Stamford, The Queen of the Catskills

A few weeks ago, we received an email from Matt from Albany who told us about Stamford, NY (wikipedia). For those who are not from the area, Stamford is a small village in Delaware County east of Oneonta and northwest of the Catskill Park (map). Matt writes:
Prior to the Borscht Belt hotel craze of later years, a "Hotel Era" took place in Stamford between 1883 and 1942. It was where "white" city folks spent their summers

My father grew up there. My aunt is the village historian. That's why I have over 300 scans of postcards from that time & stuck some of them to Google Earth.

Historical Survey: this is just an informal survey & map of the village hotels.

Matt is the webmaster for the Forgotten Faces and Places blog, a neat blog that tries to identify historical postcards and photos. He came to hear about us while researching a photo from the 1910s, apparently the clue that helped him identify the building as the Broome County Courthouse was our post from 2005. I really liked his post of the "Happiest Wedding Party Ever!!", who are probably all depressed-he surmises-because they live in the "Age of Crappy Hats."

We're glad to have been a help and are thrilled to hear back from Matt.



Book Review: Possessions, the History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley by Judith Richardson

Richardson's book, Possessions: the History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley, (2003) from Harvard University Press was suggested to me by a professor who is aware of my interest in the Upstate region and in the uses and interpretation of our history. Rarely do I read a book that is both profound and easy to read, despite weighing in at a hefty 209 pages, Richardson's continual weaving of haunted stories throughout the narrative helped to keep my focus.

The book is more than a collection of ghost tales, it is a reflection on the state of hauntedness itself. Richardson asks, why is the Hudson Valley considered to be haunted? To what purpose are the discussions of ghosts in the social lives of the people of the Hudson Valley, insiders and outsiders?

She does this through a series of chapters. One details the life and influence of Washington Irving and his headless Hessians, ghostly Dutchmen and poor Rip Van Winkle.

A further chapter relfects upon the three hundred year-old haunting of the ghost of Anna Dorothea Swarts, an 18th century servant/slave (there is vagueness here) who was murdered by her master. Utilizing an impressive command of local historical archives, Richardson puts together how Swarts' story has been reconstructed over the past three centuries and how she continues to bring forth repressed memories. Her's is the hidden history of slavery and repression in a land of mansions and patroons

Swart's ghost signifies things hidden in a collective unconscious; she is the martyr and memory of a secret history, recalling, for instance, exploitative and violent systems f servitude that existed in the North, in New York, as well as elsewhere. She represents whole categories of people who have been tucked away from view... (119-120)

While the ghost of Anna Dorothea Swarts may represent a fearsome reassertion of things repressed or unresolved, she also embodies the exact opposite of agency: a servant, female, tied and drawn entirely against her will by a motive force that is not her own. (122)

She moves on to discuss different genres of ghosts-ancestral ghosts of Indians and the Dutch, Revolutionary War Ghosts and phantasms of industrial workers-and how different populations of the Valley have engaged these ghosts, seen something of their own engagement (or lack thereof) witht he history of the land in them.

She finishes with a discussion of High Tor, a mountain that is currently at the heart of High Tor State Park. She shows how a 1930s play of the same name, (a Pulitzer prize-winning script by Maxwell Anderson), was used to spark interest in the history and conservation of the peak. Anderson utilizes numerous ghosts, especially native peoples and the Dutch, torture the agents of a mining company seeking to buy up the rock from its last owner. "These realizations of hauntings-the actual work done by haunting in the material world-constitute a politics of possession." (193)

I am always concerned with the silencing of local voices through the use of environmental and conservation rhetorics, a situation that is most exacerbated in the Hudson Valley and within the Adirondack Park. To her great credit, Richardson recognizes this problem and discusses the flooding of Catskill villages to create reservoirs and the annhilation of towns to build state parks. She cautions that

...the casting of people as 'folk,' even as it seems to place value on them as the source of tradition, also tends to mute their contemporary social and political voice by suggesting that their significance lies int he past rather than in the present. (197-198)

Through all of these examples, Richardson shows a nuanced understanding of the place of ghosts and this distinctive, haunted landscape. The book is an excellent addition to any Yorkstaters' reading list. Near the end, she sums up the continued haunting as an expression of our dislocation from history and landscape. The Hudson Valley has

...a legacy of haunting based in a series of contentions over territory and culture-a legacy that continues to reflect on an original sin of colonial dispossession but that gains material and emphasis from whole series of subsequent events. It echoes the enduring problems of rights and possession. The question 'who gives you the right?' is posed more than once to a settler on the unlucky ground, without satisfactory response. (207-208)



Upstate Music: Scissor Proof Records

Opening up our email account, I found the following amusing email:

I feel the need to let you in on a little secret of York State musical lore. There is a rap group, Otzi's Axe, that perform music inspired soley by their rustic upstate surroundings in the 315 area code. All three bearded madmen of the group are proud lifelong residents of the coastal plain between Lake Ontario and the Tug Hill Plateau. Their subject manner includes: drinking homebrew, chopping wood, and pure upstate living. Check out their bio on the site below. Also, they are part of the Scissor Proof collective which is a loose group of other musicians who representing upstate (although Otzi is the only rap group)

Otzi's Axe: www.scissorproofrecords.com

I am so glad that your site exists. I just found it tonight. Keep up the great work.


As a fan of drinking homebrew, chopping wood and references to obscure archaeological relics (Otzi the Iceman, and his axe, were found in a glacier in the Alps in 1991, click here for cool pictures), I'm passing this info on to you, our good readers. Their website claims that Scissor Proof records is the only "solar powered record label" in New York, a claim which might be true. They've got a few mp3s on their site, you can check them out for yourself to hear what three bearded, woodchopping Tug Hillians might sound like if they made rap music.

