphans, bereaved parents, lost families, and countless veterans left maimed physically and mentally, and sometimes, shipped home only to continue dying from wartime injuries, diseases, and drug addictions.

 

 

There was a common impulse, North and South, to pay tribute to the dead, by formal observances, floral tributes, speeches, parades and poetry.

From Maryland to New Mexico, Florida to Pennsylvania, soldiers’ remains were gathered from shallow graves near battlefields, camps, prisons, and hospital yards, and re-buried in orderly plots, some of them laid out uniformly in huge federal cemeteries, and some designed as beautiful community parks .

A new industry was born, as sculptors began to create thousands of monuments.

Robert E. Lee’s “Arlington” estate was transformed into a vast necropolis.

 

It was at Arlington National Cemetery, in 1868, that General John “Black Jack” Logan and the G.A.R. (which became the largest Union veteran’s group) initiated the ceremony which became the national Memorial Day.

Logan began his political career as a pro-slavery racist, but during the course of the war, was transformed not only into one of the best of the politician-generals, but also into a “Radical Republican,” supporting the freed slaves.

 

 

My favorite story is from Columbus, Georgia, also during the spring of 1866, because the townsfolk there decorated both Confederate and Union graves.

 

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1915 G.A.R. parade. Library of Congress

 

“Decoration Day” had long existed as a custom in many communities, when the grass at burial grounds was trimmed, and evergreen boughs and flowers were brought graveside.

 

 

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Gettysburg

 

The association of greenery and flowers with memorial services long predates the Civil War, or even the existence of the United States.  Flowers and garlands have been found in Neolithic graves and Pharaohs’ tombs.

 

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For many people, especially in English-speaking countries, poppies are now associated with the First World War and remembrance of “Flanders fields”.  But for many centuries before that, they served as a symbol of sleep, death, oblivion, ease of pain, and for some, resurrection.  Poppies are mentioned in this way by Roman poets and Shakespeare, and you’ll see them carved on old tombstones and monuments from the Civil War.

 

On Boston Commons, there is a beautiful bronze sculpture by Saint-Gaudens, portraying Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment, comprised of free blacks and escaped slaves.

Above the soldiers, hundreds of whom died in a hopeless assault at Fort Wagner, is the figure of a woman, not a Winged Victory, I think, but a gentle-looking angel of death, carrying an olive branch and poppies.

 

Detail from Saint-Gaudens beautiful monument to the 54th. If you look in the crook of the angel's arm, you'll see poppies.

Detail from Saint-Gaudens’ beautiful monument to the 54th Regiment. This is the plaster cast in the Nat’l Gallery of Art. If you look in the crook of the angel’s arm, you’ll see poppies.

 

In a sense, Memorial Day is “kept evergreen,” as the old folks used to say, because generation after generation has produced a new crop of fatalities to mourn.

 

A few years ago, another shrub and another piece of granite were added to our village green.

A “Rose of Sharon,” the national flower of South Korea, was planted as a remembrance of what some call “The Forgotten War”.

I don’t think our climate will allow a pool of lotus flowers for Vietnam, but we can grow hardy varieties of roses (Iraq) and certainly tulips (Afghanistan).

And so it goes.

 

Dogtags

Dog tags.  Afghanistan memorial at Old North Church, Boston

 

Reminders are everywhere.

The bronze Napoleons on our village green are from the Civil War.  The most popular cannons of the war, they could shoot a twelve-pound iron ball for nearly a mile, or shred infantrymen with grapeshot and canister.

The V.F.W. has a “Huey Cobra” on their lawn, to evoke Vietnam.  Over 3,300 of them went down during the war.

The American Legion sports a 37mm M3, a little antitank cannon, from WWII.  It’s shells proved effective against lightly-armored Japanese tanks, but bounced off the Nazi panzers like marbles.

Driving around this area, you’ll find a Revolutionary cannon, a Korean War jet, an armored car…it will just be a matter of time before they ship us a Humvee or a Bradley in desert paint.

