Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sal, The Erie Canal and Me

I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal and hay
And we know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo*.

Do you know that song – or is it only known by people who grew up in New York State?

I am still reading Jerry Dennis’s book, The Living Great Lakes. For several chapters Dennis wrote about places on the Great Lakes that I do not know much about, but now I am back to reading about familiar territory as he sails the eastern basin of Lake Erie, through the Welland Canal, into Lake Ontario. He is writing about what I used to call home. I have never seen it from the perspective that Dennis and his crewmates were seeing it - sort of from the inside out, that is from the water to the shore. I have seen all these places from the shore to the water. I don’t know “every inch of the way” but I do know a heck of a lot the places he is seeing from the ship. Buffalo, The Niagara Peninsula, Toronto, Rochester, even the Welland Canal all are an integral part of the first 23 years of my life.

But when I got to the part about the Erie Canal, I admit I was stumped and had to look up some information about it on Wikipedia. I learned in grade school that the canal connected Albany at the Hudson River end to Buffalo at Lake Erie, making it possible for ships to go from the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes. Yet Dennis and his crew enter into the canal, which is rarely used anymore by commercial vessels, at Oswego, New York. What I found out was that almost a hundred years ago the Erie Canal became part of what is now called the New York State Canal System, which includes other canals such as the Oswego Canal, which connect to the Erie Canal at Syracuse. The whole thing is now part of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor – which is part of my favorite government agency, the National Park Service.

The Erie Canal today is probably a lot like the I & M Canal which connected Chicago to the Mississippi River. Both are primarily recreational areas now. I have walked and biked the I & M several times and yes, have the stamp in my Parks Passport. Along the path are historic houses, trading posts and other remnants of a bygone era. When I walk it, I think that a mule named Sal would soon be poking her head out from behind the thick trees that now line the canal. But Sal was a New Yorker, so probably not.

And I am a New Yorker too – no, not the kind that inhabits the pages of the famous magazine by the same name, but rather the kind that had to remind people that there is more to New York State than Manhattan and Brooklyn. And that there are lots of trees in the state. It’s not all sidewalks.

Later this afternoon my husband, also a New Yorker of the same variety as I am, and I are flying to New York – both the city and the state - to spend a few days and to attend a wedding. I will not see the Erie Canal, but I will probably see Canal Street. Does any one remember the old song about walking down Canal Street? Actually, it’s probably best if you don’t, at least not the version I learned in grade school.

By the way, the official name of Erie Canal song is *Low Bridge and it was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen. Thank you, Wikipedia. I guess I have to send you another donation.

1 comment:

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