Merry Christmas

For those who will be celebrating tomorrow, I want to share a piece of sermon that has been said at my home congregation (the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton) since I was a child, "Christmas Always Begins at Midnight" by A. Powell Davies:

...in legend upon legend, and story after story, Christmas always begins, not with daybreak and the coming of the morning - but at midnight. It was at midnight that the primitive observances began - or as near it as their reckoning could bring them. It was in the darkest hour of the night - not in the glow of morning - that the shepherds of the legend heard the angels sing. And of course, the Three Wise Men were guided, not by the sun, but by a star.

The legends have grown both beautiful and fanciful. Yet they have never drifted out of the darkness into a premature daylight. They have stayed quite close to the inner truth from which they draw their substance: the truth that man must find his faith, not in the daylight but in the dark. If he is ever to come to the light of morning, he must carry his own light with him through the night.

Please enjoy this day and give light and love to the world.



Stops Along the Way #3: Green Lakes State Park

For your viewing pleasure is this shot of Green Lake, the centerpiece of Green Lakes State Park, a true ecological and aesthetic gem outside of Fayetteville. It's incredible green-blue color comes from the fact that it is a meromictic lake, which means it has distinct layers of water that do not mix. For more description, check out the Park's wikipedia page. The meromictic lakes at the Park, Green and Round, are two out of seven total in North America.

This is the third in our series of Stops Along the Way.


Blogging Again

Loyal York Staters,

After an over-long hiatus, we're back on the blogging scene. Jesse has begun writing again, Natalie is editing and will hopefully write soon (give her some slack, she just started graduate school at Cornell this semester), we've also got a number of submissions from Steve Lewandowski that we'll be putting up. Exciting things.

For those of you who may have sent us articles or important comments over the past six months or so, we have fallen criminally behind in our email and apologize for our laxness. Especially if you have sent us a submission, we would greatly appreciate it if you could resend it to york.staters@gmail.com. We promise to put them up this time around. If you haven't sent a submission, this is a good time to think about it, we'd love to hear your thoughts from Olean to Plattsburgh or White Lake to Oswego (here is a link to our submission guidelines).

This link, "Upstate needs to secede from state to succeed," was sent to us by Fenrir.

Filling in a geographical gap in our blogroll, we're adding Wandering the Tug, a site located in the Tug Hill Plateau and managed by John. John has also given us three books to add to our Upstate Reading List: The Boyds of Black River, Rome Haul, and Drums Along the Mohawk all by Walter Edmonds.

Finally, we were thrilled to be mentioned in the Syracuse Post-Standard for the article on the Westcott Cinema two weeks ago.

Hope to hear from all you in the near future.

Best Wishes!

-Jesse (co-editor)


A Word---To Give, Take, Keep

J. Sheldon Fisher 1907-2002

When I was first elected to office, the municipal attorney sent me a letter on official business, and I saw with shock that it was addressed to “The Honorable.” I was shocked because it hadn’t occurred to me that the simple matter of running for office and being elected would confer any such titles. As I thought more about it, though, it seemed there was a point to the honorific: in running for election, I had spoken about the need to protect the public trust. In voting for me, the public had conferred that trust, and in taking the oath of office, I had given my word that I would not only protect the community’s health, safety and general welfare but that I would do so within a framework of State and federal laws. At first blush, though, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Local historian Sheldon Fisher’s passing has reminded me to review the position he held, without virtue of election, as an exemplary man-of-honor. In his case, it was his faithfulness to history and his insistence on the immediacy and pertinence of history that attracted first my attention then my trust and admiration.

Sheldon Fisher also exemplified the virtues of staying at home, which he accomplished to a remarkable extent. He was born a Fisher after all, born in Fishers, NY of generations of Fishers, and the tiny hamlet of Fishers always remained the heart of his universe. He knew that any inquiry has to be located somewhere, both as a point of origin and perspective, and he found Fishers to be as good as any and better than most for him. He recognized that tiny events in Fishers might be vitally contacted to massive, world-shaking events unfolding elsewhere on the globe. For example, we know that the Mormonism began in upstate New York before embarking on its epic continental journey. Fisher’s research uncovered significant details of the religion’s origins among families living in a swath from Palmyra to Mendon and including, yes, Fishers. He lived a life of inquiry and imagination that could see, in William Blake’s terms, “the world in a grain of sand.” Fishers was his grain of sand.

As a young man I remember seeing Sheldon Fisher and Canandaigua City Historian Herb Ellis, two old men even then, standing in a downpour of rain and sleet at the Council Stone on the main street. They were observing the anniversary of a treaty signed in 1794 by groups representing two nations meeting in Canandaigua. One group stood for the Seneca Nation, whose authority stemmed from their identification of certain local landscape features as their place of origin. But after defeat in war, their long residency was drawing to a close and they were on their way out- to reservations, to Canada, across the continent, bound elsewhere.

The other nation, represented by a hatchet-faced commissioner with a reputation for hard and fair dealing, was the new United States, whose authority had been established by a successful war of independence with the world’s premier colonial power. The weather on the day that the treaty was signed wasn’t recorded, but it’s not too difficult to imagine it as a bleak, cold, gray November day with a hint of snow in the air. My hometown, Canandaigua, was at that time a frontier settlement of a couple hundred people huddled around their chimneys.

Sheldon Fisher is worthy of honor because, despite the actions of our government in the 1960s to appropriate Seneca land for a dam project, he insisted on honoring the treaty. He felt as though it was his word that was given on November 11, 1794, and he would honor his word, whatever others did. We should all try to have such a WORD. The Seneca stayed away from the treaty commemoration for a number of years because they regarded the U.S. action as bending if not breaking the treaty and hoped in vain to embarrass the U.S.

Having a word requires that we give it without conditions and with as full a knowledge of consequences as possible. A word isn’t a word to the extent that we assign conditions to it: “I’ll keep my promise if/when you do.” Likewise, a true word to give requires that we live with all of its consequences.

I’m reminded of our friends the Friends who, when they were branded as Quakers, remarked, “Why yes, we do quake in the presence of the Lord,” and accepted the name as a legitimate, secondary title for their church. In their early days, they were constantly in trouble with religious and secular authorities for what they would and would not do. One of the bones of contention was the swearing of oaths.

The Quakers would not swear to the truth of anything; they considered that once having spoken the truth and said their “word,” no amount of attestation, declaration, God’s witness or notarization would alter the truth of that word. Swearing to the truth of a true statement was in effect gilding the lily, and they would no more swear than they would wear gaudy clothes (They insisted that bright dyes were intended to hide the dirt, and they preferred plain, clean clothes.) For authority, they pointed to a passage in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says, “Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.”

The world is full of conflicting allegiances, multiple perspectives, and contrary interpretations. There can be every shade of gray and confusion on all sides about the shades. We employ specialists to exploit the confusion to gain an advantage. The exponential growth of the attorney and actuary populations supported by our society attests to the sharpness of the instruments now being used to split hairs. Written contracts and treaties stretch into multiple volumes in which every circumstance and condition is imagined, probed, explicated and dissected. By contrast, Sheldon Fisher’s lifetime business was conducted as a matter of word, with perhaps a handshake thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps part of our current problem is our hyper-literacy. We expect that everyone we encounter will also be literate, and the records of decisions will be written down and kept so that they can be consulted in the future when the parties have forgotten the details of their agreement or have passed the agreement on to new parties. But not everyone is literate now, nor were they in the past. In part, the collision of the Seneca and the United States was part of a long history of literate people trying to impose their idea of an agreement on people whose idea of their word was quite different.

Clearly the Iroquois believed in reaching agreements with others (the Iroquois “League” was formed by such a device), and records of agreements were kept with wampum belts. The wampum belts functioned as mnemonic devices to facilitate the recitation of agreements in public. The other party to the agreement, the U.S., recorded words on paper (even if the Seneca could only make an “x”), copied the papers, then hid their copy in a vault in a distant capital. Our memories seem to have atrophied just as the written clauses have multiplied.

In the matter of giving, taking or keeping a word, some believe that it matters who knows, remembers and keeps track; others do not. Some believe that a word given is a public matter and others that it is a private function.

I think that the function of a word has private and public aspects. The public aspects are easiest to describe. On our side, giving and taking a word in public usually involves a ceremony, and the ceremony invokes some sacred principle to witness and protect the word.

On the other hand, the Seneca have consistently used metaphorical but secular imagery, speaking of the Canandaigua treaty as a chain, with full knowledge that the way a chain binds can be assuring or painful. The chain they speak of could be decorative since it’s made of silver. Left unattended, the chain binding the parties could become tarnished and ugly. The Seneca insist that the chain binding the two nations of people together in friendship must be periodically taken out, inspected and polished so that it will continue to be an ornament, a thing of beauty and not a tarnished hindrance.

The Seneca’s meaning isn’t obscure: the word needs to be exercised in public. It reminds me of a Jewish tale about the angel that attends every friendship. Without friendship’s proper exercise, the angel dies, so friends are required to see one another, to speak and to share. It matters less what they do so long as they do something together as friends.

The private word is more difficult to describe because it has an inchoate aspect going beyond language’s expressive ability. A person may give his or her word to him or herself, without notifying any other party. Probably we all know someone who’s dedicated to a task for a reason not immediately apparent. For example, a person may undertake work simply because that work was the unfulfilled wish or goal of a friend who’s been unable to complete it because of sickness or death. The word may also bind two people, and marriage is the best known example. In fact, the most common ceremonies of marriage invoke conditions, “in sickness and in health,” in order to nullify them. Beyond marriage, a word may be given within a family, extending common allegiance and protection to all of that blood.

Beyond the family, most word-giving and –taking becomes a public ceremony with attendant ritualism. Perhaps a better question about the nature of the word is how it is distributed- how far it reaches and who may make a claim on it. Exemplary people of honor often extend the circle in which their word will be kept beyond their families, friends and associates, beyond their clans, tribes and nations, and even beyond “people like us,” to include all humanity, the whole creation. Sheldon Fisher’s circle of responsibility had a center in Fishers, NY, not a place we, or he, might have chosen. But from Fishers, the circle extended to include all sorts of unlikely people and places and, most strikingly, deep into history and far into times to come.

