Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Memories of my Canal by Cheryl Kane (Erie Canal)

This piece is special to me, because I'm from New York and the canal is a strong part of NY history. It even has a song written about this three hundred sixty-three mile canal that runs from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. Photos hopefully will come soon. I can't seem to transfer them from the original article. 

Note: You can see the entire article on www.thenatureplace.blogspot.com and the Nature Place on Facebook and www.thenatureplace.com  courtesty of Shirley Flanagan. 

By Cheryl Kane

The Erie Canal stretches some three hundred sixty-three miles from the Hudson River near Albany to Lake Erie near Buffalo, New York. It was completed in 1825, and had paid for itself within ten years. Its purpose was to enable shipping goods back and forth from the Great Lakes to New York City via the Hudson River. The building of the canal also helped settle Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and other states on the Great Lakes.

Absolutely none of that mattered to me as a child. What mattered was that my dad and brothers liked to fish at the canal, and I wanted to go fishing with them, even though I was very little. My dad solved the problem of worrying about me falling into the canal by tying one end of a clothesline around my waist and the other end to a huge rock. I had very basic equipment which included a bamboo pole, fishing line, a bobber, and a hook. I learned how to bait the hook, perfectly happy to sit and watch that bobber for a long time. Our pet cats were happy to receive the occasional sunfish or perch we caught.

With our house located at a bridge approach to the canal, the bridge and canal became a huge part of our lives. When I was very young, the bridge had a wooden floor. Every time a car drove over the wooden floor from one direction, the boards would make the noise: bump, bump, bump, bump, bump...bump, bump! I can still smell the tar spots on the immense boards that made up the floor. The tar grew soft in the summer sun, and we found it interesting that we could leave a sneaker print in the tar, but the tar never stuck to our sneakers.

 My grandfather came for a visit, and he told us, after spending the night, that he had dreamed about a horse galloping. He said he kept dreaming it over and over. We later discovered a neighbor's horse had escaped from its pasture and apparently liked the sound
its hooves made on that wooden bridge floor. The horse crossed and recrossed the bridge all night long.
We kids were disappointed when the wooden floor was taken out and a metal grid-type floor installed, until we learned that when a tugboat went under the bridge it was wonderful to watch the puffs of smoke from the smokestack come up through the floor of the bridge. An occasional yacht would pass by. My mom named those yachts "beauty boats," and that's what I call them to this day.

We would stand on the bridge and wave to tugboat captains and crew, and they always waved back. I never understood why sometimes the tugboats pulled the barges and sometimes pushed them. Many years later I sat in on a course at a local college, and part of a field trip was a tour of a tug boat. It meant the world to me to see the inside of the boat and meet the captain and crew. I explained how I had grown up next to the canal and loved watching the tugboats. They promptly offered me a job as their cook.

I lived next to the canal from when I was born to 1968. I walked the towpaths on either side for miles and discovered some remnants of houses that had been there. One place I found had a neat row of irises growing that some long-ago person had planted. The irises bloomed every spring, and I always brought a few blooms home for my mom, but I never disturbed the plants themselves. They may still be blooming there.

Living by the canal and "my" bridge touched all of my senses. I close my eyes, and I can hear the sound of birds singing, the ripple of the water, the boats passing by, the cars passing overhead when we fished below, and crickets singing in the background.

I considered the canal mine, astonished to learn when I was young that a song existed about my canal! I knew every inch of it from one side of that bridge to the other. I can still imagine the blackbirds perched on cattails that grew nearby, and the dragonflies which hovered over the surface of the water. It was a lovely, peaceful place, and I was blessed to grow up there.

Photo of Cheryl Kane as a child with the bridge in the background by Cheryl Kane
Google Images for iris, and bridge.


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