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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Recently I’ve been reading about the Great Lakes, and will be putting up a couple posts about them.

And today, my folks sent these pictures, from the shore of Lake Ontario.

A windstorm in February had gusts of 69 mph, stacking the ice fifteen feet high on the beach, and coating the trees along the shore with ice.

After the beautiful, delicate formations on the streams in the Finger Lakes, this ice has a strange cast to it, and looks decidedly less friendly!

 

 

 

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2   Dinosaur boneyard

 

 

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Great Lakes, NY, Ontario, snow, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, Uncategorized, United States, Upstate New York, Winter

Lake Ontario. March. Not-so-nice-ice.

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They’re predicting -6° F. by next weekend.

But winter is definitely showing signs of cracking.

The change has begun!

Sure, there’s an icy draft when you open the door, but we’re on the threshold of the next season.

 

 

Which is “Mud.”

But also, Puddles.

 

 

As we get a few thaws, I’ve been thinking about all these puddles.  And dictionaries.

It occurred to me,  that “puddle” was one of those words I’d never actually looked up.  You just seemed to know what it was, at a very early age, and know instinctually that it was something to jump into, no matter what the grown-ups said, or whether or not you were wearing boots, or were on your way to visit someone, whose house had white wool carpets.

My parents always encouraged us to look up words, and when we were in grade school, plunked a Webster’s down in the middle of the kitchen table.  And looking up this word, reminded me of grade school, homework, and how I dreaded “Oral Presentation Day.”

My teachers were all great – –  encouraging, prompting, and doing their best to make it all fun and rewarding.  But some days, despite their best efforts, the oral presentations were awful, seemingly endless, and it was like having cheerleaders during root canal surgery.  When a kid started off with a dictionary definition, it generally meant you were in for torture.

A kid named Pete usually slogged through an endless recitation about Randy Johnson’s Power Pitching:

“Webster’s defines “hero” as one who shows great courage, and my hero is Randy The Big Unit Johnson…”  

Well kid, you’re pretty brave yourself, reading this out loud for the third year in a row, and Webster’s defines “agony” as listening to a book report, for the third time, on Randy Johnson’s Power Pitching, with a detailed play-by-play of every no-hitter he ever pitched.

 

 

Puddle

noun “A very small pool of usually dirty or muddy water.”

Transitive verb “to make muddy or turbid:  MUDDLE.”

Doesn’t those definitions just sound exactly like something your great-aunt would say?   The prissy disapproving tone just seeps through, loud & clear.

And then you have to go look up turbid” since I thought that was a kind of fish, from Iceland, that my grandmother used to make, when she was on one of those “eating healthy” kicks we all dreaded.   (Turns out, it was turbot, “Webster’s:  a kind of bug-eyed flatfish, best left on the ocean bottom, and not something to bake into fishy jerky, and make kids eat, when they did do their book report, and weren’t the one who left muddy footprints on the kitchen floor.”)

“Muddle” was already familiar, since “muddled” was one of the top ten criticisms I always got on my essays.   Come to think of it, in college, I also got “turbid” a few times.

 

 

Wikipedia has “a small accumulation of liquid…pooling in a depression…”

OK, you see what I mean?  Doesn’t “pooling in a depression” sound like sad grade-schoolers, slogging slowly toward their doom, assembling in a damp pool of misery for oral presentation day??  Puddles are such fun, sure they’re pools of a sort, but there’s nothing depressing about them, while this whole dictionary thing was a very unpleasant experience, lots of horrible memories, bad fish, red ink, talking in public.

Better to reflect upon puddles, and, however muddy, how much undiluted fun they are.  And I think I can assert, after in-depth experimentation, without fear of contradiction, that lightly iced puddles are the best for stepping on.  Like shattering glass windows without losing your allowance.  The whole puddle experience is kind of great.

There, The End.  I’m grading this one “Clear As Mud, See Me After Class.”

Finger Lakes, FLX, Nature, NY, snow, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Winter

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. February. Frozen Puddles.

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Well, are we tiring of ice photos, ready to turn a cold shoulder?

I continue to be distracted by bright shiny objects, including ice.  I saw this little waterfall on a very icy day, and managed to take this picture by the skin of my teeth.  Or, to be more scientifically accurate, after sliding down a shale bank to the creek, there was some missing skin from another part of my anatomy.

