15 Miles on the Erie Canal

If you grew up in upstate New York, you know the song I’m referring to in the title. My favorite version of this 1905 song by Thomas Allen is by the Dady Brothers, a local group best known for their Irish music. Whether you know the song or just want some appropriate background music for the post below, you can listen here. This particular song is the fifth track, “The Erie Canal Song,” and the second song in the sample. Enjoy and enjoy!

The rest of the album is great, too. We listened to it every single cruise when I worked on tour boats on the Erie Canal and Genesee River. These waterways created Rochester and its surrounding towns and villages, gave them life. However, Rochester has also suffered over time and that began when trains supplanted boats as the easiest way to ship goods. Have you ever wondered why the canal bridges are so low? (“Low bridge, everybody down, low bridge for we’re coming to a town!”) Because the train companies built them that way! You can’t stack goods on line boats (built for cargo) when going under low bridges.

Anyway, I’ve been fortunate in learning about the waterways here and spending so much time getting to know them. When I’m in Rochester for the summer I run on the canal several times a week and I’m captivated, every single time, by the world around me. For many years, I preferred a route from Pittsford village west to Lock 32 but this summer I fell in adoration with a route heading east from Pittsford towards Fairport. Because it’s beautiful I wanted to photograph it and share it with you. Please join me. I promise I won’t talk too much.

Views of a Run While Walking

My run begins a little ways outside the village but it’s the bridge I’m excited for. Instead of crossing the bridge (one of three in my immediate view) I follow the path underneath.

Hey look, my former “office”!

The Sam Patch is operated by Corn Hill Navigation. They’re a wonderful non-profit focused on educating people of all ages about the Erie Canal. (And they are my friends and former employers but not aware that I’m saying such nice things about them.)

I approach a cluster of abandoned buildings that have been abandoned for as long as anyone can remember. Imagine the stories they could tell!

The canal is lined with trees that lead the way . . .

. . . under a bridge . . .

. . . and onto a path that soon turns to gravel.

And then I’m overcome. There’s a breeze today and it’s brisk with traces of almost cool, the night burning off into a warm day. The air smells like morning and like sunshine. First I find the flowers, vines, and leaves.

Although I especially love the wildflowers . . .

. . . I’m almost reluctant to look anywhere except at the trees reflecting in the water masquerading as glass. The Erie Canal might be murky due to its natural bottom, but this is beautiful.

The people who live here have docks and I think of how nice it would be to watch the day dawn and the evening turn to night.

The light is dancing and as I look more closely, I smile at how dynamic the water actually is. A painting is before my eyes.

That’s more like it!

There are signs of life long past, too. This notice has been there for a very long time and the rules are still the rules . . .

. . . and this house was designed to fit into the landscape of farms and mule barns along the canal. After all, the mules had to rest!

There’s one more bridge I can photograph before my camera runs out of battery . . .

. . . and I can’t resist standing underneath it as cars cross overhead. How that scared me the first time!

Had I planned better I would have packed a snack, made coffee, pumped up the bicycle tires, and charged my camera. But I didn’t plan at all. Instead, I jumped out of bed with an idea and I ran with it. Sometimes it’s okay to do that.

Some years ago I wrote about how it feels to run along the Erie Canal in the morning. I can’t say it now better than I said it then, but now there are pictures to help tell the story. Thank you for spending this time with me.

Travel Guide: Montreal

During the annual summer trip to see our grandparents, my siblings and I had the chance to do a little exploring. My sister and I were born in Montreal but we moved when we were very young. We’ve been there somewhere around a million times to visit family but have rarely seen or experienced Montreal as a living, breathing city. It was great to have a chance to do so this time!

We spent our first afternoon in Old Montreal, charming with old buildings and architecture that makes it feel more European than particularly Canadian. French and English heritage are obvious in the signage, statues, and bustling activity of restaurants and sidewalk cafés.

Old Montreal is especially busy during the summer when the weather is warm and festivals are in full swing. (We were really excited to accidentally find ourselves at the Jazz Festival a little ways away!) There were street vendors selling everything from ice cream to jewellery and it was fun to look around. The restaurants were crowded with people enjoying the sun, and everyone we met was friendly and helpful.

As with many old cities, Montreal is located on the water. The Port of Montreal was full of people riding bikes, eating snacks, shopping for souvenirs, and celebrating Canada Day.

The Port of Montreal even has its own flag, which unfortunately didn’t photograph as well as I would have liked.

From left to right are the flags of Canada, Quebec, Montreal, and the Port of Montreal

We had dinner as a family to celebrate my grandparents’ anniversary. It was so normal – grandparents, uncle, aunt, and grandchildren all in one place! – and spent the evening laughing as our grandparents reminisced about their 61 years together and the spaghetti dinners they used to buy for 69 cents. 69 cents!

