Whether it’s Mexico, Chile, northern Africa, the Mideast, India, Australia, etc. there’s constant news of water shortages.
Meanwhile, around the Great Lakes, collectively a fifth of the fresh water for the entire planet, people complain of damage to shoreline properties, from high water levels. Most of the shoreline trail at Sterling has been closed, due to erosion and falling trees.
The Great Lakes Charter & the Great Lakes Compact (agreements between U.S./Canadian states/provinces bordering the lakes) basically prevent the exportation of water outside the drainage basin. Every once in a while, I see an article mentioning the possibility of pipelines to California or the Southwest. These have always remained, well, pipe dreams for now. Ocean-going tanker ships can access the lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and there have already been attempts to set up sales of fresh water to foreign countries. I think such ideas will inevitably arise again with increasing urgency.
In the ’70’s, a local utility company purchased thousands of acres on Lake Ontario, for a nuclear power plant. About sixty miles east of Rochester, and twelve miles west of Oswego. There are already nuclear plants on the lake, near both those cities. When the plans for this plant fell through, part of the land became the Sterling Nature Center, which preserves two miles of Lake Ontario shoreline. It includes woods, a beaver pond, and other wetlands; about nine miles of trails, and is a great place for bird-watchers.
A young beaver paddled around in circles, apparently curious about us.
I was watering a climbing honeysuckle yesterday, didn’t notice this creature at first, and inadvertently rained on its parade.
The damp moth fluttered to the lawn, and I took a snap with my phone.
It dried its wings for a minute in the sun, and flew across the lawn, but couldn’t gain altitude.
A catbird noticed, and swooped down.
And those “false eyespots” worked as advertised!
At the last second, the catbird slammed on the brakes and swerved away.
It then sat on a branch and studied the situation, but before it could dive again, Sarah jumped in front of the moth. She likes catbirds, but told this one off, and suggested it go find another snack, and leave the moth alone. A polyphemus moth has less than a week of adult life, that’s short enough, and the bird can find something less beautiful to munch on.
Polyphemus was a giant cyclops in Greek mythology. When Odysseus’s ship landed on his island, Polyphemus invited the crew to his cavern, with typical Greek hospitality, and mentioned he liked seafood. The Odyssey turned out to be a typical cruise line experience, an epic fail, with rampant gastrointestinal issues, a buffet buffeted by fate – by “seafood,” the cyclops meant seafarers, and he started eating the crew.
I don’t understand naming the moth after him – – the fake eyes are clearly in pairs.
And we clearly see it as a welcome visitor, and not to be eaten.
If you ever find yourself in Wampsville, and run out of things to do, I have a suggestion.
A lot of the state forests are reclaimed farmland, and even after 60 – 90 years, there’s still evidence of houses and barns from the old days.
You might think,
as I did,
that living as we do,
or at least,
lives we can photoshop into something presentable,
and not having the faintest idea where it is,
it’s not likely
you’d ever end up
An old twisted drainpipe, in the corner of my eye, looked for a second like a discarded snakeskin.
But we never really know what twist of fate is in store, or is perhaps back-ordered, just waiting to unload on us, when we take a wrong turn.
Yesterday, I happened upon Wampsville, about seventy miles east of my hometown, on my way to a nearby state forest.
Turns out, it’s a real place, bustling with 534 residents, right on NY Route 5. I’ve never driven too far on that road, because it’s mostly two-lane, slowing down for lots of little villages, and basically parallels the Thruway, which is a heck of of lot faster way to cross the state.
For a 67 mile stretch, including my village, Route 5 is a fellow traveler with U.S. Route 20, and “5 & 20” is a scenic tour of mostly farmland and small-town America. In the days of the Iroquois Confederacy, the route was a path from the Hudson Valley to Lake Erie, and later, it took settlers and soldiers to what was called “The Niagara Frontier” in the early days of this country.
As a boy, in the 1930’s, one of my grandfathers used to travel along it, going to visit relatives in Detroit.
