Flesh and Blood, Bits and Pieces

I walk for hours. Sometimes my hip will end up hurting from the unevenness of the trek, one foot on the shore, the other in the water. I have learned to wear an old pair of sneakers tied tight so rocks don’t get in my shoes. My hair is now long enough to pull back out of my face when the breeze blows. I have become my favorite animal, the red tailed hawk, able to spot even the smallest bit of colored glass in large expanses of wet stones.

I grew up in a little town on Lake Ontario. My sisters and I used to gather beach glass after swimming. Our collection is long gone, seen as just a foolish child pastime. Our jar of precious gems has been thrown away.

At age eighteen, I left Western New York to start college but I have returned from time to walk the Ontario shore to reclaim the lovely smooth glass pieces weathered down by 20 to 30 years of wave action. My travels have taken me even deeper into uncharted territory, to a new exotic place called Barcelona, New York on Lake Erie. The beach glass is abundant there because, over the course of history, 2000 shipwrecks have found a resting place below its cold waters.

I have jars of glass but I love the search. Walking on the beach is a kind of meditation nicely interrupted by the excitement of seeing the sparkle of green, brown, or blue treasures among the pebbles. I have found rare red glass, four pieces to be exact. Red is the ultimate prize for all who roam the shore. Even having achieved this, I still go back and I think there are many beachcombers who would understand.

I decided to stay a week in Barcelona in early September. I considered my continuum of comfort and my budget. Should I tent? The campsite I usually stayed at sometimes had high winds that in the past have blown over my equipment. At the other end of the spectrum was the option of a hotel room but that would have been expensive. I compromised and chose to rent a little barebones cabin at a KOA campsite. It would be economical but sturdy enough to shelter me from any type of weather.

I drove across the state to the campsite on the NYS Thruway. I stopped once to get a cup of coffee and use the restrooms. I glanced at the large posters on the walls that gave historical information about the area. I knew some of the history of my state. I had gone to Seneca Falls to the Women’s Right Museum and sitting on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s porch, I silently thanked her for all she did in 1847 to help females get the vote. I took art classes at The Chautauqua Institute established in 1874 as a church camp and later turned into an education center. I knew Frederick Douglass frequented this part of the state and that John Brown, the abolitionist, was buried in Lake Placid. The Underground Railroad had passage through New York and after Harriet Tubman helped so many slaves escape to freedom she settled in Auburn, NY. I had heard once about the strange Oneida Community founded in 1848 which offered a system of free love to all its members. In Lily Dale, the Spiritualist community that has been in existence since 1848, I listened with a bit of scepticism to the claims about contacting and communicating with deceased relatives.

I noticed the words “The Burned-Over District” on a poster directly in front of me as I drank my coffee. It explained that this was the label given Western and Central New York in the early 1800’s. What? I had never heard that phrase before. Was there a fire? Maybe a very big explosion that had scorched the area? A book was mentioned,The Burned-Out District, published in 1950 by a professor named Whitney R. Cross and before I got to my campsite I had bought it for my Kindle.

Every morning at my little cabin, I would start a fire, make my coffee and read for hours.

Social science was my major in college and still peaks my interest as I have come to realize nothing in life or history is one dimensional. My reading of Mr. Cross’s book confirmed this as I read through the clues that explained the dynamics of the antebellum era of my Western New York home. I soon learned that this area had been a hotbed of reform. All my life there were hints around me but, in school, history was only presented in dates and battles. I have come to realize that the true story is one of flesh and blood and actual things that happened, bumping and pushing around in one big motion that goes on and on and touches us today.

In the early 1800’s, our new nation was already looking for ways to expand. People in The East wanted more farmland and space. The Appalachian Mountains running from the south to The Adirondacks were a difficult wall to cross. But there was a way to get through, The Mohawk River. Using this natural waterway, the Erie Canal was started on July 4, 1817 and completed when it reached Buffalo on May 17,1821. Transportation was easier on this much shorter route to The Atlantic as compared with the route to the ocean down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

Because of the sudden rapid development and migration from the east, at this time at least thirty spiritual movements, cults, utopian communities or religions sprong up. The Shakers, Mormons, the Oneida Community and the Spiritualist are the best known. And there were many more divergent groups that are now gone and not as well know.

Joscelyn Godwin in his book, Upstate Cauldron, states “the whole phenomenon, with its concentration in time and space, is without parallel in social or religious history.” The forming of the Burned Over District itself that got its name from the emotional experiences of revival meetings lit the fire of new ways of thinking all over the countryside. Charles Finney was instrumental in this evangelist movement. I had no idea he moved and peach throughout my county and got his ministerial training from a mentor in Adams, New York.

As Mr. Godwin points out progressiveness of this area was due to”the mass emigration of New Englanders cut loose from their home churches, the mushrooming of towns along the Erie Canal and the opening to the West, with its sense of a new world dawning, and the growing disgust with institutional racial and gender injustice.” The passion of the revival meetings pushed many to action. The temperance movement gained strength and the crusade for women’s right to vote took off. The Liberty Party founded in 1839 in Warsaw, New York was dedicated to the freedom of slaves and had followers all over the state, including in my village in The North Country. Churches in almost every town worked for the abolitionist cause.

All these revelations about my home, the places that I thought knew but never really did, overwhelmed me. People in my state once banned together to help others. Why wasn’t I taught more about this? Has too much history passed for us to remember the good that was done? Has The turmoil of The Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and The Civil Rights Protests moved us away from the original goals of fairness and inclusion?