 

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Winslow Homer’s sketch of a Napoleon. LOC

 

It would be nice to have more flowers around here, too.

There are poppies in the garden at home.

They blossom this time of year, but last a very short time, before the petals fall to the ground.

 

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row, 

That mark our place;  and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

 

 

 

Civil War, Decoration Day, First World War, FLX, History, Memorial Day, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Waterloo, WWI

The 150th Memorial Day ~~ Waterloo, NY ~ May 1866

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Milwaukee has a plethora of delivery startups.  T’uber delivers baked potatoes to your door.  They partner with ForkLyft, which supplies cutlery.  There’s AirB&B (beer & bratwurst by drone), DroneDrone (drones delivered to you by drone), DroningDroneDrone (CNN transcripts to your doorstep), FroshDirect (essays for first-year college classes), Amazons (heavily armed women) (to intimidate your cat when it’s having a manic episode).

 


Flash News from Milwaukee


Most people in New York, where I grew up, and Maryland, where I went to college, have never been to Wisconsin, and don’t know much about it.

Some confuse it with Minnesota, others believe it’s the capital of Saskatchewan.  One mentioned exile to the steppes, and offered to write the Tsar for a pardon.  Most visualize Life In The Land of Bland – – a monochromatic, mayo-white-bread place, awash in Schlitz, bratwurst, jello salad, Sons of Norway lodges, and endless “Laverne & Shirley” re-runs.  And cheese.  “Processed American Cheese Food,” that yellowish stuff the Dept of Agriculture is always stockpiling in Area 51 warehouses and old missile silos.

Yeah, Milwaukee does have its share of bland –  smiling but reserved Midwesterners, making guarded, ambiguous comments – but the city is also a lively, interesting, multicultural place, and a great place to find good food.  A vibrant, diverse, “minority-majority” town – comprised not just of German/English/Irish stock, but Polish, Hispanic/Latino, African-American, Asian (especially Hmong), Persians, Arabs, Syrians, Serbs, Scandinavians, etc.  They host one of the biggest Native American gatherings every year.

 

Margherita Pomodora, Goddess of Pizza. Knowing a bit about these characters just comes with the territory. I grew up west of Syracuse & Corinth, south of Junius and Tyre, north of Ithaca and Romulus, east of Attica and Corfu.

And I was happy to find there are a least a few people of Greek and Italian descent, and some Mediterranean-style eating places.  You may have seen the Greek flags waving in the stands, since Giannis Antetokounmpo started playing for the Bucks.

So while the city has all the usual delivery and ride-hailing services  – Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, etc. – the ride service I use is staffed entirely by Greek and Italian immigrants.  And it changes its name weekly.

In its first incarnation, it was Quicksilver Messenger Service, but  that was already taken, by a hippie band in the ‘60’s. So the next week, it was Mercruiser, but that’s the outboard motor company in Fond du Lac.  Then MoussakaKar, followed by Quo Vadis, Dude?, Ben Hur’ry, ToGaToGo, and currently, Bona Fide Ride.

Saturday, I was starving for Greek food – gyros, souvlaki, and the local classic, Spam-ikopita – and kept chanting under my breath, “I wanna go to Golden Acropolis,” and somehow summoned this weird old driver, Hermès.  He skidded to the curb in a beat-up old Zephyr, once silver-colored, and he had this whole Mercury theme going, wearing a cap with little wings on it.

He jumped out with an Olympus point-and-shoot, mouth going a-mile-a-minute.

“A quick snapshot of each passenger, my memory is fleeting, c’mon,  jump in, your chariot awaits and all that, you can call me Hermes, Quicksilver, whatever, just don’t call me Freddy Mercury, alright?”

There were little wings on his sandals, too.  I figured he must be from Minneapolis.

He popped a Styx 8-track in the player, put his foot down, and his bucket of bolts peeled out.  I heard Sirens wailing, but we made it to the gyro place faster than was humanly possible.

