Tag Archives: Erie Canal

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.

Thoughts of Home

Some time ago, home stopped meaning places and started meaning people. Home is where my people are, wherever it is they happen to be. Home is multiple places at once because I’m lucky enough to have friends and family members the world over.

But Rochester, New York is my first home. My longest home. Rochester is the place I know the best and the place I feel safest. It’s where my immediate family lives, where my oldest friends are from and where some still are. It’s a place of both fond memories and dark moments, times of absolute elation and the deepest uncertainty. Rochester and its people have raised me and only asked that I remember where I come from wherever I go.

Rochester is technically a mid-size city on the shores of the Genesee River and Erie Canal, but it’s very much a small town. People are friendly, the pace of life is calm, and there’s a sense of collective responsibility and a spirit of helpfulness. People make connections with others, knowing they’ll cross paths again. Rochesterians have a sense of genuine pride in their city that they want to share with others. It’s not enough that we love our town and that we’ve made our homes here; we want you to feel the same way.

I’ve called other places home since going away for college back in 2008, but Rochester has always been home home. No matter where in the world I am, it always will be.

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Pittsford Village on the Erie Canal

Morning Run

I’m a morning person. My favorite days start when the sun forces me awake. Quickly it’s curls in a ponytail, contact lenses instead of glasses. Throw on various layers of neon clothing depending on the season, digital watch, Brooks running shoes. Leave the house thinking of the coffee I’ll make when I get back.

The town where I grew up is the kind of place where everyone says hello, waves, or smiles as you pass by. It’s a town where cars stop to let pedestrians through and drivers don’t wait long before being waved into a lane. There’s a sense of community that I don’t realize I’ve missed until I come home.

My run this morning was a warmup loop in my parents’ neighborhood and then down the road about a half-mile to to the village section of town. I flew through the downhill on the way out; it hurt going the other way to get home.

Once in the village, I turned right to follow the Erie Canal just under two miles up to the closest lock. There’s a hotel at the corner; it used to be an old train depot but I’m not sure if I remember that. I could see a group of men of all ages at breakfast. I wondered who they were and where they came from.

It was already hot when I got to the canal and I knew fewer people than usual would be out on foot. There were more bikes and boats instead. The sun dazzled off the water and I squinted, shading my eyes towards the ground to avoid stepping in duck droppings.

Boats, docks, and buoys acted as landmarks. I used to work as a deckhand on Erie Canal and Genesee River tour boats, teaching passengers from around the world about the importance of waterways to the Genesee Valley’s industrial development. I heard the tour narrative running through my head: “If you look to starboard, or the right side of the boat, you will see my favorite spot on our tour. . . . ”

I gave a family of geese a wide berth. I’ve hated geese ever since a gaggle of them chased me while I was pushing my little brother along in his stroller. That was probably about 17 years ago.

I’ve never run with music, preferring my thoughts and the sounds around me. Running by the canal on a sticky morning like today had the added benefit of rowers who were out even earlier than I was. I’ve always loved watching their sculls glide, listening to the oars slice into the water and pull backwards.

Keeping the rhythm of the oars in my head, I slowed to keep my breathing stable as the elevation rose. The trees grew thicker for a moment, offering a respite from the heat that made the hill almost pleasant. “It’s a lot more fun on the way down!” someone had called to me once. I laughed at the memory.

When I reached the lock and prepared to turn around, there was a splash in the water to my left. The carp were biting. It’s catch-and-release here and we claim that the fish swim around the hooks all day until there’s an audience. Some days, I’m sure that’s the case, and I’ve spent enough time down here to know.

I turned and immediately looked down to avoid the glare of the sun. My watch told me I was running too fast and my lungs agreed.

I passed a woman with two large Golden Retrievers; we’ve seen each other before. It has become a joke between us that one of the dogs behaves until I show up, watches me until I pass, and only then nonchalantly picks up the walk again.

“Good morning, two bikes on your left,” came the warning. I managed to raise my hand and nod. The biker added, “Beautiful morning for a run.” I felt a smile crack through parched lips.

It was.