-by Stephan Lewandowski


The second-hand store is a cluttered labyrinth carved out of a much larger building, once a department store, which explains the mysterious ups and downs of navigating its full extent. For example, the only way to go up to several floors of stored furniture above is to walk down a short flight to the basement. From the subterranean level, you catch the elevator up run by a short jaunty fellow in a hat. He will leave you off at whatever floor you say and he always, as he assures you, comes back for you later.

There’s a ceremony in using the elevator. The door is held shut by a heavy bar latch, which he undoes by lifting and shifting with a clang. He rolls back the segments of doors and shows you in. He may doff his hat. Once loaded, he closes several doors, latches and a heavy metal safety-gate before beginning operation. The elevator is not self-aligning; it responds to his handling of a massive switch, and once he gets near a floor, he fine-tunes it with little twitches. At the floor, he repeats the ceremony of pulling switches, bars and gates in a certain order to let you out.

For a little while, he experimented with a tips tray held aloft by a piece of secondhand statuary, but not for long. I don’t think he had any takers. He always has his eye out for you and when you step down into his basement area, he’s right there asking if you want a ride up. Somehow he can make you feel vaguely embarrassed for not using his services.

Of course, we aren’t really used to being transported by others. We’d rather jump in and go. His service comes from an entirely different tradition. He invites you in. He asks you to go up. He implies that what you need must be on the upper floors reachable only by his elevator. He’s always sort of around. Probably he cleans up, fixes washing machines and moves the furniture around when he’s not transporting customers, but I’ve never seen him do so. He knows me by sight now, and our encounters have become a short-hand: he says “Today?” with an upward gesture of his head. When I say “Nope,” he gives me a look like I don’t know what I’m missing.
Today he gave me a start. I came looking for a special bowl of a certain size, and I found two right away at a good price on the main floor. I was short of time. Why did I go downstairs at all? I brushed past the Book Nook full of musty sheet music and coverless magazines. As I went down, I caught a whiff of the ever-present sewer gas, no worse than usual but no better either. I think it comes up from the next level down, the sub-basement, which must be dug nearly to the level of the nearby lake. It must have been difficult to get the sewer in so deep, but maybe it’s not quite deep enough, judging by the smell.

He was suddenly beside me, hat pulled low. He glanced up and recognized me. “Hey,” he said, “up today?” but before I could say, “Don’t think so,” he started telling me his story. He pulled his lip aside to show me a big space where his teeth used to be. “Yeah, I broke one and it got infected. They took out four. Now I’m waiting for my false teeth to come in.” It looked bad for him, and he looked bad too- worn, tired, and he seemed to have shrunk in his clothes. He was poking around with a broom, sweeping the floor, and didn’t seem to care much if I went up or stayed.

Something new in the store caught my eye. In the back of the basement, where it used to be dark and moldy, it was now shiny. There was a curtain hanging from the low ceiling, separating a new, bright space from the old basement. I walked past rows of slumping armchairs, absurd lamps, and stained couches, and as I went back, I could see past the curtain.

They must have broken through the cellar wall into a new part of the old basement. From where I thought it used to end, the cellar continued back, and someone had dry-walled and painted an all-white room just big enough to contain eight church pews with a lectern facing them. Behind the lectern hung a large golden cross bathed in light.

There was no one in sight, except for the sweeper. I looked around. The room was meticulously clean and bright. The benches were polished and carefully arranged. Even the floor was freshly painted and unmarked. The sweeper took no notice of my discovery of the new room, but I was suddenly afraid of being caught in the basement shrine by whoever worships there.

“So how you doing today?” he asked as I started to hurry out.

“Oh, I’m okay,” I said, “and I already got what I want. I left it at the front desk- just have to pay for it on the way out.”

“Come back when you got some time to go for a ride,” he said, the dust from his broom rising around our ankles.

-by Stephen Lewandowski

Citizens, Consumers and the struggle for the soul of Upstate Communities

I aim in this post to examine the concept of a ‘citizen’ in our Upstate communities and the slow erosion of this idea before the new concept of a ‘consumer.’ Today, we tend to view ‘citizenship’ as a relationship between an individual and a State, a government. By saying “I am a citizen of the United States,” one implies foremost a relationship with the United States government, including both rights and responsibilities. School citizenship classes or larger citizenship campaigns typically aim to increase participation in the activities of the government. This has not, however, always been the case.

The concept of a citizen arose in contrast to the political situation of being a subject. Once, this was the primary form of political allegiance in Western nations (like British Subjects). A subject’s primary loyalty is to a sovereign, such a King, Pope or Emperor. Power emanates from this central figure who is elevated above others. The key is that subjects are related to one another only by their relationship to the sovereign.

Citizenship, however, was originally a relationship between citizens not between citizens and the state. Citizenship permeated every element of life. We can see this fascination with life in a ‘Republican System’ in the writings of authors like Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. This changed the fundamental nature of politics: privileges granted by the sovereign were replaced by (universal) rights, duties given to the sovereign were replaced by responsibilities of the citizen as a member of the community. The state was re-imagined from being the emanation of the power of the sovereign to an agent acting on behalf of the citizenry. While the government was defined by its citizenry, citizenship went far beyond a relationship to the state. These ideals were summed up in the slogans of the era: “All men [sic] are created equal,” and “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.”

As the Enlightenment revolutions (most notably the French) swept the Western world, they also reconfigured the very space of the European cities. The most iconic transformation was the reshaping of Paris by Baron Haussmann. Caldiera writes:

At the core of the conception of urban public life embedded in modern Paris are notions that city space is open to be used and enjoyed by anyone, and that the consumption society it houses may become accesssible to all. Of course, this has never been entirely the case, neither in Paris nor anywhere else… These
modern urban experencies were coupled with a political life in which similar values were fostered. The modern city has been the stage for all types of public demonstrations. In fact, the promise of incorporation into modern society included not only the city and consumption but also the polity. (From “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation,” pg 94)
While this promise of universal inclusion has never been achieved, this does not make it any less of a worthwhile goal; the successes (if only partial) of movements like Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, etc, are because they have forced inclusion, not because they have rejected the possibility of it occuring.

Yet, it is this basic society of inclusion, the ideal of equal citizens working in fraternity [sic] for liberty, that is today under siege in our communities. Across Upstate New York, we can see the creep of the privatization of space. In Buffalo, there are plans for the first gated community in Amherst (here’s an editorial). In Syracuse, DestinNY proposes to create a privately-owned (but publically subsidized) sealed fantasyworld only accessible by car. Barnes and Noble or Borders replaces the public library. Elevated freeways cut across Syracuse, Binghamton and smaller cities of the Mohawk valley, paralyzing neighborhoods and allowing the owners of cars to avoid all contact with the communities they pass over. Yards become ever-larger, separating mcmansions even as suburbs push further away from central cities. Cars become an absolute necessity for moving from one private parking lot to another in order to do basic shopping.

Is this not an outright rejection of the project of citizenship? We are privatizing public space, creating a situation where one’s status as a consumer replaces that of a citizen. No right exists to enter and inhabit these faux-public spaces—it is only one’s position as a potential purchaser. We need to look no further than the 2003 arrest at the Crossgates Mall in Guilderland, NY of a man for wearing a peace t-shirt to see the fragility of the illusion of true public space within the modern mall. It is profit, not the high-minded goals of liberty, equality and love, that guide these consumer-business relationship. The creation of these privatized enclaves (especially fortified areas like gated communities)—and the interrelated withering of true public spaces—“are not environments that generate conditions conducive to demcracy. Rather, they foster inequality and the sense that different groups belong to separate universes and have irreconcilable claims.” (Caldiera 104)

Without true public space, there is no chance for citizens to enact true citizenship, to develope intimate, difficult relationships with one another. Without the enactment of true citizenship upon the ground, our conception of citizenship will continue to wither to a vestigial loyalty to the State and our communities will fade into nothing.

-by Jesse


Dreaming of a New Westcott Theater

Citizens of Syracuse's Westcott Nation, lovers of cinema and defenders of the besieged independent media all have reason to mourn this week. The Westcott Cinema is closing. One of a dying breed, the Cinema is a single screen, independently owned movie house. Certainly, the owner of the structure will look for an alternative tenant, but there are enough empty storefronts in Syracuse for one to guess that finding someone to occupy a run-down, single-screen theater might not be the easiest prospect. There is a good chance that it will go un-occupied for some time to come.

Westcott is a fantastically aberrant neighborhood. For starters, it (like its cinema) is an increasing rarity: an integrated neighborhood. While this most certainly refers to the presence of both whites and blacks within the area, this doesn’t encapsulate the diversity found in this little outlying area. Women in saris pass those in the latest hip-hop fashions. University professors rub elbows with psychics and shamans. At the Credit Union, one is as likely to hear Spanish as English. Our yearly festival features music from places as varied as Havana, the Bronx, Ghana and Nashville.

More than simply an abundance of cultural roots, we also enjoy a fantastic network of community institutions: neighborhood associations, a thriving business strip, a community center, a farmer’s market, a branch library, numerous churches, a neighborhood credit union and a co-operative grocery.

I am sure that various community-oriented minds around the Westcott Nation read ‘opportunity’ into the closing of the Cinema. Space is a precious resource, especially at the convergence of Westcott and Harvard streets and there are many that would love to see their dream come to fill that space. Undoubtedly, someone is thinking of re-opening Westcott once again as an art theater. This is both my hope and my great fear.