If you have some element of Upstate living you'd like to share or a post you'd like us to put up, we welcome all submissions to our email address: york.staters[at]gmail[dot]com. You might want to check out our simple submissions guidelines and our mission statement. Basically, we put most everything having to do with Upstate New York (so, please no more emails on the Manhatten clubbing scene or art openings in the Bronx). Also, don't be afraid to comment, send us quotes for our quote board or your favorite books for our book list.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Co Editor


Journey to Onondaga

This morning, I pulled off the exit from Route 81 for “Nedrow/Onondaga Nation Territory” in a gray haze and light rain. At the same time as I left the highway, I also left the sovereign state of New York and entered the sovereign territory of the Onondaga people. With me were four of my friends all of whom were from overseas (Colombia, India and Vietnam) and had an interest in getting outside of Syracuse for a bit.

I crossed the street at the bottom of the ramp and pulled into the parking lot for the Firekeepers Diner. The large restaurant was visible from the highway and I had always meant to make a stop but never found myself there until today. On a clear day, you can see the infamous, Route 81 billboard with one side that reads “We the Indigenous Peoples Own the Western Hemisphere” and the other, now painted over, had an anti-Albany diatribe on it.

The existence of these crudely painted billboards reminded me that this little patch of land is fundamentally different than the rest of New York. I, a white citizen of the United States am able to walk this state and more or less feel that I belong. But on Onondaga, I always have a nagging reminder that this land belongs to another people, another culture. Moreover, I remember that the rest of the state, where I tread with such comfort and ease, was once the same before it was stolen through violence and betrayal. It’s a thought that’s sat in the pit of my stomach all day.

Firekeepers is decent as far as diners go. The portions were absurdly large and cheap, though not of incredibly high quality; I reflected a bit on the ongoing battle with obesity and diabetes on the Reservation as I vainly attempted to eat three pancakes bigger than my head and thicker than my thumb. The atmosphere is homey and warm inside, though the aspect that struck me the most was one I don’t often think about: the smoking section.

New York, of course, banned indoor smoking several years ago, but the Onondaga (like all sovereign indigenous nations) are governed by their own set of laws. I don’t often leave Central New York and was taken back a bit as I walked through the large smoking section to the non-smoking room in the back.

Driving north along Route 11 from the Firekeepers we came to three buildings clustered at the edge of Onondaga Territory. One, with a large Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Flag on the roof was unlabeled, but I believe it is the factory that produces many of the cigarettes sold on the Nation. This factory is a product of an ongoing battle between the state of New York, the Haudenosaunee and the convenience store lobby in Albany.

Past the factory is a huge indoor lacrosse and hockey arena and beyond that the Smoke Shop. We pulled up to the Smoke Shop, a bustling place which included a drive-thru line. Inside, the walls were stacked to the ceiling with cheap cigarettes, loose tobacco and cigars (including Cubans… I wonder what the story behind them is). The draw is that New York cigarette taxes do not apply here. This is not a case of New York giving a “tax-exempt” status to the Onondaga out of charity, but because the laws of New York do not apply here.

The constant gripe amongst the anti-Indian community is that “Indians don’t pay taxes” or “Indians get special privileges” doesn’t understand that Indian nations have their own governments. They don’t pay New York taxes (provided they live and work on the Reservation) just as I don’t pay Onondaga or Canadian taxes. Indian “special privileges” (such as non-taxed cigarettes) are actually the rights of sovereign nations: the government of New York has decided to tax cigarettes and the government of Onondaga has decided not to.

The Smoke Shop sits at the center of the Onondaga economy, it funds health care, infrastructure, economic development, environmental activism and the basic governmental apparatus. For a people who on ethical and religious grounds forbid gambling and alcohol and who reject handouts from the Federal Government, the sale of tobacco is a deeply troubling, absolutely necessary lifeline.

This is a hot controversy, especially with Gov. Patterson seeking to cut budgets and find money anywhere possible. The State of New York has been seeking to stop smoke shops for years, recently arresting a woman returning home with a car full of cigarettes for not paying taxes.

Are there easy answers here? Should New York have the right to tax its own citizens buying products on another state’s territory? Should the Onondaga economy be based off of selling poison to their fellow Central New Yorkers? What responsibility do those of us who walk with ease upon the lands surrounding Onondaga have to right the wrongs of the past? Does anyone have the right to extinguish the economic foundation of a community, any community?

As I drove out of Onondaga, into Nedrow and back to Syracuse, I was unable to answer but I did know one thing. The citizens of Upstate New York and the Haudenosaunee League are neighbors and we share this beautiful land.

-by Jesse


NY Progressives have more options than just the Democrats

Folks concerned with the Conservativism of the Bush years have much to be excited about today with the impending election of Democrat Barack Obama. Sitting in the Democratic stronghold of urban Syracuse, one cannot help but feel the excitement and energy.

But, I want to ask: is it the case that, as the Democratic partisans say, voting for Barack Obama on the Democratic line is the only option and that doing anything else would be tantamount to voting for John McCain? I would like to point out two distinct New York options that may allow us to make a stronger point with our votes that won’t affect the chances of Mr. Obama’s success.

It does not hurt to point out that we work in a winner-take-all Electoral College system. I am firmly opposed to this form of elections, but, since that’s the way the system works at this particular moment, we have to work with what we’ve got.

