Wednesday, December 30, 2009
One of our local legacies is the Ithaca Gun Factory where they made shotguns starting back in the 1880's. One hundred years later, in 1987, they moved out of the old factory and it began its decay. At one point someone realized there was a lot of lead around and tests were done. The factory sits across the street from an apartment building, and above and elementary school. One of Ithaca's natural landmarks is right below as well, and back in the day the guns were tested by shooting into the cliffs. Since people spend a fair amount of time there the EPA came in with amazing vacuum cleaners and sucked up all the soil in the cliffs and ground, replaced it with clean stuff, and called the whole thing done. Except the building itself was full of lead, asbestos, barium, etc. Remember, guns don't kill people, hazardous materials kill people. So after a few years of haggling over condos planned for the site; how tall they'd be, would the developer give the city some land for a park, who would pay for the demolition, the go ahead was given and they delayed only a few more months before getting down to work. The following pictures show the removal of the buildings, and as of the end of 2009 all that remains a large pile of debris.
After years of delay, the day finally came when I walked up the hill and saw pieces of the building being picked apart. Due to the contamination in the materials they had to spray water as they worked to protect those who parked below, live across the street, or walk by. Looks like enough water to keep the dust down.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Down in The Flats there's another clean-up underway and under wraps. This one is right next to an elementary school and surely involves worse problems so it was completely covered for the process. It's known as Markle's Flats and the ground is contaminated with coal tar from an old coal gasification plant. Any picks on the next economy saving industry in the neighborhood that will need millions of dollars to "clean up?"
Just a little of two buildings left. Once the demolition was complete tests were done on the materials and found to be more contaminated, with worse substances, than expected. This means a much higher cost to finish the job, and deciding who and what they'll spend is still unresolved.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
For the last ten years I've ridden my bike 200 miles or so to the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman, NY ( Panama if you're mailing yourself there) where I've worked regularly since 1996, the past five as a "know it all" in Head Quarters. The festival is on property owned by Julie and Steve Rockcastle and Julie's dad, Warren Erickson. This year promised to be a treat as three of my favorite banjo players would be there and I knew I'd get a chance to play with some or all of them. The real treat came when a forth was there and I got to play quite a bit with him. I've taken my banjo along the last three times and this year I traded my binoculars for a camera and took some shots along the way. There are many routes and many places to start from, but I think I've finally got the flattest, shortest one. Start by getting a ride to the top of the hill west of Watkins Glen, hit 40.1 mph within minutes, and in a few hours you're cruising above the highest point on Rt. 86.
Forest management seemed to be the theme to this trip. When I got to Mt. Irenaeus, a Franciscan retreat in Allegany County that is run by friars associated with St. Bonaventure University, the forest had about 80% of the ash trees marked for cutting before the Emerald Ash Borer arrives. The borer has decimated ash trees in Michigan and Ohio and has been found in Randolf, NY which is less than 100 miles away. They also recently clear-cut a pine plantation that a farmer planted 50 years ago as a Christmas tree venture. It was a monoculture that cloaked two of the cabins, the pond and a screened hut in darkness.
Two of my favorite buildings are at Mt. Irenaeus, La Posada and the Peace Chapel. Going to mass or prayer services are a pleasure in this chapel, and the acoustics are as good as it gets for hearing live music. La Posada provides a nice break from a wired home whenever I stay there. Despite its name it wouldn't stay still for this picture so it's a little blurred.
At Lippert Hollow I won the Whose the First to Spot Aunt Mary's House game. Even took second place by being the first to spot the barn. Sat on the porch reading letters Grandpa Stephan wrote in the forties ("Flossie is getting to be quite a good milker" Flossie being my mother, not a cow). Played banjo tunes I hope Uncle John played on his Gibson before dying in WWII, and watched lightning strikes on top of the hill across the road. Unfortunately my cousin, Sara, didn't get there with her family until after midnight so our visit was brief.
Last year I got a little lost and ended up on this abandoned stretch of Rt. 17 along the Allegheny River. It's on the Allegany Indian Reservation, across the river is the State Park. A native woman told me about it, but this year a native gave me a great "get off my land" speech that had me nervous about encountering "people drinking that wouldn't be too happy to see me" when I got up to the reservior Johnny Cash called, "Lake Perfidy." I only saw some DOT workers and sober amish. Next year I'll go over the hill again via Sawmill Run Rd. which is awfully pretty too.
By the time I got to Jamestown I was pretty wiped out and in need of a pick-me-up. Just my luck to see an add that steered me in the right direction. This add also gave me an idea for a mural on the side of Ithaca's garages with our most famous former resident. Carl Sagan could be saying something about "billions and billions of cars."