It seems to be consensus that something different has to be done. The previous tenant, Nat Tobin, was an experienced cinema owner (he also runs the Manlius Art Cinema) and a great lover of the art form, yet was unable to sustain the enterprise. According to the Post Standard (on October 18th, 2007):

…people have shown interest in creating a new theater on the site that would
show either first- or second-run films. Several local business people have
suggested partnerships in new ventures, including a coffee shop, at the
location. Others have proposed the theater become a venue for live

What is it that I fear about these developments? Simply put, the harmonious cohabitation of numerous racial and cultural groups within a neighborhood is a balance that needs to be continually worked on to be maintained. Sitting on Westcott on a Friday night, one sees both groups of whites and blacks, but they are almost always segregated. I rarely saw anyone that wasn’t a middle-aged, middle-classed and white attending the old Westcott Cinema. The only institutions that pull off this integration well—from what I can see—are the Community Center and the Credit Union, and both of them have had to work hard and, more importantly, consciously at maintaining this balance.

I fear an art cinema, community run or not, that claims to appeal to the ‘community’ but in fact aims only at the wealthiest, whitest and most prestigious of clientele. A place that takes its cues solely from Sundance and where the term ‘foreign film’ rarely extends beyond the art scenes of Western Europe and its Latin American imitators. A place like the misnamed Little Theater in Rochester with its attached jazz club and French pastry shop. I fear a resurrected cinema of fancy coffees, expensive pastries and high brow films—another agent of gentrification.

Do I dislike art films? Am I opposed to liberal-minded documentaries? Of course not, I firmly stand behind cinema that aims for something higher than profit. Yet, I also stand behind a cinema that aims to be a truly community affair. What do the citizens of Westcott Nation—white and black, native and immigrant, young and old, working and middle class—want to see on their screen?

My imagined cinema would show the standard fare of art flicks and documentaries, but also feature popular films from the burgeoning film industries of India and China, second-run Hollywood films to undercut the popularity of corporate cinemaplexes, and bizarre kitsch films like the Rocky Horror Picture Show for nothing more than sheer fun. I see it as a place spiced up with stand-up comics and musical acts, both local and brought in from the outside. I fantasize of each film being preceded by a short produced by a student from a local high school or university. However, in the end, I hope that my dreams carry only as much weight as any of my other neighbors.

How could this be arranged? I see two options for organizing a dream like this: non-profit, or a cooperative of some sort (perhaps a consumer co-0p like the Real Food Co-Op or perhaps a worker-owned one). All of these options would leave control of the destiny of our cinema in the hands of our neighbors.

As we move towards one of these options, we might do well to take a lesson from the Art Cinema of Binghamton. When the old, privately owned, single-screened, Art Theater burned down a few years ago, the cinemaphiles of Binghamton organized screenings of art films in homes and sympathetic places of business. These screenings raised money, attracted attention, built a sense of fellowship among activists and provided the basic framework of an organization that would eventually open a new Art Cinema downtown. If we are to undertake these actions, we must take care to not only respect but also celebrate the beautiful, empowering and, ultimately, fragile diversity that is Westcott.

-By Jesse


York Staters in Poetry: Ezra Pound

In an obscure canto of the world-renown poet Ezra Pound's mildly obscure work, The Cantos, we find two references to Upstate New York:

Canto CXIV

...Gems sunned as mirrors, alternate.

These simple men who fought against jealousy,

as the man of Oneida.

Ownership! Ownership!...

...to reign, to dance in a maze,

To live a thousand years in a wink.

York State or Paris--

Nor began nor ends anything...

Pound received his masters degree from Hamilton College(Clinton, NY) in 1905, before living abroad and settling in Italy. York Staters has talked about the Oneida Community before, so I won't go into that, but he also refers to George MacLeod's Iona Community which was founded about 50 years after the Oneida Community turned into Oneida Glass and was influenced by the the Oneida theory of living spirituality.

Because of his seemingly stream-of-conscious writing I can't really tell you what he's talking about; since he starts by quoting Voltaire then laughing at a Scottish economist who died in poverty, then ended this section with the dream of a young fruit seller who wants to write. Oh yeah, there's a chinese character, some french and italian too in this rather short three page poem.

Submitted by Joe

Editors Note: Thanks to everyone who has inquired as to our whereabouts...we're still here! Co-editor Jesse is in Cornwall, United Kingdom, doing research, and I have been bogged down with work and lack of internet connection. But there are good things on the horizon...after our summer slumber, York Staters will awaken again as Jesse returns from overseas and I relocate to Ithaca where I'll be starting graduate study at Cornell in the fall. In the mean time, posting will be light, but if you have a submission you'd like to make to York Staters, we're happy to post it. Check out the submissions guidelines and send us a post, or send any ideas, or just a hello to york.staters[at]gmail.com.


York Stater of the Month: Johnny Hart

Yesterday, April 7th, cartoonist Johnny Hart passed away. A native of Endicott, NY, he passed away at age 76 in his home in Ninevah. Nationally, Hart will probably be best known for his two most famous cartoons: B.C. and the Wizard of Id. According to the Press and Sun Bulletin: "Hart's B.C. comic strip was launched in 1958 and eventually appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers worldwide with an audience of 100 million."

However, in his home community of Broome County, Hart has transformed his style of cartooning into an emblem of local identity. His work adorns the logos of the Binghamton Dusters (former hockey team), the BC Transit, the Broome County Parks, the BC Open and the Broome County Icemen. Growing up next door to a Broome County Park, I fondly remember the smiling "Dudley the Dinosaur" logo adorning the entry sign. The coalescence of the name of the comic "B.C." with the abbreviation for Broome County has been a piece of local lore for at least as long as I have been alive.

Hart has long been controversial locally because of his strong conservative Christian faith--and his willingness to express it through his cartooning. In 2001, his Palm Sunday strip (which always revolved around Christian themes) caused an uproar by implying that Christianity had supplanted Judaism. Honestly, I've never been a big fan of B.C. not simply because of its annoying preachiness, but because I never found it that funny, but I was suprirsed by the controversy, considering that it is pretty standard Pauline theology. That said, I always felt that Hart's Christianity was good hearted and that his strip was aimed towards a different audience than myself.

The purpose of this salute and honor, though comes from Hart's long-time dedication to the community of his birth. Not only did he remain in Broome County--not usually considered a center of the graphic arts--but he also dedicated much of his work towards providing the County with a distinctive aesthetic look. Today, as we mourn that man, we can take some consoliation in knowing that he would probably be pleased that the distinct style remains with us and has passed from being his own possession to one of the community as a whole. B.C. has become Broome County and for that we thank Mr. Hart.


Press and Sun Obituary


Rochester: A City of Quality

Straight from 1963, this piece of the past was sent to us by Joe...

Here is the original link



Theory of Salvation

Kurt asked me today, so I presume you’ve been wondering too, what is my theory of shopping at the Salvation Army? We were standing in the middle of the library and talking pretty loud, but that’s okay today because the college is on break. We weren’t disrupting others and the librarians were amused.

Kurt came in to check his e-mail while I was taking a break from tutoring, and I joked, “Do you ever wear that sweater anymore? That one I recognized from the Salvation Army?” It was a tannish-brown hand-knit the cuffs of whose sleeves would have swung below my knees.

He said that he’d like to wear it more but “the cats have found it. Yeah, first one, then the whole bunch, nesting there.”

“Big enough for all of them and maybe they like the color,” I joked.

Then he asked me, “Where you and I are aficionados of the Salvation Army, do you have any tips or special methods?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked,” I said, “I do have several theories and use them regularly. For example, I thoroughly empty my mind at the front door. In my experience, the worst thing that you can carry into the Salvation Army is an expectation. So I try not to think about what I need.”

Usually it works, and I walk through the doors with a minimum of preconceptions, if any. I try
to take it as it comes. Let it come to me. “You know, mystic stuff like that.”

Actually, I said that I thought of shopping the Salvation Army as trolling. “You let the bait down in the water, you sit back, maybe somebody else is steering the boat, you can’t see the lure at all after a while, it’s just out there somewhere, and you wait.”

Kurt showed me the pair of boots he’d just bought for $3. “Wow!” I said, “they still look like new.” We briefly compared notes on what we would and wouldn’t buy secondhand. We agreed on underwear (definitely not) but differed on towels. Shoes have always been iffy with me, unless they look unworn like Kurt’s find. Doesn’t Galway Kinnell have an awful poem about Goodwill shoes?

I used to think that there was a right and a wrong way to do anything, including shopping the Salvation Army. More recently, I have become aware that there are numerous right ways to do things. I still secretly think, however, that I may have discovered the best way to shop the Salvation Army. That accounts for my willingness to share my theories and methods with Kurt. Maybe it’s all a little overwhelming for him.

“First, I walk the length of the store and always start from the back, in the appliances and furniture.” That seems odd even to me, because there’s very little or nothing in those categories that I need. He suggested that I might be attracted by the books, which are also at the far end of the store. I thought not, since my bookshelves at home already overflow, and there has been some complaint about my buying habits. “I just like starting from the back, probably like reading the newspaper from back to front.”

After scoping the bookshelves, appliances and furniture in the back room, I come back out to Housewares in the main room. Kurt said, “Yeah, every once in a while, there’s a dynamite highball glass in here- big heavy bottom.” What was the last thing was I bought in Housewares? Was it the framed, signed photograph of middleweight champion prize-fighter Carmen Basilio inscribed, “To my good buddy, Angie, best wishes”?

Is there a logic to what shows up at the Salvation Army? Are there tides of goods like oceans dragged around the globe by the moon? Currents of clothing, littoral drift of dishes, shoe seiches, toy tsunamis, and scarf surf on the storefront beaches? Goods wash up here for us to pick over. If we knew those tides, could we wait for what we want?

After Housewares, I cut across to Linens. Nothing catches my eye. The other day there was a khaki army blanket that looked at least fifty years old. The moth holes had been darned with brilliant embroidery floss. It caught my eye as a relic- butterflies are free- but I didn’t want to own it. It disappeared from the store within a day.

My final sweep of the store involves Men’s Clothes, and Men’s Clothes are displayed on two tiers of three major racks running almost the length of the store. Pants and sweaters; heavy shirts, suits and jackets; long-sleeved shirts below and short-sleeved shirts above. Kurt points out that prices seem to have risen recently, and that explains why I’ve been looking for the special color ½ price tickets more than usual.

