Photo group

For those of you who enjoy an occasional visual interlude, I've set up a flickr page of some of my favorite Upstate photos. Enjoy!



The State of...Upstate?

We recently received a short email in our box from 'Brian' that read:
....I love your site.I think it helps give us a sense of belonging to our area. I have always felt that upstate should be a separate state and that we should have our own flag. Something simple like New England's Pinetree flag. What do you think?

The idea of Upstate New York seceding from New York State (or New York City seceding, which would do the same thing) is one that has been danced around in this blog without being directly addressed; we always remain studiously neutral on such issues. Well, since we're up for all types of debates here, I thought it might be interesting to bring up both Brian's request for flag ideas and the topic of secession in general. The idea of one area of a state seceding from another is not a new one. States created in this way include: Vermont from New York and New Hampshire), Kentucky and West Virginia from Virginia, Tennessee from North Carolina and Maine from Massachusetts. The last time this occurred was with West Virginia and that was during the context of the Civil War (1863).

There are several advantages to secession including:

1) Control over local laws. Many of the laws governing taxation and business in New York are created around the idea that businesses will be willing to pay for the privilege to exist in New York City. Of course, that doesn't help us much and may be one of the causes for our continued economic depression.
2) Reflection of our values. Upstate tends to vote more on the libertarian (less government) end of the spectrum and an Upstate state may allow Upstaters to have a government that reflects their values.
3) Protection over local interests. We are susceptible to NYRI, the flooding of the Catskill Valleys and other such tragedies because of our close connection to the City.
4) Development of an Upstate identity and Upstate culture. We could begin to emerge out of our 'shells' and express who we are to other Americans, foreigners and--of course--ourselves.
5) Between ourselves and NYC, there would be a net gain of 2 Senators. In addition, there would always be Senators from our region representing us in Congress; likewise, our Electoral Votes would be decoupled from the City's.

Disadvantages also mount on such a momentous idea as secession:

1) We are economically weak and benefit in many ways from our attachment to the City.
2) It would be a legal nightmare to break the two regions apart. This has not been done in a long, long time. We may have other, more pressing issues to deal with.
3) For Liberals in our region, there would be a relative weakening of status. This could be an advantage, if you're a Conservative.
4) We currently enjoy the prestige both nationally and internationally of the name "New York," we would most likely lose this in a secession event.

I, of course, have probably missed several advantages and disadvantages. What do you think of Upstate secession? A good idea? Absurd? Moreover, what would the new state be called? What do you think would be a good flag?

The idea of a flag--a uniting symbol--is one that I particularly like. A flag does not necessarily have to represent an independent state, there are flags for ideas and dreams. Thus, we will be accepting submissions of ideas for Upstate flags at york.staters@gmail.com, they can be in JPEG or GIF format (or written if you're not much of an artist). We'll survey them, and if there are a number, submit them for public discussion. Perhaps it can become something of a logo for us to come together around to search for a new direction for our communities.




We're finishing up our technical switch-over to Blogger Beta. A couple of additions to the site that you might want to take note of:

In the left-hand column, there is a new link for a subpage of Stops Along the Way, our newest column, which deals with the geography of everyday life.

In Upstate Essays, I've added a link to "Pit of Equality," my analysis of the Syracuse Hardcore music scene, as well as the posts on sustainable housing and Emma Goldman. Finally, Skaneateles has been added to our What's In a Name? page. We will be returning to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.




As you have probably noticed, York Staters has recently changed its format. We are switching over to Blogger Beta. We're working out the technical kinks in our layout, so if you notice anything that just doesn't quite work right or that we missed, please drop us an email at york.staters@gmail.com

Also, we're pleased to let you know that the comment function is back up an running again. We're glad to see this as we've realized during the time that it was disabled (we've really got to learn how to use computers) that your comments help keep us going and excited about this project. To read other comments or make a new comment, click "0 Comments" (or however many there are) at the end of the post.

Thanks for your patience with this time.



