Category Archives: Community

Low Bridge! (On the Eerie Canal)

Just about every time we cross the New York state line on our way to my husband’s boyhood home in Rochester, he starts singing some mishmash of the chorus of the old Eerie Canal song.

Loooooowwww bridge, everybody down. . .Low bridge. . .15 miles on the Eerie Canal!

I guess every fourth grader in New York learns about the Eerie Canal as they study state history. As well they should. It was a truly big deal. I was introduced to its significance on my first trip to the Albany area. I went home with my friend Mike to Clifton Park during winter break in grad school. It was mid-January in 1987, and the northeast was still a bit stunned after a blizzard that had dumped three feet of snow. The two things I remember most vividly about that long-ago excursion were these: the snow (so much snow), and the Eerie Canal.

Mike had been a fan of the canal since his elementary school days, and he wanted to make sure I grasped its importance. It was a marvel of engineering, he stressed, created under extremely demanding circumstances. Irish immigrants provided the bulk of the back-breakingly difficult, poorly paid labor. They toiled with little more than pick axes, shovels, plows and wheelbarrows, using the occasional ox or mule. A stump puller was designed to assist in tree clearing. The original Canal, forty feet wide and four feet deep, took eight years to build. It was completed in 1825, two years before the country’s first railroad was begun. The Canal links Lake Eerie with the Hudson River, and from there, in New York Harbor, meets the Atlantic Ocean. Flat-bottomed packet boats heavily laden with products like wheat, flour or lumber were pulled by mules along the towpath that bordered the waterway. (Their descendants are today’s gargantuan ocean-going container ships, like the one that recently destroyed the Key Bridge in Baltimore.) The Eerie Canal spurred the development of the Great Lakes region, as well as further westward expansion. It was an early driving force that turned New York into an economic superpower and helped earn it the nickname “Empire State.” It brought wealth to the towns it bordered, from Albany to Buffalo.

Railroads and highways gradually replaced the Canal as a trade route. These days it’s a busy recreational waterway. The mules are gone, but brightly painted packet boats, similar to the old canal boats, are often moored along the banks. These wide, low boats, which may be rented, are popular for touring. And on the Eerie Canalway Trail that runs along the water, it’s possible to cycle the entire three hundred sixty mile-length of the Canal.

The Canal still serves as a central focus of many villages in upstate New York. The colorful Union Street bridge in Spencerport, above, is just steps away from the center of town. A horn sounds when the bridge is about to be raised to allow a taller boat to pass under it. The Spencerport Depot and Canal Museum hosts displays about the Canal and its history, and serves as a welcome facility for boaters. Our nephews are often among those fishing from the banks of the Canal. It’s common to see kids bicycling along, carrying their lunches and fishing poles, as if they were emerging from a Norman Rockwell painting. Another unexpected sight to my citified eyes is that of vending machines selling live bait.

Old and new come together seamlessly and captivatingly in Eerie Canal towns.

The Canal and its towns are well worth a visit!

Spencerport, the Picturesque

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I drove up to New York state to visit his family in the Rochester area.

We watched our young nephews play hockey, of course, in a very cold, very old-school ice arena.

But there was time for me to indulge in a favorite activity, walking interesting historic neighborhoods. H’s sister and her family live in Spencerport, that picturesque Eerie Canal village bedecked with Hometown Heroes banners. A charming, pedestrian-friendly town, it’s filled with comfortable old homes and well-tended gardens. Spring had truly sprung, at last, in the Rochester area. Lawns were lush, trees were leafy, and flowers were flourishing in the bright sunshine. After a brisk morning walk with my sister-in-law, I retraced our footsteps so I could linger and take many photos.

Spencerport may win the prize for the greatest number of Little Free Libraries per square mile. Their repeated presence is one expression of the town’s gracious, welcoming attitude.

Another is the multitude of cute rock critters peeking out from their dwelling places, to be discovered if one pays attention.

We missed the lilacs, for which the area is famous, but rhododendron, irises and peonies were near their peak.

It’s a town of lovely old churches. Above, from top to bottom, are the First Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

Above, just a few of the village’s cheery old homes.

The stately edifice above, on South Union Street in the heart of town, next to the old Masonic Temple, now houses professional offices. Because of its Neo-Classical appearance, typical of bank buildings on the main streets of American small towns, I had assumed it was built as a bank. But its facade originally belonged to a grand home at 25 State Street, in what is now downtown Rochester. The house was demolished in 1923, and the bank, fronted by the saved facade, was erected two years later. Spencerport’s central district retains a variety of businesses that serve practical needs. In addition to a grocery store (with a handy parking lot), it has quite a few thriving restaurants, as well as a dog-friendly brewery which we’ve enjoyed, in the past, with our family and Kiko.

The town is dotted with verdant pockets of greenery, and two swift-running creeks wind through yards and between homes.

