I was lying on the ground, gasping for oxygen after summiting the highest peak in my county, and trying to staunch a nosebleed with a handful of alpaca wool.

I was surrounded by decaying carcasses.



So, good opening, right?

Maybe…dramatized, just a bit.

I wasn’t actually prostrate, for example, but I am prone to exaggeration.

Technically, there was no need for oxygen, no nosebleed, no alpaca wool.

The “carcasses” were just old tree stumps.

Some people are into bicycling or making yarn – – I’m learning to spin alternative facts.



One of our more intimidating trails – up to a 1 and a 1/2% grade!!!  And in places, some really tough weeds.


In Seneca County, NY, the highest elevation soars to … 1640 feet above sea level.  Not too impressive.  An easy stroll up the hill, through woods and pastures.   The neighboring counties top out at 2,000 – 2,200.  You don’t need ropes or mountaineering boots – – the only thing spiked around here, is the apple cider.

I’ve found it’s really hard to hire sherpas, or rent an alpaca, to carry stuff for you, for anything under 20,000 feet, they find it an embarrassment.  Sometimes a kid with an ATV will give you a lift.




Come to think of it, there actually are some alpacas around here.  Upstate New York has over 600,000 dairy cows, but you’ll also run across pastures with sheep, goats, and llamas, and every once in a while, alpacas, bison or ostriches.



But no mountain goats.   It’s just that all summer, I’ve been reading WP stories of mountains.  Rocky Mountains and Alps and Andes and Carpathians, hiking & rock climbing – – and I’ve been wanting to write “summiting,” like the cool, more  adventurous bloggers.  I’m going to post a story about climbing a volcano in Chile, but today, it’s about the decidedly tame, non-volcanic region where I grew up.



This old stump triggered this story – – with a bit of imagination, it resembled a rocky mesa


All summer, I’ve admired pictures of spectacular ranges, peaks, alps, buttes, mesas, and cliffs.  The masses of stone are almost overwhelming.  Evidence of titanic energy and uplift – – lava flows and volcanoes, and the weathered faces of former seabeds, eons of sediment, pushed sky-high by tectonic plate movement.

Everything’s standing tall.  I’ve visited some of the western states, gone to the mountains, and met a lot friendly  folks with positive attitudes.  It’s a forward-thinking, upward-trending kind of place out there, in the West.



Here in the East, in Upstate New York, the landforms are pretty modest.  Like our infrastructure and many of our residents, the topography is half-cracked, old and crumbling.  Once upon a time, the Taconics, on the eastern side of the state, were as tall as the Himalayas.  Eons and a couple of Ice Ages flattened out the hills, and smoothed out the valleys.  Instead of purple mountains majesty, we run more to gullied hillsides covered with cow pastures, and what we call “mountains” in the Finger Lakes, are wooded hummocks really.



About 130 miles east of here, New York does have mountains, but less than half the height of the Rockies.  The Adirondacks top out at 5343 feet, and the Catskills at 4180.


New York’s official motto is “Excelsior” i.e.”Higher,” (didn’t you think that was Colorado?), “Ever Upwards,” but some days, it seems we’re really more about erosion and running downhill – – of land, civility, ethical standards, you name it.

The state has amassed a mountain of debt, over $64 billion, and climbing.  We’re specialists in fits of pique, more than peaks, and slippery slopes.  Our legislators recently voted on the Official State Sport, and chose “Backsliding.”





When you travel from New York City to central New York, where I grew up, it’s all downhill, economically.  NYC is still a Himalaya of financial services, and much of Upstate is an eroded depression of former manufacturing centers.

Every little city around here has stories about “we used to make…”  from shoes to cigars, fire engines to cameras, steel to furniture.  My village was known at one time for its pianos and organs, but its well-made wagons and sleighs were the most famous – I’ve run across them several times in museums around the Northeast.  The company successfully evolved into a maker of car bodies, making various types of “woodies,” until those went out of fashion, and it folded in 1957.



A 1942 GMC “Waterloo Woodie”


All these economic peaks are ancient history, and long gone, along with many skills and well-paying jobs.  The region now looks to “agritourism” to climb back up.




Still…even though good jobs are scarce, the lakes and surrounding hills are beautiful.  The region is ever more popular as a busy tourist destination.  Waterfalls, boating, fishing, wineries, cheese-making, cideries, Amish farms, distilleries.  In my little village, and neighboring Geneva, there are hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms, and in summer & autumn, they’re often booked solid, and the restaurants are crowded.










