At the Stewart Park Promontory
Humans and Animals seen:
- Ultimate Frisbee teams playing on the field
- Lots of walkers and runners
- Woman named Andrea who liked to talk
- Man with big camera on a tripod
- Canada Geese
The ice is completely gone and lake level is up. So spring has come to Ithaca after all. Just in time for my last official entry for my nature writing class.
Water in Cayuga Lake is not stagnant. Like everything, it flows. And the level rises and falls not by the pull of the moon or the fall of the rain; rather, the Canal Corporation Office controls it from the northern end. Every fall, the Corp. opens the floodgates and the water pours from Cayuga Lake into the locks of the Erie Canal. It meanders through the lock system, goes on to the Seneca River, which will carry it to Lake Ontario, which filters through the St. Lawrence River and then into the Atlantic.
Opening the canal gates causes the water level of the lake to sink a few feet, thus exposing much of the rocky shoreline. This lower level was why I could explore the ragged edges of the Promontory all winter. In spring, the Corp. estimates snow melt, flooding, and runoff and decides when and how much to close the gates. The goal is to keep Cayuga Lake stabilized for the navigational season. So now, my warm, wind-free, west side beach is under a foot of water, and I am relegated to the bark-chip pathway until fall.
When I was younger and first living in Ithaca, I worked on the tour boat that travels around the southern end of the lake. I would put on my headset and impart local facts and fairy tales over the loudspeaker about Ithaca’s role in the movie industry, the great blue herons that lurked along the inlet, the soybean-oil-powered MV Haendal, and of course, I'd talk on and on about the water. One fact (though I can’t verify its truth) I shared with the excited and interested visitors, was that one drop of water will take ten years to move from Stewart Park to the north end of the lake, 38 miles away. What an extraordinary number! How many years more for this one drop to move through the Erie Canal system and the Great Lakes before finding its way to the ocean? Thirty, forty, fifty? What seeps out here at the Promontory today will travel this water system for many years to come.
Though it's a grey, cool day, spring is budding at the Promontory, and I’m being released from my winter confines. The warmth is arriving, and the green and growth won't be far behind. The days and weeks will pass slowly, I’ll celebrate Mother’s day, and then the end of the school year for my kids. Summer will come and with it infernal heat and blood-sucking ticks and sweaty days in the garden. We'll schedule a trip to the Adirondacks. I’ll plan and prepare to go to Pittsburgh for the Summer Community of Writers. A month after that, I’ll marvel that my son is entering fourth grade, my stepdaughter her final year of high school. I’ll settle into another semester of learning to be a writer, and watch as the maples and oaks shiver and suck in their heat, their water. Then, the Canal Corporation will note the ice on its way and open the floodgates again. Water will leave the lake, shifting the landscape in preparation for another cold season.
And all the while, this one drop of water I touch here today at the conjunction of Fall Creek and Cayuga Lake will be somewhere out there, tumbling around all the others. Slipping slowly north, following the flow, moving mindlessly amidst the chaos of hydrogen and oxygen atoms grasping each other as if their lives depended on it.
In fact, all our lives depend on it. Another year will pass, and another, and many more until finally, this one drop will finally reach the sea. Where will I be then? I’m not sure that matters. I think perhaps what matters is that what I have done here, today, to this drop of water carries with it the promise of good; the assurance that I have left this drop clean and clear and safe for my son and stepdaughter to sail on as they cross that ocean on their way into the future.