 

 

He waved off the tip, “Save it for the ferryman, at my age, I don’t need drachmas, I don’t need drama, I don’t need…” and off he went, like a silvery streak of extra-virgin-olive-oil-greased lightning.

Yeah, I’m just gonna take the bus next time.

 

Mercury in his salad days. Some people feel the burn, others feel the breeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I recognized him, of course.  Hermes/Mercury, The Messenger.  A lot of the old Greco-Roman gods, semi-retired now, live around Brady St, or the Shorewood area of Milwaukee.  Tzatziki sauce and lightning storms all over that neighborhood.

Ceres has a vegan place called “Ancient Grains,” Vulcan has forged a chain of body shops.  Bacchus tried opening a wine bar (dude, in Milwaukee?), went broke, and I think is in rehab somewhere.  Hermes opened a seafood place with another guy, but “Neptune & Mercury Fish” didn’t go over well for some reason.

 

Mercury, working off the clock. Grand Central Terminal (LOC photo). To his left, Hercules is obviously worried about that bird, and seems to be sitting in a machine shop, which is normally Vulcan’s thing.  Minerva is ignoring the other two, while she works on a grocery list, to add to the salad bar she’s got going up there.  This busy little tableau is also called “Progress with Mental and Physical Force” or “The Glory of Commerce,” and both of those are darn catchy titles.

 

I was surprised to see Hermes just driving around, especially with a V8 getting 12 mpg, but he told me, yeah, he’s the Patron of Thieves, Liars, and Tricksters, but his Titanic success in Washington had actually scared him a bit.  “I’m not really a bad guy, just kinda fickle, y’know, mercurial, who needs The Messenger when everyone’s texting, right now I’m focused on Auto-Mobiles and Transporting…”

A real live wire.  But riding shotgun in the cab, was some glum, totally boring type, humming tunelessly, that I didn’t recognize.  At home, I looked for him in my Big Book of Forgotten Deities, riffling through a whole horde of lesser Greek & Roman gods, demi-gods, heroes, satyrs, etc.

After a half-hour, I’d gotten as far as Hypnos, the somnolent god of sleep, and his semi-famous sons, Morpheus & Phantasos, the gods of dreams – – at least a nodding acquaintance for most people.

Hypnos had literally a thousand other offspring – – one thousand kids to keep in sandals, he’d say, and they had to share their birthday parties – – always joint affairs at Chuck-E Cheese,  to save money.  And then, in a photo from one of the parties, skulking in the corner, with no one talking to him, was the guy from the ride:

 

 


Phragmites, The God of Monotony. 


Hypnos can make us sleep, Morpheus & Phantasos can shape our dreams, but Phragmites is so very dull, he can induce a coma.

And I realized, as if waking from a dream, that’s what I wanted to write about today.

 

A plumed phalanx of phragmites invades a marsh.

 

Phragmites australis, a/k/a common reeds, are now everywhere.

You may wonder, along with countless screaming Argonauts, why did I wander

so far into the weeds,

to just talk about reeds

Yeah, it’s a ridiculous segue, but honestly, I cannot hear Phragmites without thinking it’s some sort of Greco-Roman hero.  One that fights Hydras, or at least Hydrilla.

 

 

(So, just to be clear, this is a segue, not a digression, ok?  I’m not digressing anymore.  It would be cool to work a Segway in here, as a modern-day chariot for Mercury, but that would be a digression.)

 

I am seeing phragmites everywhere.  Ponds, marshes, ditches, drainage swales, unused parking lots, etc. – – it’s like hearing Justin Bieber songs on the radio, why is this reedy crap everywhere I go?  Chesapeake Bay, all around upstate NY, and now in Wisconsin.

 

 

You’re probably surprised I didn’t work in the story of Syrinx, the Naiad-nymph who was fleeing Pan, and was metamorphosed into a reed, which was then made into a Pan-flute. But I didn’t want to be panned for a digression, so pipe down.

 

There are several varieties of these reeds, including one native to the eastern U.S., but the ones I’m talking about are aggressive and invasive.  The native plants are not a problem.  They mix, they mingle, they get along well with the other plants.