I’ve been looking through the files, and there must be a couple thousand winter photos on my computer.  If life gives you lemons… well it’s too cold for lemonade, but we could stir up a little antifreeze – – if you’re going to the store for lemons, please pick up some more bourbon and a little Cointreau – – we’ll slap a few Fats Waller records on the Victrola and drink Sidecars until spring gets here.

 

 

 

I’m adding this third picture to the post, because I noticed something – – do you see the foreign object? Even if I’d spotted it at the time, there was no way to get across and nab it. I do not like litterbugs.

 

Clean Waters, Finger Lakes, FLX, Frostbite, Nature, NY, snow, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. February. A Small Falls on Glen Creek.

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Well, it seems like the weather in Milwaukee has been a tad chilly lately.

I’ve always been mildly interested in the occasional news item about “cryonics,” preserving people in a deep freeze.  But I wasn’t planning on participating, just yet, which I nearly did, digging my car out of the polar vortex.

But warmer weather is on the way, and I’ve been looking forward to one of the great pleasures of walking in the winter – – admiring the countless shapes and shades of ice.

 

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Some days, it’s as if an artistic glass-maker had set up an outdoor gallery.

 

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As the weather changes, the artworks change, too.

 

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Growing, adding layers, shrinking…and for the final act, dissolving.

 

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Imagine some museum curator, carefully mounting a show, only to find that the artworks, like leprechaun gold, had dissolved away in the morning light.

Or that the artists had crept back into the galleries, to recast and refashion their artworks, with some torchwork or extra crystals, adding brushstrokes, melting their statues, or erasing figures from their paintings.

 

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We’ve all seen artworks that change over time, of course, or disappear.

 

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For people in more temperate climates, their first experiences of transitory art probably involved sand, not ice.  Sand castles at the beach – a great way to learn how impermanent our creations are.  “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and the tide came in, and the Frisbee players trod upon it, and beat upon that house; and it fell…”

 

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You can sometimes stop by the college library in Geneva, NY, and watch a Tibetan Lama and his class creating a sand mandala.  We’ve probably all done simple sand paintings and mosaics in school, but the mandala is huge and much more elaborate, and takes weeks to complete.  When the class was gone, you can examine it closely – and concentrate on not sneezing.

And when this colorful and complex creation is complete…it is liquidated.  The monk sweeps it into jars, and pours the sand into the lake.

 

 

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The ice and snow sculptures around northern cities, of course, aren’t permanent.  Milwaukee has signs posted, warning that in preparation for the 4th of July festivities, any un-melted snowmen will be cleared from public areas. Cavemen and woolly mammoths, relics from an ice age that must have seemed eternal to our Cro-Magnon ancestors, are emerging from the melting glaciers, and ancient microbes wake up and resume their decomposition chores, as if they’d just taken a winter’s nap.

Even metal statues aren’t really frozen in time.  Bronzed faces in the park turn green with verdigris, and white with pigeon droppings – that’s the pensioners on their bench, but it happens to statues, too.  Feet of clay are revealed, shiny reputations corrode, and the statues are disappeared.

 

 

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But the idea of an art gallery that evolves over time, could be kind of fun.

 

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Slender icicles grow into huge stalactites, and Giacometti statues turn Rubenesque.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mona Lisa is intrigued by a frozen-faced, enigmatic pair, and visits the frost-bitten folks in “American Gothic.”

 

This year, I want to learn a bit about editing and altering pictures in Photoshop and Lightroom.  I’ve only invested a few hours so far, and in my easily-distracted way,  have just played with the cheap-tricks-and-shiny-objects, like the funhouse reflections from a frozen window.  Did you notice?  the folks in Grant Wood’s painting are edited to be a bit less grim, less icy-looking, and Lisa is a bit sadder and thinner.  The ease with which you can edit and manipulate images sends a chill down your spine.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes the ice, and digital editing, create fantastic shapes, or transmogrifies ordinary objects into something magical…and sometimes, it’s just ice, and meretricious trickery.  Lumps of gray, and grotesque distortions from freezing & thawing – – like the distorted clods of propaganda bombarding us online, or the swollen factoids and skewed images on the news, showing no visible seams, but plenty of bias.

 

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Some days I just want to go out with a camera, and see what shots I can get, straight out of the box, freeze-frame.  And some days, digital editing is fascinating, and fun, and might even be a useful job skill sometime.