This road has kind of defined quite a stretch of my life, too. I grew up a few minutes walk from “5 & 20”, and one of my grandmothers lived in Avon, at one end of the combined route. My first experience as a museum docent was at the Seward House in Auburn, the other end. Someday, when I’ve got a few weeks, I’d like to drive the length of Rte 20 – – 3,365 miles, from Boston, Mass. to Newport, Oregon.
Despite it’s bantam size, Wampsville is in fact the county seat for Madison County.
(Which has 124 bridges, if that topic comes up.)
(And 143 large-size culverts, if Streep & Eastwood make a sequel)
It’s mostly rural – – the Chobani yogurt company is based there, and although it uses at least 25 million gallons of milk, each week, it’s a myth that cows outnumber people in the county.
People hold a least a 2-to-1 edge.
Like the county I grew up in, the old-time residents couldn’t agree on which town would be honored as the county seat.
The solution in my county, was to have two county seats, and build courthouses in each, which they still maintain. I believe they finally settled on Waterloo as the primary county seat, but I could be wrong, and don’t care to inquire. The one time I asked a local official, during a Memorial Day gathering, he wandered off into an endless legalistic history of the “two-shire system,” etc. and I woke up two days later from a coma-like state, with a headache and no memory of the entire weekend.
Madison County picked the town of Cazenovia as its HQ in 1810, but then five years later pitched camp in Morrisville, and stayed there for over ninety years, even though they had to rebuild after the Loomis Gang burned down the courthouse in 1864. But in 1907, when several towns competed for the honor, John Coe stepped up & offered his apple orchard in Wampsville as a site for a new courthouse, and that settled it.
There are two theories about the name.
The first, was that a large “S” went missing from the original village signboard, and those thrifty 19th c. Dutch and Yankee settlers didn’t want to purchase a new one. They figured it would turn up, by and by, and eventually found they could get along fine without “Swampsville.”
In the second (and real) version, the town was named for Myndert Wemple, descended from an old New Netherlands family, but at some point, people decided Wempleville or Wempsville sounded funny, and wisely opted for Wampsville instead.
It just has more “oomph” to it.
So anyways, to return to the original point, if you’re in Wampsville but if there’s no trial on, I’d recommend driving due south to Buck’s Corners, and Stoney Pond State Forest.
(And that is the way they spell it, “stoney.” I just read that most people spelled it that way, prior to 1850, and it’s still an accepted variant in Webster’s.)
This is a relatively small state forest, less than 1500 acres, but it has a nice 44-acre pond, and a smaller beaver pond, too.
There are miles of pleasant trails, through mixed pine/hemlock/maple woods, and sometimes with views toward distant hills covered with windmills.
Volunteers groom the trails in winter for cross-country skiing.
This was eroded farmland, reforested in the ’40’s and ’50’s. The area began being farmed by settlers of European stock beginning in the 1790’s. This mossy old stone wall, mostly intact, runs for at least a mile through the woods.
This flower was tiny but beautiful. I think it’s Polygalaides Pauciflora (please correct me if that’s wrong!). As formal names go, that’s pretty musical-sounding.
It’s common name, “Bird-On-The-Wing” is also great, and “Flowering Wintergreen” & “Fringed Polygala” are OK too.
Then things go downhill a bit, with “Fringed Milkwort” which is a bit odd-sounding, like a disease, but apparently in the old days, they’d feed this plant to cows, to increase milk production.
It would make a nice picture, to see a farmer offering a bouquet of these to the herd.
Leaving the forest, and taking a more direct route back to the highway, you’ll pass through Peterboro, and the remnants of the 19th c. Gerrit Smith estate.
I’ll leave Gerrit for another day, but he was a fascinating guy, who ran for President three times, and used his fortune to support abolition, temperance, women’s suffrage, integrated colleges, non-sectarian religion, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and probably a dozen other causes I can’t bring to mind.
The ocher-colored building above (1830) was the laundry for the estate.
Well, lots of interesting stuff, it turns out, I hope to poke around this area again some time.
Lots of attention on working-from-home, so I thought I’d do a post about Taliesin, where Frank Lloyd Wright worked, lived, and taught.
