|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter One
Direct Hit on the Ancestors
Sunday, January 24, 1988
On January 24, 1988, I visited Marley's Scrap Metal Yard for the first time. My purpose was to find a lost Onondaga Indian village. That morning I went to St. David's Church and sat in front in deep meditation. The congregation performed a ritual of song, prayer, Bible reading, sermon, and communion. I remained stiffly erect, contemplating my afternoon destination. In my hand was a photo, tangible focus for my meditation and afternoon destination.
On Wednesday, a friend had come to my home with a newspaper article by Syracuse Herald feature writer Dick Case titled Lost Indian village on Onondaga Lake's south shore may stay lost about attempts by archaeologist Jeanette Collamer to locate Kaneenda, the last village of Onondagas on the southeast lakeshore. Wrote Case:
"It doesn't look good for finding that lost Indian village. We may have to settle for the word of our grandfathers there was such a place and go on with it. "Go on with it" will be to watch Robert Congel and his Pyramid Associates build their Carousel Center mall on this land we turned our backs on, literally, for several generations. The history will be, well, covered. "Sealed by an asphalt cap," in the words of the report."
"Pyramid hired Clio Group of Philadelphia to compile fascinating data on the ruined lakefront but local experts in the Beauchamp Archaeological Society felt the work was sloppy, confusing and inadequate.So Pyramid hired Collamer Associates of East Nassau to review the review, bulldoze 10 trenches 4 feet wide, 12 feet long and 20 feet deep.She found "no artifacts or indication of prehistoric occupation." The site was so "severely disturbed" over 100 years that no clue to the mysterious Onondaga village would ever be found. "Carry on," she said. Pyramid plans no more trenching for history."
My friend knew my association with the Onondagas, and wondered if I was interested in this lost village. Innocently I replied, "Yes." So I arranged to meet some fellow dowsers the next Sunday at the site.
Later that day, while searching through my photos of Fort Hill Indian Mound in Auburn, NY, I found the December 5 aerial photo of Onondaga Lake. In the foreground sprouted Oil City's white tanks. In back was Onondaga Lake. Directly in the center was Marley's Scrap Metal Yard, site of the proposed mall. For the next five days I kept both article and photo on my dining table. At every morning, noon and evening meal, I meditated on the site, attuning my dowser's mind to its pattern of geography and past.
Now, on Sunday morning, I sat meditating in the front pew of St. David's. I held the photo in my hands, focusing my awareness on this lakeshore site and my task ahead.
From St. David's I drove to Unity Church to get my dowsing buddy Rich Phillips. When Rich first tried to dowse, his initial attempts at simple water locating failed. But persistence paid off—few weeks later he began to dowse. Diligent practice soon made him a reliable dowser.
From Unity Church I drove to Hiawatha Blvd. to meet a few other friends. Tim Atlanta, an engineer in electronics industry, was already there. Combining science with metaphysics, Tim spent his vacations visiting ancient sacred centers of the planet, including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor in England, Chartres Cathedral in France, Pyramids of Egypt, Machu Pichu in Peru, Mayan ruins in central America, and New Grange in Ireland. In 1987, he flew to Peking to the Emperor's Temple in the Forbidden City, then to Lhasa, spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1984 Tim attended a class at Wellspring taught by Sig Lonegren on Sacred Spaces and Earth Mysteries. Sig lives in Vermont, earned a Masters' Degree in Sacred Space from Goddard College and visited many of the planet's ancient sacred sites. An accomplished dowser, Sig was Education Director of the American Society of Dowsers.
At that Wellspring program Tim learned to dowse. On Tim's global pilgrimages he dowsed the sacred sites. As a tourist he couldn't do detailed surveys, but his quick and simple dowsing of these sites convinced him each was a focus for subtle fields of terrestrial energies, and was constructed to incorporate and affect these invisible forces.
Tim also dowsed at Fort Hill with me, including during a solar eclipse on March 29, 1986. We shared and compared notes about our dowsing discoveries. Tim's mind was cool, meticulous and impeccably rational, but not restrained to the confines of physical science. For the day's unusual project, I could hardly find another person in central NY with Tim's qualifications, experience and interest.
Tim joined us in my Buick and I reviewed the situation. I showed him Dick Case's article and my December 5 photo. We discussed how to approach such an unusual dowsing challenge. After several minutes our guide to Marley's backdoor arrived.