But often, the constant refashioning, remodeling, fiddling of images gets on the nerves.  So many photos look too jazzed, and our ideal of human beauty becomes freeze-dried, as every portrait is botoxed & photoshopped into an icy, blank flawlessness.  So…I blow hot and cold on this, and I guess I’ll do both, just work on taking decent photos, maybe tackle RAW format, and think of Photoshop, etc. as a separate hobby.  Some of the shots on today’s post were taken with an agèd iPhone, and it’s interesting to see what you can get with a tiny lens.

 

 

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It’s not a winter scene, but I’m thinking about an exhibition I saw recently — seven versions of the same scene, by the same artist.  Monet stood on a balcony at the Savoy Hotel, peering through the smog day after day, until he’d painted “Waterloo Bridge” over forty times.

Looking at the paintings, almost immediately, you get past their familiarity (a false sense of bland prettiness, after years of seeing them on posters & greeting cards, umbrellas & iPad cases), you realize what amazing and complex works they are.

 

 

Streams, rivers, and bridges, of course, are symbols of change and transition.  And Monet was manipulating people’s visual systems, in his wonderful way, re-working and layering colors, over and over, while keeping an impression of spontaneity.  Some paintings change, as you continue to look at them.

 

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But as far as I know, Monet never ducked into a gallery, armed with a hairdryer, to shrink his canvases, or make the paint melt into something Dalí-esque.

 

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The Persistence of Memory. MOMA

Another painting that to me, refers to change – – iconic, unforgettable, and one of my favorites – – Dalí’s “Persistence of Memory,” with its melting clocks.  It reminds me of times when I return somewhere, and am told, nothing’s changed, nothing has been altered.  But the place is so different than in my memory, that the details seem to have melted and run.

 

 

 

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And we know, that even in the seemingly frozen world of an art museum, those UV-screened, climate-controlled sanctums, things are happening beneath the surface of the oil paintings.  Even when the temperature and humidity levels are almost constant, the fibers of the canvas expand and contract, sawing against each other.  No matter how much we try to freeze time, and preserve the paintings, there are proteins bonding, and chemical reactions continuing.

 

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Beneath the skin, all of us keep changing.  Stillness and lack of reaction, can be an active statement, indicating a lack of interest, or giving someone the Big Freeze, or just inner tranquility.  But when people sit there expressionless, a lot of the time, we know, or sense, there’s movement under the skin.   They could be unmoving, and appear unmoveable, and all the time, they’re silently and happily humming a tune in their head.

 

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Just like walking alongside an iced-over, snow-covered stream, in the depth of winter, and it’s a picture of stillness.  But there’s that subtle, wonderful musical sound from the stream flowing underneath, almost like underwater chimes.

 

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Walking over a frozen pond, it will look solid and static, but by early March, you usually hear grinding noises far beneath you.    I’ve stood next to someone, who’s still as a statue, and then become aware somehow of their inner tension and friction, and even noises under the frozen face, like ice breaking up.  (They might be grinding their teeth in frustration, or, as in my case, trying to do sums in their head.)

 

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We’re Americans, and therefore, we love Change.  Most of us love to travel, see new sights, try new foods, hear new bands, watch new movies.  But, if you love history, you also enjoy listening to music repeatedly,and re-watching movies, to discover nuances and feelings, that escaped you, the first time around.

And sometimes, you experience a warmth when revisiting places, and finding them unchanged.

 

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There’s the pleasure of the new (novelty, stimulation, sometimes the humor in the unexpected).  We enjoy going to see new works of art, and new shows, but  for me, there’s an equally keen pleasure in returning to a place, that I’ve been many times before, and seeing things I’ve seen many times before.  I walk down a familiar street, looking forward to seeing a beautiful old oak, a fountain, or a handsome building that’s survived the years.  Re-watching Bogart or Hepburn movies.  Or spending a day wandering through an art museum, especially when it’s twenty below outside, to look at paintings you’ve seen many times, without growing one bit bored.

 

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It’s one of the ways that you know it’s the good stuff – – you enjoy experiencing it over and over.   And, I think, there’s also the separate pleasure, and relief, of returning to see something you like, and finding it, like a friend, unchanged, not looking a day older.