The invasive strain, which can spread ten feet in a summer, crushes diversity, crowding out cattails and other native marsh plants, and forms dense, pretty much lifeless thickets.

Just like some of the talking heads on TV, you ask yourself, how can anything this monotonous, dull, and boring, be so successful at taking over?

It’s simple.

They poison the neighbors.

This is called allelopathy”  and you probably already  know that.  I’d heard about this tactic, because there’s black walnut trees all over New York, and you’re always told, don’t try growing a garden anywhere near them.  But the walnut trees seem to practice restraint, because often there’s ferns etc. , thriving all around their trunks, and anyways, the nuts are delicious.

 

“Monotony has nothing to do with a place; monotony, either in its sensation or its infliction, is simply the quality of a person. There are no dreary sights; there are only dreary sightseers.” I’m not sure about G. K. Chesterton’s idea.  I can see beauty in a sea of reeds, but, sorry, the omnipresence of common reeds does make them monotonous and dreary, and I like cattails and a healthy, lively ecosystem better.

 

The invasive phragmites seem to be much more zealous – – the plant equivalent of Assad, pursuing total war with chemical attacks.  They poison and disintegrate neighboring plants, and I’ve seen cattails, for example, be eliminated from some small marshes in just a few years.

 

 

 

Here’s a good succinct article:

University of Delaware. “Invasive Plant Secretes Acid To Kill Nearby Plants And Spread.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012084128.htm>.

And how to tell the native vs invasive reeds:

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/idpmctn11494.pdf

 

Horsetails, I’ve read, have been popular since the Paleozoic, come to think of it, I think they predate horses, so how did folks back then pick that name? Anyway, they seem to be on the decline in the Finger Lakes, perhaps due to competition from phragmites, loosestrife, etc.

 

Monocultures, whether it’s farming, fields, or woodlands, are a problem.  There are marshes overrun with purple loosestrife, and others with nothing but these reeds.  Some woods in the Finger Lakes now have nothing but garlic mustard as the undergrowth.

 

garlic mustard

 

Now, “The Naturian” blog just listed some recipes for garlic mustard pesto, so there’s a positive, and you can certainly find beauty, and a kind of calming music, in a rustling thicket of reeds.

It’s the lack of balance that’s the issue.  A lot of things beginning with “mono” kind of stink, if you think about it.  Monotonous, monopolize, monotone, “Kissing disease,” monocles, etc. Gardeners tell me that monocots are OK, but I prefer a regular size bed.  There’s wonderful monotone of course, B&W photography, but a lot of the time, I’m hungry for color, kind of a Kodachrome guy, makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.

 

Van Gogh’s “It’s not the heat, it’s not the humidity, it’s the monotony”

 

I hope I’m not being too subtle, so >here’s another segue< .  (I heard that Barry Manilow song “Copacabana” and at some point, he yells out “Key change!” so I guess it’s ok to announce a segue.)  It’s a pretty obvious analogy here today.  Monocultures are boring, whether it’s in cities or wetlands, and it’s not good for you, it poisons the land.

I grew up around marshes full of iris, ferns, Joe-Pye weed, arrowhead, cattails, salamanders & sycamores, willows, pussy willows & winterberry, redwing blackbirds, egrets, milkweed & muskrats – – and I don’t enjoy going back to find a  expanse of unbroken, lifeless, dun-colored boredom.  And then moving 500 miles west, and finding the same dreary reeds have spread here, too.

Life should be a variety show.  There’s something wonderful and stimulating about places with a teeming mix of plants and animals, people and cultures.  A complex mosaic, not the dull monotonous prosaic.  I like to hear new music, sample fantastic new foods, maybe learn a few new words, or even new ideas.  Hear the full orchestra, not just the reeds.  I’m happy to live in a town enlivened by immigrants, old-time and new.