And then, further enhancing the town’s quaint aspect and running through its midst, there’s the Eerie Canal itself, to be discussed in an upcoming post.

For an earlier post on Spencerport, see here.

Once Again, and Daily, May We Honor our Hometown Heroes

The Hometown Hero banners are up again along the quiet main streets of little towns throughout upstate New York. They honor men and women currently serving in our armed forces. Most of the faces are young. So, so very young. They look down from flag-draped lamp posts along Union Street in the little village of Spencerport. Some are smiling, appearing hopeful and excited. Others are stoically stern. All of them should break our hearts.

Let’s carry such young faces with us, every day. May they be living reminders of the reality of the ongoing sacrifice taking place continually, here and in far-flung spots, for our precious American freedoms. Let’s honor these soldiers, like my twenty-one year old nephew in the Marines, who offer up years of their youth so that we may remain the unique country that our founders envisioned.

Keeping these young faces in our minds and hearts, let’s behave better toward one another. Let’s remember that they’re toiling now to keep us free. Free to voice our own opinions, and free to disagree with one another. But when we disagree, let us strive to do so with grace, thoughtfulness and kindness, recognizing our common humanity. So that we might discover common ground. And so that we won’t take impulsive actions that will jeopardize the republic for which these young heroes fight.

Also on Spencerport’s Union Street lies peaceful Fairfield Cemetery, which I first explored on a walk five years ago with my dog Kiko. As Memorial Day approaches, the graves of the war dead are decorated with American flags. Pictured above is the monument to those from the area who gave their lives defending our Union during the Civil War. Let us remember the devastating cost of a nation divided, and of going to war against one another.

As this viciously polarized election season ramps up, let’s take a deep breath and consider that our hard-won democracy might indeed be fragile. Let’s make choices that show we value the sacrifice of all our hometown heroes, of today and generations past. Let’s remember that they have fought and died, and continue to fight, to protect us from falling prey to tyrants. Let’s pay close attention. Let’s not be misguided by anger and spitefulness. Let’s be informed and seek the truth, even when it’s not the truth we want to hear. Let us not be fooled. Let us recognize those who try to manipulate us into willingly laying down our invaluable freedoms.

Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light!

America, Samuel Smith, 1832

Spring, in Full Swing

We’re in the midst of a gorgeous, lush spring here in Northern Virginia. Despite the perhaps more than unusually erratic temperature fluctuations, the season’s progress has been moving along at a consistent, stately pace. A fair number of rainy days have no doubt contributed to the luxuriance of flowers and foliage, and in contrast, the periods of sunshine have been all the more glorious.

Our Appalachian Red redbuds, marked by their brilliant fuchsia buds, were in peak bloom toward the end of April.

The lilac in our courtyard generously shares its delightful fragrance, so that we sense its presence even when it’s out of sight.

I love these mayapples, a gift from a garden-wise neighbor. Soon after sprouting, the plants resemble closed umbrellas. The leaves then unfurl, forming a flat canopy. A single white blossom grows beneath the foliage. After blooming, a small apple-like fruit forms, and its weight causes the plant to bow down toward the ground. Box turtles are attracted by the scent, and they spread the seeds (in their poop) along the forest floor. Like other native spring ephemerals, the mayapple is a humble beauty that may be easily overlooked.

Our azaleas, on the other hand, have been boldly emphatic in color and bloom.

Local Kwanzan cherry trees, past their peak, shower the ground below with their pink petals.

This towering jacaranda tree is an unusual one for our neighborhood. A native of South America, it bursts forth in late April with big clusters of fragrant lavender flowers, trumpet-shaped. Its seed pods break into neat halves, each resembling a small boat.

The edges of our courtyard and walkway abound with purple and white violets, bunched together like small, perfect bouquets.

So many of nature’s spring treasures, high above and on the ground below, are there for the seeking. I try to let each one remind me that even when so much of the world is caught up in conflict, animosity and division for its own sake, there is goodness, all around.

Let’s remember to search for, and to savor that goodness. And, when we can’t find it, maybe we need to embody it, to be and share that goodness. It abides with us, no matter what.

It All Comes Down to This: Love one Another

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day that commemorates Jesus’s Last Supper. At the beginning of that final Passover meal, Jesus did something totally unexpected: he washed the feet of his disciples. Teachers, rabbis and important men absolutely did not wash the feet of others in first-century Palestine. This was a lowly, degrading task allocated to a servant or slave. The disciples were confused. But Jesus persisted. He tried to explain that his actions were to be taken as an example:

And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. (John 13:14)

After the meal, Jesus continued his final words of instruction to his devoted followers:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John, 13: 34)

The word “maundy” comes from mandatum, the Latin for command. It refers to this new commandment.

The foot washing, together with the new commandment, send a clear message. On Jesus’s last night with his disciples before his arrest and death, his goal was to emphasize that the very essence of his ministry comes down to this: Love each other. Take care of each other. Serve each other.