 

 

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It’s not exactly exciting, but there’s a pleasant satisfaction in walking by the dioramas in old museums, often relegated to some dusty, dimly-lit back corridors.  During a visit home in December, I went to a couple of museums that I’ve visited since I was a kid. I enjoyed the new exhibitions, fresh is nice, but also enjoyed seeing the old stuff, still frozen in time.

 

 

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OK, we’re on thin ice, skating awfully close to a digression, so I’ll end it here, on a note of warm nostalgia!

 

 

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Historical Footnote

Sometimes, of course, ice isn’t fun, and is kind of treacherous.  Glittering snow crystals descend on us in a fantastical, dreamlike shower, too delicate to be real…and overnight, all that fairy stuff coalesces into ugly gray stumbling blocks, or a lethal concrete of black ice on the roadway, a slippery slope to the body shops and chiropractors.  The ice can destroy roads, and shatter rocks – –  I’ve read that many times, about ice cracking the hardest stone.

When I was in grade school, there was a great old history book, with pictures of Hannibal and a whole  army of elephants, trying get through the Alps, to attack Italy.  Babar-ians sacking Rome, I gathered.

I had no idea what it was all about, or how the Romans had ticked off the elephants.  I guessed it was a lack of peanuts at the Circus Maximus, or maybe something to do with the hippodromes.

 

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But the book mentioned the Carthaginian soldiers using vinegar, not ice, to split the giant boulders blocking a path through the mountains.

I didn’t understand that part, either.

I asked my father, who explained that, like so many things in the old days, vinegar was explosive back then.  The Colosseum is in ruins, because someone dropped a Caesar salad, and it went off.

I’d learned by the age of six to ignore my father.  Thinking about it, I guessed that they’d poured liquid into the cracks, and waited for it to freeze, using ice to split the rocks.  But I looked it up, and apparently, ancient people used heat up the biggest boulders with wood fires, and then pour vinegar into the cracks, to make it shatter.  I’m still not clear on why it has to be vinegar, and not, say, elephant pee, since you had all those elephants, but I’m no engineer.

 

I’m very sorry not to have an attribution for this painting, which I really like. Pretty sure it’s Amsterdam mid-1600’s, when the “Little Ice Age” kicked in again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, Frostbite, hiking, Nature, snow, Sweaters, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Winter

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Watkins Glen, December.

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1 Looking down at a stone bridge in Watkins Glen, NY.

 

Well, ’tis the season for ancient airs and dances.

I was breathing the air of a forest, full of hemlock, cedar, and oak, and listening to alternative/indie bands from long, long-ago.  The 1980’s – -90’s, mostly British and American.  Especially Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Yo La Tengo.

When I tried to read about the bands, I kept finding that back in the day, critics often lumped them together as “shoegaze.”

We all like shortcuts and labels – – humans seem to be programmed to sort & categorize.  But I really don’t get the usefulness of this “shoegazing” label, because the music is so varied – – sometimes dreamy electronica, or neo-psychedelic, sometimes kind of punk or metal-sounding.   Maybe “shoegaze” was about critics concerned with clever-sounding snarkiness, instead of any real appreciation or insight.  Apparently bands got tagged this way, because they’d perform standing still, and literally looking down at their feet.  From the feel of the music, and videos, some of the musicians I guess were maybe introspective, lost in a groove, and concentrating on their sound.  (I also read that they were using a lot of foot-operated effects pedals, to create a distorted sound.)

Anyway, the bands achieved some very cool music.

 

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So…so what?  what brought this to mind?  you ask, perhaps in a puzzled, somewhat irritated manner.

These photos today are shoegazing shots.  They were all taken looking downward.

(Do you still hear the expression “I’m down with that,” where you live?   I looked it up, thinking it had a ’60’s or ’70’s vibe, but found it goes all the way back to the 1930’s!?)

 

So the album is downcast, but not depressing – – Watkins Glen, a park in the Finger Lakes, is beautiful in the fall and winter.  Once cold weather begins, the stone pathway and stairs in the Glen are closed, so you can only walk around the top perimeter, looking down into the little gorge and the stream, and even then, you need to watch your step, the trails are often pretty icy.

You’ll find tons of great photos online – – during the summer, it’s probably photographed millions of times.  I’ve walked through there many times during the summer, but always with out-of-town visitors, and haven’t ever tried to photograph the twenty-or-so falls in “good” weather!

But during the park’s “downtime,” it’s pretty interesting, in it’s own way.