But what’s to be done about these pesky plants?  I’m in talks with Mercury about a food delivery “Pesto Presto” and already lined up some guys in Parks & Recreation to start yanking the garlic mustard.  The reeds, I guess if Washington succeeds in returning us to the Dark Ages, we’ll be glad to have materials for thatched huts.

 

 

 

 

food, Great Lakes, milwaukee, Uncategorized, wisconsin

Mercury & Poisoning

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Trillium on a rainy day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rail-trail from Penn Yan to Dresden is a favorite spot for Amish families and courting couples on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve posted a bit about this trail before – – a former canal/railroad bed alongside a creek that runs from Keuka Lake into Seneca Lake. It’s too bad, really, with a bit of planning, they could’ve connected Keuka to Cayuta to Cayuga, just so we could do our Abbott & Costello thing for the tourists wanting directions. The little valley is a recovering industrialist, with the old-time dams and limestone block mills crumbling away nicely, and the more recent brick and concrete structures following suit.

 

 

 

Full disclosure of favoritism in invasive species. I like seeing the spring snowflakes, which have naturalized in the marshy areas along the creek. The background is a mass of garlic mustard, which I do not like, and which seems to be really taking over the woods in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, United States, Upstate New York

Walks in the Finger Lakes. Penn Yan to Dresden. Early May

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Arrant Nonsense, Holidays, Sweaters, United States, Winter

A New Holiday. Happy Equinox Day

 

In the northern U.S., March is often miserable.  Muddy, mucky, mildewy.  It is the Monday morning of months.

Even the mud-caked mutts I meet, mooching along the murky, meandering Milwaukee River, look a little morose.

People are tired of wearing boots, gloves, all these layers of clothing.  Not much spring in our step, as we march along –  fleeced, booted, scarved – outfitted in the Full Milwookie.

And scratchy hats.  As I’m sure you know, the expressions “shock of hair” and “Mad as March hair” are based on the deranged, staticky mops we get in northern climates, after wearing knitted wool hats, nonstop, for five months.

It’s a month named for Mars, who was kind of an idiot, even by the low standards of Roman gods. The god of war, and his quagmire month, when they kicked off the Vietnam and Iraq wars.  I noticed the Mars Bar is being sold in the U.S. again – why don’t we name the month after that, instead – it’s gooey,  brown, and full of nuts – perfect for the season.

Winter seems to be eating up more than its share of the year, and keeps dropping in, uninvited, for another bite.

During the brief thaws, soggy gloves and decaying mittens emerge from the gritty snowbanks, looking like pathetic squirrel carcasses.  Sometimes they actually are squirrel carcasses. Shivering and pale, we curse as we wade through icy puddles of semi-congealed brine.  Dehydrated from freezer burn, feeling a bit testy, even unbalanced some days.  Everything we see and hear, heck the whole darn planet, feels tilted.

I’m inclined to believe, everyone could use a holiday in March.

How about we hatch a new one – – Spring Equinox Day.

We’d focus on balance in our lives, personal and public.

On a day when light and dark are held in balance.

A day to spend with friends and family, and not at work.

Spring Equinox Day wouldn’t improve the weather, but it could take our minds off it, restore our equilibrium a bit.

A celebration of normalcy, stability, and reasonableness.

Crack open a thesaurus, and just look at all those rare and wonderful qualities:

Fair.  Equitable.  Even-handed. Rational.

Lucid.  Clearheaded.  Sensible.

Even-keeled.

Equinox Day would have no sporting events, no car races, no sales, no politicians.  No windbags are allowed to go politicking – – gassy blimps would be allowed, but only for parades, and not making speeches.

The pundits, professional mouthpieces, and talk show hosts should take the day off, too, and give their mouths a rest.  And citizens would be invited to speak instead, in a reasonable way, about “Reasonableness.”

Schoolkids would earn medals for the best essays and speeches on these qualities.  The adults can join them, feeling well-rested after sleeping in, and from our naps during the speeches, and we’ll all turn out for a day of service to our communities.

