The Siren’s Song…

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
~ Wallace Stevens

So very delighted to have had the article, below, was published in the March/April issue of “Life in the Finger Lakes” magazine … in full color, with additional photos. It speaks to why I decided to return to Upstate NY after the long meander of The Ride. What was it that called me back, in spite of having seen some of the most incredible areas of this country? Read on, to find out…

“As I crossed the invisible border between Pennsylvania and New York, beginning the final leg of an almost-26,000 mile journey begun two years ago, tears stung my eyes and blurred my vision. I eased onto the shoulder of the road, rolled down the window and smiled. Two years since I’d seen this land … these lakes, these waterfalls, these trees. This lush greenest of green! The scent of a thousand flowers filled my nostrils, and the damp air clung to my skin. I’d been meandering this incredibly beautiful country for two years; I’d photographed and stayed in some of the most amazing places from the Atlantic to the Gulf to the Pacific – and yet I chose to return to the Finger Lakes. Why? Why leave the towering red rocks and other-worldly arches of Utah, the white powder of saline deserts, the colorful striations of ancient earth upheavals, or the massive 800-foot-high gorge of the Rio Grande? Why turn around at the great redwoods of the northwest and head for the fat oaks and maples and dancing willows of the northeast? Why say not now to the craggy snow-capped Rockies … and yes again to the gently rolling hills and flat farmlands of this region?

Let me start by telling you that I am not originally from the Finger Lakes, or even New York State. I was born in Philadelphia and lived most of my life on both sides of Pennsylvania. My father’s family, however, was from the Geneva area, and after visiting once when I was ten, I told myself I would live there one day … and it only took another 37 years to reach that goal!

It’s funny, though, how life can take us on some surprising journeys, and just 13 years after I arrived here, a friend’s sudden death along with a looming 60th birthday catapulted me into the adventure of a lifetime. Within just a few weeks of her passing, I’d decided to sell everything I owned, toss a few remaining clothes in the car and set out to meander the country. Little did I know I would wander for two years and 26,000 miles, and even further removed from my mind was returning to New York.

Yet there is a siren-song that beckoned me back … a song Seneca Lake sings silently to many of us who lived here. A magical melody reaches out from her denim depths, singing to those who listen. Her cobalt-blue waters, topped with frothy, bobbing white hats on windy days, her deep musty perfume; her endless shoreline painted with vineyards, crisscrossed with farms, dotted by thick woods. Her friendly, simple and happy people … a mix of races, religions and occupations. To drive the loop from Geneva to Watkins Glen – perhaps stopping for a sip of wine and a breathtaking sunset – is a perfect way to spend a long, lazy Sunday afternoon.

But there is something deeper. Though all long-past now, many generations of my family were from this area, and I truly believe that it’s a part of my DNA. Studies have been done recently on DNA memory – specifically regarding early trauma suffered by our Indigenous people – and they found that there is indeed a change, a memory, imbedded in the subsequent generations’ genetic makeup. If this is true, could it not be so for those of us with familial history tied to an area? Could, in essence, the waters of these lovely lakes have become a part of our chromosomes? I truly believe so.

So many I know who choose to leave – for any number of “logical” reasons – always seem to come back. A year, two, maybe a decade … but they come back, even if just for a little while. Perhaps there is indeed a magic, a bewitching spell, cast on those who take the time to walk along the shores of these captivating sirens. A magic that cannot be denied, and a magic that lasts a lifetime.”

Seneca Lake, NY

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Once again, I have to say that it truly is a pleasure and an honor to be freelancing for such a fabulous magazine. If you enjoyed this one, I hope you’ll take a moment to read my previous articles,”The Simple Things” and “Where We Love Is Home” … and perhaps take a few more to enjoy some of their other offerings. It’s a beautifully done publication filled with information, history, and photos of this incredibly lovely region of the country. 

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Soul of the Ancestors…

“We forget that the soul has its own ancestors.”
~ James Hillman

I recently entertained my long-held curiosity and sent away for one of those DNA kits – and admit I was a bit surprised at the results. It seems much of the helixal threads that make up this woman found their way here from the Emerald Isles that lie in the cold seas of the north. And ay, I do believe it may be so.

It is said that our DNA has memory … the memory of our ancestors and of the lands they walked. I think perhaps it is true. When I was little girl living at home, I remember being thoroughly fascinated – and quite in love – with a ring my Father wore. I had no clue as to why … I only knew that I thought it was the most wonderful of rings. Magical in so many ways, it seemed. Small and gold, with a carved brown stone in the middle … nothing fancy to my eyes … but for some reason I was thoroughly enamoured with it. The only time I recall not seeing it snuggly holding on to his little finger was when he was sleeping or doing some dirty work around the house, and it was at those times I’d slip into his bedroom, open the wooden valet that sat atop his dresser … gaze into that stone, and then quietly slip the ring onto my own finger. There was something in that ring that drew me, that called to me.

My Father and I did not have a good relationship – matter-of-fact, it was quite difficult and harsh – and we parted ways in 1971 when I was put into foster care. We didn’t see or speak to each other until thirty-two years later, when in July of 2003, we decided it was time to reunite … and I nervously made the three hour trek to his home in central Pennsylvania. My knock on the door was answered by an elderly white-haired man who stood stoop-shouldered in front of me. So much smaller than I’d remembered, and a man I barely recognized until my eyes traced down the length of his arm … and there, yet still, it was as it had always been: That glimmering bit of brown and gold wrapped around his little finger. It was, quite literally, seconds between the meeting of our eyes and my seeking the ring. Instinctive, immediate, unthought.