Here are a few things he did not say:

Be judgmental and critical. Make sure people are practicing correct theology before showing kindness or compassion.

A good way to spread my message is through government control.

Some people are not worthy of your love, your care, or your service.

Friends, love is the answer. Our brother Jesus has told us, through his words, and through his actions. Let’s give it a try.

For a previous post discussing the foot-washing of Maundy Thursday, see here.

Starting Off with one Wrong Shoe?

Most of us recognize the old expression “to start off on the wrong foot.” I’ll be bold and speak for myself and my fellow humans, and say that we have done, and continue to do this repeatedly.

And then there’s the saying “to put the shoe on the wrong foot.” I’ve probably done that literally, a few times, although I can’t remember any specifics. It’s the kind of thing one likes to forget. Metaphorically though, I know I’ve done it frequently.

But what about “to wear one wrong shoe?” It’s not an expression with which I’m familiar. But after the first morning outing of the new year with my dog-walking pack, it’s a phrase I’ve been considering.

Yesterday, round about the halfway point on the walk, a friend noticed that I was wearing two different shoes. “Maybe it was intentional?,” she suggested, graciously offering me the benefit of the doubt.

But no. It was unintended. I was clearly not attempting a bold fashion statement, like the occasional celebrity swanning down the red carpet in deliberately mismatched eight-inch fuchsia Manolo Blahniks. Nor had I even been aware of the difference. As usual, I’d picked out two boots from the dim jumble of the hall closet (which includes the vacuum and its various attachments). And put them on without really looking. I remember thinking one felt a little odd. Even then, as I examined it, I didn’t notice I was wearing an unmatched pair.

“At least they’re both boots,” another friend commented.

Yes. An excellent point. And much alike in shape and color, I will add. One boot was older, with more wear. But not old enough, and not worn enough, to be discarded just yet. And speaking as an older person, one who shows more wear, I will absolutely not say that the older shoe is the wrong one.

I’d like to glean some wisdom from this little anecdote. Maybe it’s that we tend to walk with more confidence, and less awkwardness, when both shoes are of a pair. A match, though, is not absolutely necessary, and maybe not always even preferable, depending upon the circumstances.

But maybe the real point of the story is this: surround yourself with friends who are willing to stick by you, no matter what shoes you happen to wear. When we walk with the right pack, a kind and thoughtful pack, no shoe can be wrong.

May this new year find you journeying along with just such a pack.

It’s Election Day! Go Vote!

For various reasons, Slim is no longer legally registered to vote.  This is unfortunate.  He continues to be a highly informed citizen and an ardent supporter of our democratic process.  As a dedicated student of history, he knows how crucial it is to explore the many sides of every issue.  His advice for today’s voting public:  seek out multiple reputable sources, read, listen and question.  Think critically.  Remember that life is complicated.  Be wary of anyone claiming to have a really simple answer. 

And never think that your one vote, or your voice, is unimportant!

October Opulence

It’s been a particularly beautiful October here in Northern Virginia. I’ve been hesitant to post about the loveliness of these autumn days, considering the turmoil that currently engulfs so much of the world. Two wars rage, hostages suffer, families worry and grieve, survivors dig through neighborhoods reduced to rubble, atrocities are committed, revenge is sought, God’s name is invoked with righteous fury by rival parties, not just in battle-torn areas, but also here in the U.S., where our legislature has recently seemed more intent on sabotaging government than on governing. Under these circumstances, is it being trite and insensitive to say, “But aren’t the fall colors pretty?”

They really are, though. And maybe, because of all the ugliness that churns and boils around us, it’s even more necessary to cherish and give thanks for beauty wherever we meet it. I’d find it hard to let the season pass without a tribute.

Here, then, are some images of fall in the DC suburbs.

Early morning light shines through the leaves of maples and pin oaks, setting the field aglow.

This large flamboyant maple is a local star this time of year.

Red berries stand out on the pods of an evergreen southern magnolia.

One of the few touches of bright fall color in our front yard is provided by a small sassafras tree.

The sassafras is unusual for the variation in leaf shapes found on a single tree.

Some sassafras leaves are simple ovals; others have two lobes, making for a mitten shape, and others are symmetrical, with three lobes.

A gloriously golden tree is this towering, majestic hickory, one of my favorites in the area. It makes me smile every time I drive past it.

I love the variety of color and texture in this grouping of trees.

The word “red” seems insufficient to describe these brilliant, jewel toned leaves. Vermilion? Scarlet?

Against a cloudy sky, late afternoon light gilds the maples and white pines in our side yard.

Fall occasionally gifts us with an unexpected delight. This azalea typically blooms only in the spring, and its past blossoms have been deep, solid pink. These October flowers of variegated color are an especially pleasant surprise.

Our pale pink trellis roses continue to bloom sporadically well into the fall.

The October days are dwindling fast, and Halloween approaches. May you have access to autumn beauty while it persists, and may it bring you moments of peace and joy.