I’ve been specializing in green shirts for the past few years, but it’s become clear that I have more green shirts than I can wear. Almost everyone knows that I’m usually dressed in some shade of green, but probably most of them don’t realize that the shirts all come from the same place. Now, when I buy a new one, one has to be returned.

The Men’s Clothes section is a museum of style and fiber. There’s an attraction to the occasional, grubby red plaid hunting woolens, the bright dashikis, and the pastel polyester leisure suits. Things which are good and valuable- by virtue of their unique style or definite utility- pass through the store quickly. Two days is a long time for something good- however outlandish- to linger, so it’s best to shop light and often. Of course, later, sometimes, I wonder. To what occasion would I wear a NYS Fruit Testing bowling shirt?

Anyway, once through Men’s Clothes in three long passes, I’m ready to exit back onto Main Street. Maybe I’ll give the Jewelry counter or Ladies Coats a glance, but seldom more than that.

I realize that I’ve gone on too long with Kurt. He glances toward his computer screen. I feel the need to justify my enthusiasm with more than claims of economy so I try a new tack. With his big bushy beard and funky clothes, Kurt might go for this, so I try, “Yeah, you know, it satisfies my hunter/gatherer instincts. The Bushman poking with his stick at a promising spot probably feels much the way I do scanning the racks for warmth, style, and value.”

Kurt smiles and turns to his e-mail.

The trade trail on
Main Street is well-marked
ascending slightly
leading away from the lake
into the wind, toward
the Salvation Army store
The walk is cold and snowy
the hunter-gatherer’s head is
covered, pulled in, hood buttoned up
sunglasses covering his eyes
cloth gloved hands and feet
protected by wool socks and boots
The wind stings his face
snow freezes on his cheeks
he approaches the front door
and finds the store all dark
a hand-written message in the window
“Closed dew to weather”

-by Stephen Lewandowski
A long-time York Stater, Steve has published eight books of poetry and his poems and essays have appeared in regional and national environment and literary journals and anthologies. An environmental educator, he is a founder of the Coalition for Hemlock and Canadice Lakes and has worked with numerous environmental and community organizations in the western Finger Lakes. His most recent book of poems, One Life, was published by Wood Thrush Books of Vermont. His work is either forthcoming or recently published in snowy egret, Bellowing Ark, Pegasus, Hanging Loose, Free Verse, Avocet, and Blueline.


Back from vacation

Hello everyone, I'm back in the swing of things here in Syracuse, hoping that we get a bit more of March's lamb and a bit less of the lion in the coming weeks.

In my internet surfing I tend to accumulate, or are sent, links to interesting Upstate sites and events and I think that it's a good time to share a few of them.

Where License Reigns with all Impunity A fascinating anarchist study of the traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) polity. This essay was sent to me by the author, Stephen Arthur.

The Best Apples
Information on growing, buying and eating antique apple varieties.

Doc's Little Gem
The map location of my new favorite 24-hour diner, here in Syracuse. This was sent to me by Mike.

"We're in this together": Vermont's Cooperatives Join Forces
Long-time readers will know that I am a big proponent of the cooperative movement. Here is the latest developments from our neighbors in the Green Mountain State.

Rare White Deer Versus Ethanol: Conservationists at odds in Seneca A continuation of our earlier story on the Ghost Deer of Romulus (Part I and Part II of that story can be found here). This link was sent to me by Laurie.

Hope everyone is doing well and weathering the end of winter.




Our co-editor Jesse will be traveling and far from a computer until the 17th. He will begin posting again at that time.

Where did that snake come from?

The History of a Story

Among current residents of Yates and Ontario Counties in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, there is strong value, interest, and concern associated with the past, present and future of several hills close to Canandaigua Lake. People have been told that the previous residents, the Seneca or Onondawaga people, had a special relationship with Bare and South Hills; that they considered the area to be their place of origin; and that a Seneca myth or legend was located on these hills.

Bare Hill is located about 15 miles west of the geographical center of the Finger Lakes region, 9.5 miles south of the City of Canandaigua and 37.5 miles south of the shore of Lake Ontario. Bare Hill is 9 miles south of State Routes 5 & 20, which follow an ancient east-west trail as well as marking a general division between the Ontario Lake Plain and the Allegheny Uplands.

Bare Hill is located 5.5 miles north of the southern end of Canandaigua and 9.5 from the northern end. It is in the northeastern corner of the Town of Middlesex, Yates County. At 42° 44’ 50” N and 77° 17’ 45” W, Bare Hill is one of the northernmost extensions of the Allegheny Plateau.

By local landmarks, Bare Hill is directly across Canandaigua Lake from Seneca Point, site of settler Gamaliel Wilder’s 1791 gristmill and distillery; 1.5 miles west of Overacker’s Corner’s schoolhouse and graveyard; a mile north and west of the ancient settlement of Vine Valley; and 3 miles north and west of the hamlet of Middlesex.

Bare Hill covers more than a thousand acres and reaches a summit half a mile east of the lake at 1540’ above sea level, more than 850’ above lake level. Its neighbor hill to the south is 340’ taller than Bare Hill at 1883’ above sea level, but its summit is flattened and elongated. Bare Hill, by contrast, seems pointed.

Seen from above, Bare Hill is egg-shaped, smoothed and flattened like a drumlin on the northern, lead edge by glaciation. Its northern slope is the flattest, with less than a 4% rise, and approaching from the north one would be unaware of the hill. Its western slope toward the lake is the steepest, at more than 30% grade. The hill measures a mile east-west and nearly two miles north-south.

The steep slope continues into the lake which reaches a depth of 242 feet within half a mile. Beneath the sediments forming the lake’s bed the bedrock continues to fall away another 300 feet. In other words, a bedrock hill nearly twice the size of the visible one is hidden, buried in sediment and covered with lake water.

Bare Hill’s prominent location means that it is both in many views of the area and has an unusually fine view of the area.

Bare Hill is visible from the northern end of Canandaigua Lake from the Owasco (AD 100-1350) period village sites at the Deer and Sackett Farms and the Iroquois (A.D. 1350-1730) period village site at Canandaigua Fort, both set somewhat above the present site of the City of Canandaigua on rises to the west. Because of the curve of the lake, one must either come to the lakeshore or climb one of rises north or west of the city to see Bare Hill.

The most spectacular view of Bare Hill is from the west across the lake. Your eye may be caught by the diversity of landscape figures, the pointed shape of Bare Hill, the steepness of slopes, the sheltered aspect of Vine Valley, and the huge multi-colored plane of the lake below.

The view from Bare Hill is magnificent and provides a sense of the territory defined by the hill. You feel that you look down at much of the world from Bare Hill. The view is relatively unobstructed to the northeast, north and southwest for ten to twenty-five miles. The northern view is particularly striking since you are looking out over the flat lake plain with its abrupt drumlin rises. From the west side of the hill, looking southwest, the view is down the Canandaigua Lake valley as far as the glacial terminal moraine between Naples and North Cohocton, some 14 miles distant. Above the moraine you see the bulky “shoulders” of glaciated Hatch Hill, Pine Hill, High Point and other unnamed hills of the Cohocton River watershed.

The Story and Its Translations
Over time, a story reported to be of Native American origin has become associated with Bare Hill.

There are two original English-language sources for the Big Snake on Bare Hill story from the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The story is in the original edition of James Seaver’s A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, “taken carefully from her own words, November 29, 1823” and published by J. D. Bemis and Company of Canandaigua in 1824.

The story itself, however, is not included in the main body of the text, purportedly a transcription of Mary Jemison’s statements (but showing considerable editorial interference on Seaver’s part). The story is the third section of the Appendix, which Seaver’s introduction informs us “is principally taken from the words of Mrs. Jemison’s statement. Those parts which were not derived from her, are deserving equal credit, having been obtained from authentic sources.”

The story, as it appears in the Appendix, seems to be ascribed to Horatio Jones, who was, like Mary Jemison (1743-1833), a long-term captive of the Seneca. Later, he often functioned as an interpreter and still later as an agent in the payment of annuities to the Seneca. He was trusted as one faithful to language and good relations. In A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, the story appears this way:


The tradition of the Seneca Indians, in regard to their origin, as we are assured by Capt. Horatio Jones, who was a prisoner five years amongst them, and for many years since has been an interpreter, and agent for the payment of annuities, is that they broke out of the earth from a large mountain at the head of Canandaigua Lake, and that mountain they still venerate as the place of their birth; thence they derive their name, “Ge-nun-de-wah,”1 or Great Hill, and are called “The Great Hill People,” which is the true definition of the word Seneca.

The great hill at the head of Canandaigua lake, from whence they sprung, is called Genundewah, and has for along time past been the place where the Indians of that nation have met in council, to hold great talks, and to offer up prayers to the Great Spirit, on account of its having been their birth place; and also in consequence of the destruction of a serpent at that place, in ancient time, in a most miraculous manner, which threatened the destruction of the whole of the Senecas, and barely spared enough to commence replenishing the earth.

The Indians say, says Capt. Jones, that the fort on the big hill, or Genundewah, near the head of Canandaigua lake, was surrounded by a monstrous serpent, whose head and tail came together at the gate. A long time it lay there, confounding the people with its breath. At length they attempted to make their escape, some with their hommany-blocks, and others with different implements of household furniture; and in marching out of the fort walked down the throat of the serpent. Two orphan children, who had escaped this general destruction by being left some time before on the outside of the fort, were informed by an oracle of the means by which they could get rid of their formidable enemy- which was, to take a small bow and a poisoned arrow, made of a kind of willow, and with that shoot the serpent under its scales. This they did, and the arrow proved effectual; for on its penetrating the skin, the serpent
became sick, and extending itself rolled down the hill, destroying all the timber that was in its way, disgorging itself and breaking wind greatly as it went. At every motion, a human head was discharged, and rolled down the hill into the lake, where they lie at this day, having the hardness and appearance of stones.

To this day the Indians visit that sacred place, to mourn the loss of their friends, and to celebrate some rites that are peculiar to themselves. To the knowledge of white people there has been no timber on the great hill since it was first discovered by them, though it lay apparently in a state of nature for a great number of years, without cultivation. Stones in the shape of Indians’ heads may be seen lying in the lake in great plenty, which are said to be the same that were deposited there at the death of the serpent.