Tastes of the Region #12: Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup

This periodic column, Tastes of the Region, details local dishes from across Upstate New York, from the ethnically-inspired meats of Buffalo to the delicious grape pie of Naples. Today, I'd like to offer up a recipie for creamy winter vegetable soup. While this recipie is something of my own creation, it is inspired by numerous old local cookbooks purchased from used book stores around the state.

The practice of varying our diets in accordance of the seasonal changes has all but vanished from mainstream life. Upstaters think nothing of eating bananas in Febuary or pumpkin pie in June; a few holiday dishes aside, there is no seasonality to our cooking because of the rapidity of modern food transport and the industrialization of the food industry. It was not always this way and a rich seasonal style of cooking developed here in the temperate zone; four seasons blessed us with the necessity of varying our diets. Much of this richness and the enforced creativity has been forgotten now that we can eat our favorite foods year round (though this is counterbalanced by the growing variety seen in the major food markets).

A growing number of people, however, have become deeply concerned over the environmental and social costs of shipping our food in from Argentina or California on a daily basis. Simply put, it takes alot of fuel to ship your iceberg lettuce overnight from the San Joaquin valley. Of course, industrial agriculture has its own environmental costs and the composite effect on our faming communities has been disasterous.

So, for those desiring a taste of winter, either to explore tastes that perhaps aren't as common today or looking to assuage their eco-guilt, I offer up my interpretation of this old Northeastern standby:

Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1 Medium Onion, sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
Salt, Pepper, Thyme, Sage, Basil
2-3 Bullion Cubes
1-2 Carrots, diced
1-2 Parsnips, diced
1-2 Turnips, diced
1-2 Potatoes, diced
1-2 c. milk

1.) In a large soup pot, melt the butter and fry the garlic and onion over medium heat until they are clear. Add 2 Tbsp flour and mix up to create what our neighbors to the north call a 'roux'

2.) Add 3 c. water, bullion and herbs. Bring to boil, simmer 5 min.

3.) Add vegetables and milk. Bring to boil, simmer 15 minutes or until thickened. Add a thickening agent (cornstarch or flour) if desired. The soup is ready to eat at this time, though it benefits greatly from a long slow simmer (stirring ocasionally). You'll want to adjust the milk accordingly to the time you simmer it so that it doesn't become too thick or burn to the bottom of the pot.

Except for the pepper, bullion and possibly salt, all of the ingredients for this recipie are traditional to the region and available in the darkest days of winter. You want to be careful not to allow the potatoes to dominate, as the flavor should be based on the parsnips and turnips.

For those interested in the environmental costs of industrial agriculture, I suggest this article. For more hints on winter cooking in the Northeast, check out this short essay. If you're interested in slowing down your life and enjoying your food a bit more, you might want to visit the Slow Movement. If I've gotten you fired up about eating local and in season, you might think about checking out the Eat Local Challenge. Best of luck and enjoy your dinner.


Graveyards of the living

Driving through rural areas of Upstate New York, one of the more prominent, and surreal architectual feature is the self-storage facility. Long and low, windowless with row upon row of rolling metal doors, they hover at the edge of rural communities like graveyards.

I remember as a small child asking my mother what those strange buildings were for. "For people to store things, honey." I gave my typical response to any answer: "Why?" Out of the thousands of 'whys?' that I asked between age 4 and 10, I remember this answer better than any: "Because sometimes people have to move away from their homes but can't take everything away from them, so they rent one of those to keep their things in."

It's amazing the effect that such a trivial comment can have upon a child. While today I know that the self-storage industry (led by the mighty Public Storage, with 1400 facilities across the nation) has many uses, but in my imagination every one of those empty doorways represents someone who has gone.

I can't help it, but when I drive by those long rows of buildings they come to represent my friends far away - John, Hammie, Ryan, Lindsey, Dan or one of the many others - those who left for places more exciting away to the south or west, or perhaps just a place where they can get a decent job. They left their home, but when they did, they left a piece of themselves there; like grandma's furniture that can't be fit in the UHaul, but is to precious to sell, memories of them linger here.