Here in Upstate New York, we are attached at the hip to the great City of New York. As such, we have gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1984 when Walter Mondale only won Minnesota. In the infamous 2000 election, Ralph Nader received 3.58% of the vote in New York (compared to his national average of 2.7%) and Al Gore still carried New York with 60.21% of the vote (compared to 35.23% for Bush!). That comes out to a little less than 2 million more votes. Even here in Onondaga County, where Bush garnered 41.1% of the vote and Nader 3.8%, Gore still won an absolute majority of 54.0%!! Source

This election promises to be even more heavily dominated locally by the Democratic Party. Simply put, this frees us liberally-minded folk to follow our dreams not our fears.

Why vote Nader-Gonzalez? I have chosen to cast my vote with them over Barack Obama for a few reasons.

(1) A key cornerstone of this campaign has been election reform. More than just new voting machines, we’re talking about reformulating our antiquated system of winner-take-all elections to utilize the more democratic forms of elections. Americans are deeply disenchanted with the two party system (just look at the number of independents) and its time we open the door to other options like they do in every European country, our Canadian neighbors and in much of the rest of the world.
(2)The Nader-Gonzalez Campaign, unlike that of Obama (who supports unilateral attacks on Pakistan, for instance) is against Neo-imperial policies of the United States, both economically and militarily. Where are the criticisms of the brutality of the World Bank, IMF and similar agencies in the mainstream debate?
(3)Their campaign, further, has approached our economic crisis by saying that we need to aid the American people, not Wall Street bankers. Moreover, they know that a strong labor movement is the only way to protect working people

I favor the Nader-Gonzalez campaign over that of the similar policies of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente because of the wider public acknowledgement of Nader and what he stands for. It appears that Nader will garner his largest electoral support yet and this will give a strong message to those in power that these issues will not go away, no matter how many inspiring speeches one gives about ‘hope’.

That is the real power of a Nader-Gonzalez vote. It states that Leftist politics are here to stay and that there are fundamental problems with the two party system itself that cannot be solved by any candidate from within them.

For those who have problems with Nader-Gonzalez, McKinney-Clemente, who want to vote Obama-Biden but want to send a direct message, we are fortunate here in New York to benefit from fusion voting. In a fusion system, a candidate can be endorsed by numerous parties and when the votes are tallied, votes from different party lines are added together to come to the total for the candidate.

This means that little parties, such as the Liberals, Right-to-Life and Working Families can make a difference by courting voters around a specific set of issues. By voting for Barack Obama (for example) on the Working Families line (“Working Families Party Endorses Barack Obama"), your vote still “counts” but you are sending a message that the issues of the WF party are those that you share—you are not some mythical “centralist” “swing” voter who can be courted by moving the Democratic position to the Right.

The Working Families Party—who will be getting my vote on a number of local candidates—support many progressive issues glossed over by the Democrats including:

(1)Public Transportation
(2)Single Payer, Universal Health Care and Paid Family Leave
(3)Clean Elections through Public Financing

In previous years, I have made a point of not voting and making my reasons for doing so known on this blog (Here’s the 2006 statement I made). While I do not regret those decisions in previous years, I do plan on voting come Tuesday. However, I hope that I’ve shown that there are numerous options to make a more pointed statement with your vote, to say more through your ballot.

-by Jesse


Paterson calls for the privatization of public goods

On September 30th Governor Paterson announced the creation of a new commission to study the potential for what are known as “public-private partnerships” here in our great state of New York. The Governor claims that this is for the economic crisis, though truth be told he called for the same thing on April 22nd claiming it would help the Upstate economy. This sounds pretty good at first glance, since everybody likes a “partnership,” which my desk dictionary defines as “a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal” (American Heritage).

This doesn’t seem too bad, after all in these dark economic times we need more cooperation, more responsibility, more people working not for their own benefit but draw our society (in truth, our world) out of the hole that unregulated greed has drawn us all into. After all, the NY business community immediately threw in their support.

Yet names do not simply describe, but often serve the purposes of the namer. What is a private-public partnership and what does it do?

Basically, the Governor wants to take State assets—such as bridges, roads, state parks, or the Lottery—and either lease them to private companies or sell them outright on the promise that they will be “leased back” immediately to the State. The Governor says that he believes that
the private sector can be a source of innovation, allowing us to increase the value, efficiency and safety of assets like our aging infrastructure system

Lets address these points and look at them in the light of both the recent global economic crisis and the decades-old Upstate economic crisis. Is selling or renting our parks and roads the answer?

The first claim of the Governor’s I want to address is efficiency. Without a doubt, there is considerable redundancy and inefficiency in our State governments. Much could be done in particular to reorganize local governments so that services do not overlap; this would probably aid in making local government easier to understand and more accountable as well. But what type of efficiency is Gov. Paterson talking about? Sure there are some structural efficiencies that can be improved—but that does not require a private business, only an improvement in the management of State agencies. And the Big Dig shows us that private enterprise isn’t always efficient, cheap or safe. But really what they’re talking about here is State jobs.

Private businesses, simply put, save money because they pay people less.

They don’t (generally speaking) have good paying, well protected, union employees. If we’re worrying about an economic crisis these are exactly the type of jobs that need to be protected first and foremost. We don’t need more minimum wage jobs here in Upstate New York. We don’t need any more jobs without health benefits or paid vacations or protections… we certainly don’t need those few good jobs we have being replaced.

Secondly, Paterson speaks of increasing value. The question is “value to who?” The value of sale? Are we planning on selling our roads and parks? State assets are not owned as business assets are and our elected officials are not a corporate board. The fundamental difference is that the only value business assets have is in how much profit they can generate while the only value public assets have is in how much benefit they can give to society and its citizens. It is exactly this type of value that we need to be pursuing here now, as we are pulled down we need to be talking about how our government assets can be a buffer to help people through hard times.