The Senecas have a tradition, that previous to, and for some time after, their origin at Genundewah, this country, especially about the lakes, was thickly inhabited by a race of civil, enterprizing and industrious people, who were totally destroyed by the great serpent, that afterwards surrounded the great hill fort, with the assistance of others of the same species; and that they (the Senecas) went into possession of the improvements that were left.

In those days the Indians throughout the whole country, as the Senecas say, spoke one language; but having become considerably numerous, the before mentioned great serpent, by an unknown influence, confounded their language, so that they could not understand each other; which was the cause of their division into nations, as the Mohawks, Oneidas, &c. At that time, however, the Senecas retained their original language, and continued to occupy their mother hill, on which they fortified themselves against their enemies, and lived peaceably, till having offended the serpent,2 they were cut off as before stated.

David Cusick’s Version
In 1827, David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations was privately printed at Lewiston, NY. In 1828, a second edition of 7000 copies was published at Lewiston. In 1848 it was re-published by Turner and McCollum Printers of Lockport, NY. The second and third editions contain four woodcut illustrations and several extra paragraphs of text. In the text it is stated that the sketches were written “from the Tuscarora Village, June 10, 1825”.

Cusick was an educated Tuscarora (the sixth of the Six Nations, who joined the five original League members after moving from North Carolina in 1712). Cusick included this version of “The Serpent at Bare Hill” in Section III of his sketches, Origin of the Kingdom of the Five Nations, which was called A Long House:
There was a woman and son who resided near the fort, which was situated near a nole, which was Jenneatowaka, the original seat of the Te-hoo-nea-nyo-hent (Senecas) the boy one day, while amusing in the bush he caught a small serpent called Kaistowanea, with two heads, and brings it to his apartment; the serpent was first placed in a small warm box to keep tame, which was fed with birds, flesh, etc. After ten winters the serpent became considerable large and rested on the beams within the hut, and the warrior was obliged to hunt deers and bears to feed the monster; but after awhile the serpent was able to maintain itself on various game; it left the hut and resided on top of a nole; the serpent frequently visited the lake, and after thirty years it was prodigious size, which in a short time inspired with an evil mind against the people, and in the night the warrior experienced the serpent was
brooding some mischief, and was about to destroy the people of the fort; when the warrior was acquainted of the danger he was dismayed and soon moved to other
fort; at daylight the serpent descended from the heights with the most tremendous noise of the trees, which were trampled down in such a force that the trees were uprooted, and the serpent immediately surrounded the gate; the people were taken improvidentially and brought to confusion; finding themselves circled by the monstrous serpent, some of them endeavored to pass out at the gate, and others attempted to climb over the serpent, but were unable; the people remained in this situation for several days; the warriors had made oppositions to dispel the monster, but were fruitless, and the people were distressed of their confinement, and found no other method than to rush out at the gate, but the people were devoured, except a young warrior and his sister, which detained, and were only left exposed to the monster, and were restrained without hope of getting released; at length the warrior received advice from a dream, and he adorned his arms with the hairs of his sister, which he succeeded by shooting at the heart, and the serpent was mortally wounded, which hastened to retire from the fort and retreated to the lake in order to gain relief; the serpent dashed on the face of the water furiously in the time of agony; at last it vomited the substance which it had eaten and then sunk to the deep and expired. The people of the fort did not receive any assistance from their neighboring forts as the serpent was too powerful to be resisted. After the fort was demolished the Council fire was removed to other fort called Than-gwe-took, which was situated west of now Geneva Lake.

A later study (1987) of Cusick’s work by Russell Judkins pronounces it “an early example of Iroquois intellectual endeavor in ethnic self-analysis and the communication of Native American culture.” Judkins argues that in its structure and language the work “ultimately reflects Iroquoian mind, spirit, assumption, and reality.” Judkins finds great value in Cusick’s use of “symbolic imagery” and “language which “bridges” two cultural worlds.”

The Snake
Wallace Chafe’s Handbook of Seneca Language (1963) translates “Kashaistowaneh” as “Big Snake.” In one version, it is gigantic and has two heads, and in the other it is simply gigantic. Each of the stories acknowledges that there’s more to the hilltop than meets the eye. One version says the Senecas “broke out of the earth” and the other that they “originated from the top.”

What about the snake? Neither story says so, but could the snake have come from the same hole? Jemison’s version doesn’t mention an origin, and Cusick says it was found in the bush. Why did it follow them? To destroy them and give them a fresh start. The snake links an under and other world with the present and above ground world.

Presuming that the story originated in the Seneca society and language, what did snakes mean to them? One prominent association of snakes was with water. Almost any spring, well or seep was thought to have a snake, like a guardian spirit, lurking nearby. In a number of Seneca tales, lakes are inhabited by huge snakes whose intentions toward humans seem to be malevolent. The snakes can take human form, better to mate with human women, but are in constant conflict with He-no the Thunderer, a god associated with another form of water, rainfall from the sky.

If Big Snake is like other snakes from around the world, his reputation is mixed. He lives at the boundary between the world we know and the ones we don’t. What’s hidden underground is akin to what’s hidden in times past and by death. Big Snake lives near chaos and brings destruction with him, yet he also bears a strong relation to procreation, birth, rainfall and fertility. He is a go-between, with powers to destroy and create. Despite the good qualities such as generosity and protection of the weak demonstrated by the orphan in taking and caring for the snake, the boy made an error: such things make poor pets.

Other Variants
References to and variants of the tale are included in Henry R. Schoolcraft’s Notes on the Iroquois (1846), Harriet Maxwell Converse’s Myths and Legends of the New York State Iroquois (1908), William Beauchamp’s A History of the New York Iroquois (1905) and Iroquois Folk Lore (1922), Arthur Parker’s Seneca Myths and Folk Tales (1923), and Joseph Bruchac’s Iroquois Stories (1985).

Schoolcraft appropriates Cusick’s materials, including the Big Snake story, with only minimal attribution of authorship. No mention is made of David Cusick when the story appears on pp. 60-1 of Notes…. Later in Notes… (pp. 237-40), a letter from Reverend James Cusick, David’s brother, seems to convey the remainder of Cusick’s Sketches… to Schoolcraft’s use with brother David’s authorship relegated to a footnote.

The Converse version is a literary re-telling of David Cusick’s story. It appears in Part 2 of her volume as material which had not been prepared for publication at the time of her death in 1903 but was “Revised by the Editor (Arthur Parker) from Rough Drafts Found Among Mrs. Converse’s Manuscripts.” Her snake, like Cusick’s, has two heads and her additions to the tale are identifying the hero whom Jemison calls “an orphan” as Ha-Ja-Noh, a boy who became a warrior, and in emphasizing the hypnotic power of the snake’s “swaying heads” and “bright eyes.” In Cusick’s version of the tale, the boy is not an orphan.

In History…, Beauchamp recites the Big Snake on Bare hill story and ascribes it to “a general Seneca tradition” while offering as a possible “explanation” that “the fort was besieged by a powerful foe, or that something near by produced a pestilence.” He does call the story a “favorite” Iroquois tale and notes that “the story seems to belong to but one of the two great bands of the Senecas.” In Folklore… Beauchamp republishes both Cusick’s and Jemison’s versions. He comments that he was told a version similar to Jemison’s by Captain Samuel George, an Onondaga.

Arthur Parker includes the theme in his Literary Elements of Seneca Folklore section as “Number 43: Fast-growing Snake. A boy finds a pretty snake ands feeds it. It grows enormously and soon eats a deer. Game is exhausted and snake goes after human beings.”

Joseph Bruchac follows the Converse version in most details.

Some Other Themes
Neither Jemison nor Cusick attribute rapid growth to the snake. Cusick states that it took ten winters for the snake to leave the lodge and thirty years to reach a dangerous size. The snake’s rapid growth first appears in Converse’s version and is re-affirmed by Parker.

Jemison calls the brother and sister “orphans” but Cusick does not. Neglected orphans are as ubiquitous in Iroquois folklore as wandering princes are in Grimm. Jemison doesn’t refer to the boy as a warrior, but Cusick does, and Converse not only makes him a warrior but gives him a name, Ha-ja-noh.

The weapons and their origin also vary among versions. Jemison says that an oracle advises the boy to make a “small bow and poisoned arrow, made of a kind of willow” and to shoot it “under the scales.” Cusick says that a dream advised the boy to “adorn his arms with the hairs of his sister, which he succeeded in shooting at the heart.” Finally, Converse says a dream instructed the boy to make “arrows of dark snake wood tipped with “white flint” and bow strung “with a lock of your sister’s hair” and aimed at the monster’s heart.

The Seneca consider dreams oracular, so there is probably no conflict in those terms. The snake wood and white flint of Converse seem unduly romantic. In all versions, the weapon which is small (unlike its opponent) and made from a kind of willow, draws some magic power from association with the sister’s hair, and penetrates the creature’s scales to its heart, unlike the failed conventional weapons of other warriors who were devoured by the snake.

Arthur Parker
Arthur Parker (1881-1955) was a protégé of Mrs. Harriet Maxwell Converse (1836-1903). In his youth, he seems to have followed her more fanciful versions and interpretations of Seneca folklore. Mrs. Converse was a valued friend of the Iroquois in that she opened her New York City home to native American visitors, spent her fortune in relieving the distress of their indigents, and actively lobbied in Albany and through the New York City press for their protection and benefit.

In his later years, however, Parker returned to study of Seneca folklore with a fresh perspective and influenced by the science of anthropology. Parker had returned from his position as State Archaeologist in Albany to become Director of the Rochester Museum of Science. Working in Rochester and living in Naples, he lived in and passed through the landscapes depicted in the stories he studied.

In 1949, Parker was interviewed by the Canandaigua Daily Messenger and asked specifically about the hills and the snake story. His opinion at that time was that Bare Hill is Genundewah and should be associated with the snake story, but that Nundawao, the hill from which the Seneca say they originated, is the next hill south along Canandaigua Lake locally known as South Hill. It is not difficult to imagine the original Seneca people issuing from the chasm called Clark Gully in the southeast slope of that hill.