So, while we’re waiting for a table…we started with mountains, and then wandered into the local economy…maybe now, a little glass of vodka, and a two-paragraph detour to the Russian Empire.  Not to climb the Urals, but to visit Potemkin villages.

Grigory Potemkin was one of Catherine the Great’s boyfriends, and a pretty interesting guy, who fought wars, built fleets of ships, calmed the Cossacks, etc.  Like Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” a one-eyed fat man, that you shouldn’t underestimate.  But sometimes he’s only mentioned for something that probably didn’t happen.

Potemkin governed the Ukraine, and whenever the Empress of Russia came to inspect,  supposedly he’d nip out and have cute little sham villages erected along her route,  staffed with smiling serfs, washed and dressed in embroidered peasant clothing, so Catherine would believe everything in her realm was just peachy.



These pop-up “Potemkin villages” may be kind of a myth, but sometimes, that’s how I think of the Finger Lakes.

Except without the borscht.



Visitors here (to New York, we’re done with Russia now, please keep up) follow the embroidered Chamber of Commerce pamphlets and winery tours, and see a Potemkin village, a flower-strewn facade of summer cottages, lakeside music fests, rose gardens, boat tours, balloon flights, microbreweries, and one hundred wineries.  The Amish in their horse-drawn carts add a touch of quaintness.





And just o’er the hills and not far away from the wineries and waterfront properties, are ramshackle trailer parks and rundown farmhouses, heated with woodstoves, not because that’s so cozy and nostalgic, but because they cannot afford the heating oil.  Pillars fall from dilapidated Greek Revivals, and big brick Victorians go topless, as their roofs cave in.



The local farm co-op went bust and closed all its stores in 1999, and half the shops in the rural hamlets are boarded up.  Deer season’s a big deal, not as a sporting proposition, but to stock up the chest freezers for winter.




Politicians and state officials sometimes venture here, to look down upon the hayseeds, chew the scenery, and talk endlessly of natural beauty, tourism, agri-tourism.

Eliot Spitzer once left his Manhattan penthouse and drove by, while campaigning for governor.  (And lasted for well over a year in office!  before resigning after a prostitution scandal.)  He compared the area’s economy to Appalachia, apparently not recognizing, that the hilly Southern Tier region (bordering Pennsylvania) actually is part of Appalachia.



More about hills.  The hillocks and ridges to my north, closer to Lake Ontario, are mostly glacial deposits called moraines, eskers, and drumlins – – piles of sand, clay, boulders, and gravel, dumped by melting glaciers when the Ice Age melted away.



And we’re still getting dumped upon.

The highest point near my hometown?  It’s a series of terraced barrows, where we gather and store up earthly wealth.

In other words, a giant garbage dump, hundreds of feet tall.  Now that the Ice Age is done leaving glacial till, a Canadian company is ringing the till, trucking in trash from NYC.



Waterloo is between the northern ends of Seneca and Cayuga, the largest of the Finger Lakes, almost forty miles long, and in places, 400-600 feet deep.

The only lakefront property, however, in the town, is occupied by a state park.  In this county, mostly agricultural, and with a substantial Amish population, per capita income is less than $27,000.  So, since before I was born, Seneca Falls, the village immediately to our east, has accepted millions of dollars to host “Seneca Meadows.”

This sounds lovely, but it’s actually a landfill, covering hundreds of acres between the villages.  Six thousand tons of garbage are trucked in daily, almost all of it from downstate, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Millions of tires are “recycled” by grinding them up, and using them as a substitute for gravel in drainage beds.   So much methane is produced, that it’s tapped to supply an electric-generating plant.   A mile of plastic piping is strung between tall poles, spritzing a flowery deodorant 24/7.



It’s a well-run operation.  The trucks and earth-movers are precisely choreographed.  Technically, we’re informed, these man-made hills are called “dry entombment.”  And sure, isn’t that cheerful-sounding.  The operator reaps tens of millions of dollars, every year.  A lot of locals aren’t excited about the new landscape, hundreds of feet tall, but there’s only 19,044 active, registered voters in this county, and NYC has 4,420,737, so guess which direction the local politicos and state authorities flop.

So pile it high.







