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.
“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.
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.
LAKES RULE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK
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)
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.
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.
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.