Friday, August 23, 2019

The Kindness of Bikers

On Tuesday we traveled from Lockport to Tonawanda.

Then we pondered our next move. Our goal on this trip was Buffalo--the western terminus of the original Erie Canal.

But when the Erie was reconfigured in the early 20th century, to accomodate big barges, the shallow old canal was filled in, and vessels were re-routed onto the Niagara River.

The current often--though not always--runs fast. Would we be able to navigate it?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Layers of Color

Del and Pam in Lockport.
My darling daughter gave me a gift before we left on this trip. It's a piece of crewelwork to stitch, showing a dragonfly, perched on marsh plants.

The project calls for stitches that are what I'd call indirect. You take a stitch forward, then take the yarn backward a little ways.

Forward, then back. Forward, then back. Building up layers of color.

Our trip this summer has been a bit like this, with lots of back-and-forth.

Just as the stitches build up a tapestry, our back-and-forth travels add color to the voyage--letting us enjoy the company of good friends.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Of Castles and Canal Boats

Dragonfly is cruising the Erie Canal this summer.To read about our Great Loop Adventure (a 6,000-mile circumnavigation of eastern North America), start here. For our "Little Loop" trip (around the historic canals of Canada) start here.

If you've ever visited SlowBoat (or if you're very observant when we post pix), you've probably noticed that, on the stern deck, the left-hand rear door, when folded open, reveals a hand-painted scene.

You see what look like stone walls, a bridge, a tall turret, some water . . . .

It kind of looks like a fantasy castle in Olde England. But it's a real place.

And we're visiting that place right now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Original Big Apple

On Tuesday, we headed west from Albion toward Medina. Our "Erie Canal Cruising Guide" advised us that we would see apple orchards along the route. 

This guide was published in 2006, and a lot of the information about docks, restaurants, and cruising amenities is out of date. So we took the advisory about orchards with a grain of salt. But this time the guide was right. 

Once we left the stately brick and sandstone architecture of Albion behind, we were cruising through farmland—vast cornfields and expanses of soybeans, clusters of silos, the occasional tractor.  

Orchards along the Erie.
And then, apple orchards! Orchards everywhere, the trees studded with yellow and red fruit that glowed in the sunlight.

So much has changed in this region (called the Niagara Frontier) since the Erie Canal was first dug in 1825.  But apple growing has been a constant.

The climate here is perfect for apple growing: long summer days, and cold winters moderated by proximity to Lake Ontario. 

Before the canal went in, it cost $100 a ton to ship apples to city markets by wagon—a prohibitive cost. 

After the canal opened, you could ship apples for just $6 a ton--a good deal for growers. By 1845, Niagara County was the largest apple producer in the United States.

From the first, many of those apples shipped out of the Niagara Frontier made their way to urbanites in New York City. 

This "Big Apple" in Medina is about 10 feet tall!
Apples Upstate, Big Apple Downstate?

You might guess there's a connection between all the apple growing upstate, along the canal, and the nickname of “Big Apple” for the big city downstate.

But you would be wrong.

Etymologists who’ve traced the name "Big Apple" say it was a slang term for any big city, used in the world of horse racing in the 1920s. 

No connection to those mules hauling apples along the Erie in the 1820s.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Art for the Masses

When you visit Lyons, New York, the welcome sign at the edge of town declares that this is the home of “Mural Mania.” We visited the former Peppermint Capitol of the World last summer and had fun checking out all the scenes of the town’s historic past.

In Shik Lee checks out the Macedon mural.
Besides painting its own walls, Lyons claims credit for infecting other canal towns in western New York with mural mania. Just last week, on our passage to Palmyra, we spotted a mural we’d never noticed before—even though it was painted in 2013 and we’ve been cruising these waters for a decade.

A Mural in Macedon—Who Knew?

The Macedon Mural is on the village volunteer fire department’s picnic pavilion, facing Lock 30. It combines canal history with fire department history. 

Tucked in one corner of the mural is a fire engine . . . or rather a pumper,“Old Betsy,” used by the fire department starting in 1864.

This pumper was pulled by humans, not horses—a group of (presumably brawny) firemen would haul it around the village. Maybe that was faster than hitching up horses? 
The mural in all its glory. The figure at left is identified as "Indian Charlie, who sold baskets in Macedon." Wish
there was more info about him!
The fireman on the far right is Elmer Clark, who was a beloved fire chief in the 20th century, not the 19th.

Why, you haven't changed a bit!
The rest of the mural aims to show what you would have seen if you were standing on the bank of the canal back in the mid 1800s.

The centerpiece is a canal boat, ready to be loaded with produce bound for Albany or New York.  This area of western New York was “America’s breadbasket” in those days.

There’s also a fine barn in the mural . . . and a few days after we spotted the mural, we went for a walk in the neighborhood and noticed a barn that looked strangely familiar. 

It was the barn from the mural, still standing.

Of Course Greece Has Murals

The Macedon mural put us on the hunt for more outdoor art. And as we headed west toward Buffalo, we spotted this mural in the small town of Greece, New York—right near curiously named HenPeck Park.

The three-panel mural, painted on a bridge abutment, doesn’t merge eras in history like the Macedon mural does . . . it keeps them neatly separated. 

Left panel: digging the canal. Central panel: Canal boats on the canal. Right panel: the 20th century barge canal. A neat little history lesson, and more attractive than the graffiti we see on most Erie Canal bridges.

This laugh-inducing sculpture is at the dock in Brockport.
A friend of ours uses the Instagram handle ArtfortheMasses. I thought of that name while looking at these murals. 

They’re not breathtaking, or brilliant, or likely to land their makers in a museum.

But they’re charming, smile-provoking. They make you stop and reflect for a moment. They transport you to another time, another world.  

And, being displayed in very public places, they get lots of eyeballs. Good deal for the artist and the art viewer, if you ask me!