If businesses are to make profit, value, from state assets they must fundamentally change their orientation from public benefit to private profit. This will, as Governor Paterson attests, involve innovation, but it will be innovation that changes the character of these assets. In order to make profit and also pay rent to the State, profit must be ground out of these assets—and if it does not come from cutting union jobs it will come from making us, the citizens and owners of these assets, pay for services that we have never had to pay for before. What was previously the right of all citizens will become the privilege of those who can pay.

Finally, the Governor claims that safety will increase. This is a vague term, but since we’re talking about infrastructure here, he is probably referring to making it so our bridges don’t collapse and the like. This is of crucial importance and I am glad the Governor is concerned about it. But why exactly will privatization make us more safe? This is a strong claim, and I need to know why taking our safety from the hands of those we elected (and who are nominally accountable) and putting it in the hands of those trying to make a profit is a good idea. Safety is important, but do we need to lease our assets, to privatize what was public to do it? Is this the best way of making our society better?

In the end, we need to remember the simple fact that the private and public sectors have fundamentally different motivations. The private sector has a single, driving goal: profit for its owners and managers. While some companies temper this profit drive with ethical concerns, they are not required to do so (especially in this increasingly unregulated society) and the benefits of unethical actions are numerous. The public sector, while it has its problems, is fundamentally oriented in a different direction. While individual bureaucrats may be corrupt and self-serving, governmental agencies are organized around the principle of public benefit not private profit.

Our decades-long Upstate economic crisis continues and continues to spiral downward as the global economy sinks. It was deregulation, greed and a lack of foresight that brought us here. All that Governor Paterson offers us is more of the same: more profits to corporations outside the Upstate region, more union jobs cut, fewer people with healthcare and a continued decay of public services that we will all come to rely upon more and more in the coming days.

What we need now is a bold vision for the future, not more of the same. Yes we need to talk about efficiency, safety, value and most especially innovation, but private enterprise is not the path in which we need to go.



Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois: Thoughts on a Historic Site

We have often discussed history and its interpretation on this blog. The analysis of historic sites has not always been favorable (such as my discussion of the FDR house and the Wilderstein House). I’m happy to say that today I visited Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois, a historic site between Liverpool and Syracuse and—despite my fears—was impressed by the quality of the historic interpretation.

Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois is a reconstruction of a small French fort/mission post/diplomatic station that existed on the shores of Onondaga Lake from 1656-1658. The fort itself was part of an ongoing struggle for the control of the Great Lakes basin. The Iroquois Confederacy was at the height of its power, having just defeated its rival, the Huron Confederacy in 1650, followed by victories over the Erie, Susquehannocks and the Neutrals in the early-1650s. This is important to note as there is an idea that native peoples inevitably decline after European contact falters when we look at the Iroquois, whose power only grew for a century after European contact.

The French, on the other hand, had lost their trading partners (the Huron, Erie and Neutrals) and were therefore cut off from supplies of furs (in fact, as a result their corporate government collapsed in the early 1660s). Mohawks were raiding deep into New France and for a period of time blockaded the city of Quebec itself. The creation of the post on Onondaga Lake was a move to circumvent the Mohawks and deal directly with the Council of the Confederacy. The fact that the French abandoned the site so quickly in 1658 that they left behind even their tools shows the fragility of the French presence. For a chronology of the 17th century wars, check out this website.

I approached Sainte Marie today with some trepidation, having heard from some friends that visited as children that it didn’t provide a profoundly deep understanding of its context and was quite Eurocentric. While this may be true of the original fort site, the addition of a modern museum had done wonders to the site. While it may have portrayed the Jesuit missionaries in a particularly good light, I have to commend the site for giving context to the place of Sainte Marie in the little-told stories of the imperial wars of the 17th century (with the French, Dutch and Iroquois empires being the dominant players) and for providing a place for the Iroquois. The native peoples are not “folklorized” (for comments on the negative sides of folklore, check out this site), but are shown as economic and political players, the Iroquois Confederacy and its constituent nations are shown as actives participant in these struggles and the lifeways of both peoples (Iroquois and French) are shown side-by-side. This is an important, but little discussed period of North American (and Upstate) history and Sainte Marie has placed itself well to interpret it to the public, an admirable goal.

The fort itself was a bit run-down in a few places (the paper signs were disintegrating and some of the walls had seen better days), but the interpreters were fantastic. I traveled with my partner and her 10-year-old son and the re-enactors gave him personal attention, allowing him to try all sorts of tools and describe how day-to-day life was in a frontier fort. This was probably possible because it was a wet day and there were few guests, but we still appreciated their enthusiasm and knowledge.

I highly encourage a visit to Sainte Marie among the Iroquois. The site is open yearly on weekdays from 9am to 3pm and until mid-October on the weekends from 12-5pm. Admission is highly affordable, $3 for adults, $2.50 for seniors, $2 for children and kids under 5 for free; moreover, there is a $10 family rate. After mid-October, admission is free, though donations are accepted. Here is a map on how to get there.

As a side note, I found an interesting little essay of alternative history that asks, “what would have happened if the Hurons won the wars of 1648-1650”? Interesting reading for the student of Upstate History. For another link, here is a perspective on the Iroquois from the view of New France, from the Quebec History Encyclopedia.



What could make someone want to leave New York and move to Buffalo?