I work at a busy university, but in a seldom-visited ell off an old building. Some days my only visitor, is someone checking if I’ve watered the office plants in the window of the common space. (I haven’t.) Other than a couple of meetings a week, I’m used to working solo — I spend my day on computers, email and phone — so the adjustment to working and attending college from home really wasn’t too traumatic.
Apparently though, based on the continuing flood of online advice, it’s been a real sea change for a lot of folks.
Lots & lots of articles floating around, or rather, we’re floating in a sea of articles, about remote learning and working.
All this advice is eddying round and round my head, kind of confusing.
Here’s some of my notes:
~ ~ ~
Turn on drone music.
Analyze your neural pathways & practice brain-hacking
Need to hack a pathway through shrubs for drone pizza deliveries.
Do we have oregano in spice cabinet
~ ~ ~
Learn to better communicate with your animal companions.
Resolve relationship crises between cat & dog.
Evaluate pets as an emergency food source.
Order a larger crock-pot.
One with a lockable lid.
Buy more oregano. Catnip? Horehound?
~ ~ ~
Research-Backed Secrets to Concentration!
💐 Let your mind Wander🎈🌻 It will create Wonder💐
Remember, a wandering mind, like a Labrador, almost always comes home by dinnertime, carrying with it, something interesting.
An online motivational voice tells me to live in the moment.
But his accent makes it sound like mo-mint, and I realize how long it’s been since I had a York Peppermint Pattie. Doesn’t mint kill germs? Was it peppermint or spearmint as a plague preventative? Mandrake?
Then I wonder if it’s true, that if you breathe through a hookah filled with mint mouthwash, the air will be cleansed of germs.
Would people stare at me, if I did that on the bus. Not in my neighborhood. But if they see the hookah, will they think it’s a bong, and approach too closely, to ask if I’m holding? I’m not a pothead, but I’m often mistaken for a homeless guy, when I wear my favorite old jacket, and don’t shave or comb my hair.
What if I just wear that horrible old jacket, which has been encouraging social distancing for years, before that was a thing, and is infused with organic scents (citronella, lemon eucalyptus oil, raisins, and wet Labrador) and just keep popping York Peppermint Patties? What about tabbouleh with fresh mint, would that kill a virus? Are there any Lebanese delis in this town? Do they sell hookahs? Is that an offensive stereotype?
When I was a kid, my grandmother walked me through her herb garden, and handed me little snips of every plant as she named them. I put them in my jacket pocket, and forgot about them. Then when I was riding on the school bus, I kept thinking about pizza all the time. After a couple of weeks, I realized, my jacket was full of pizza spices — oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme, etc. I left them in the pockets, I loved having a pizza jacket, but they didn’t prevent me from getting frequent colds and ear infections.
Buy fresh mint when you get the oregano. See if they have mandrake in the Goya aisle.
And so it goes. I don’t think my mind is coming back anytime soon.
But let’s get back to architecture, we’ll be minty fresh & on point.
Like a lot of people, housebound, I’ve been thinking about how our surroundings and architecture influence our mood, and our thoughts.
Lots of studies and articles – – by architects, artists, home decorators, psychologists, color psychologists, etc.
In this monograph, we will explore how manifestations of this current crisis complicate our societal work-centered dynamic & we will deconstruct the underlying cultural sources of pandemic-induced burnout.
Just kidding, were you scared?
Interesting stuff, but this column isn’t structured to construct or deconstruct much of anything.
I find too much structure, grammar, stuff like that, disrupts the feng shui of my site.
It’s Spring, and barbeque season, and that brought to mind a trip during April of last year, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home/school/workshop in Wisconsin. A place of beauty and really bad fires.
If you’re gonna work from home, this is the way to do it! A fascinating, sprawling place, in a bucolic setting. The house, studio, and outbuildings total 37,000 square feet, and if you add all the other buildings on property he designed (Hillside School, theater, sister’s house, barn, visitor center, etc. ) it collectively covers almost two acres.