Questions Remain
Questions adhere to the story and the hills. Is the Big Hill in question Bare Hill or South Hill? Was the story native in origin or, as Tonawanda Seneca leader Corbett Sundown said in 1987, “a white man’s tale”? Its most obvious interpretation is that Native Americans fed and protected weak colonists when they first appeared and were “devoured” when the colonies grew huge and strong. Is there more to the tale? Is there archaeological evidence of the village that several texts describe on top of either hill?

One hundred and eighty years later, there are no new texts to which to appeal for answers. There may, however, be remnants of the story being told in the Seneca language. If so, these and other questions might receive an answer in Seneca.

-by Stephen Lewandowski

A long-time York Stater, Steve has published eight books of poetry and his poems and essays have appeared in regional and national environment and literary journals and anthologies. An environmental educator, he is a founder of the Coalition for Hemlock and Canadice Lakes and has worked with numerous environmental and community organizations in the western Finger Lakes. His most recent book of poems, One Life, was published by Wood Thrush Books of Vermont. His work is either forthcoming or recently published in snowy egret, Bellowing Ark, Pegasus, Hanging Loose, Free Verse, Avocet, and Blueline.


You might be from Upstate if...

If you're proud that your region makes the national news 96 nights a year because Saranac Lake is the coldest spot in the nation, and Syracuse gets more snow than any other major city in the US

If your local Dairy Queen is closed from October through May

If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance, and they don't work there.

If you consider it a sport to gather your food by drilling through 36 inches of ice and sitting there all day hoping that the food will swim

If you have worn shorts and a parka on the same day.

If you have had a lengthy phone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number.

"Vacation" means going South past Syracuse for the weekend!

You measure distance in hours. [is this odd?]

You know several people who have hit a deer more than once.

You can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard, without flinching.

You install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked.

You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.

You can identify a southern or eastern accent.

Down South to you means Corning.

Your neighbor throws a party to celebrate his new shed!

You go out for a fish fry every Friday.

You find 10 degrees "a little chilly."

-Submitted by Cathy


Alternative Economics: India's Jajmani System

For some time, I have used this website as a platform to explore alternative economic models. Long time readers will remember explorations into the functioning of agricultural cooperatives in the former East German state as a hedge against unemployment and (a bit closer to home) the Ithaca Hour local currency project. I would like to once again move beyond our everyday economic systems to explore an entirely different way of life and what we can learn from it and possibly bring back to improve our communities back here in Upstate New York: the Hindu Jajmani system.

In her recent book on South Indian caste and religion, Fierce Gods, Diane Mines describes the ‘Jajmani System’:
In 1936, William Wiser first coined the term ‘jajmani system’ to describe a pattern of nonmonetary, nonmarket exchange he found at work in a North Indian village. He found that the non-Brahman landholders (called jajmān) in this village gave shares of their grain harvest as well as cooked food and other goods to other occupational jātis [castes] such as Barbers, Potters, Washermen, Carpenters, and Blacksmiths in return for long-term service. Wiser characterized these exchanges as ‘mutual’ or ‘symmetrical.’ That is, Wiser saw the jajmāni system as a division of labor where landholding castes exchanged grain for the services of the other jātis tit for tat… [1]
In the idealized jajmani system, all of the castes, “the priest, bard, accountant, goldsmith, florist vegetable grower, etc.etc, are served by all the other castes. They are the jajmans of these other castes. In turn each of these castes has a form of service to perform for the others. Each in turn is master. Each in turn is servant.”[2] Mines describes (in 1990) the continuation of this system in some economic areas: blacksmiths still came around to repair plows and wheels, barbers cut hair, washermen washed clothes and garland makers rode through town on bicycles every morning, throwing flowers (used for decoration of home altars) on front stoops. None of these people were typically paid in cash for their services[3]; however, during harvest, they were able to come to all of their traditional jajman—whether their services had been called upon or not—for a small share of grain (she describes as roughly 3 kg per household). Kumar reports that recompense could take the form of rent-free land, butter, milk, clothing and use of fruit trees. Miner describes one case where the landlord castes had set aside a field for the use of the potter caste, which they either rented or used for their own crops. The specialized castes also enjoyed other privileges on particular holy days: ritual meals, uncooked ceremonial foods and small gifts (candy, small amounts of cash, garlands and wooden spoons). They were, though, also expected to provide certain services on holy days and for life rituals, for example the washermen provide the wicks for oil lamps at weddings and the potters created special jars for ritual uses on holy days.

What separates the jajmani system from a contractual one is: (1) that it is an inheritable one, one generation of farmers has a relationship with the children of the specialized caste members that their parents had relationships with, (2) it is exclusive, in that a jajman family cannot receive specialized services from anyone except their traditional family clients and (3) finally, it is more than economic transaction, but assumes a ritual character and a supposed relationship of ‘affection.’ One’s traditional interlocutors in the jajmani system were viewed, in a way, as extended portions of the family.

This is not, however, to say that the Jajmani system is without its drawbacks. This system was embedded in a broader caste system and served to protect the rights and privileges of the dominant castes. Kumar writes that, “prior to 1843, many were in the position of serfs, i.e. subject to punishment if they tried to run away, or to change masters without permission of their patron.”[4] At it’s height, it was a form of feudalism, with patrons protecting the legal rights of their clients and clients serving (if necessary) as muscle to protect their patrons. In particular, clients served as ritual sinks for their patron’s bad karma, removing impurities and evil from the higher castes.

Although there is no doubt that the Jajmani System always had exploitative elements [5], many participants saw (and still see, as it does continue in rural India), it as one of mutual reciprocity and ‘affection.’ Those jajman relationships that remain today are ones of choice and are typically used to augment work for wages.

To return back to Upstate New York—a world away from rural India—there are certain elements that remain interesting and useful to us. For one, it shows that a complex civilization can function quite smoothly in a situation where a majority of economic transactions are neither based upon the Market nor upon the control of a centralized State. That South Asian civilization has produced fantastic works of art, music, poetry, philosophy and theology is undeniable—what most Western observers do not realize was that this was done largely upon a Jajmani foundation. Despite the claims of radical Objectivists and Libertarians, it is possible to have a decentralized civilization without a ‘Market.’

Furthermore, it points to a more human-centered form of economics. What is to say that our oil changes, haircuts, floral arrangements (such as on holidays and birthdays), dry cleaning, shoe repair, tailoring, plumbing and carpentry repairs (as opposed to construction) have to be on-the-spot monetary transactions? Would plumbers, dry cleaners, etc, benefit from having guaranteed yearly incomes? I’m not sure, though I know for certain that their clients would benefit greatly from being able to budget in a regular small retainer expenditure instead of large one-time fees. Though most likely most of these would be cash exchanges (perhaps a single large payment once a year or smaller ones throughout the year), the Hindu example shows that the exchange of food, goods and services on ritual occasions can help to forge powerful inter-personal bonds. Can we imagine a world where an elderly woman worked out a system with her plumber to give him garden vegetables in the summer and baked goods around Christmas in return for the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that she won’t be saddled with a devastatingly huge bill in a plumbing emergency [6]?

By removing cash from the exchange, it becomes a far more personal event, necessitating the building of deeper ties… which become the foundation of viable, healthy communities. Some of the uncertainties and worries that inevitably come with our modern Capitalist system would be alleviated. Cash would—like in India—never disappear, but we would no longer need to view the world as entirely within its bounds.


Interesting Articles:
Is the Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism?
Changing Inter-Caste Relationships
A view of the modern, adapted Jajmani System
[1] Mines, Diane P. Fierce Gods: Inequality, Ritual and the Politics of Dignity in a South Indian Village. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2002.
[2] Kumar, D.S.V.Siddhardha. “
The Jajmani System in India
[3] Though she reports that sometimes, probably for large jobs, they were given a wage in addition to traditional reciprocity.
[4] Kumar
[5] And also never ‘perfect’ or ‘self-contained.’ Miner describes how market and cash forces came into play and that the system was always more flexible and fluid than simple feudalism would allow.
[6] Of course, for the time being at least, some cash would have to exchange hands… the plumber has bills to pay after all. But as interrelationships like these grew, the need for cash would decrease as well.


Crowd Bites Coyote: Predator and Prey

“Kill every buffalo you can, for every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”- Colonel R.I. Dodge, Fort McPherson, 1867

Unfortunately this was the kind of thinking that has gone on in the past and seems to be continuing throughout [sic] history. Recently I arrived home to find a new edition of The Valley News (Vol. #56; Jan. 16, 2007; Number 3) from Springwater, NY. The Valley News is pretty much roughly a few pages of articles, followed by advertisements, followed by more death notices and the such, then some supermarket ads, finally reaching to the last page’s article proclaiming - “Now That The Holidays Are Over: Filling TheEmptiness In The Pit Of Our Stomachs”- a religious article. That pretty much rounds out The Valley News, except for the front page advertisement. For on the front page beneath The Valley News header and spanning the rest of the page is an advertisement for a “Coyote Hunting Contest - Grand Prize $2,500 Cash with an entry fee of $10". You can also add on the price of a New York State Hunting License if you don’talready have one. The competition is being put together by
Dick Kraft Real Estate, Honeoye Fish & Game Club and Austin Master Services Inc.

I have lived in the area from over 23 years and I don’t believe I’ve evercome across a coyote. I was under the impression that only within the last 10 years or so when the coyote rumor mill started churning out sightings and the eerie moonlit night howl, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve heard of other people in the neighborhood shooting coyotes and else where in Upstate, but never did I think I would see a coyote hunting contest. It seems that coyote hunting is becoming a booming interest in the USA withover an estimated 500 such calling contests. On top of these contests theUS Department of Agriculture’s “predator control system” “destroys” about 80,000 coyotes a year on private and public lands nationwide. After I started learning more, I kept randomly stumbling across more fresh information- like a recent article published by The Democrat & Chronicle [Of Rochester] about a man’s coyote hunting experience.