I guess when you don’t have mountains, we have an urge to create them.  Barrows, cairns, pyramids, we like to pile stuff up.  Sometimes around here it’s piles of rocks, raked out of the fields by generations of farmers.  Sometimes a heap of rusting harrows, seed drills, broken stanchions, and old cars.  Defunct breeds gravitate to the hamlets and small farms – – Mercury Sables, Pontiac Sunbirds, and brontosaurus-sized Oldsmobiles – – following hereditary paths laid down by dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, AMC Eagles and Pacers.

The old cars migrate up into the hills to die and return to the earth, mostly rusting away in ravines and farmers’ side yards.



Hiking around our little hills and patches of woods, it’s sometimes hard not to envy those cool state-of-the-art Westerners, cruising in their Land Cruisers, trekking with nano-tech jackets, mirrored Oakleys, freeze-dried goji berries, GoPros streaming adventures in the huge wilderness areas and high peaks, all drama and dramatic vistas amid giant spruce and firs.



Meanwhile, back in the unexciting Upstate boondocks…I find there’s always something interesting in these woods and creeks, and there’s a sort of charm in the quiet green valleys around here.  And no choking forest fires!


Part of the new economy. Microbreweries are popping up everywhere around here.  Hops (used as a preservative and flavoring in beer) have been grown in NY since the early 1600’s, and Upstate dominated the market in the 1800’s. The large-scale production is now in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, but small-scale growers are beginning to be a familiar sight.


Let’s go back up to the highest part of my county.

I’ve walked many times along the Hector Backbone, the ridge running between the longest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca.  Part of the ridge is within the Finger Lakes Forest – a mixture of pastures, 2nd-growth woods, and pine or oak plantations,  16,000 acres managed by the USDA.  The remnants of the original hemlock woods, clinging to the ravines, are beautiful, but the pine plantations aren’t looking that great, chewed up by beetles and wind storms.  The foresters are now planting red oaks instead.

There used to be a hundred small farms along here.  A lot of the little hill farms were already eroded, marginal, or abandoned, before the Depression finished them off.  On your walk, if you see a half-dozen ancient sugar maples in a row, you’ll inevitably find an old stone foundation nearby.  The houses and barns are long-gone, but even after eighty years or more, I’m still tripping over rusty old buckets and scraps of iron and wire, hidden under the leaves and humus.  Stone walls, painstakingly stacked by immigrants and Civil War vets, that used to define fields and pastures, still run straight as an arrow through the forests.



I started writing this at the height of summer, and now it’s fall.

Like most of my high school classmates, I’ve found a job out-of-state, and moved away.



And believe it or not, I’m gonna miss this place.



















Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Waterloo

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Fall of 2018


45 thoughts on “Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Fall of 2018

  1. The waterfalls and autumn colours are amazing! Shame about the trash. If only the big city people producing all the waste were aware of how much it all adds up to and where its going but most of them are certain to be blissfully oblivious to that sort of detail!

    • New York City used to load it onto barges, and drop it into the ocean. We are now recycling most of the aluminum, I think it’s plastic that’s the next thing to tackle. Thanks for your comment, I’m enjoying your photos, too, and enjoying learning a bit about NZ. 🙂

  2. Despite everything, it looks beautiful. I love mountains, and often wish i was out in Nepal or somewhere similar instead of where I live, but I’ve realised by now that the scenery I have around me (if I make the effort to get out there) is also lovely in its own way.

  3. Ah, you made me homesick for my youth when I spent a lot of time upstate!! A magical place I will always remember. Perhaps one day I’ll get a chance to return, and get myself happily ‘lost’ in the woods once again!

  4. So this is a post that you nursed for a quarter of a year. What made you keep adding to it rather than releasing it at some intermediate stage?

    Did you know that boondocks is one of the very few words that English has borrowed from Tagalog, a language of the Philippines?

    We drove on the Taconic Parkway in June, at about the latitude of Poughkeepsie.

    After going through your post in the conventional direction, I read back through the sections in reverse. That must be why, after the part about Seneca Meadows and its deodorant spray, I read the former governor’s name as Eliot Spritzer. And now I’m reminded of the old seltzer bottles we used to have in New York City and vicinity.

