Water, water everywhere!
The snow has melted. At least most of it has. There’s still some ice hanging in the shadows of the gorges and thick dirty piles along the creek bed at the park. But the streams are big, the lake level is really up. We’ve had some good rain and are expecting more today.
Generally this is a love/hate time of year for me. I’m so happy to feel the warmth of the coming Spring, the sunshine after so many gray days. The days are getting longer and it feels so good to come home after work and still have daylight to enjoy. To not have to build a fire or carry out the ashes from the wood stove or to just be able to drive home without my jacket on and walk the dog without being bundled up. I walked out of the high school the other night after an event there and could hear the spring peepers. I love that sound as much as any sign of Spring.
On the down side, everything is wet. The ground is saturated and soft. There’s a layer of dirt on everything from the melted snow and the landscape is pressed flat. I’ve been pumping our cellar for two weeks but the water table is up as it always is this time of year and the water just keeps seeping in. We live in a Greek Revival house that was built in the 1820’s and the cellar is just old stone with large slabs of slate laid on top of dirt for a floor, so there’s not much to keep the water out save our submersible pump in the low corner. The water never gets more than a couple of inches deep in the low areas, but still takes weeks to dry out.
There’s a motto in Ithaca on bumper stickers and t-shirts everywhere, “Ithaca is GORGES”(a play on the word). And that’s the truth. The Finger Lakes area of upstate New York is blessed with a landscape so diverse and beautiful that is unlike anywhere else. The lakes lie in a north/south configuration splayed across the middle of the state. There are eleven lakes in the Finger Lakes group.
Cayuga Lake is the longest and widest at 40 miles long and 3.5 miles wide at it’s widest point and is 435 feet deep at it’s deepest. Ithaca sits at the southern end of Cayuga Lake. The lake is fed by countless small and large streams which have cut beautiful gorges through the stratified rock over millions of years. Ithaca claims to have 150 waterfalls within a ten mile radius of the city many of which are quite spectacular, particularly at this time of year when the waters are surging. Taughannock Falls, just down the road from our house, is the tallest free fall of water east of the Mississippi at 215 feet, taller than Niagara Falls.
Our house sits on the edge of a spectacular gorge that drops over 200 feet to the bottom from the edge of our yard, and at the south end of the property is a spectacular view of Frontenac Falls. This waterfall is one of the most beautiful, yet least known in the area because it is surrounded by private property and a large camp owned by the boy scouts.
Most of the other large waterfalls in this area are within state parks. So we are blessed with our own spectacular waterfall that roars in the spring and after any heavy rain. In the summer when the air is warm, with our skylights open at night, we can hear the beautiful sounds of the falls, spilling down the cascades to the creek below. From our back yard we can also see the lake and the distant east shore which catches the western sunlight at the end of the day and glows warmly as the sun disappears.
When I stand in our yard and look across the gorge, and down to the lake, or down onto the falls from our overlook, I can’t help but wonder how this area must have looked and felt when it was populated only by native American tribes. When the paths along the gorges were walked by bare feet and moccasins, when the points at the mouths of the streams were surrounded by native villages and the lakes were home to handmade canoes.
There are 128 species of fish in these lakes and the area, even with modern development, still supports white tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, fox, beaver, and other wildlife, hawks, eagles, falcons, herons, geese, vultures, owls and all manner of other species. At the top of Cayuga Lake is a giant wetland, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, that fills with migratory birds as the seasons change and is a nesting area for bald eagles and countless other birds.
The lake is a beautiful summer playground. Sailboats, fishing boats, powerboats, jet skis (not my favorites), and wind surfers scatter across the lake from one end to the other. The inlet on the south is the home for the rowing crews of Cornell and Ithaca College and often hosts competitions on weekends, but is almost always graced by some crew practicing or perhaps just a lone rower in the early morning light at sunrise. The boats are out breaking up the ice as soon as the temperature begins to rise in the spring to make way for the long thin skulls. Ithaca also has a Dragon Boat club and these boats are often seen rowing down the inlet and out into the lake in the afternoon sunlight.
We are blessed with abundant water. Our area depends on the tourist and vacation dollars in the summer. Our lake changes with every season and every morning sunrise. Sometimes covered in fog or still as glass, other days tossed with waves and sprinkled with sailboats. The gorges are richly carved sculptures, lush and green with ferns and moss, surrounded by deep woods and spider webbed with wonderful walking trails.
It was this landscape that brought me to Ithaca in the first place. The streams, the waterfalls, the lakes, the damp earth, the woods and the wildlife. It is a place of great beauty and spiritual energy and many who come to visit or go to school never leave. It’s no wonder.
All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.