We have, in theory, a Women’s Equality Day (August 26) marking adoption of the 19th Amendment, and Equal Pay Day, which changes each year, based on the wage gap between men and women.  (Germany also has that observance, since 1988, but fixes it on March 18th.)   International Women’s Day also came and went, on the 8th, without too much press.  A couple of states have transformed Columbus Day into Native Americans Day.  Juneteenth/Freedom Day seems to be fading away.

I haven’t thought all this out yet, so Equinox Day is still pretty vague and Pollyanna-ish, but it actually seems like a decent idea.   It seems politically neutral, even in the seven states which don’t believe the Earth revolves around the sun.

And it seems fair and reasonable to ask people for suggestions – –  post as many as you like, you can stuff the ballot box like a Chicago alderman.   They’ll be reviewed in a dispassionate, reasonable,  even-handed manner… and then I’ll just chuck out the ones I don’t like.  No!  just kidding, I’ll be glad to hear what you think.

 

 

I broke my last eggcup, and had to hire these guys. They’re in the union, but luckily, work for scale.

 

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I always enjoy listening to the “Hidden Brain” program on NPR.

My own brain often seems to play hide-and-go-seek, sometimes for hours,

and you do see so many folks in the news,

who might qualify for their own challenging treasure hunt “The Really Well-Hidden Brain.”

The last program I heard, was about “Envy, and it’s nasty cousin schadenfreude” (= taking pleasure in the troubles of others).

And the host, Shankar Vedantum, mentioned that while we have terms like envy, jealousy, etc.

we really don’t have a word for “taking pleasure in others’ success.”

Say no more!  I’ve got just the thing.

I cannot take credit, the coinage comes from my mom.

Upon hearing about this Hidden Brain topic, she created some new words, in two seconds flat:

Empathy + Celebrate = Empacelebrate

Empathy + Enthusiasm = Empathusiasm.

(They sound better than they look, just say them out loud.)

ex. “Let’s empacelebrate our friends’ success!

If you cannot bring yourself to do this, totally lacking in empathy, then you’re an empanada.

OK, I thought that last one sounded familiar, I just remembered, it was one of my favorite things to eat in Chile.

So we’ll keep working on that one, but I really like the other two.

Language & Words

Positive Thinking, Word of the Day

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It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late…Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.

I like Longfellow’s poems a lot, but this line just strikes me as funny, I don’t know why.

(In his original draft, he’d written:  It is too soon!  Ah, nothing is too soon…if you can stay in bed ’til afternoon.)  

  

There’s a wonderful photography blog here on WP (JaneLuriePhotography.com), which recently published a cool nighttime shot of a building with just one apartment lit up.

It reminded me, that I’d once taken a cellphone shot of an office building with the same situation, really late on a Sunday night.  It just looked pretty lonely, almost kinda creepy.

And it’s hard not to wonder.

A copywriter, needing a brilliant pitch for a client by Monday morning?  An accountant missing 17 cents on the International Grit & Abrasives Inc.  account? A junior attorney, who realized a perfectly comprehensible paragraph somehow slipped into a rental lease agreement?

A crooked developer, scheming with Russian gangsters to fix an election?

An intern from the mailroom, running off some cryptocurrency on the company’s mainframe?

Or perhaps it was a photoblogger, who turned on the lights, and then looked down, took a picture of me, down on the street, looking up & snapping a picture of the only lighted office?

 

OK, I guess these are all pretty far-fetched.

Well, whatever, and whoever you are up there – – pack it in, go home, before we have to fetch a doctor.

CNN:  “People who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Those who work between 10 and 11 hours per day have a 45 percent higher risk.”

Uncategorized, United States

It’s Late (Go Home)

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Clean Waters, Great Lakes, Nature, Ontario, United States

At home in the HOMES. Thinking about The Great Lakes

 

As anyone who reads this column knows, I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

There’s eleven of these “fingers,” not ten, which is perfect, because it’s a region know for oddities.