    • I’d been re-writing some travel pieces, about a couple of places in Chile, and set this aside, and got busy with the move and new job, etc.
      Spritzer, I mean, Spitzer, was an outstanding attorney general for the state, and would have been an excellent governor, I think, but his personal foibles caught up to him.
      My father had told me about boondocks, and its connection to Philippines, as one of the words we’ve picked up in wartime, like flak, G. I., etc. and some ruder words too!
      My mother’s family had those seltzer bottles – – and she has six bro.s & sisters, when they were kids, they used them in spray-gun wars when their parents weren’t around. 🙂

  5. pinklightsabre says:

    What a lovely ode to your state, Robert! The passion and love come through. The goji berries aren’t all they’re cracked up to be out here, either…

  6. It sounds idyllic to me, and my annual earnings would fit right it. It baffles me how small communities can’t stay knit. Why, I wonder, do simple things like a grocery store, a barber, a diner, disappear? I was depressed to learn that the farmer’s co-op failed. That always seemed to me such a hopeful, elegant idea.
    We have a big landfill, too. We call it Mt. Dumpmore and it also provides the only topography in the area. Complete with the flowery smells…

    • I think WalMart, Home Depot, etc. are part of the problem for small towns – the big box places pushed out some of the grocers, hardware stores, etc. Waterloo is actually the biggest town in the county (5,000) and still has some neighborhood markets, barbers, diners, etc. And the grocery store in Geneva, (Wegman’s, based in Rochester), where I worked a couple of years in high school, has fanatic fans, and they’re actually expanding into other states. And the winery tourists are definitely supporting a lot more eating places and craft shops, etc. and musicians.

  7. Oh wow, Rob – this is fantastic! I’m not surprised you’ll miss it. (Hopefully you’ll return, though, if only from time to time?)

    I’m going to have to return, too – to your post to read some more when my brain’s a bit more awake. In the meantime, the shots with the trees in their autumn (Fall) glory, the waterfalls and that second, black and white, photo of the tree, are just stunning. (The tree contains dancers – can you see them?)

    • Thanks so much, Val, I’m so glad you like the photos. And thank you also, for the dancers! I’d seen this as a frozen fire, but I do see some dancing figures in it, that’s way more cool. 🙂

  8. Awesome photos, Robert Parker. Looking forward to seeing what you post from Wisconsin, and the stories you will tell.

    “I am prone to exaggeration” cracked me up … also made me wonder if that Radio Flyer was actually in the woods, or you dragged it there and staged it for the photo … just kidding…. : )

    • Thanks Dale that’s so nice. That Little red wagon has been there for at least three years, at least 3 miles into the woods. You can’t tell from my photo, but the rear wheels are completely broken off

  9. There’s a certain irony to the story of your broken down, eroded, tired, dumped upon, barely scraping by region – accompanied by drop-dead gorgeous photos. Guess those decaying carcasses aren’t so bad after all! Nice piece. (And enjoy your new digs.)

    • Thank you, Dave, appreciate it. Yeah, I was conscious of the irony, this blog has always been about what I love about Upstate, and anyway, I’m not often into the rusted-post-industrial-decay, although that stuff’s certainly around the area. That old saw “you can’t eat scenery” is only half true, since there’s good business in tourists, but most of the wineries, etc. aren’t owned by locals, and not sure how much of the money sticks locally. I’ve thought about posting one of the symptomatic images of the rural areas in my region: a once-beautiful Greek Revival, cobblestone, or brick Victorian house, left to ruin, with the builders’ descendants living in a hand-me-down trailer round back. I guess that would make for interesting photos, but I don’t take them.
      But I really think the “locavore” movement, including cheese-making, and organic produce, and the cideries, etc. (and those crazy folks into microbreweries 🙂 ) are being a real boost and creating jobs.

    • I just remembered that you’re originally a Minnesotan. I’m going to look around WI for now, and then in spring, maybe check out Minneapolis, etc. and eventually, the Boundary Waters canoe area.

      • Strangely enough I never made it to the Boundary Waters. I left Minnesota not long after becoming an adult, and the folks never went when I was a kid. If you do go to Boundary Waters, bring plenty of bug spray. (They build the canoes from the hollowed out proboscis of the mosquitoes.) I can recommend Gooseberry Falls on the north shore of Lake Superior, or the North Shore in general.

  10. Congratulations Robert, you have exceeded your own high standards with this superb collection of beautiful photographs. No wonder you are going to miss this place! I look forward to discovering your new destination and all it has to offer you. Best wishes!