Following our guide, we parked on gravel fill by Ley Creek under a towering eight lane I-81 overpass. From there we hiked the railroad to Marley's backdoor. It was midwinter, yet balmy 45 degree breezes blew off Onondaga Lake. A January thaw had vanquished winter and nearly all traces of snow were gone. Gray overcast of thick clouds hung low over-head. Only Seattle suffers more clouds and precipitation than Syracuse. This day's clouds gave no threat of rain, but the steady wind of chilled air was heavy with moisture, and soaked to my bones. I buttoned my parka tightly to shield my skin from the cold wind.
Looking west toward Onondaga Lake I saw endless piles of trash and junk. Where ever possible people had dumped stoves, refrigerators, garbage bags, furniture, timber, sheetrock, concrete, car engines and body parts, produce boxes, lawn clippings, and shrubs. Beyond these snaking piles of twisted, rusted, rotting waste stood cattails marking swamps. Amid this unofficial junkyard drifted Ley Creek, which flows by backyards of major industries and a sewage treatment plant. Its sluggish waters stunk with large gray-green clots of algae. High overhead traffic rattled the I-81 bridge, adding a howl to the vigorous wind. Farther above roared jets landing at Hancock Airport.
So much for Paradise by the sacred lake. Industrial civilization's debris was choking and drowning Nature in a flood of carelessness and garbage. Dick Case was right, we did turn our back on this corner of the lake—our buttside. A shopping mall might not be paradise, but would be a big improvement over the mess we now hiked through.
Our guide led us northwest on a truck path by Ley Creek and across a single railline running north to Liverpool. Then we hopscotched railroad ties south, then west to the junction with the main tracks whose shining steel rails run coast to coast from Boston to California. Trains roll by Marley's nearly every half hour. We headed west up these transcontinental tracks towards the bridge across the Barge Canal. The straight and level railroad bed was 40 feet above Onondaga Lake.
Marley's approached on our left. A deep ditch with shrubs and small trees in its soggy bottom separated us from the scrap metal yard. Obviously Marley's sat on over 20 feet of fill dumped on the shore, and the trench bottom wasn't the bottom of this fill.
We halted at the bridge. "This is as far as I take you," our guide said. "Don't ever tell anyone I brought you here. If word gets out I did this, nothing but trouble will result. This railspur takes you onto Marley's. This west end is covered with piles of metal, so you have some cover. There's a watchman. Marley's nightwatchman would shoot at people, so stay out of sight. If you get arrested, don't call me." Shaking our hands, he left.
We stood on the railroad by the Barge Canal in Marley's northwest corner. A single rusty rail spur entered the scrap yard. Beside the track red letters on a white sign warned
DANGER—NO TRESPASSING—PRIVATE PROPERTY
Numerous bullet holes punctuated its message, emphasizing the aura of dark, ominous foreboding I felt. Ahead of us rose huge piles of ruddy rusted scrap metal.
Tim spoke first, "Let's ask where the nearest village of Onondaga Indians is." We each silently repeated the question to our dowser's mind, and our rods obediently pointed due south. Ten miles south was the last surviving village of Onondaga Indians in the United States.
Tim remarked, "Obviously we need to define our question more carefully. Let's set a time parameter to our search."
I spoke next, "Let's see if we're in the ballpark. Was there an Onondaga village near here 200 years ago? That's soon after the American Revolution when whites first settled here." After brief individual inner consultations we agreed unanimously: no.
"OK, how about 300 years ago?" was my next suggestion. All dowsing rods wagged an affirmative.
"OK, where?" I asked aloud. Our rods spun to point east at Marley's.
"How far away?" came the next question. Answers came back: 1000 feet, 1200 feet, 1500 feet.
I asked Tim, "Did you look for the village's nearest edge?"
"No, for the square in the village center. Or was it a circle?"
Satisfied we were near the right place, I said, "Looks like we're in the ballpark, but we need to get closer." I tried to sound confident as I looked east across Marley's. "Tread carefully. We don't want to be arrested. Me, I got nothing to protect, but you, Tim, have to think about your job. Keep your eyes open for other people and keep a low profile. The watchman must be in the building at the other end."