A few days ago, New York Magazine featured an article about a young couple who abandons Brooklyn to move to Buffalo. New York Magazine has always been a publication in love with its city, and that's something I can respect, and I was pleased that the article moved from a position of "why are these people so crazy" to one more like "ok, I can understand this." They also have a great shout-out to Buffalo Rising.

I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on the article, I myself was troubled when they referred to Buffalo as "a kinder, cheaper, easier, more manageable mini-New York." Buffalo (and you could insert most any Upstate post-industrial city) is not a mini-NYC (which is part of their appeal to many) and moreover, is more than a cheap place to rent for New Yorkers who can telecommute.

I welcome people to come back and move into our semi-abandoned cities, though I become worried at articles like these which have no problem with the idea of hordes of New Yorkers snatching up every "creative class" job, driving up urban rent prices and thereby reinforcing the cycles of poverty in which so many Upstate families are entrapped. One factor the article's author didn't note was that Buffalo Homecoming, an event he visited, is aimed at bringing back those who have left and want to come home, not just anyone who wants cheap rent.

So, my message to folks look up the Hudson, is: yes, come on up, enjoy the cheap rents (and the cheap beer), the beautiful fall colors and the human-sized communities, we could use your help in getting ourselves back on our feet. But please don't come up and assume that this is a mini-New York and, more importantly, recognize that living here is more than a commitment to cheap rents, it's a commitment to bettering your adopted home.



Stops Along the Way #4: Case Road in Broome County

One’s first driving experiences have the potential of being tremendously profound. Raised in protective households, often in homes isolated even from their neighbors deep in the suburbs, for many young people driving is their first experience of being beyond the monolithic eyes of family and school. As I write this, I know that many readers imaginations will immediately turn to late-night parties, but I mean a type of liberation that is more subtle and more profound. It is the chance to experience the world on ones own terms.

A decade ago, soon after I received my license, I was driving home on an early summer evening up Case Road from Robinson Hill Road in the Town of Union (in Broome County). I was taking the long way home from some activity just because, well when you’re the driver you can do things like that and I wanted to savor the freedom of curves on dark country roads.

As I turned up Case Road, I was passing a pasture on my left and something made me stop. I pulled the car over on the shoulder by the ditch and got out. I looked out over the pasture and I remember the scene, it has been seared into my memory. Beyond the barbed wire fence, mist curled over the rough field (they’re never as level as a yard) and around the feet of sleeping cows. Beyond there was a dark line of trees and above that was an incredible yellow moon, one of the largest I have ever seen, hanging in the air. Sixteen year-olds rarely have the vocabulary of beauty and the mystical to properly describe such moments and even today I struggle to put it into words. I do know that the Romantic poets had a concept of the “sublime,” an experience with the nature that was not the loveliness and congeniality of beauty but instead the encounter with the empowering spirit of the world. It is not a pleasant experience, but a shaking one, something akin to the Old Testament prophet who hides from the Word of God.

While I can not now, and perhaps will never be able to, properly describe my experience on Case Road that night, I do know that whenever I pass that pasture—usually in the light of the day—I slow down for a moment and reflect.


Stops Along the Way, is a column created to highlight those places in the paths of our lives where we pause. These are the little spots in life where we rest for a moment, gain knowledge, joy or assistance before continuing upon our myriad of journeys. These places are not destinations in the proper sense of the word, but are the planned or unintented links in the chain that makes up a trip.

“Stops along the Way” celebrates the journey itself and hopes to call into question the goal-driven values that speed up and depersonalize our lives. Instead it promotes a view of life as a process—one in which we do not always have a goal in mind and never know the fully control the direction of.

To submit your Stops along the Way, please email us at york.staters (at) gmail (dot) com. Please feel free to visit our Mission Statement and Submission Guidelines with any of your questions. We look forward to hearing from you.


Taste of the Region #15: (U-Pick) Blueberry Jam in 10 easy steps

It is blueberry season and the group expedition to the bushes is an old Northeastern tradition. In Ralph Waldo Emerson's eulogy for Henry David Thoreau, he claimed that “he had no greater aspiration than to be captain of a huckleberry party.” Of course, it's sometimes easier to collect berries than it is to eat them before they go bad. Blueberries freeze relatively well, but one of the finest ways to keep them is in the form of blueberry jam.

The following recipie for simple blueberry jam is based on one from my housemate Zay, who got it from her grandmother. She calls it "blueberry crack" for its addictive sweetness and I'll swear by its deliciousness. After the recipie are resources for more information about canning and how to find a u-pick farm near you. For the more adventurous, here is a guide to finding wild blueberries. Good luck!

Blueberries 4 c.
Lemon Juice 2 tbsp.
Sugar 4 c. (this can vary, see below)
Pectin 1 pkg

Supplies (details here)
Jar Funnel
Jar Grabber
Large Pot (16-20 quart)
Large spoons and ladles
1 canner (a huge pot used to sterilize the jars)
Mason jars, lids and rings (note that jars and rings may be reused by not lids)

1. When choosing blueberries, remember “garbage in, garbage out.” If you won’t eat it now, it won’t get any better if put into jam and can in fact ruin an otherwise good jar. Wash and sort your blueberries, removing stems, rotten and un-ripened berries
2. Sterilize your jars, either by using the “sterilize” function on a dishwasher, or by washing them in hot soapy water and then boiling the jars for 10 minutes and keeping them hot until used (you can do this by putting them upside down on a clean cloth or keeping them in a dishwasher set at “heated dry.”
3. Heat the lids (to make the glue gummy) in boiling water for a few minutes and then keep them warm.
4. Crush your berries, either with a potato masher or in a food processor.
5. Prepare your pectin (if you’re using dry, instructions are on the box) or just mix in liquid pectin.
6. Bring blueberries, pectin and lemon juice to boil.
7. Add sugar. Check your box of pectin to determine how much sugar is appropriate. You can also substitute juice (such as apple, grape, peach) at a little less than half your suggested sugar amount.
8. Bring back to a hard boil for 1 minute.
9. Test the jam—does it stick to a spoon like jam should?—if so, you’re done, if not add a bit more pectin and repeat steps 8 and 9.
10. Fill the jars up to a ¼ of an inch from the top and wipe off any spillage on the rim. Put them into boiling water of the canner. Keep them in the boiler at least 5 minutes, check your pectin box for more instructions.