Arriving there from my 700 square foot apartment, it felt…spacious.
I was a docent at a house museum, and at the Jamestowne site in Virginia. So I understand that you cannot talk about every aspect of a place, in one tour.
So it wasn’t a complete surprise, when the guide at Taliesin, didn’t mention the ax murders.
So I asked.
Mostly out of curiosity over how the docents would handle the topic.
I don’t want to do a hatchet job on the tour, or the house, so I shouldn’t exaggerate. No one was actually killed with an ax.
It was a hatchet.
Wright was already married, with six kids, when he ran off to Europe for a year, with a married client, Martha Cheney.
He built a house at Taliesin, and Martha and her two children lived there with him.
A husband & wife from Barbados worked there as a handyman/cook team, but had just been fired. The mentally-unstable handyman attacked and killed Martha and her children, and four others, poured gasoline on the bodies, and set the house on fire.
Instead of fleeing the site of the massacre, Wright rebuilt it.
It burned down again, from an electrical short. (It seems ironic, that one of the first homes he designed in the area, for his sister, was featured in a magazine article “A Fireproof House for $5000.” Wright later set the theater wing of his architecture school on fire, trying to clear some brush.)
Wright rebuilt for a third time, on what some people might have felt was an unlucky sort of spot, or at least, too far from the nearest fire department. The current house is sometimes called Taliesin III.
And here’s one thing – – no one on the tour, including myself, felt the slightest sense of creepiness. The house is light-filled, calm and lovely.
I’ve read that traditional Navajo will burn or abandon a home, when someone dies inside it. Some cultures practice purification rituals, burning sweetgrass or sage, etc. Perhaps they’d feel that the two fires served as a cleansing process, or that ghosts need a physical fabric to attach to a site.
Well, it struck me as a lovely spot.
Across the little valley, a Shingle Style chapel is visible, with the interior designed by Wright, and where some of his relatives are buried. He was originally buried there as well, for about 26 years, but his tradition of controversy, family strife, and fire continued even after death. In 1985, according to the wishes of his third wife, but apparently without the knowledge or consent of other family members, he was disinterred, cremated, and the ashes taken to Taliesin West, his studio in Arizona.
I’ve now toured a number of Wright structures – the Darwin Martin complex in Buffalo, Graycliff (a lakeside estate for the same client), Fallingwater, Pope-Leighey (a small “Usonian” house in Virginia), the Guggenheim, as well as individual rooms, that were rescued from buildings being demolished. I’ve viewed others in Rochester, Milwaukee, Chicago, etc. They are all wonderful.
But quite often, you see or hear about problems and staggeringly expensive restorations – – cantilevered floors that had to have I-beams retrofitted, at huge expense, ceilings coming down, etc. Some of that is simply a function of age and weather. One of his principles, that a house should be an organic part of the landscape, integrated with its surroundings, is famous, and now seems kind of inarguable. But sometimes his houses seem to want to disintegrate into the landscape – most tours of Wright structures include recitations of repairs and restorations, and pleas for contributions.
But even during his lifetime, there were problems. The shellac that he specified for exterior woodwork, peeled off, repeatedly. Ask a few carpenters sometime, if they’ve ever used shellac on exterior wood. They’re just going to look at you funny, while they shake their heads, no, never. A famous story was about a client, calling about a skylight, leaking water all over his desk. Wright’s reply: “I guess you’re going to have to move your desk.” Leaks in flat tar roofs, cantilevers that weren’t up to the task, rooms heating up because the windows were without drapes or shades at his insistence, etc.
Kentuck Knob Museum website
I’ve never taken an architecture class, and know very little about Wright. But I’m going to stick my neck out, and express my uninformed personal opinion. Wright’s houses are wonderful, they’re timeless designs, and I guess you don’t need me to explain that to you – – but sometimes…they seem to have been constructed like stage scenery, not intended to last. Wright was an artist, a theatrical person, leading a life filled with drama. Very Hollywood. An abandoned wife & family, notorious affairs, financial insolvency, dozens of automobiles, a lurid mass murder, and what some would see as a flamboyant arrogance. The guy wore a cape, for heaven’s sake. And a cardsharp broad-brimmed hat. The house was modern, organic, “natural style,” but the narration inside it was gothic.
