Some people say “husks” for the outer layer, but I was struck by how these looked like ships, sailing across the moss.
So it had to be “hulls.”
I’m now on the lookout for leaves that look like barques.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
There is a Presque Isle on the northern border of Wisconsin, and another in Maine.
The pictures here are of a third place with the same name, and the only one I’ve visited – – in Lake Erie, west of Erie, Pennsylvania.
The name was popular with French explorers, because Presqu’île means “Almost an Island” – – this is actually a long, sandbar peninsula.
Kind of like the character called Nearly Headless Nick, in the Harry Potter stories. (More formally, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, played by John Cleese in the movies.)
Both Presque and Nick kind of drift along – Nick, because he’s a ghost, who died after a botched beheading, hence the “nearly,” and the peninsula, slowly moving eastward, as the sand is redistributed by the lake.
An old iron bridge, closed to cars for many years, takes hikers over the Seneca River, to Howland Island, a few miles north of Port Byron, NY. About halfway between Rochester and Syracuse.
The island is a state “wildlife management” area, 3,500 acres, near the better-known Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 10,000 acres, run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Like so many words connected with the federal government, “refuge” is used ironically, since they allow hunting and trapping.
“Wildlife management” seems more honest, with its suggestion of headhunters, cutthroat competition, and getting the ax. Or maybe, like, letting the animals run things, which seems to be the current political trend. Howland is hunting land, and not a park, but most of the year, it’s a great place to just walk and bird watch. The rifle & shotgun “downsizing” season for deer would be the exception, and in late November/early December, you don’t wanna go near the hunting areas.
Waterfowl season, it’s pretty safe, just stay away from the ponds, wear orange, and I always remove the plumes from my Tyrolean hat.
Howland is just barely an island, almost a peninsula most of the year. The channel on the longest, northwest side is narrow in some places, hardly more than a big ditch, except during the spring floods. But the river along the south shore is pretty broad and impressive.
The Seneca River begins in Geneva, as the overflow from Seneca Lake, and then wanders more-or-less northeast, picking up water from a number of creeks, and most of the Finger Lakes. North of Syracuse, it helps to form the Oswego River, which empties into Lake Ontario. It was a trading route for the Iroquois, and then for the colonial fur trade, and for almost two hundred years, sections have been dredged and “canalized” as part of the Erie Canal system.
So today, you can cast off your boat from, say, Watkins Glen, on the southern end of Seneca Lake (42° N), only thirty miles north of the Pennsylvania line, and sail, by way of canals, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, all the way to the North Atlantic, at Nova Scotia or Newfoundland (49° N).
(Or you could reach the Atlantic by way of the Mohawk River, and then south on the Hudson River to New York City.)
(Or, if it’s a really small, inflatable boat, you could put it in a duffle bag, go to the Trailways station in Elmira, take a bus to Patchogue, then take the ferry out to Fire Island, and row into the Atlantic from the beach.)
(And the buses do have WiFi now, and I’m guessing the St. Lawrence River doesn’t, unless you’re really close to Montréal.)
(If you do choose that St. Lawrence route, remember, when asking for the WiFi password as you float past Montréal or Québec, they pronounce it “le wee fee.”)
(I’m not trying to tell you which is the best route, you know, but if you did take the bus to Patchogue, you could stop by Flo’s Luncheonette, and have waffles, before you get back in the boat.)
(But for heaven’s sake, wait half an hour, after the waffles, before you go onto the ocean.)
Waffles, yeah. I have not had waffles since I moved to Milwaukee. It is getting cold, and time for waffle long johns, and for waffles. Where was I?
I’ve walked around the island many times, and am often struck by the relative scarcity of game. I’ve don’t recall ever seeing any grouse, pheasants, or rabbits, or even their tracks. Despite the hickory trees, even squirrels make themselves scarce. A few whitetails, groundhogs, and ducks, but there are way more deer, geese, and turkeys in the surrounding farms, than that woods and ponds here. So maybe word gets around, and the animals actually avoid a designated hunting zone?
Some acreage is leased for growing soybeans, but no one lives on the island anymore. Woods, fields, sandy hillocks, ponds and marshes. Settlers in the early 1800’s spent a lot of time draining the swampy areas, and then in the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corp reversed course, and spent a lot of time creating ponds and marshes, for waterfowl. The CCC barracks later housed POWs from Rommel’s Afrika Korps, who worked as farm labor ($.80/day), and in a nearby Procini & Rossi pasta factory. (Apparently, things worked out peaceably – I’ve never read of any escapes, or trouble of any kind. Although, being German, they insisted on straightening the elbow macaroni.)
On a walk in October, it seemed surprising to find dozens of orange butterflies, fluttering around with the falling leaves, almost like they were trying to blend in. ¿I think they were Question Mark Butterflies? (which seem to have a varied appearance, depending on which book or website you’re looking at), but please let me know if that guess is wrong.
The very green frog, is named appropriately – Northern Green Frog. He blew a lot of money on that camouflage outfit, feeling pretty fly, as frogs said back in the ’90’s, but now he finds he’s no longer blending in, as the leaves and ferns turn brown. You know the song sung by Kermit on the Muppets, right? I had to look up the writer, Joe Raposo, and I had no idea it was covered by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Van Morrison, Shirley Horn, Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Della Reese, Ray Charles, etc.
It’s not that easy bein’ green
Having to spend each day
The color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer
Bein’ red or yellow or gold…
Looking at that frog reminds me. Did you know our military now has at least ten types of camouflage, for different situations? The Navy has a uniform for the desert, which is a bit mystifying, unless your ship was going really, really fast when it hit land. Or maybe, once in a while, the sailors just like to get as far away from water as they can? And according to the Washington Post, the Navy wanted to distinguish their uniforms from the Marines’, so their desert pattern is green.
Maybe “sand” was too obvious? I guess if the Navy guys are green, and sticking out like a sore thumb, they could hunker down, and pretend they’re frogs? Just abnormally large, Northern Green Frogs, who tragically, have become lost in the desert. Technically, that kind of camo’s called “mimesis,” trying to look like something else, rather than “crypsis,” avoiding detection.
Well, I had been feeling kinda good about this post, actually staying focused & on track, but now somehow we’ve wandered into a discussion of Muppets and camouflage? I suddenly thought, wasn’t the inventor of waffle irons named Howland? That would be a nice coincidence and a good wrap-up. But I was thinking of Elias Howe, and it was a sewing machine. But I’m sure some people are aware of another Howland Island, a tiny coral lump somewhere in the Pacific, where Amelia Earhart was headed, when she disappeared, kind of like the thread of this story. The airstrip there was another New Deal project, done about the same time they were constructing the ponds on our local island.
The Pacific’s Howland Island, now managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is one of only ten remaining territories still claimed by our country, under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. That law is still on the books, allowing us, the citizens of the U.S.A., to take possession of any unclaimed islands, as long as they (the islands) have a really big pile of bird excrement. No kidding. And on that note, I’m gonna go get some waffles.
Washington Post May 8, 2013 “U.S. Military has 10 Kinds of Camouflage”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
You know when you’ve reached the point of post-Thanksgiving saturation.
Walking near a beaver pond, and seeing turkey noodle soup.
And what looks like one stray cranberry.