After breakfast the next morning, we the children went off to Jean-Talon Market where none of us had ever been. As you know, I love markets anywhere and my travelling companions felt the same way. We loved the fresh and local produce . . .

. . . herbs and flowers . . .

. . . and speciality shops and prepared foods.

There was even a cookbook bookstore!

I would have loved to do some shopping and cooking but we had other plans for the day and they were not to be missed. Rather than eating at the market we headed for Schwartz’s, a Montreal institution located on the popular Saint-Laurent Boulevard not too far from McGill University. In my limited excursions around Montreal, I’ve been to Schwartz’s more than a few times, which should indicate its prestige in the eyes of my family. They serve smoked meat sandwiches on rye bread with mustard and various sides like fries, coleslaw, and pickles. And that’s about it. (The Wikipedia page has a bit more information.) After waiting in the ever-present line out of the door, this vegetarian even ate half a piece of smoked meat!

We spent the rest of the afternoon continuing our walk through the neighborhood between Schwartz’s and McGill. We visited campus and then followed the street art through the main shopping area of downtown. Like markets, I love street art anywhere in the world and it was fun to get a sense of the cultural life of Montreal.

I was also very excited to see signs of community engagement in the painted piano sitting out for anyone to play and a very cool ground mural marked with the best spot for a photo.

Considering how little time I’ve spent in the city of my birth, it was really lovely to do some exploring. I got a sense of the city’s geography and can now better understand the streets that my grandparents and parents mention in conversation. I was able to practice a little bit of French and enjoyed being somewhere simultaneously a little bit familiar and quite a bit new. And, of course, it was great to see my family. It always is.

Demons Lurking: A Story

So yeah, that’s what’s new, he says before taking a sip of his coffee.

Sounds okay, she replies. Her smile is easy and playful.

He nods.

There’s a lull in the conversation earlier than expected. Both take a moment to stare into their cups. As suddenly as it came, the spell is broken and they talk like old friends; some laughter, some teasing, an admirable effort to make the present feel like the past.

But then they land where they always do – at the end. Experienced here, they stop themselves before they really get started. They’ve been down this road before.

Simpler matters occupy them and she thinks for a moment that the sharp distance might grow softer. But only for a moment.

The jangle of bells at the door announces a new customer who looks around and spots them with a wave. She places her hand on his shoulder as she reaches the table. He smiles broadly, introduces the two women, moves his chair so the newcomer can take a seat. The second woman’s greeting cracks the quiet of the space and the first woman returns it politely but with an emotionless smile, eyebrows raised at the man in an unspoken question.

The first woman waits. Time stops. Distance reshapes itself as a valley between mountains.

The second woman’s smile widens, an almost giddy grin. She opens her mouth to speak and changes her mind.

The pause is too long.

The first woman takes one last sip of her already empty coffee. She checks her smile and finds some warmth. Great to see you. And she means it. Nice to meet you. Take care.

And you.

The pleasantries are exchanged automatically, the next steps determined without notice.

When she leaves, it is with the barest hint of hesitation. Bells jangling agin, I follow at a distance. She’s distracted and doesn’t notice. She walks quickly and I stay carefully behind.

She travels several unseeing blocks before pausing to get her bearings. She’s been here before. So have I.

She checks her watch. After some hesitation and with controlled deep breaths, she begins walking again, this time with purpose instead of flight.

A few more blocks and she enters a small bar. I’m not surprised when she takes her usual seat at the high top counter stretched across the window. When a server comes over, she inquires about happy hour, selects a glass of wine, and hands back the menu with a smile that reaches to her eyes.

We’ve been here before.

I sit not far behind and watch her pull a notebook and pen from her bag. But rather than begin writing, she leans back in her chair and stares out the window. Shapes and colors pass. I sip my drink and wait.

The arrival of her wine awakens her from her reverie and her body relaxes. The wine does what wine does and soon she’s writing, writing, writing. I’m sure she doesn’t notice that the glass is empty, but then there’s a second grateful smile to the server who comes to offer her another. She checks her watch.

Her writing slows with the second glass and I watch her stare out at the world in between flurries of pen on paper. I’m nursing my beer. The notebook and pen are put away before the last sip of wine is drained.

For a long time she looks out the window and I don’t know what she sees. Her body is quiet; feet usually restless remain still and hands sit folded on the counter. Occasionally I watch her shoulders move in a sigh. I settle into my seat. We’ll be here awhile.

When she pays the bill, smiling once again at the server, I take this as my cue and follow her out the door. She crosses the street before I’m ready. I wait for one more light and by the time it changes, I’ve lost her.

No matter.

We’ve met before. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place