Here are some coyote facts:
The Eastern Coyote at a glance: (NYS DEC)
Description: The Eastern coyote looks like a medium-sized German shepherd dog, with long thick fur. The tail is full and bushy, usuallycarried pointing down. Ears are erect and pointed.
Length: 4 to 5 feet (including tail)
Weight: 35 to 45 pounds (males usually larger than females.)
Color: Variable, from blonde or reddish blonde to dark tan washedwith black. Legs, ears and cheeks usually reddish.

Some other interesting information is that in Navajo Mythology the coyote is an important character:
Áłtsé hashké (First Scolder) or Mą'ii (Roamer) or (Coyote)- Generally regarded as the trickster, but who hangs around First Man and First Woman and through his foolish actions reveals the limitations of the spiritual and material realities and the consequences of transgressing them. He is the unwitting agent of First Man's and First Woman's creation designs and yet coyote is considered as a very dangerous entity because of his irresponsible and foolish application of his acquired and limited knowledge of the dual creative and destructive powers of creation, for his own personal egotistical gain. The consequences of his lack of foresight in the wielding these powers also applies to actions started at the material level of creation. Considered a Díyín diné’é.

In an article I wrote some time ago (Manual of the Zoo... [For Animals Not at the Zoo]) about the appearance ofanimals in cinema states:
I believe that on a large scale the appearance of these animals in cinema represents our collective desire as a civilization to express the mysterious and magical nature of these creatures. It might seem like we know so much about them, yet at the same time I think we know so little. Many people like to take the stand point that animals areinferior to human beings, therefore allowing for their exploitation byhuman hands; I however would like to believe that animals are intelligent,some perhaps more than others, and as many of the movies have pointed out,animals have something to offer us (other than their dead bodies).

It seems that the coyote is a vital part of our eco-system and that this spectacle of hunting them for competition can only makes our collective situation worse off. Yes, you can win $2,500 which would be a nice lump of appreciation in a lot of folks pocket’s around here, but I don’t think it can measure against a healthy eco-system. I also think that the relationship between predator and prey has gone aloof - I would be curious to know what they are going to do with all the coyote meat and fur. Will they just be hung up in their front yards, like I’ve heard taking place elsewhere in Upstate. Are you really doing this to survive or are you just taking another life to make some money?

What do you think?

"Why would I go to Safeway if I could catch coho in the stream outside my door? I wouldn’t. So how do those in power make certain I lack food self-sufficiency? Simple. Eliminate free food sources. Eliminate wild nature. For the same is true, obviously, for everything that is wild and free, for everything else that can meet our needs without us having to paythose in power. The push to privatize the world’s water helps make sense of official apathy surrounding the pollution of (free) water sources. You just watch: air will soon be privatized: I don’t know how they’ll do it, but they’ll certainly find a way.” - Endgame, Derrick Jensen
Sans Soleil by Chris Marker,Youtube Video(Year of the Dog) - one of my favourite movies ever!

Eastern Coyote Wikipedia

Coyote Killing Contest Prompts Howls

Hunting: The Competitive Spirit
Graffiti on the Rochester Legal Wall - 2005

end transmission

Editor's Note: Jefredomismo's blog, http://loveyourdestiny.blogspot.com, is back online and making good use of a sweet new photo scanner. Check it out.


Tastes of the Region #14: Early Thoughts on a Finger Lakes cuisine

Over lunch and later, while hiking, I thought about the forest and the farms of the Finger Lakes that I had seen and how generations of people had been supported by foods produced by this land. Devising a cuisine for this place, giving full expression as a set of tastes, seemed like a good idea. After all, almost any local cuisine would be an improvement on the current food system that burns corn for home heat, runs on huge quantities of hydrocarbons and incorporates petroleum distillates into our food.

Our technology allows us to transport goods and communicate information in a way that increasingly homogenizes the world’s food and diet by making all edible things seem equally available. A supermarket in our area displays foodstuffs raised in the southern hemisphere and transported and stored in specialized environments, so that we can enjoy our favorite foods no matter what the season, so long as we can pay for the ingredients. Helpfully, the market posts recipes for unfamiliar foods that can be torn off at the same time that the foods are being bagged and weighed for purchase.

On another hand, our preferences for certain kinds of food are durable. Ethnic foodways are some cultural components that last best and survive longest in “the melting pot.” When language, clothing, gesture and most other components of lifestyle have become Americanized, food preferences linger on.

As far as I know, no one in this particular corner of the melting pot called the Finger Lakes (roughly a 14 county area of 8,000 square miles around 11 lakes in west-central New York State) has considered what would constitute our “regional cuisine,” so we are free to imagine. Before a Finger Lakes cuisine can even be approached, there are practical concerns and questions that require some tentative answers.

The questions deal with the availability of transported foods, the season of the year, how much theory versus how much practice will be involved, a distinction between native and imported crops (and native to which regions), and the fidelity to/blending of other existing regional cuisines and ethnic diets. A regional cuisine predictably favors the native crops of the region over transported foods, while keeping the door open for others; addresses seasonal variability; offers both theoretical perspectives and practical suggestions; and avoids simply importing other ethnic foodways to fill in our own gap. In addition, it would be productive to ask what this cuisine is for and to provide answers that emphasize the various roles of food to give comfort, pleasure, and promote health.

The Finger Lakes region is favored with excellent soils and a good growing climate, hard as that may be to believe in the depths of January. We receive something like a yard of precipitation per year and more than half falls during the growing season. Our soils, a mixture of sand, silt, and clay particles left by glacial action, were formed and made rich by ten thousand years of forests and, where deep and flat enough, will grow anything not requiring tropic heat.

The Finger Lakes region supported people who ate well prior to the arrival of European fur traders and missionaries. These earliest people called themselves Ongweh Howeh, or real people, and ate a wide variety of foods provided by the local landscape. Like many other cultures, they devised recipes that turned the potential uniformity of a few basic foodstuffs into a diversity of tastes, a cuisine, as our French cousins would say. The word cuisine’s own history relates to the Latin coquina, for things pertaining to the kitchen and cookery and undoubtedly is rooted in role of the Roman household gods, their lares and penates.

Archaeological investigations indicate that people living in the Finger Lakes for thousands of years hunted and gathered plants and animals for their sustenance. They ate birds such as ducks, geese, turkeys and grouse; larger animals like white-tailed deer, beaver and bear, squirrels, possums and raccoons; and turtles and fish from the streams and lakes. They gathered the roots of plants like Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, and cat-tails; ate greens from plants now considered common weeds such as milkweed, cowslips and lamb’s-quarters; gathered plums, elderberries, strawberries, and black raspberries; used acorns, walnuts, chestnuts, sunflower seeds and hickory nuts for their meat and oil; and tapped the maple trees for their sugary sap.

The activities of these hunters and gatherers slowly changed the environment in which they lived by favoring certain plants and animals for their usefulness and discouraging others. The dividing line between hunting/gathering and farming is not as definite as you might think at first. If you saw that white-tailed deer were attracted to openings in the woods, wouldn’t you set some fires to create and maintain these openings? It would make your hunting that much easier if you could draw these animals closer by offering good browse. Likewise, if you gathered wild plants and prepared them to eat in your home, wouldn’t the seeds of these plants tend to fall in your yard? As these plants proliferated nearby where you could observe their progress, wouldn’t you notice that some were larger, stronger and produced more of what you wanted in greenery, seeds, fruits or roots? Wouldn’t you select seeds and cuttings from these better plants to re-plant near your home in order to have good things nearer at hand? The domestication of crop plants begins with observation and selection. The cultivation of domestic crops begins with altering the environment to create conditions favorable to their growth. A domesticated plant or animal is nothing other than a wild animal or plant so altered in its relationship with humans that it begins to require human intervention and management.

About a thousand years ago, and five hundred years before the first white visitors or colonists arrived, the Ongweh Howeh received a gift that would change their lives. Whether the gift was brought by migrating groups of people (probably coming north and east along the Allegheny River), or was brought by a long, well-established systems of trade, or was taken in the process of raiding neighboring people, it consisted of a few basic agricultural plants and information needed to successfully cultivate them: squash, followed by corn, and finally beans. Women, whose previous role had entailed preparing the gathered foodstuffs and perhaps nurturing early domesticates, found themselves in charge of the gardens. Men contributed to the gardens by clearing land and processing the harvest but remained primarily hunters, even traveling away from home and village for months to follow the food animals.

Whatever the origin and the transmission of the original seeds, they were also attended by sufficiently detailed cultivation instructions to assure their success. The Ongweh Howeh learned that land would have to be cleared for crops to prosper, that wood ash from the burned trees and the land‘s natural fertility would yield good crops for as long as a generation, and that movement to new villages and fields would be necessary to continue gardening beyond that time. They learned that corn, beans and squash would benefit from being planted together in mounded soil and would grow better if weeds were kept away from the food plants, requiring cultivation with hoes.

A regional cuisine for the Finger Lakes is necessarily grounded in this deep agricultural history and in one Native American word: succotash. Like many words scattered over our landscape, succotash originated in the east (the Narragansett coined the word misisckquatash for an ear of corn) and migrated west where it came to be applied to any dish that contained both cooked corn and beans. The Iroquois, as the Ongweh Howeh came to be called by others, had many variations on this dish but called succotash ogosase. A Seneca recipe gathered by Phyllis Williams Bardeau in Iroquois Woodland Favorites (2005) requires “6 ears green corn, 1 pint shelled beans, ¼ cup diced fried salt pork, and salt/pepper. Cut kernels from cobs and scrape off the milk. Place corn in a pot, add the shelled beans, diced salt pork and seasonings. Add water to almost cover (ewowe’sah). Stir frequently (da’ja’ne’) to keep from scorching. Cook for about ½ hour.” Archaeologist Arthur Parker’s Iroquois Uses of Maize (1910) specified that both sweet corn and Tuscarora-variety corn in the “green corn” stage were used, and Tuscarora Dorothy Crouse contributed a very similar recipe to Iroquois Indian Recipes (1978). Ethnologist F.W. Waugh’s Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation (1916) adds several details to the process: the corn was pounded to express its “milk” before boiling, half of a deer’s jawbone was the traditional corn-scraping tool, and maple syrup might be added for taste.