  11. These photos are wonderful — all of them. They seem especially vibrant and interesting.

    There was something about this post I couldn’t quite put my finger on, so I kept coming back to it and wandering around. Then, I got it — the feeling that kept cropping up was a kind of nostalgia. Your post gave me the feeling I’ve gotten every time I’ve moved — that last walk through the empty apartment, or down a familiar street I know I’ll never walk again. It was as though you were taking a last walk through these beautiful places — even though there’s little doubt you’ll be back.

    I think it’s the kind of experience that “bittersweet” was invented for — in fact, that may be why the plant called bittersweet got its name. It’s an autumn plant, and when it takes on its colors, you know it’s time to close the door on summer.

    Anyway: on to new and equally enjoyable things! Here’s to 15% grades and no Potemkin villages. I can’t wait to see what new treasures you find in your new territory. Just don’t criticize their beer or cheese and you ought to be fine.

    • Thank you, Linda, I always enjoy reading your comments. They’ve got some very good beer here, and I like the fried cheese curds. I keep driving by a big sign for Leinenkugel Brewery along Route 43. I’m looking forward to going up the shore of Lake Michigan, lots of places to check out. I’ve been to Lake Ontario many times, but Rochester was never a port, even in the old days (it was all about mills using the waterpower from the Genesee River falls) so it’s interesting to be in a functioning port. Someone already told me, that they call the big lake freighters “boats” even though they’re pretty good-sized ships. The lighthouse has a map showing all the shipwrecks, the Great Lakes have had 1,000’s, and Michigan the most. I’ll be down there by the lighthouse the first big storm that comes in.

  12. We (my guy and I) really enjoyed this read – and the excellent images! He lived up there for quite a while, before I knew him, and (as I know I’ve said before), I grew up in Syracuse. Years later, my best friend lived in Morrisville, then Skaneateles. (Skinnyatlast, was what we called it in the 50’s). So I maintained regional ties, in a way. So much of what you say here is familiar, and so many of your clever asides cracked me up. You’re a great writer and entertainer. Positioning a drop-dead gorgeous photos right after a few very depressing facts is brilliant. (You know, Staten Island too all that s**t for years, and turned it into a park).
    I’m looking forward to the Chile posts, and to all that emerges from your Wisconsin explorations. Thank you for this too; it means a lot to another upstater (in spite of all the years spent in the city, and please forgive me the dramatic vistas of my current address but know that I indulge in not one gogi berry, don’t wear Oakley’s or GoPro’s, and drive a 2002 Saturn).

    • Thanks so much, Lynn, I appreciate the kind comments a lot, and especially coming from you. Yeah, my comments about the dramatic vistas are just pure envy 🙂 I love seeing these wonderful photos of mountains, oceans, and big sky country.
      P.S. My dad had a Saturn, and loved it, and only gave it up after 238,000 miles, without having to rebuild the engine or clutch. I do remember, at the end, it had a little trouble on the hills south of Syracuse, coming home from Beak & Skiff apple orchard – -he had to wait for a tail wind and tack back and forth.

      • 238,000, wow – mine has just over half that. Funny story about the hills. Actually mine is a bit ponderous in the get-up-and-go department. I had an opposite sort of car, a BMW 3 series coupe, 2001 I think – a little thing that handled like a dream, how I loved driving it, especially on hilly, upstate roads. But OMG the repair bills! Unreal.

  13. Wow! A beautiful collection of images and commentary Robert. The water scenes and the Autumn trees are spectacular! It would be nice if you added a brief caption below each photo so folks can refer to a specific one to comment on. I usually number mine IM-1, IM-2 etc and add a caption if I can think of one.

    • Thank you, and I’m very glad to hear this prompted nice memories. I grew up in Waterloo, and last fall, moved to Milwaukee. There are a lot of places around the Finger Lakes that I’d still like to write about.
      Your last name is familiar to me – a building and a research vessel at the college in Geneva.
      I enjoyed your writing about Turner. There was an exhibition at the Peabody museum in Salem MA a few years ago, and it was a wonderful day.

    • I agree, but I think the success of the wineries, more than a hundred of them at this point, has been drawing more attention to the area. And despite the winters, I read an article somewhere, praising Geneva as a great spot for retirees. When they finally retired, my mother’s parents left NYC, moved there, and loved it.

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