Sometimes they return, to open up the rolling door and dust off the family china set. Other times they linger elsewhere and back here, at home, paying the self-storage rent becomes less and less important until finally, that cubicle is emptied. To be filled by another. Like tombstones without names, for me, every self-storage unit marks the passing of a friend.

-by Jesse


Braving the heat in Upstate New York

Some time in November, when the first little snow flurry made Syracuse sparkle, I thought it would be appropriate to write a post about dressing warmly in the cold as a way to help enjoy being outdoors during the long winter. I planned on writing it during the first real cold snap. Well, as everyone knows, that snap has not come.

In fact, 2006 is the warmest year on record in the United States and the third-warmest globally.

While we usually focus entirely upon local issues in this blog, I would feel remiss if I did not make my sadness and anger heard on this issue. Global climate change is a world problem, but one that is intensely local. There is no way to insulate a community from it or to distance yourself from the problem. It is an Upstate problem. It is a Buffalo problem. It is a Candor problem. It belongs to all of us. (To take stock of your own contribution, I highly recommend this Earth Day Ecological Footprint Quiz, it only takes a minute or two).

So what are we to do about this problem? Is it hopeless?

Since its inception, this blog has advocated a rebuilding of strong local communities as the solution to many of the problems plaguing Upstaters. Risking the possibility of sound like a broken record, I would like to promote local community action as the only effective way to combat global climate change. We can't wait for the President, we can't wait for Congress.

What can you do? Buy local: at Wegmans get the NY state apples and milk, even better, join or frequent your local food cooperative and buy food from farmers in your community. How does this help? Think about all of the energy it takes to bring up apples from Chile or lettuce from California. Furthermore, the money you spend stays in the local economy, helping to keep our family farms up and running and our landscape beautiful. What would Upstate be like without cows grazing on the hillsides or rows of corn in the valleys?

You can walk, bike or take public transportation more often. Not only do you save power, but you can get good exercise and, perhaps, get a chance to see your local community at ground level. The best way to come to know, love and keep abreast of changes in your community is to walk through it. You'll notice things you never saw before, take my word for it. Taking public transportation brings you into closer contact with the community--both the people in the bus and with the local government (they can always use keeping an eye on).

Consider allowing wind turbines into your community, sure they aren't much to look at, but I'd rather sacrifice a single hillside view than to loose all of the colors of fall. What's more important to you, foliage or one viewshed?

For a list of simple things you can do in your own home, check here.

What do you think about this winter we're having? What have you or your community done to about climate change? I look forward to your thoughts, observations or rants.

-by Jesse


Sylvia’s Farm: The Journal of an Improbable Shepherd

I was recently sent a copy of Sylvia’s Farm, a memoir by Delaware County farmer Sylvia Jorrín, along with a request to review it for York Staters. I am new to the book-review game, and was flattered by the request. Thus I decided to bring the book—a hefty 258 pages—with me on my recent vacation and see what I thought.

The work is laid out in a series of vignettes, each about 2-3 pages, detailing the observations and ruminations of a single day in the life of Mrs. Jorrín. The book is suitably subtitled “the journal of an improbable shepherd,” since Jorrín never intended to become a shepherdess and was woefully unprepared when she found herself in possession of 85 acres and a dozen sheep; she had never owned even a dog before this. In the fifteen years since then, her farm has grown to over 100 sheep, chickens, ducks, barn cats, angora rabbits, sheep dogs and a little donkey named Giuseppe Nunzio Patrick MacGuire. She has the habit of naming all of her animals including Zorro the rooster, Pierce, Prentice and Prescott the barn cats and a long list of Scottish-inspired sheep names: Mary Queen of Spots, Snow White and Rose Red Abernathy, Little Molly Malone and Ally MacBeal.

At its best, Sylvia’s Farm echoes the sentiments of Thoreau’s Walden; certainly both were born of Yankee pragmatism and the hard land of New England. Like Walden, this work details the long, quiet, singular search of the individual for harmony with world and understanding of his or her place within the world through labor and reflection upon the cycles of the yearly round. She is akin to the Buddhist masters in her desire to live mindfully and consciousness. For Sylvia, working on the farm with her beloved animals is part of God’s plan and it is belief that infuses the work—though always that faith is subtle and never preachy or haughty—and it is belief that holds together the farm.