Succotash can be wonderful or awful. It is not a dish that cans well, but it has been canned, overcooked and piled on a plate of meat and potatoes in a way that is not encouraging. Usually, the canned beans are lima beans, a more southern bean than those raised in the Finger Lakes. But who would judge a food by its canned version? Remember that canning’s short history dates from Napoleon’s desire to fuel a huge army a long way from home in inhospitable climes.

We are not an army. We are close to home, our earth is not blackened, and at certain times of year when both the corn and beans are ripe, real succotash becomes a possibility. The absolute necessity for fresh ingredients means that real succotash can only occur for two and a half months of the year, between mid-July and early October. Break open the pods, shell the immature beans into a sauce pan and cook lightly in water enough to cover. Lima beans are okay, but almost any bean picked short of maturity can be a shell-bean. Shell-beans are partly mature beans in which the pod has not begun to harden and the beans have not developed their final, hard coat. Some Iroquois recipes call for “cranberry-style” beans, big fat ones. Take a sharp knife and score the corn kernels along their rows. Then hold the ear against a plate and scrape off the corn kernels. Go as deep as you can on the cob (to get the ‘milk’ as Bardeau calls it) and put the kernels into the sauce pan with the half-cooked beans. Some prefer younger corn for greater sweetness, but others like the texture of fully mature kernels. All the authors specify “green corn” for succotash, an important cultural distinction to the Iroquois who celebrate the appearance of that stage of corn development in late July or early August. In our time, sweet corn is corn that is delayed in the “green corn” stage of development, staying sweeter longer. Add some butter (unavailable to the poor Indians) and sauté briefly. Serve and eat with a dish and spoon, or eat it right out of the pan with the serving spoon. You may want to drain off a little of the liquid and replace it with cream (those poor, poor Indians) and re-heat.

Voila- the basis of a Finger Lakes regional cuisine. Admittedly, succotash still sounds like a side-dish, even with the addition of butter and cream. To make it more like a meal, add some dried or freshly fried summer squash to sweeten the mix, as the Jesuits noted in their Relations from the early 1600s. Yellow crookneck and pattypan would be the best squash varieties.

If you want more substance yet, consider frying and adding a few bits of fat meat as a garnish to the dish. Presuming that you have neither the fattier parts of bear, beaver nor deer available, a little fried-up or boiled salt pork a.k.a. side-meat or bacon would suit your purposes.

Salt and pepper would taste good on succotash, but neither would have been used in the old days. Remember that all those exploratory voyages were about discovering a new route to the spice isles to bring back peppercorns. The Iroquois got a peppery taste from adding smartweed leaves or black mustard seeds to the dish.

Salt was known in the New World but not trusted. The Onondaga regarded the salt springs in their territory as unhealthy, perhaps possessed. Instead of gathering salt from those springs, the Iroquois dried and burned coltsfoot leaves and used the salty ashes as a seasoning. To the detriment of their health, colonial settlers ignored the Indians’ warnings about the overuse of both salt and tobacco.

Waugh notes that most of the true Iroquois dishes were either some form of bread (baked or boiled) or stew (like succotash) and could have been seasoned with a “handful of gnats.” Anyone trying a first bowl of traditional Iroquois corn soup (whose ingredients are exactly the same as succotash but treated and cooked differently) would find it bland, but they are more likely to reach for the proffered salt and pepper, or sugar, than get themselves a handful of gnats, a slug of maple syrup, or coltsfoot ashes. Convenience and authenticity are often at odds, but perhaps the coltsfoot and the cream are worth a taste.

Succotash is a promising beginning, but remember that its season is less than three months. For the rest of year, a Finger Lakes cuisine would need to rely on stored foods, root crops, animal flesh (migrating birds, salmon runs), seeds, nuts and greens. Each of five or ten major seasons would have its dominant flavor, though some form of corn would appear in each. Parker says early travelers among the Iroquois were “impressed with the number of ways of preparing corn and enumerate from 20 to 40 methods.”

The Finger Lakes region was colonized by successive waves of immigrants, beginning with New Englanders moving inland, followed by English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks and Slovenes. The migration has never ended, though its points-of-origin have changed over time to Bosnia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, or Hong Kong. Almost all the early colonies were full of hungry people, and the mortality of colonists from hunger and Native Americans from disease was astounding. The ongoing hunger seems to prove that the Old World crops did not find a place quickly in the New World and that the colonists did not readily adopt New World foods and crops, which were all around them. It’s almost a cliché to say that the earliest colonies were saved from starvation and failure only by the intervention of the native people or food stores stolen from them.

Of course, there’s more to eating than simply having the foodstuffs available, and it must have taken some time and experimentation for the cooks to find ways to make the new foods not only palatable but delicious. To whom could they look when considering the uses of an ear of corn? The Iroquois maintained eight or ten main varieties of corn whose strengths were exploited by various means of preparation. Parker makes it clear that the Iroquois had developed elaborate methods to roast, fry, dry, re-hydrate, bake, soak, hull (treat with wood ash to make hominy), boil, grind into meal and flour, and even rot the ear of corn so as to have potentially a variety of dishes from that same ear.


Yesterday, I carried my lunch in a freezer bag in my backpack on a long hike along the Interloken Trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest. I stopped for lunch a mile or so on my way, sitting on a shady but dry wooden walkway, not far from the intersection with the Backbone Trail. While eating, I noticed that the boardwalk supported a colony of carpenter ants that came out to investigate the sugars they smelled in my lunch. The boardwalk was shaded by a small stand of beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), a highly edible nut when ripe later in the season, if you can beat the squirrels to them. At points on the trail, wood thrushes sang and pileated woodpeckers drummed.

I was carrying three sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and kept cool by the cold cans of Adirondack grape soda also in the bag. Two of the sandwiches were sliced chicken, made from a thigh sautéed in a mixture of grape syrup (grape jelly which failed to set in 1994) and hot pepper flakes. Over the sliced chicken in the roll was a light slaw of chopped cabbage and broccoli stems with a grating of carrot and onion and a little vinegar dressing. There was so much failed wild grape jelly in 1994 that I’ve been devising recipes to use it ever since. The wild grapes were gathered in October from the roadsides near Hi Tor, Sunnyside and Vine Valley in Yates County. The sandwiches were made on long rolls baked by Petrillo’s of Rochester, a stronghold of Italian-Americans which, although only on the periphery of the Finger Lakes, might be honorarily included for its bread. I saved the second sandwich for a spot remembered from an earlier walk, beneath a stand of big oaks in an open field, an oasis of shade in a cow pasture.

The third roll was smeared with chunky peanut butter, non-native ingredients but crushed into a paste by the Once Again Nut Butters of Nunda, NY, an old hippy co-operative outfit. Against the organic peanut butter was absolutely fresh blackberry jam, which had been berries hanging on prickly stalks in roadside and hedgerow stands less than twenty-four hours before. Picked with some pain, carried in baskets, sorted, washed, and cooked into a deep magenta paste, gelled, sugared and preserved in glass half-pints, the berries produced surplus in the pan for a few sandwiches. The menu was a practical one, mandated by the heat of the day, need to carry and be handy to eat outdoors.


In its early phase, a cuisine for the Finger Lakes would need to be simple but capable of expansion and greater complexity as it comes into contact with new foods, new preparations, and other cuisines. It should be healthy, though of course anything can be taken to excess. Both succotash and grape-glazed chicken sandwiches are healthy in the sense of being well-balanced nutritionally as well as satisfying the needs of an active life. The cuisine implied here is also sustainable in the sense that we know that the crops flourish here, skilled farmers could be paid to produce these crops, some ingredients could be gathered at no cost at all, some beginning has already been made, and there is a long history behind this cuisine. These foods are affordable so they could be widely distributed and eaten in the area.

I’m not posing as a culture czar, but I will make a pitch for some foods that seem central to my enjoyment of life in the Finger Lakes. They are foods that I can grow in my garden or gather from hedgerows and roadsides, and the prospect of experimenting with their tastes is exciting. Some are literally as old as the hills; others brand new to this place. Making food that tastes good is an experiment. When I teach kids about wild poisonous and edible plants of the area, sometimes I have to explain the skill that goes into cooking. I point out that their parents don’t feed them a big spoonful of wheat flour out of the bag, but that a skilled baker can take that flour, treat it properly, add some other ingredients and produce a sweet roll. The same thing goes for wild edible plants- I give them a grape or an elderberry to sample the taste- it’s sour! Someone who knows food, like your mom, can do something with this taste. Ohhh.

Another new Finger Lakes cuisine could begin with our wines. Though grapes have been grown here for 150 years, our wines remained undistinguished until recently. Because of several amendments of New York State tax law in the early 1980s, farm land is taxed at a lower rate, and small, farm-based wineries are exempt from regulations that have hampered upstate New York’s economic development. With these modest advantages, farm-based wineries have flourished in the Finger Lakes, growing more than hundredfold in twenty-five years. Though their production is still small compared to that of the Napa Valley, these wineries have begun to produce wines of unique flavor and to attract national attention. How long it will be before the local cheeses and breads that are the proper accompaniments of these wines will be crafted by expert cheesemakers and bakers? Let me re-phrase the same question: Who will milk the sheep and goats twice a day daily? Who will get up at 3 a.m. to bake today’s fresh bread?

-by Stephen Lewandowski

A long-time York Stater, Steve has published eight books of poetry and his poems and essays have appeared in regional and national environment and literary journals and anthologies. An environmental educator, he is a founder of the Coalition for Hemlock and Canadice Lakes and has worked with numerous environmental and community organizations in the western Finger Lakes. His most recent book of poems, One Life, was published by Wood Thrush Books of Vermont. His work is either forthcoming or recently published in snowy egret, Bellowing Ark, Pegasus, Hanging Loose, Free Verse, Avocet, and Blueline.