These houses are like fantastic home theaters, for the residents to strut their hours on the stage. Phone calls from clients, full of sound and fury, complaining of leaking roofs, do not signify — there’s not a note that’s worth the noting. He created these scenes, and left it to the home owners — the actors and stage managers, mere players — to fret about impracticalities & drips. “Reason and love keep little company together…” Bob Vila mentions a number of leaky houses created by famous architects — Philip Johnson, Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry, etc. — and a story about someone visiting a Wright house in Tulsa, during a rainstorm. There were containers all over the house, to catch the drips. The owner just said, “This is what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain.”
So, what are the takeaway lessons for working from home? Think creatively, stretch, take time for recreational pursuits, like other people’s spouses, put new batteries in your smoke alarms, and don’t leave sharp objects laying around when you’ve fired your staff.
Oh yeah, and try to create something revolutionary, beautiful and serene, that people will admire forever.
Basically, this post was supposed to be about how much I’ve been wanting a haircut.
By a professional barber, I mean.
I now have an electric clipper thing, a rechargeable beard trimmer, given to me as a present, and hint, by my folks. But I’d already shaved off my beard and mustache, as the weather got warmer, and anyways it really did seem like airborne germs might hide out there, muggers in the shrubbery, snakes in the grass.
I watched a couple of YouTube haircut videos. The NYTimes how-to had a guy with the identical clipper and similar hair, but I’m not ready for the Paris Island look. I’m not vain about my appearance, it’s just, I might need to wear glasses someday, and I just like my ears where they are, attached to my head.
This old truck prompted this thought, about a haircut, and also, Grace Bedell.
Grace Bedell, from Westfield, NY.
Recognize the name?
Maybe not, but if you went to grade school in the U.S., you’ll probably remember the story.
She was the 11-year-old girl, who wrote to a presidential candidate before the ’60 election, and recommended that he grow a beard.
That was John F. Kennedy, of course, and he opted for Ray-Ban Wayfarers instead, and was elected President.
Actually that’s wrong.
Kennedy didn’t wear Ray-Bans, they were American Optical’s Saratoga sunglasses, still, very cool-looking.
And the little girl actually wrote in 1860, to Abe Lincoln.
“I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Come to think of it, I received similar advice, about growing a beard and wearing some Ray-Bans, I think from a former roommate, who also recommended a haircut and dim lighting, and all that was just to get a date, not the Presidency.
Lincoln, by then fully-bearded, made a point of meeting Grace, on his way to the inauguration. It was February, temperature was just above freezing, so he was probably glad of the beard, and anything else to cut the wind off Lake Erie. His train stopped in Westfield, and he sat down on the edge of the railway platform, chatted a few minutes, gave her a kiss, and continued down the tracks to Buffalo, Albany, and eventually, Washington, D.C.
It’s a charming story, but as happens so often, one with a sad ending, as Grace eventually moved, and lived many years in Kansas.
It’s hard to imagine him without the beard, isn’t it. We’d have a time changing all those statues, pennies, and postage stamps.
So anyway, as regular readers are aware, I don’t go off on tangents anymore, and to return to the central point of this post, I was thinking about a line from the Beatle’s “Come Together”
Got to be good-lookin’ ’cause he’s so hard to see
Even if you’re a song-writer, and taking a lot of hallucinogens, I think we all know that’s just not so. It just doesn’t always work that way.
Under all those vines, that is one homely automobile. I never knew Chevrolet made anything half that snub-nosed ugly.
I saw it last week, while driving to a park with my parents. I guessed it was maybe a 1957 model, since that’s when my dad was born, and when they were standing side-by-side, they had a very similar state of decrepitude. But he believes it was 1950 or even earlier.
I’ve tried to avoid that stretch of 14A, until the vines have leafed out, and covered this thing better.
