A Velveteen Goodbye…

“… all the knowledge gathered from your past has finally enabled you to arrive here with everything you need to begin the great work, no matter how old you are. It will take a long time;
it might take the rest of your life.”
~ Jonathan Carroll

Yesterday, Miss Gracie received another clean bill of health from my mechanic … the last one before our journey. And yesterday, I said my goodbyes to Lady Seneca. As I stood by her shores, the wonderful, wet scents of midsummer swirled ’round me … the waves were big, crashing as if ocean tides on the rocks. The gulls skreed, the herons winged their way home. The mallard couples watched their young as they learn to paddle. There is no doubt I will miss these green hills and temperamental waters, the changing of blues to greens to grays; and in many ways Geneva will always be home to my heart and soul … but there is also no doubt that it is time to strike out as my own ancestors did several hundred, and some even a thousand, years ago to find and explore new lands.

Later that afternoon, a providential moment told me all I needed to know: On the way home, I stopped at my Grandmother’s grave for one last “Goodbye.” As many of you know, she helped raise me for seven years and was the only stability I had in my young life. As I crouched by her gravestone, whispering my gratitude and farewell, tears began to sting my eyes … in that moment, I realized I’d never actually said goodbye before, though she has been gone since 1979 and I’d left – and returned – a few times. I thought I had, but I’d never truly let go in my heart. This time, 39 years later, it was different. And I knew it.

Standing up, I touched my lips to my fingers, blew a kiss and turned to go. Suddenly I saw a beautiful deep red rosebush in full bloom, just a few grave markers away. My Grandmother adored her roses … she had dozens of bushes, but most especially loved those flushed crimson ones. The ones with petals soft as velvet and a scent that lingers in one’s soul forever. She and I spent many hours caring for them when I was a child. We’d follow the horse trails, collecting the dried manure, we’d prune the bushes with love and conversation, and she’d often pick a prized bloom and gently float it in a crystal bowl to adorn our dining room table. It was her luxury. When I moved to NY in 2002, I’d promised that I would plant a rose bush at her grave … of course, I never got around to it. Time passes so quickly, and I was always too busy. But here, within a few dozen feet, stood this exquisite thicket of red. In all the times I’d visited that spot, I’d never seen it before. In deeply humble gratitude, I silently plucked two …

One for she. One for me. Thank you, Grandma.

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. 

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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The Return….

“Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours – long hallways and unforeseen stairwells – eventually puts you in the place you are now.” ~ Ann Patchett

Sometimes our journey – our own personal “Rides” – take us in a straight line from point A to point B without detour or diversion. We motor along with few cares, delighting in the ease of the view. Other times it zig-zags in hairpin curves though the hills, crossing deep valleys and taking us into the dark canyonlands. And sometimes it goes in a circle. Sometimes the road takes us to a place we never thought we’d see … and sometimes it takes us back home. Such as it is with The Ride now. Early Monday morning, the Silver Backpack (aka: the little Subi) and I will leave summer Geneva Seneca Lake bench signedthese jagged mountains and high dry deserts that I have come to cherish, and begin the long drive back to Upstate NY. Though I absolutely adore – and thought I would possibly settle somewhere in the western states – a myriad of factors, like factions of fractions in an equation, have shown me this not to be so. At least not right now. And the winds that blow have said it’s time to return to the land where my Ancestors lived … to the knolls where those ancient voices still sing to me, and their life-blood courses beneath my feet as I walk the land and sit by the denim waters of the Finger Lakes.

Oh, this “Ride” of mine has indeed been most amazing and wondrous – a gift beyond my wildest dreams in so very many ways – and I have a feeling that it’s not over yet. There are many Journeys in life … and many kinds of journeys … perhaps this one is just changing. It will be a long and demanding drive: 2500 miles from the canyons of Utah across the Rocky mountains and through the Great Plains of Wyoming; from the rainwater basins of Nebraska, through the plains of Missouri, the farms and flatlands of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio before turning north and heading through western Pennsylvania and finally into New York. I’ll descend 7,000’; cross 3 time zones, the Continental Divide, the great Mississippi and the mighty Missouri. 2500 miles, a scattering of motel stops along the way, and a visit with a friend or two before I unpack the burly bag I bundled 14 months ago. Where exactly I will land, I do not know yet … the heavens have only said that I must go back now.

Well, there is much to prepare for the journey ahead, many things to arrange … and I must get to it, so I will bid you adieu for now. Back soon as the Circle continues and this Raven flies on…….

IMG_5251 Road mountains sky 3500 signed