Remove the jars and let them cool. Your jam is done!

For spiced jam add 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves and allspice to fruit along with lemon juice.

Simple recipe
Detailed instructions for jam making
Variant recipes
Sugarless recipe

Canning Resources
How do I can? from the National Center For Home Food Preservation
USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning

Upstate U-Pick Farms
A nice, regionally-organized list of blueberry u-picks
New York-wide List (scroll down, it's a pretty short list)
Finger Lakes U-Pick
Central New York U-Pick


Young Naturalist

Every child goes through a “bug phase.” Mine far outlasted brief forays into stamps, dinosaurs, fossils, rocks and minerals, though I still have a “Herkimer diamond” from that period. In my pre-teen years, I invested heavily in baseball cards, collecting not just individual heroes like Stan the Man or favorite teams like the Dodgers but complete annual sets. I remember the thrill of trading for a Solly Hemus that completed the 1958 set.

Some would claim that my fascination and involvement with stream life clearly indicates that my bug phase endures to this day. Others, less charitable, seeing a foray with a Cub Scout Pack poking with sticks in the muddy bottom and taking the occasional soaker, would walk away muttering something about arrested development.

My bug phase was supremely unscientific. Though immersive, it had its limits. Even at its height, I was deathly afraid of spiders. Let the fearless scoff, but my autonomic nervous system would fairly shriek in the presence of a little baby spider. Of course, the worst place in the world for a person fearful of spiders is a lakeside cottage.

The porches, railings, stairs, windows and shutters of the cottage were festooned with webs to trap the gnats and flies hatching in clouds off the stream and lake. Thousands of spiders guarded and worked these meshes, especially active in the evenings when the cottage lights attracted moths and craneflies to the snares in the windows. My fear wasn’t lessened by watching spiders at work biting and wrapping their prey. I wondered how THAT would feel. Even worse, the dark corners of the cottage’s kitchen and dining room seemed to spawn huge hunting spiders whose size was augmented by the shadows. I mean, they not only inhabited the shadows but were big enough to cast their own.

My reaction to spiders was so strong that I wouldn’t willingly share the same room, car or boat with a spider. Every time we took the boat out to go fishing on the lake, there were lots of spiders under the seats, in the oarlocks and under the gunnels. Knowing what was coming, my uncles would sweep the boat out with a broom, but when a spider was found, it was a good question whether I’d stay inboard long enough for the tiny, inoffensive spider to be flipped over the side. I was very careful where I put my hands during these fishing trips.

Across the creek and north along the shore, our neighbors were the Bishops. Sherman “Doc” Bishop was a gentle biologist and naturalist employed by the University of Rochester. His speciality was herpetology, and his book on the salamanders of New York originally published in the 40s has been kept in print to this day. His wife’s family had owned cottages on Canandaigua Lake for generations.

Doc Bishop died young, in his fifties, when I was four years old, but I remember him well. I don’t remember his face. Though I’ve seen many photographs of him, I don’t recognize him that way. I couldn’t pick his face out of a crowd. It was his hands I knew.

The porch railings, old wooden bridge over the creek, and dock pilings provided the large open spaces favored by the large, orb-weaving spiders late in the season. Doc was fascinated by the orb-weavers. Their intricate webs would shimmer in the early morning sun as they caught a breeze off the lake. I remember him plucking the bulbous bodies of the female spiders from their webs, like you’d pick a fruit. He would caress them with his thumb and, holding them in the palm of his hand, hold out his hand to me, to introduce us.

-by Stephen Lewandowski


I’m Sick of the Color Green, or, Why the Carousel Mall can never be Eco-Friendly.

If you’ve taken a walk through the Carousel Mall in Syracuse at any time in the past year, you’ll have noticed that it’s been green-ified. Exploiting its captive audience of shoppers to the greatest extent possible, the people that own Carousel have been shamelessly selling the proposed expansion and ‘greenification’. Posters hang from every wall, an interactive map sits at the bottom of the atrium and everything from railings to walls have been painted varying shades of green. I didn’t know ‘going green’ was meant to be taken so literally.

The people of Syracuse are ambivalent on the subject. For some, the expansion of the mall means jobs and that’s what Syracuse needs. For others, the Mall is an example of the increasing popularity of green ideology: one friend explained to me how the ‘common people’ need to be educated by corporations about the importance of the environment. Perhaps he saw the Carousel Mall as some sort of modern Rachel Carson. Of course there are those who see Carousel with a bit more skepticism.

As someone concerned not only about the environment, but also the state of our local communities, the domination of corporations on our political, economic and social lives, and the broader cause of social justice, I find Carousel Mall’s turn towards green to be infuriating. Why?

Because a mall can never be green.


Even if they build everything from penthouse suites to urinals out of recycled toothpaste containers and power their buildings by organic, free-range, cruelty-free hamsters running on little wheels for union wages. Why?