But you know, I’ve been by it a few times since then, and that truck is starting to be like the hideous old bulldog that lives next-door – – without any conscious thought, or effort, you develop a feeling of affection, over time.
It just grows on you.
The bulldog snuffles and gasps and rattles, sounds like a dishwasher on its last legs, but he’s a very sweet-natured old boy, I’m always glad when he waddles up to say hello, and I swear this truck is growing on me too! I’ll look forward to seeing it’s Green Man look in a couple weeks.
So, let’s not call it weedy and overgrown, we’ll say, “a luxuriant growth of native grapevine.” And to hell with the haircut, too.
Wood, brick, or cobblestone, one-room schoolhouses still dot the Finger Lakes region.
Some are simply boarded up and slowly collapsing. Every week, I used to drive past an abandoned school on Route 96, a small but handsome brick one, like the photo below, but it has fallen down and disappeared, since I was in high school.
Some have graduated to new roles, like this first photo, as cottage homes, or farm storage, like the second.
I haven’t known that many people, who attended one, but have read of countless famous folks who did, and they all have nothing but praise and appreciation for the experience.
Fayette NY. In 1900, there were sixteen schoolhouses in that town, with a total population of 2.711 residents, so some of them must’ve been almost one-student affairs.
But they’re really not completely ancient history, are they. One of my teachers, who retired three years ago, attended a school like this in Cayuga County. And there’s plenty of Amish schools all around us that are still active, for grades 1-8. One of my grandmothers, who graduated from teachers college around 1950, was still required to do a term of student teaching in a one-room school. But there are only a few hundred left in operation in this country.
I’d thought Herbert Hoover held the record, but actually Lyndon Johnson was, I think, our last “one-room schoolhouse” President.
LBJ, like nine other Presidents, did some teaching himself, before going into politics. And he achieved some important gains for education, like Head Start.
He briefly attended a one-room school at the age of four, and when he signed the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” in April 1965, he was sitting next to that school again.
“In this one-room schoolhouse Miss Katie Deadrich taught eight grades at one and the same time. Come over here, Miss Katie, and sit by me, will you? Let them see you. I started school when I was four years old, and they tell me, Miss Kate, that I recited my first lessons while sitting on your lap.” LBJ
But according to his biographers, apparently his conception of “domestic affairs” was a pretty broad, er…I mean, a pretty broad one, so to speak, and I think Miss Katie might have been a tad dismayed, if she’d learned just how many women LBJ invited to sit in his lap, throughout his married life.
Currier & Ives print of an 1858 painting by George Henry Durrie (from the MMA website). James Garfield, who might’ve been remembered as “The Education President,” if he hadn’t been assassinated, was our last “Born-in-a-Log-Cabin” President, also attended and taught in some one-room schools, including one in Poestenkill, NY. There’s a beautiful 1881 two-room school, in neighboring Brunswick, named in his honor.
The two-room “Garfield School” in Brunswick, NY. (Photo from Wikipedia). I haven’t been systematically photographing this old-time schools, but may do another post – – there’s some octagon ones in the area that might be of interest.
You may be surprised to learn, that I attended this school. (Well, for a day.) The Ansley School (1849 – 1953) is south of Geneva, and they bring grade-schoolers there for the one-room experience. I believe we practiced cursive writing on slates.
Winslow Homer’s “Snap The Whip” (1872) A number of older folks have told me, they remember having prints of this hung in their schools. This is the Met’s version – – the original, larger version, exhibited at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, had a mountain range in the background.
Butler Institute of Art
I doubt public schools would hang these pictures anymore – – bare feet! no adult supervision! dangerous single-sex game! head coverings! unstructured play! possible bees in the wildflowers! children having fun! etc.
I love both versions. The mountains make it look more secluded, like it’s probably a small community, in a little valley.
In the other one, without the mountains hemming them in, the scene looks giddier somehow, and the open sky makes it seem like one of those kids might just escape the gravity of their little town, and get airborne, if they can just spin fast enough.