Sylvia looks back upon a world that has passed and tries to grasp something of its wholeness and meaning in her own life. At the same time, you feel throughout the book that she sees her work as inevitably destined to failure because of the simple fact that, like Thoreau, she is a single voice in the wild: “I [of my family] live closest to the life on my grandfather’s farm. But there is a difference. Although I live not so very differently from the way my grandparents did then, my style is different, in form as well as in content. But there is one more important thing that is different. There was family all around them. Friends. Relatives. Community. There were ties that could be broken only by death and even then continued. There were so many of us sitting around that table in those days” (87)

The work is not without its weak points, however. The zen-like quality of writing flows from one moment to another, but never brings drama to any peak; it is less a story and more a collection of moments. Thus even powerful, emotional events such as the collapse of her barn or the death of a beloved friend fall flat and carry the same voice and weight as her thoughts on a sunrise or the preparations on the coming of winter. It is a book that makes a point, but does so so early in the work that it leaves itself nowhere to go in the second half. The story of Sylvia’s farm is told in a hundred different ways, each subtly different, but these shades are often lost in the sparse writing style and short vignettes.

In conclusion, I would recommend Sylvia’s Farm not to those interested in farming, there is little technical information to be gleaned from within it, but to those who are also seeking to understand their place within the pattern of the world. For those few, I suggest not reading the book through, but taking it in pieces and—like Sylvia—ruminating over them in the early pre-dawn light or late at night.

-By Jesse


Technical Difficulties

I just noticed that the comment feature isn't working (and probably hasn't since the beta switch) I apologize to those who tried to leave comments, and I'll work on rectifying the problem. In the mean time, if there's anything you'd like to tell us, send us a good ol' fashioned email! -N

Stops Along the Way #2: The Block Barn

Known to locals in Cuba, NY as the 'Block Barn,' it is "on Route 305 just past the Conrail overpass south of the Historic District. Constructed in 1909, this structure, which is made almost entirely of cement, spans nearly 350 feet long and is completely fireproof. It was built to house William Simpson's "McKinney" horses. It has been a popular stable and it was said to have housed horses for the Czar of Russia and once was considered by the Anheuser Busch company as a spot to house its famous Clydesdales."

by Jesse


New York State Courthouse Architecture: Website and Webcast

Sometimes you stumble upon something on the internet that makes your heart skip a beat (in a good way.) Today is a banner day, dear readers, for a treasure trove of Courthouse architectural info has been found:

The Historical Society of the Courts of New York State

You can view county courthouses, appellate court buildings, and several assorted city courthouses, and read
about their histories. The catalogue is not quite a complete one (where art thou, Columbia County?) but an interesting compendium. It also contains an in-depth history of New York State's oldest still functioning courthouse, Fulton County.

You can also watch a webcast of a recent lecture by Henry N. Cobb and Paul Spencer Byard entitled "The Shape of
Justice: Law and Architecture" co-sponsored by The Historical Society of the Courts of New York State and the New York State Court of Appeals. I confess, I have yet to watch the video, which is over an hour in length, but the fact of its exsistence is interesting in itself. Who would think the Court of Appeals would have a lecture series?

Thanks to the blog of the RPI Building Conservation/Historic Preservation Masters Program, which posted a link to the lecture information previously.
Our fascination here at York Staters with the counties of New York State and the Courthouses of said counties is well documented: check out the County Courthouse Series.

Posted by Natalie


The Canal Songs, and other Upstate Folk Music: Anglo and Indian

I figure there are some songs ingrained in our brains since birth; and I couldn't tell you which or why, but they're the ones that even if you only know a line- you know the melody, and probably classify the tune in the weird realm of "children's songs." Fortunately, most of those songs are homegrown American folk, of course influenced by the Anglo folk melodies and imagery of Ireland and the British Isles- but still telling American stories.