Abolitionists, Suffragettes, Spiritualists, Actors, Chicken Nuggets, Traffic Lights, The Curve Ball, Lacrosse, possibly Rickshaws, all sorts of odd things have flowed out of here.  But it’s the waterways that largely define the area.  Growing up there, I enjoyed exploring this lake district, and learning bits & bobs of history about every little town, creek, and lake.  Obscure historic sites and house museums are common, and every other boulder seems to have a brass plaque stuck on it.  The Erie Canal also comes through our area, with its own history, and was a big deal in school, and even had songs written about it.

 

1848 map of lighthouses, Library of Congress.

 

The five Great Lakes, on the other hand, were mostly terra incognita to me. (I put that in just to bug Steve S., I guess it should be mare incognitum, or “unknown seas.”)

Basically, until very recently, I knew almost nothing about them.  But now I’m living in Wisconsin, close to the western shore of Lake Michigan, and quickly realized there’s a ton of interesting stuff to learn.

My vast experience of sailing on the Great Lakes…is limited to a single ferryboat ride from Toronto to Rochester when I was a kid. That experience, on the fast, massive “Spirit of Ontario” (a 284’ catamaran that could hit 45 knots) was exhilarating, and as a kid, I enjoyed visiting lighthouses, and skipping stones on the shore, but until I moved to Milwaukee, I otherwise thought little about the Great Lakes.

Well, the Lakes are amazing. Collectively, they represent the single biggest body of freshwater on the planet.  And nobody seems to pay much attention to them. Few people realize they’re one key to America’s global economic power. The lakes are under-appreciated and overlooked. Millions of people live on their shores, from Rochester and Buffalo to Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth, and all the smaller towns and villages in between. On the Canadian side sit Toronto, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, plus the many towns and cities like Montreal and Quebec, along the St Lawrence River, that flows out of the lakes.

 

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings / In the rooms of her ice-water mansion /  Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams /  The islands and bays are for sportsmen /  And farther below, Lake Ontario Takes in what Lake Erie can send her…  (Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“) Superior feeds Michigan and Huron, Huron feeds Erie, which feeds Ontario, via Niagara Falls. Then on to the Atlantic, via the St. Lawrence.

 

The Great Lakes flow and churn, serving millions of people, carrying millions of tons of cargo, and billions in trade dollars.  Despite the “rust belt” image, a fifth of U.S. manufacturing, and half of Canada’s, is still done around the lakes.  So why don’t we ever hear or learn more about them?

 

 

As a kid, when I thought of Great Lakes, I thought of the color gray. Gray, often frigid water, and I thought “boring”.

But how could lakes that hosted pirates, smugglers, Fenian raiders, fur traders, bloody naval battles, and countless shipwrecks possibly seem boring? As an Upstate New Yorker, living an hour’s drive from Ontario, and less than two from Erie, I’m surprised by how little we were taught about them growing up.  Those of us who live near them, take them for granted, even while those in arid places, look on enviously, hoping to share in that liquid gold.  As the world gets hotter, and huge swathes of it, drier and drier, interest in all that water will continue to grow.

Six quadrillion gallons.  One out of every five glasses of fresh water on the planet.  And yet, during the entire year I worked in a Milwaukee public school, I recall Lake Michigan being mentioned…once.

 

I took this picture when I was in grade school. It’s Kingston, the town in Canada where Lake Ontario ends, and the St. Lawrence River begins.

 

But now, after my travels abroad and at home, they suddenly seem… appealing, and fascinating.

They’re all connected, and navigable.  You can sail from Duluth, Minnesota, over a thousand miles to Kingston, Ontario – – and then into the St. Lawrence, and on to the ocean.

 

Another snapshot from grade school: A retired Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker/buoy tender CCGS Alexander Henry.

Not one week goes by without me wishing to walk out of my office, continue to the shores of the lake, to hop aboard a coal barge or iron ore freighter and sail away.  Stop by Chicago for the weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, right on the water in Cleveland, hop off in Buffalo to see Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, then Toronto for a ballgame.  The Rideau Canal will take you inland to Ottawa, but the ship in my fantasy is too big to fit through the locks.  .