 

 

 

 

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Watkins Glen is a small village at the southern end of Seneca Lake.

NASCAR & Trans-Am, etc. fans recognize the name, because they’ve been racing cars there since 1948.   The races used local streets and roads at first, until they ran over a kid, and then built a track.  There’s also boat races on the lake.

 

Ok, you have to look up once in a while. This was a cellphone snap during the summer, and I like the way the overexposed water looks like a streak of light.

 

 

Glen Creek runs down from the hills into the village, dropping about four hundred feet over a two mile distance.  The original settlers, in the 1790’s, just saw that as water power, for grist and sawmills, etc.  But on the 4th of July 1863, the day after the Battle of Gettysburg, the Glen was opened as a tourist attraction, and it’s been an attraction every since.  Now a state park.

 

I’ve never visited the racetrack, but I’ve walked in the park many times, and never get tired of it, in any season.  If you visit, definitely bring some headphones.  “Water Music” to me means Handel, maybe Debussy, Ravel, but Cocteau Twins would also be a perfect soundtrack.

 

 

 

Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, Nature, NY, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, United States, Upstate New York, Winter

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Watkins Glen. November, mostly.

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In autumn, a single maple tree can carpet an acre. So then you can cut a rug, and dance in the leaves.

 

 

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4.  A lot of different hues in the bricked-up window of an old mill.

 

 

5.  A marshy area was saturated with leaves.

 

 

6.  Oak leaves swirl around, hundreds of feet in the air, almost like they’re trying to follow that hawk.

 

 

7.  The holes in this oak leaf are pretty small, apparently the bugs only took a few bites before buzzing off.  The high tannin content in oaks, redwoods, etc. provides some level of protection, from bugs, bacteria, and fungi, but of course, we happily ingest small amounts of tannin every day, in coffee, tea, chocolate, berries, etc.  And I prefer to use witch hazel solution, another source of tannin,  instead of aftershave.  I read recently, that scientists have created some high-tannin tree hybrids, to discourage beavers from chomping them down.

 

 

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9.   Skeleton of an 1840 “pony truss” bridge, which once led to a now-vanished hamlet

 

 

10.  The bridge now serves as a trellis for wild grapes.

 

 

11.  The bridge during summertime

 

 

12.  Tentative identification: Black Rat Snake. Kind of a terrible name, I think it’s actually pretty handsome. My only complaint, is that it can climb trees, and that sort of behavior by snakes should be discouraged.

 

 

 

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14   Remnants of an old lock and dam

 

Keuka Lake just doesn’t fit in with the other Finger Lakes.

It’s absolutely lovely, but it only resembles a finger, if you got careless using a table saw.  It’s really shaped more like a crude letter “Y,”  if you drew it in the dirt, with a stick, blindfolded, liquored up & left-handed.   Go ahead try it, we’ll wait.

map is courtesy of the NYS DEC

 

Anyway, to me it looks more like a forked branch, and in fact, the hamlet on the northwest branch, is called Branchport.

At the top of the other, northeast branch, there is a creek which flows from the lake, through the village of Penn Yan, heads east, and eventually drains into Seneca Lake.

The village has a fascinating history, and was once home to a Quaker sect called the “Society of Universal Friends”.  Maybe a topic for another article some time.

Today I’ll just mention two things –  where the odd name originated, and a bit of local history.

One – Penn Yan is a contraction of “Pennsylvanians & Yankees,” after the original settlers.

Two – The village kind of relocated, without moving – – in a manner of speaking, it was once in Massachusetts, even though that state is 230 miles away.

It’s located  just west of the 1786 “Preemption Line,” a north-south line bisecting New York, from the Pennsylvania line, to Lake Ontario.  You’ll cross a marker for the line, walking on the trail. 

Land west of the line was claimed by Massachusetts, based on a grant from King Charles I.  After the Revolution, the two states went to court, and it was decided:

  • the land was part of New York
  • but was owned by the Iroquois, and was therefore part of their sovereign territory
  • but Massachusetts possessed a preemptive right of purchase from the Iroquois
  • but Massachusetts sold their interest to private speculators
  • but the speculators went broke
  • but they sold their interest to Robert Morris, one of the Founding Fathers
  • but he sold most of it to a British syndicate
  • but non-citizens couldn’t own land
  • but they found a Scot who became a naturalized citizen, to front for them
  • but then the non-citizen rule was revoked, so a Dutch syndicate could buy land
  • etc.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on…the natives were dispossessed, settlers moved in, Rochester and Buffalo were founded, and eventually, in 1960, the Bills joined the AFL.  That’s as brief as I can make it.

