Headwaters in Native Lands: Part II

Day II: October 7, 2010 (…Continued)

The Onondaga Lacrosse Arena, a significant cultural center, where the game is played for the Creator, not simply as an athletic competition.

After a morning spent hearing a history rarely told in Western schools, we had lunch at one of the Onondaga Nation’s two significant income sources, a multi-million dollar enclosed lacrosse area. The arena is currently being converted for the season into a hockey rink, to which former BU LAX coach Jameison quipped, “Hockey just keeps you in shape for lacrosse.” Across the parking lot is the other income source for the Onodaga, a cigarette store capable of selling tobacco products tax-free. Yet this source of income is controversial, as the tribal leaders would rather not be dependent on such a vice for income and the State of New York frequently challenges the status of the Haudenosaunee nation’s sovereignty in an effort to gain revenue from the high volume of presently untaxed tobacco products.

Our final stop in the land of the Five Nations was at the Onondaga Nation School to interact with an eighth-grade science class about different perspectives on the science that we have been studying all semester. Unfortunately, eighth-graders are eighth-graders, regardless what culture they come from. Despite the initial difficulty in arousing conversation from the class, they began to open up and share some of their perspectives on nature, the environment, and examples of their oral history. For example, the Story of the First Lacrosse Game is a story easily taught to and remembered by young children, but with deep symbolism that encourages teamwork, courage, acceptance of others, belief in self, and many other valuable lessons. We left the school with a little bit of a glimpse into a different culture with different values, perceptions, and traditions.

Late in the day, we headed in the direction of the headwaters of the Susquehanna River at Lake Glimmerglass, near what would later be the town of Templeton, N.Y. …

…wait, sorry, wrong world…

Late in the day, we headed toward The Otsega Resort on Lake Otsego, near what is today the town of Cooperstown, N.Y. The fictional names for real places and the real places named for fictional ideas can get quite confusing.

Kingfisher Tower at sunset on Lake Otsego, as we arrive in the region made famous by James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales".

Cooperstown, N.Y., is famous in the world of American Literature for the writings of James Fenimore Cooper, author of “The Leatherstocking Tales.” Cooper, whose father established the town, is most famous for his book, “The Last of the Mohicans,” but his vast collection of works include many other stories of the Native Americans and their interactions with the pioneers settling the region. The world he created for his protagonist, Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo, included Lake Otsego as Lake Glimmerglass (with a local park named accordingly) and Cooperstown as Templeton. All around the area, names from Cooper’s novels pop-up, as the region capitalizes on its place in literary history.

We gathered in the conference room of an elegant resort on the shore of the lake to discuss the symbolism, cultural significance, and ecocritical influence of Cooper’s writing with our guests Dr. Alf Siewers, who accompanied us from Bucknell, and Cooperian scholar Dr. Hugh Macdougall, founder of the James Fenimore Cooper Society. Cooper’s work is not only classic American literature, but it is an example of how stories and art  symbolically connect us to the physical world. Surrounded by this beautiful natural setting that inspired Cooper so many years ago, it is easy to grasp the relationship between the natural world we see, the symbolism of the stories, and the cultures they represent.

We were also joined by Nicole Dillingham, President of Otsego 2000, a local conservation organization founded by descendants of J.F. Cooper in 1981. Ms. Dillingham spoke at length about the conservation issues facing the region, especially Marcellus Shale Natural Gas drilling and lakeshore development. New York State has imposed a moratorium on all natural gas drilling until such time as the State conducts an environmental impact statement on how drilling would affect the state. Unlike Pennsylvania, which has a long history of heavy resource extraction, New York is much warier of allowing large scale exploration, especially with methods whose safety is questionable at best. The beauty of the Finger Lake region also draws interest from developers and recreational users, which threatens water quality with the increase in human activity.

Day III: October 8, 2010

A brisk morning swim, breakfast overlooking the lake, and we are off to the SUNY Biological Research Station to explore the lake in more detail. Like many other facilities we have visited, this station aims to both study the lake, but also to educate individuals about the lake’s ecology and the issues that threaten it. Heading out into the middle of the lake on a large pontoon craft, we being with taking some basic readings down through the water column to about 90 feet of depth. The reading reveals the surface water I swam in early was only 15.3º Celsius (a shade under 60º Farenheight), but had I dived to bottom, it would have been around 7º C (44.6º F). Now, that’s cold. Then, much like in we did on the Chesapeake Bay, we took a substrate sample from the the bottom of the lake. However, unlike on the MV Snow Goose, the sample from over 100 feet down was not potentially flammable

The substrate sample from the bottom of Lake Otsego had the consistency and temperature of custard fresh out of a very cold refrigerator. If nothing else, you get to touch some really cool and unusual stuff as part of BotS.

nor did it reek of petrochemicals. This sample was healthy, a gelatinous grey matter, with tiny blood red worms wriggling in it. Further adventures on the lake brought us over the moraine of glacial erratic boulders that gave J.F. Cooper the idea for a house on pilings  in the middle of “Glimmerglass,” which he described in great detail in “The Deerslayer.” Throwing a vegetation rake out, we brought up samples of underwater plants, including one that tasted somewhat like celery (I know this from firsthand experience). There are a number of concerns for the lake, however, most of them the direct result of human influence. Shoreline development, (and the associated increase in chemicals and sediment entering the lake from human activity) Marcellus Shale drilling in the watershed, and invasive species such as zebra mussels that were introduced by human activity and are proliferating extensively into the lake.

At the conclusion of the lake activities, a brief lunch at the Fenimore Art Museum Cafe, then on to a privately run nature conservancy. The altruistic investment of the Peterson Family has ensured that a large tract of land remains preserved for its pristine natural beauty. We took a several hour hike around the grounds, viewing sustainably managed forests, beaver ponds and old mill ponds. The bog area has the unique characteristic that the acidity changes by location in it, because of sphagnum moss that changes the pH as water flows through it. It’s a wonderful thing to walk through such beautiful woods and wetlands, knowing that the investment of others will ensure this is preserved for the generations who in the words of the Haudenosaunee, their “faces are still beneath the ground.”

Professor Kochel is not pleased with meddling humans at the headwaters of the mighty Susquehanna.

On our way out of town, it was decided that a trip through Cooperstown would not be complete without a stop at the Baseball Hall of Fame. While I did not choose to accompany the sports enthusiasts, I found the town to be a beautiful New York town, with many unique shops and alleys. Cooperstown is also home to headwaters of the Susquehanna River. While some would argue the river begins even further upstream at a spring somewhere in the watershed of the Lake, it contents us to say that the headwaters are where the water flows out of the lake and begins its 444-mile journey to the Chesapeake Bay.

Tragically, however, the headwaters are armored with rip-rap, large limestone boulders placed to prevent erosion. While it is generally effective in stopping localized erosion, it is bad watershed management to use such an unnatural approach, and sad to see the Susquehanna begins its journey encumbered in this way. With the sun setting, it’s back to Bucknell at the end of Week 7.

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