I came upon the American Folk Series of recordings by the Lomax brothers, that's now the most popular part of the Library of Congress (LOC) audio record (probably because it holds everything ever recorded by Leadbetter) when I was in high school. I figure most people who are interested in the old folk recordings, probably are because they listened closely to Bob Dylan (an Upstate resident for a long time, but that's a different topic.)

Anyway, a personal anecdote; it amazes me how much little kids know, and I like to give them little quizes about the names of animals and stories and such... So I was playing guitar and singing a few of the "kid songs" for my girlfriend's seven-year-old sister. I played her "Buffalo Girls" (which Folkies figure is a variant of the song "Louisiana Girls", but we'll say it's an Upstate song anyway) and she knew the melody and some of the words and said she knew the song, so I said 'I bet you don't know this one,' and started with the simple "I've got a mule, and her name is Sal." and she more or less screamed the refrain back at me "Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal."

Now that song was written in the 20th century, well past the canal heyday, but there is an important tradition in our folk music that is known as the Canal Songs. "As the Erie Canal was essentially the nation's only school of engineering, many who worked on the original waterway went on to help construct other canal systems, roadways and even railroads. These individuals took with them the music of the Erie..."[1]

A few of the Canal songs that I could come up with, that I don't think are in the Library of Congress Field Recordings Archive: The Raging Canal, Afloat, Low Bridge!, The E-ri-e, Boating on Bullhead, The Good Ship Calabar From Buffalo to Troy... Someone wrote a book about the New York canal songs, but you'd have to look it up.

Here's a video of Bruce Springsteen singing either Low Bridge! or Buffalo Girls, I can't remember which.

My interest in the LOC folk Archive was really just Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, but I did discover Songs and Ballads of the Bituminous Miners as opposed to Songs and Ballads of Anthracite Miners... Which were unfortunately mostly Pennsylvanian and W. Virginian in origin.[2]

But there is the other side of the coin here in Upstate, besides for our Anglo-based Canal songs (ok, there's afro-american strains in there too) we have the recordings of the Iroquois: Songs from the Iroquois Longhouse, and Seneca Songs from the Coldspring Longhouse. One can obtain any of these LOC recordings for nine dollars, or in packages from private sellers. The Iroquois recordings were made in the early 1940's by a guy named Fenton, and I haven't heard the Coldspring recordings but I have heard most of the Iroquois Longhouse. The Tracker's Boasting Chant, Song of the Hunchbacks or False-Faces, and Marching or Dream Song for the Winds are great surreal sounding tracks.

This is the most important record of Folk recordings after the Library of Congress audio archive:

By Joe


York State Rag by Old Dutch Church - a musical submission

Editors Note: Gentle readers (and listeners), I present to you this very special submission from Joe and John, ( formerly known as Betty and Veronica, now as Old Dutch Church) the York State Rag. Click here to visit their MySpace page and groove to the Upstate tunes. - N

Unlike most songs written nowadays down in Nashville or Memphis, this song wasn't. This song was written up in the north country, up in the Parlour City...

Picking at my pockets, picking at my bones
if they start picking up my fence posts, I'll be picking up a stone
I'm on my own, change has come and gone

I take exception to the rulers,
they aint gonna come into my home,

Scratching at my collar, throwing down the phone,
what's another dollar to a man who won't atone?

Catskills, Leatherstocking, one less job and one job more,
Spitzer's come a knockin', a knockin' at your door
York State folks are flocking, settling the score
where's our new John Chapman, have we forgotten lore?

- York State Rag by Old Dutch Church


Pictures from the filming of the Good Shepherd

(Top) A generator truck. These things made an awful racket and spewed a nasty diesel slick over everything around them (it took me forever to scrub it off my car). (Bottom) The Main Lodge in the evening before the shoot, decorated with extra landterns and lamps.

Floating platforms used for holding cameras on the lake and for fishing in off hours.

(Top) About half of the tent that the caterers served the main meals under. (Bottom) Crane in front of the Main Lodge, one of several used to hold cameras, lights and other equipment.

Posted by Jesse