1. Malls emerged out of a car-culture and a car-economy. At the heart of the Carousel people’s promise to economic transformation is that it will bring in business from around the northeast. Of course, the assumption is that they will drive to Central New York. No matter how many solar panels they put on the roof, the are still built off of a gas-devouring culture of automobiles and highways.

2. Malls Centralize Production. A walk through Carousel sees most of the same stores one sees in malls in Massachusetts, Florida, California and Hawai’i. The stuff inside them are almost universally produced in places across oceans and borders. Everything in that mall is shipped there, often thousands of miles. If Carousel Mall were to be truly green, they would be talking about building a Gap factory in one of the city's many brownfields.

3. Malls are artificial places. Carousel claims that it will build a miniature Italian summer in its expanded grounds. Now, like all Central New Yorkers, during the winter I wouldn’t mind occasionally jumping into Florence in June. Especially when I’m shoveling and snow has gotten into my boots. But to actually reproduce it under a bubble is an unsustainable project. Part of being green is not just consuming green stuff, but in making our lives line up better with the natural cycles that surround us. The attempt to completely control our environments—through means like jacked-up AC, anti-biotic sprays—has caused innumerable problems (like summer brownouts and superbacteria resistant to anti-biotics) while never giving us the control we desire. Carousel is not only continuing this trend but ramping it up a notch with its promises of utopian summers in a CNY winter.

The key here is the idea that green-ness does not exist only at the point of sale. The things we buy in a mall have histories before they ever arrive at the store. The materials they were produced out of were extracted from some natural resource, which was then transported to be processed somewhere else which was then transported to be turned into a product somewhere else, which was then transported to a distribution center which was then transported to the mall. Malls are absolutely crucial in reproducing that type of economics and this is something that the Carousel Mall can never escape from, its built into its very fabric.

When I make this argument, my friends will often say, “but why make such a big deal, isn’t what Carousel is doing better than nothing?” The great religious teachers know that false piety is more dangerous to a faith than blasphemy: after all Jesus stood up to the pompous priests of his own faith, not the oracles of the Roman gods. When Carousel claims to be green it makes it more difficult for people to separate out what ‘green’ means. Carousel sucks at public monies set aside for green projects, cutting the supports out of real eco-friendly ideas. Moreover, it makes people complacent: “Carousel Mall’s green now, we don’t need to change other things.” Finally it distracts the energies of the people who are protesting it (such as this essay) who should be working on more productive tasks than attacking a mall expansion.



Growing Roots

It had been a poor year for fishing, so the game warden, Ben White, could scarcely believe his eyes when Old Jack walked into the bait shop on City Pier with a string of huge fish. Old Jack had caught his limit for almost every kind of fish going. Must have been sixty pounds of fish there.

Ben said, “Well, I’ll be damned, Jack, that’s quite a catch. Haven’t seen many fish this season, but you being an old hand on the lake, you must know the right spots and what they’re feeding on.”

Old Jack said, “Yep.”

Ben asked, “I haven’t caught a fish for weeks. I’d sure like a nice bass to take home to the wife tonight. Suppose you could show me how to get one?”

Old Jack said, “Yep.”

They got into Old Jack’s boat and buzzed down the lake a couple miles. At Stony Island, Old Jack stopped, anchored the boat, then reached under his seat and pulled out a stick of dynamite. Lighting it off his cigar, he tossed it over the side. Ka-whump! Fish floated to the surface and Jack used the net to haul them in, all kinds.

Ben was flabbergasted. “I been a game warden for twenty years, and you been fishing this lake twice that. You know that ain’t legal, Jack. I’m going to have to take you in.”

Old Jack turned halfway in his seat, fished out another stick of dynamite, lit the fuse on his cigar and handed it to Ben.

“Well,” he said, “you come to fish or talk.”


Who Are You?

The poacher takes game outside the law. It should be clear from my name that I have no special license to use Native American materials for my own purposes in my writing, yet I do. My lineage consists of some lately arrived folks (from Poland to Chicago in 1911) and some early arrivals (from Scotland to Virgil, NY in 1800), with that scant hundred years making the difference between early and late. But what’s more important than early or late, this race or that, are the roots that I’ve put down into this place, as an individual, as part of a family that’s been in one place for two hundred years, and as part of family that knows how it feels to tear loose those roots and live as strangers.

Given a choice, I’d speak of myself as a peasant. Village people living close to the land still exist in the world; they even hang on here in America despite the erosion caused by the mechanical material culture and intrusive media. Some people might question whether it’s possible to choose to be a peasant; they ask if choice and peasantry aren’t mutually exclusive terms. However, I made my choice to live in this place, to stay close to my roots, raise my own food and cut my own wood for heat, and to pay attention to what I learn from living this way. Can I be a peasant?

Peasants were traditionally part of the land itself. When property was sold, they went along with the deal. Peasants learned early their kinship to the native flora and fauna. Owned in much the same way, trees, animals and peasants existed on sufferance as part of a lord’s domain. Peasants took game and firewood stealthily, without license or legal claim other than that of need, availability, and skill.

I approach writing as a poacher, and if caught writing without a license can only claim that the stories came to me. I look around and keep my ears open. I read landscapes, watersheds, maps and books, and poems and stories come to me from attention, study and contemplation. I know you’ve overheard someone say a poem more than once, but if you weren’t quick enough to write it down, I was.

I’ve always wondered if the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) way-of-life wasn’t formed by their reading of the upstate New York landscape. I wonder, too, if by paying close attention to the same patterns and cycles, our lives wouldn’t take a shape like theirs. My writing was poached from others’ land and lives. I admit to listening. I took them, and I’m not sorry. But I didn’t take them for myself alone- here are some for you.