In Sherman the ash trees weren't faring much better. Warren didn't wait around to see what will happen and had most of them cut from his part of the property. The picture on the top shows the area I camp in with many stumps, piles of woodchips and ground stumps and a lone ash that grew in overcrowded conditions. On the bottom is a beautiful example of an elm tree that survived the Dutch Elm Disease. It's just down the road from Blue Heron.
Of course most people go to the festival for the music, and Blue Heron does that with class and variety thanks to David Tidquist. I didn't catch much since I was working and playing tunes most of the time, but I caught the Horse Flies in the dance tent. It was great to catch Allison Pipitone's set too, it would be nice if she moved to Ithaca sometime.
Tammy Rayborne and I keep things going in HQ. We do our best to keep things organized, make sure people have what they need and direct them where to go. There's hardly a question we can't make up an answer to. Like the trip to the festival, this was the best one I've worked at, and I started back in 1996.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
So how does one come about to get Joan Baez's first-ever autograph on a NASCAR SPECIAL? When she shows up with her band, Dirk Powell, Scott Nygaard, Todd Phillips, and her son Gabe Harris at the Bar Angus roadhouse bar just south of Trumansburg. You know, the one with the life-size Angus Bull on the roof. Dirk is friends with members of The All American Hell Drivers who were playing there. Now Gail and I went to hear The Hell Drivers a few years ago at the Bar Angus, which is pretty much the only place they play. On that night we were the only two listening to the band and when a regular patron from the bar used the bathroom the septic system released a volume of gas to rival the band's volume. Things were different this time...
On this night two remarkably divergent events combined into a surreal one. Joan Baez put on a stellar show at The State Theater. I wasn't going to go, but when a friend, Michael Hansen, mentioned he loves Joan, I burned a copy of her 2003 State Theater show that the dearly departed Brian Alger had recorded. I thought, that was a great show, why would I skip this one? Two efforts to get on the usher list didn't work, and when I tried to win tickets from WVBR I didn't even get through using two phones. But the person who did get through was Beth Orenstein, who was leaving town for the week and gave the phone to Kathleen Purdy who accepted them, but didn't want to go. Gail and I walked in a few minutes later and she offered us the tickets. When I found out Dirk Powell was in her band I figured he might sit in with Long John and the Tights during their happy hour set at Felicia's. He didn't play with them, but he came by and told Michael (also there) about the plan to go to The Bar Angus after the show, with Joan.
Joan danced with Dirk for awhile before stepping up to sing a couple songs (much rougher than at the State). After singing she really got to dancing with everybody who asked. Here she's dancing with David Dahle to "Billie Jean" which Hee Haw Nightmare frontman Eric Kincaid stepped up to the mike and killed. She did tell David's wife, Anu, that Anu was the best dancer there.
The band is "normally" comprised of Steve Selin, Rich Hallet, Richie Stearns, Eric Aceto, Ben Gould, Tom Gilbert and Bob Champion. On this magic night Dirk Powell sat in on piano, Susie Mills played something, Rosie Newton and Dee Specker fiddled, lots of people grabbed a tamborine. That's Michael Hansen playing the harp.
Joan did commit one gaffe when she raised her fist in jubilation and took Michael out with a direct shot to the face. But all was forgiven and we'll all be talking about this night every time we get someone willing to listen. There were so many strange moments it's hard to mention them all, but I have to say watching Joan crawl around on a table covered with beer bottles and jackets to find her jacket put it all over the top. Thanks to all the people who posted pictures on Facebook that I stole to use for these posts.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I've been out skiing at Hammond Hill this week during my vacation and took Bean three times, twice for three-hour tours and once for just over an hour. Gail made a nice rig for us to hook him up after he broke my belt loops and then my belt. You can see the lead that he's got it taut most of the time, going up hill or down, and in the last shot I'm going down a decent hill and pushing vigorously to keep up with him.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
This morning I was lucky to be here for sunrise, where, on the Monday of our February break of 2006, I spent the morning with Connie O'Brien making this trail on the compound up on McGrath Rd. We called it "The Lee Highway" after Lee Strebel, 15 years old, who had died the previous Friday while cracking a joke during chorus class just before vacation was to begin.
This is a cairn at the end of the Lee Highway. I made this one on Easter of 2003. Just a perfect morning to be out in Caroline remembering Lee. He was really into classic rock and on Feb. 17 of 2006 I was helping him study for a test on the Middle East. To help him remember Abraham was the founder of Judaism I sang "Highway 61 Revisited" and he said he'd have to check Dylan out more. Make sure you don't wait too long.