Is that all clear?  Welcome to New York, the State of Confusion!

Anyway, at Keuka Lake, there were settlers from Pennsylvania and New England = Penn Yan.

In an area replete with interesting place names – drawn from Europe, classical Greek and Roman history, Native American sites, and land speculators – this creek we’re going to walk along, was somehow left with the utilitarian and totally un-poetic name of Keuka Lake Outlet.  “Outlet” means a discount factory store, or a place to plug in a lamp, or a method of venting.  This is a waterway desperately in need of a good PR firm.  Brook, stream, bourne, creek (prounounced “crick” by the older folks here) – – any of these are better.  Heck, I’ll take “runnel” over “outlet” any day.

In the 1830’s, the state government constructed the Crooked Lake Canal alongside the creek.   “Crooked Lake” is another name for Keuka, and is not a reference to state officials.  The canal had the distinction of losing money for each & every one of its forty-four years of existence.  It was replaced by the Fall Brook Railroad in the 1870’s, which was in turn washed away by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

 

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A local group restored six miles of the towpath/railroad bed, and created a walking trail, from Penn Yan, on Keuka Lake,  to Dresden, a hamlet on Seneca Lake.

The creek drops 270 feet, from Keuka to Seneca, and in the old days, it powered three dozen mills and little factories, starting in 1790.  Buckwheat, paint, plaster, paper, tanneries, etc. and in more recent times, insecticide.  So, depending on where you were standing, it must have smelled like breakfast cereal, or like paint, or just plain horrible.  Until well into the 20th century, a key component in tanning leather was dog manure.  Where they got it, how it was transported, and what price it fetched on the open air market, we’ll reluctantly leave for another day.

Quickly segueing to hair of the dog, there was also a distillery somewhere along here, which, with our forebears’ customary frugality, included a hog pen.  The hogs consumed the leftover mash from making alcohol, and no doubt contributed to the general eye-stinging atmosphere of the place.

In summary, the 19th century along the stream was a bucolic tiptoe through the daisies.

If you begin your walk in the village of Penn Yan, you’ll pass Birkett Mills, founded in 1796 and still grinding up buckwheat.  If you’ve ever felt nostalgic for the days of Tsarist pogroms and serfdom, and really enjoy chewing for extended periods, the mill is supposed to be the world’s largest supplier of “kasha” (buckwheat groats.)

Most remnants of the 19th c. industries have fallen down, crumbled, and been washed away over the years, but as you walk along the water, through what is now a wooded ravine, you’ll pass a few traces.  Circular stone and brick pits, nearly filled-in with dirt and leaf mold.  A towering brick smokestack, rusted remnants of water turbines, some foundations made of huge stone blocks, and a couple of crumbling concrete buildings from the 20th century.  A triangular chunk of millstone, embedded in a tree’s roots.  The shattered remains of a steam boiler, and a massive iron fly-wheel, were removed a few years ago, and taken to a local steam engine museum.

 

16. A wall from an 1884 mill, that converted straw into paper and cardboard.  During WWII, it was running full-time, making paper to wrap munitions..  Some of the stones may have been re-purposed from the canal locks. This was taken four years ago, and I believe most of this wall is now in the creek. Generally I’m a big advocate for historical conservation and preservation, but somehow in this little valley, it seems just as positive and proper to watch this creek return to its natural state.

 

Even as the industrial relics vanish, there’s sometimes still an old-fashioned feel to the little valley.  Many of the nearby farms are Amish or Old Order Mennonite, and young couples from the farms come to the falls to picnic and court, arriving in horse-drawn buggies.

One of the families, the Hoovers, has a welding/blacksmithing shop, and I’m guessing it was one of their sons, who showed up one day with an all-metal buckboard.  Gleaming steel diamond plate, like they use for factory floors or pickup tool boxes.  Must have weighed a ton, but dazzling, quite a sight.

I’m guessing the church elders found it to be an act of vanity, and made him get rid of it, or perhaps his horse died, dragging it back up the hill, but I never saw it again.

 

Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, History, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Keuka Outlet Trail.

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