My Father died a bit over two years later, but just a few weeks before his sudden passing, he sat on a footstool next to the chair I occupied and said: “Here, I want you to have this…” as he pulled the ring from his hand. He’d had no idea of my love for that little piece of gold … we’d never discussed it, and I know he never saw me trying it on when I was young. He didn’t know the magic that ring held for me, or that it had whispered my name for over 45 years. And then he went on to tell me a story: That ring, he said, wasn’t his. No, it was his oldest brother, Lowell’s. A brother who was a decorated soldier killed in Africa in WWII. But that ring wasn’t really his, either. No, rather it belonged to his fiancé’s family ….… in Scotland.

I did a bit research in the years that followed my Father’s passing, and learned that it’s a signet … an old ring designed for sealing envelopes with wax … and bearing the MacKinnon family crest, or badge. Handmade of gold, there is no jeweler’s mark – making it difficult, if not impossible to trace to where it was crafted – but into the sardonyx stone is carved a boar’s head with deer shankbone in it’s mouth, and beneath it the words, “Audentes Fortuna Juvat” … Fortune Favors the Brave. It most likely came from the Isle of Skye.

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Long before I had my DNA done, and learned of the extensive and ancient Celtic background in my family, I fell in love with a ring from Scotland. For no logical reason. And looking back now to when I decided to come home to NY State … leaving behind stunningly beautiful western landscapes of red rock and wide open spaces … all I could say to my friends there was that I wanted to go home to the hills and the water, and to the mosses and grasses and ferns and forests … to the green. To the green. It was the green I missed most of all. Do our chromosomes carry memory from ancient lands and ancestors? I think so. Yes, I truly think so. And perhaps one day my journeys will take me over the seas to the most green of all Isles…..

The Simple Things…

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary…”
~ Paulo Coelho

One of the things I most love about being here is the beautiful simplicity of the Finger Lakes landscape. And people, and lifestyle. I recently spent two years meandering this great country – 26,000 miles in all – and while I often stood looking out at some of the most incredibly stunning vistas one could imagine, my heart longed for the quiet innocence of watching the sun set behind a farm’s tall silo, or the crimson splash of a cardinal in the snow, or the silence of a lake, frozen in time, waiting for Spring’s magic to come. There is such an honesty to a pristine blanket of winter white as it reflects the low golden sunlight in January, un-tread, save for the wanderings of a lone deer or coyote.

My grandmother was born and raised on such a farm, like several generations before her, just south of Geneva and a stone’s throw from the west side of Seneca Lake. She grew up doing “farm things,” always in season and at the proper time, and although moved to Elmira, she continued on as best as she could: Seed planting in spring, weeding the garden in summer, canning at harvest, mending in winter. Mondays were bread and pie making day, Wednesdays were saved for laundry … always hung on the line, even in zero degree weather. Sunday, her sons would go off to church while she stayed home preparing a feast for them to enjoy on return. She brought these comforting routines with her decades later when she came to Philadelphia to help raise me – giving me insight into a kind of life I would have never known. She taught me about the great oaks and maples and the soft grass; she talked about the trout that ran the cold creeks and how to know when a storm – still far out of sight – was coming. When the local huckster made his weekly rounds, she’d instruct how to choose the most delicious and ripest fruits. They said she was part Seneca, and she, like the land and lake themselves, was a simple woman of few words – but of great depth and fertile soul.

They say that DNA has memory, and I have no doubt of this. Though I was born in Pennsylvania and lived 47 years there, busy with a life forged in enormous bustling cities, the Finger Lakes had a hold on me that I cannot explain otherwise. I yearned to know the lakes, to walk slower, to breathe air scented with wildflowers and rushing waters, to smile as I chat with a cheery chickadee in winter. And to look out my window as I hear the clip-clip-clip of a horse and buggy lazily heading up the street. I wanted to know where my ancestor’s lives flourished, and why they loved this land so much. In 2002, I moved here, leaving modern skyscrapers for antiquated houses, highways for dirt roads, and the roar of jet engines for the silence of a summer sky. The night I arrived, I sat on my porch gazing out at a warm June rain, and exhaled a long-held sigh of relief from deep inside.

I’ve never looked back from that day, though I’ve traveled from coast to coast, through major cities, over primordial red rock arches and snowy mountain passes, and into vast deserted deserts. The land here in the Finger Lakes is a guileless. It is honest, genuine and filled with more beauty and diversity than all my wanderings,combined. Four well defined seasons, each with their own unique personality and beauty,and an ancient history here … a history the trees and lakes will tell, if you listen closely.

A 10,000-year history of the original indigenous people and the more recent Haudenosaunee – along with their influence in our own Constitution. A history of Dutch settlers dating to the 1500’s, and later of Amish and Mennonite, farmers and loggers. And yet with that long history, the Finger Lakes still remain in some ways much as they were … scattered towns, checkerboard farmlands, rolling hills, tumbling waterfalls and lakes filled with slaphappy fish leaping skyward. Is it any wonder I came to find the land of my ancestors … and returned once again?

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I’m delighted to announce that this article is the second of mine to appear on “Life in the Finger Lakes” magazine’s website and blog. I also have one that will be published in the full-sized glossy magazine itself, in spring. It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to now be writing on a freelance basis for such a fabulous magazine … and if you enjoy my writing, I hope you’ll take a moment to read my previous article “Where We Love Is Home” … as well as perhaps to take a few minutes to enjoy some of their other offerings. It’s a wonderful magazine filled with information, history and photos of this incredibly beautiful region of the country. Thank you all again for your continued support! The journey continues!! 

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