“The Country School” Winslow Homer 1871 (St. Louis Art Museum). I’ve read many times, that the teachers were often young, unmarried women. One of my grandmothers, teaching in a city school in the ’50’s, was married, but concealed the fact that she was expecting as long as possible, because they didn’t allow pregnant teachers in her school!
An interesting sensory experience, taking this photo – – a really nice floral fragrance, from the grape hyacinth.
And also, a farmer was busy in the field just in back, with a honey wagon.
If you’re not from dairy country…a “honey wagon” is a/k/a manure spreader. I was going to say “a bucolic scene, despite the pong from the cow manure,” and then realized, that’s exactly right. I looked “bucolic” up, and that word comes from “ox” and “herdsman,” so the cows’ contribution is appropriate.
I read about President Truman giving the press a tour of his birthplace, a farm in Missouri. A White House staffer asked Mrs. Truman if she could please get the President to stop saying “manure.”
Mrs. Truman replied, “Do you know how long it took me, to get him to say manure?”
The farmhouse cellar and a collapsed barn, are just behind the forsythias. Whoever lived there, must have planted the grape hyacinths many years ago, for them to have naturalized and spread so much.
Here’s a nice little fifty-footer, not too far from Boonville, NY.
People are surprised to learn, that the falls is actually located in Hurlbutville. They often say, “Goodness, can that be so? I’d have thought Hawkinsville, or over by Forestport. Or perhaps, between Alder Creek, and Alder Creek Station? Or possibly, at the foot of Potato Hill?”
It’s hard not to scoff at such speculation, and I’ve no patience with wild conjectures.
It seems to me, that a sprightly name like “Pixley Falls” should be located someplace more legendary-sounding. Rome, NY is just down the road, so they could’ve called this hamlet to their north “Gnome,” for example.
But it’s definitely Hurlbutville. I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped.
Even though, I’ve never been able to see any real trace of that place. I think maybe Hurlbutville, with a name that magical, might be like Brigadoon, only appearing once every century.
But then, I haven’t looked that hard, I don’t wander too far off the winding, sagging little road that runs from Rome up to Boonville, along the remnants of the Black River Canal. It’s one of those wooded, thinly populated areas that surprises people, who think New York is all urbanity.
Just on the other side of the old canal, is a creek called Lansing Kill, and this falls.
That name shouldn’t make you uneasy. If you’re from NY, you already know this, but “kill” is just an archaic Dutch term for a stream, and there are kills all over the Mohawk and Hudson valleys. Like the little mountains called The Catskills (get it? Cat’s Creek, maybe because of mountain lions, or because they used to wash the cats there, before making them into felt hats, when the beavers were all gone). (OK, no, that’s not true.) (But in the old days, they did use them for coat collars, my sister just read Gogol’s story “The Overcoat” and told me that. )
Just north of the waterfall is Boonville. A nice little town, on the Tug Hill Plateau, famous for amazing amounts of snowfall, even by upstate standards. People come there in the winter, to snowshoe and cross-country ski on the canal trail.
The Black River Canal took almost twenty years to complete, and then operated for seventy years. It used to connect to the Erie Canal, until it went bankrupt a hundred years ago. You’ll see some beautifully-constructed old stone locks along the trail – – they built 109 of them, for only 35 miles of canal – – more locks, and a greater rise & fall, than the entire Erie Canal.
This is from the Library of Congress, taken sometime during the last fifty years.
I’d seen different lengths quoted for the canal. According to the Black River Canal Museum in Boonville, it was 35 miles long, with another 10 miles for the Erie Canal connector, and they also “canalized” 42 miles of the Black River, to make it navigable.
In the autumn, Boonville is kind of an entrance to the Adirondack region, and hunters head there in droves, chasing after deer with not just shotguns and rifles, but bows, muzzle-loaders, and crossbows. I realize they’re high-tech items, with AR-style stocks and telescopic scopes, but somehow seeing hunters with crossbows, or black powder/percussion cap rifles, just seem to add to the forgotten-by-time flavor of this corner of upstate.
The canal trail, about ten miles long, is a very pleasant walk, down the old towpath, part of it with the Lansing Kill right along the other side.