Ganondagan State Historic Site is a piece of land, roughly 550 acres in extent and comprising two adjacent hilltops in the Town of Victor, at the northwest corner of Ontario County, NY. It is the only historic site in New York dedicated specifically to the interpretation of life of the aboriginal people of New York, who called themselves the Onundawaga, or People of the Great Hill, and were called by others the Seneca of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Ganondagan was the site of a large Seneca village destroyed by a French military expedition that crossed Lake Ontario for that express purpose in 1687. Historians and archaeologists value Ganondagan for its strict provenance, as artifacts found there can be dated between its 1655 founding and its 1687 destruction.

The word Ganondagan itself denotes a place of habitation, with a reference to “the essence of white,” which some have attributed to a profusion of wild plum blossoms and others ascribe to its history in aboriginal peace-making. Ganondagan is reputed to be the burial place of the woman who first accepted the Gaiwiio, teachings translated as the Good Mind, brought by the peacemakers who founded the confederacy of groups known as Haudenosaunee, “longhouse people” or Iroquois.

The development of Ganondagan as a State Historic Site is particularly striking for the direct involvement of modern Onundawaga in its acquisition, management, and interpretation. The educational goals of Ganondagan State Historic Site are trifold: to interpret the seventeenth century life of the Onundawaga, to celebrate the peace-making impulse and its fruits, and to act as a center of modern Onundawaga culture.

Ganondagan was dedicated as a park and cultural center three hundred years to the day after its destruction by the French and their allies in July, 1687, and its Friends group numbering over 700 has provided leadership and funding for programs to bring history alive.


One of the first Iroquois words you’ll hear at Ganondagan is nya:weh. You might hear some different pronunciations and see various spellings, but the meaning is always the same: thanks. When Site Manager Pete Jemison speaks the Thanksgiving Address, you hear an elaborate message of thanks. When Program Director Jeanette Miller wraps up a mailing, the committee might hear a quiet nya:weh from her.

In fact, if there is one spirit or philosophy behind Haudenosaunee culture, it is the feeling of thankfulness, at finding ourselves here, recognizing our role, and feeling the connection with the whole creation. So it should be no wonder that the Friends group that supports the site and organizes educational activities regularly expresses its thankfulness for the active support of its members, funders and volunteers. Probably it goes deeper than thankfulness as we commonly think of it because, literally, there would be no Friends group without the community’s support.

I often wonder if a more fully developed tradition of thankfulness would make a difference in mainstream American culture and suspect it would in several ways. Someone’s bound to say, ‘Well, we Christians say grace over our food,” and I’d retort just as quickly, “Yes, but what about the farmers? Do you remember them?” Nothing against the Christians and all others who ask a blessing on their food (they are about to eat it after all), but I wonder if the dinner blessing is sufficient to cover the plants and animals sacrificed to our hunger, the earth, water and sun which make growth, and the farmers who tend this part of the creation.

The Thanksgiving Address is used by the nations who make up the Haudenosaunee as an opening and closing invocation attending many rituals and observances. Listening attentively to the Address, you hear the speaker making his or her way carefully through the universe, noticing and thanking not only the Creator but the varied elements of the Creation. The Address itself is attention to these elements, and during its speaking both the speaker’s and hearer’s attention are “made one,” with one another and with the Creation. Perhaps the Address is attention in a way similar to wampum, which commemorates and records agreements and in its physical being denotes care and seriousness of purpose.

Our American culture would be changed by a greater general attitude of thankfulness. Thankfulness would slow our rate of consumption of the natural world. If we took the time to wonder, notice and appreciate where our food comes from, for example, we’d pay more attention to how it is produced, by whom, and how it tastes. Perhaps we’d eat less, and certainly we’d eat more slowly. Perhaps we’d consider hunting, gathering or gardening more of our own food.

What does it mean, anyway, that we are now mostly a nation of consumers? What happened to the producers? What is it we consume, finally, if not the Creation itself? Is there a hurry to complete this meal? All sorts of other questions could be asked here- like, is there enough for everyone?- but you are now aware of the trajectory of the inquiry, and I don’t have to ask them. You know best how the questions present themselves to you.

Let’s call the Creation by another name for a moment; let’s call it Nature, which certainly covers a lot of ground. Nature provides bountifully for us. But we consumers of Nature seem to have come to the conclusion that it would be better if we told Nature what we want, if we forced Nature to produce more and to our specifications, and if we designed Nature to serve our needs. We haven’t been shy about making our demands on Nature and seem willing to “throw away such parts” as don’t suit us at the moment.

Could we continue this rampage if we hadn’t banished thankfulness? Can we simply step aside to watch the whole roaring engine of consumption speed past, or is it necessary that we toss a branch toward the spokes of the crushing wheel?

It feels as though we are completing another annual round, and spring is poised to burst forth on a new natural year. Have you noticed that in the middle of February the cardinals, many of whom have hung around the feeders quietly all winter, begin to sing? Their song, waking us up first thing in the morning, sounds like, “Here, here, here. Birdy, birdy, birdy.” They’re singing about a fresh start: looking for mates, territory and stuff to build a nest. Once that’s done, they quiet down again.

We pause a moment to thank our friends in the Friends. Our members are strong and active. Volunteers regularly step forward to take on tasks and events, even the tough often-thankless ones, even the ones that have no clear ends, that just roll on and on, like the job of educating children. Corporations, local businesses and private foundations have helped us through the year. Despite the world’s troubles, which are many and sometimes seem never-ending, at Ganondagan we can model cooperation and understanding, true peace-keeping.

-By Stephen Lewandowski