If I timed it right, I could board one of the European-flagged ships, cruise through the lakes, then up the St Lawrence Seaway, hang a right at Gaspé, and before you know it, I’d be cruising the Atlantic, bound for Hamburg, Rotterdam, or even the Baltic. Today, as a lot of American grain is going to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, perhaps I could stay onboard ‘til I arrived at Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore or Lagos.  The only limitation on this fantasy, is that, as I discovered on my way to the Galápagos, I’m very inclined to seasickness.

 

Hattie Hutt, 1873 lake schooner. LOC

Ok, so while I’m no sailor, I sure love looking at ships and boats, and thinking about them. One of my odder fascinations is with “container ports.” I guess it’s a bit like train-spotting – it doesn’t really get you anything or anywhere. Nor can I win money during trivia night at a pub; nobody asks questions about those sort of things. But it doesn’t matter. I find that I am transfixed by them. From the giants of global trade like Singapore or Hong Kong, to the lesser ones like Albany, Wilmington, DE, and the Port of Milwaukee, I find that I can stand there watching ships churn past the grey waters for an unusually long time. I have pored over many articles online about them.

 

Leif Eriksson Discovers Milwaukee”   OK, just kidding, but when I arrived here, one of the first things I ran across, was a statue of him.  It’s never been proven, but it’s not 100% impossible that the Vikings explored the lakes.   The painting is actually “Leif Eriksson Sights Land in America” – – the Norwegian artist Christian Krohg painted this for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. Kind of a dig at Columbus.  A copy hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

 

Recently, in an effort to make Milwaukee my true home, I’ve started joining various groups to meet people. On one occasion, I met a guy who works part-time in the US and part-time in Sweden. He described himself as a “waterways scientist” and didn’t elaborate, but shared a stream of anecdotes and facts about human impact on the lakes. The lakes have always drained into the Atlantic. But the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, to allow ocean-going ships to sail into the interior of the U.S., allowed salt water to flow into the Great Lakes. Even distant Lake Michigan was impacted, and the local salmon population was harmed. A decade or so later, with the lake system polluted and full of chemicals, a hare-brained scheme was devised to introduce a type of mussel into the lakes, to clean them. The mussels would also serve as a source of food for the salmon.  It was very interesting, but a lot to absorb, and as the scientist continued on, with his tales of unintended consequences, I lost track of what happened to the mussels, but began to appreciate the complexity of the lakes’ ecosystem. We stave off, or invite in, invasive species. The lakes give life (drinking water), and also have spread disease and pollution.  After centuries of reliance on fish as a valuable food, we then hold the sturgeon to be so valueless, they were hauled up en masse,  dried, and used for steamboat fuel, and almost made extinct.  The lakes and their tributaries produce electricity to power industries and cities, then flood and destroy entire neighborhoods.

 

“Grain Elevator” (1955) Joseph Plavcan (Erie Art Museum)

Much as people-watching at an airport allows us to guess at the stories of those rushing by, ship-watching allows us to wonder about what cog of the global trading machinery we’re witnessing. Did that ship sail from some port in Russia? Where did it go, between here and there, and why is it here? What’s its cargo? Where are the sailors from? I read that 1/3 of all sailors are Filipino, so what do they think when they visit the U.S. or Canada? They leave the steaming tropics, for months or years, facing shipwrecks, geo-political logjams, Somali/Nigerian/Malaccan pirates, and typhoons, hurricanes, and potentially ice bergs. Sea-sickness, sketchy port cities, dangerous cargo, tedium, daily bowls of borscht, on the Russian ships, you name it, they have to face all that.

I don’t know why these lakes are unknown to most people, even those of us who live on them.  I’m ready to dive into a new project.  Well, once things melt a bit.  This is a fascinating region, the lakes and their stories are fascinating, and now I’m hooked, and want to learn more. These waterways will never seem gray to me again.

 

Lake Ontario

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