Let’s Hear It for New York

Has to be one of my favorite songs of all time
Has to be one of my favorite songs of all time

An Empire State of Mind is required listening when you cross the border into New York.  If you have never heard Jay Z and Alicia Keys sing it, stop everything you are doing and listen/watch:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjsXo9l6I8)  Of course, on this trip we were not headed for The City, not this time anyway.  But still, if you are on 81, a main north-south route, you notice the road is smoother. Second, the rest stop is newer. It’s New York.   Since we were heading Upstate, we enjoyed the big green rolling hills and laughed about times in the past we traveled  THIS VERY ROAD with snow falling like hell in all directions.

Route 81 in the snow
Route 81 in the snow

“Put the hazards on  and hope for the best,” my mother always said, and then she would light a cigarette and keep on driving.  Route 81 is notorious for snow, but in July 2014, it’s gorgeous.

That would be a Jim Boeheim moment

We were headed for Syracuse, smack dab in the middle of the state.  Its University is our alma mater and home of numerous friends and relatives on my side of the family. Everyone wears orange except on St. Patrick’s Day.

Wear the Orange
Wear the Orange


Lakes  and hills play an important part in the life  and lore of Upstate New York.  There’s Onondaga Lake, for instance.  It is sacred to the Iroquois Confederacy of Native tribes, but was appropriated by white settlers as the main dumping ground for many things, including sewage, chemicals and other industrial stuff as the area grew.  When I was a child, it stank so bad that even truckers put their windows up when they drove by. Swimming in the lake was banned 75 years ago (1940), and still is. It has been called America’s Most Polluted Lake. (http://www.npr.org/2012/07/31/157413747/americas-most-polluted-lake-finally-comes-clean)

Waste ran from these factories into Onondaga Lake
Waste ran from these factories into Onondaga Lake

Almost a hundred years later, Onondaga Lake is being rehabilitated. Big diggers are still removing gunk from the bottom, and there is a walking  and biking trail around the whole lake.  Amazing. And it smells–like a lake. It also has fish and eagles. And other birds too. And a big shopping mall called The Destiny Center. Seriously, that’s the name of it.

Now a necessary digression.  As a child, every New Yorker learns about the Iroquois Confederacy.  I loved this stuff as a kid, and Native Americans still play a part in the culture and history of the area. In some areas of the state, land ownership is still disputed. The tribes involved in the Nation–Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca formed a union for peace and against invasion.

Flag of the Iroquois Confederancy
Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy

The last hold-out was an Onondaga chief named Tadodaho who was finally persuaded to join on the shores of Onondaga Lake, sometime between 1450 and 1600, before major contact with Europeans.  The present day Tadadaho, who is the 50th chief and spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation lives on the reservation, just south of Syracuse.  From what I’ve read, he is none too pleased with progress on the Onondaga’s sacred lake. I can see his point, but I did enjoy seeing birds there I never expected to see in my lifetime.

Sid Hill, Tadodaho of the Onondaga Nation
Sid Hill, Tadodaho of the Onondaga Nation

More New York lakes coming soon….Skaneateles, Ontario and Green.  And Montezuma. And Lauren’s beautiful garden. Re-reading this, I don’t know how a blog can go from a Jay-Z song  to the country’s most polluted lake, but it just did. The Onondaga Nation’s website is http://www.onondaganation.org/, but you can look up Jay-Z’s yourself.




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Retired journalist, writer, editor and teacher. Our lives were lived in the Washington DC area, but I was born in upstate New York. Love nature, birding and reading. Volunteer at Ding Darling NWR . Proud mom of two, married to a wildlife photographer.

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