My little cabin faced a small creek and I spent some peaceful moments just thinking. I thought of the present, my existence in a world with so much conflict. I wondered if I would have been happy two hundred years ago in my little town in Burned-Out District. At least there wouldn’t be any internet. But would it matter? We are all on this continuum called history and each one of us must find our place in all the pushing and pulling. The people of Western New York did the best they could. Can we do better? Maybe our salvation as a society will come when we stop slipping so close to the edges and realize that over two hundred years later we are, still, all in this together.

Copyright 2019 @ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

“Everybody’s Talkin”-Traveling with Forrest Gump

Like many people, I look back on my life and wonder how I made it out alive.

I went to college at Oswego State in upstate New York. In the fall and spring, my college was beautiful because of its resort style location right on Lake Ontario I would find solitude on the rocky shores of campus. Looking across the water, I realized that the world was so much bigger than the academic world, that someday I would leave the world of tests, papers, and notetaking and be a part of something bigger. Beyond studying there was a lot fun, Wednesdays (Hump Day) at Bucklands Bar and after April 1, Nunzi’s Bar opened and we all hitched rides to a place of dance and libations, once again on the water. The bar was only for Oswego college kids, it was all ours. (Years later, I named my dog “Nunzi”) Afterward, we would stop at Rudy’s Stand for ice cream or a burger. It, too, was on the water. It seemed like this particular Great Lake existed just for us.

But during the winter, Oswego was famous for its strong winds and record snowstorms.

I experienced weather so cold it caused the stuff in my nose to freeze. The administration had to construct a system of ropes so the petite among us would not be blown into the buildings while walking to class. And the winters went on forever.

I lived in my sorority house during the 1968-1969 school year. It was a large Victorian building with a mansard roof. I shared a room on the third floor with two of my sisters. We had a house mother, an elderly woman who we actually called “mom”. She lived in a two room apartment on the first floor.

We also had a cook who every Friday made us mac and cheese or other high dairy dishes so our stomachs would be coated for a night of drinking and dancing at Buckland’s. She also introduced me to a great recipe that has served me well when I’m obliged to contribute a covered dish to a function. It very easy to make and somewhat inexpensive. The recipe follows. (This is exciting, this my first recipe on The Autonomous Traveler site!)

Green Pea Salad (“Give Peas a Chance” Salad?) 🙂

A large bag of frozen peas, thawed not cooked

Mayonnaise

Chopped white onion

Seasoned salt

That’s it. Mix it all together and chill before serving. If I really have to impress someone, say, someone who really knows how to cook, I add chopped pimento and bits of real bacon. We all know bacon is impressive.

The weather at Oswego State was particularly horrible during the winter of 1969. It was treacherous getting to Buckland’s but ironically not bad enough to cancel classes. I dreamed about escaping somehow. And then it happened, the song “Everybody’s Talkin” hit the airwaves.

“Everybody’s Talkin”

written by Fred Neil

Recorded by Harry Nilsson

Everybody’s talkin at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

I bought the single. It became my theme song, my obsession. I played it over and over again until my fellow housemates said they would kill me if I didn’t stop. I desperately needed “to go to where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain” or, in my case, completely obliterated snow.

Spring break in Florida was a sacred collegiate tradition and a great solution to my deteriorating mental state but getting there was tricky. With youthful enthusiasm and naviety, I actually considered hitchhiking the 1200 miles to paradise. Luckily, winter had also pushed some of my sisters over the edge and a great plan was made for five of us to drive down to Daytona Beach for April break. And so the adventure began.

We took turns driving. The song “Born to Be Wild” was on the radio (performed by Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire) and we played it loudly with the windows down to let a southern state somewhere along Route 1 know that we were indeed wild.

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way

Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild

A car filled with teenage boys rode up next to us and a drag race almost ensued but getting to Florida safely was a priority so we chose to back off.

After 24 hours of frequent eating , gas ups, and pee breaks we made to it Daytona. We found a room. I don’t think we had reservations and, of course, we didn’t have credit cards. All I remember is that everything turned out okay as we each paid our share in cash.

Crazy fun, sunbathing ,and laughter filled our days and nights. We were involved in an incident at an empty amphitheater. We met a guy who played the guitar and convinced him to go up on the stage. As he played, more and more people came off the beach to listen and sing along. We started a regular hootenanny, as we used to say in the old days. Well , somebody reported us and a police car arrived. The small crowd kept singing and the guy kept playing. I have to give credit to the confidence of the officier, he calmly went up to the player and put his hand gently on the guitar. Without saying any more, he somehow convinced us all to leave.

On my last night in Daytona, I decided to go for a walk by myself to take in the vibe of Florida one last time. A car pulled over and a nice looking older guy ( late 20’s?)started talking to me. We chatted for a while and he asked me to walk on beach with him. I said “yes” and hopped into his car. What a foolish young thing I was to take such a chance. We talked some more and I guess he realized how naive and innocent (clueless?) I was. We drove to a diner for some cokes and then he dropped me off at my motel.

Looking back at a lot of my shenanigans during my youth, it’s hard to believe I made it through alive. I’m wiser now and more cautious. But luckily, I’m still a little bit of a “true nature’s child”. Maybe, just enough to still make my life a tiny bit wild. 🙂

No photo description available.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.