We walked slowly along the railspur past the warning sign. I kept my eyes to the east, peering between the scrap metal piles for other humans. Once onto Marley's, I stopped and said, "Let me go ahead and scout the terrain. I asked you two on this risky adventure, and I want to be sure you aren't arrested."
Leaving them, I set off east down the rusty tracks, hugging the huge piles of scrap metal on both sides. Every few feet I stopped to study the terrain ahead and listen, ready to duck and hide. On my right a dirt drive circled this west end of Marley's.
Without doubt the ugliest place in Syracuse. No ordinary dump, its entire atmosphere was bizarre, distorted. Industrial metal debris heaped everywhere in disheveled piles of complete chaotic disorder. Entire railroads cars twisted and crumpled by heaps of metal millings and shavings. Discarded, rejected, wasted, dumped—every sort and size of metal object was here: pipes, tanks, engines, car bodies, furnaces, air conditioners, sheet metal, boilers, millings, die blanks... Everything, including soil, was tinged with lurid, rusty reds of rotting iron.
In some areas soil was stained black by oil and the air reeked of petroleum blended with musty sewage aroma from the treatment plant upwind across the Barge Canal. Water puddles shone with oily rainbow sheen ringed with foamy scums of iridescent metallic flakes. It was Dante's inferno after the fire.
After 500 feet the piles ended. The tracks curled along the edge of a few acres of open land cleared of debris anticipating acquisition and construction by Pyramid. The site seemed quiet, vacant, forgotten. I quickly returned to Tim and Rich.
We left the railroad for the hardpacked dirt drive that looped Marley's west end. On both sides were twisted piles of scrap metal, an assortment of industrial castoffs: wheels, pipe, engines, pumps, tanks, sheet metal, 50 gallon drums. Piles of metal grindings and shavings fresh from a mill stood ten foot high. Older piles had faded to rusty reds, grays and black, but close to the drive a few recently dumped piles of this twisted metal still shone bright gray and silver.
"Look at that!" I exclaimed, pointing to the highest pile. In the 45! air smoke wafted off its summit. At its foot water puddles emanated sickly shades of nearly luminous green. It looked like a tiny volcano ready to erupt in fire and lava. Fascinated, I stepped up for a closer look.
"I can't imagine what would cause a pile to smoke like that," Tim hailed from behind. "I wonder what it is."
"There's a lot of oil on these cuttings, some sort of industrial cutting oil. Probably nothing hazardous, but look how the oil is soaking into the soil and contaminating these puddles." I pointed at the sickly green water at my feet. I considered climbing the pile to study its smoking summit but quickly rejected the idea, loathing getting oil and green water in the puddle on my clothes.
Nearby a four inch plastic pipe rose from the ground with a metal cap locked over its top. I assumed the hole was bored by Pyramid engineers in their site study. Stepping up for closer inspection, my eye caught a ring of light brown powder at the foot of the pipe. This seemed to be material turned up from the bottom of the borehole. I bent and rubbed some between my thumb and index finger. It was dense and fine textured, but not sticky. "Not your usual subsoil," I thought.
I proceeded slowly forward along the drive until my dowsing sensed we were passing over the edge of the lost Indian village. This was 50 feet short of the area cleared for Pyramid's spring construction start. We consulted and agreed we were above the village edge, but it's center lay 200 feet further east. We walked to the edge where shelter afforded by scrap piles gave way to open land. I'd hoped to locate the village center and walk its perimeter, but to continue our search would mean walking across open land in full view.
Then I noticed a brown sedan on Marley's the far east edge driving slowly around the circular roadway in our direction. At my warning we retreated to the shelter of metal piles. Peering around a pile, I eyed the car and wondered if we'd been spotted.
Behind me, Tim commented, "David, I get some strange answers about the village. Could it be 30 feet deep? Wouldn't that put it below the level of the lake?"
I focused my attention on the buried village. After a few moments, I agreed. So did Rich, who added, "I get unusual responses for water, too. There's water only a few feet deep, but not water veins like we usually find. Some other kind of water."
We spent a few moments puzzling this data. We dowsed, talked about the lake level, the swampy history of the area, the amount of fill. Before we could iron all this out, we were interrupted. The car arrived at the main loop's intersection with our stretch of drive. The driver parked there, but made no move to get out. Obviously we'd been spotted, but weren't going to be forced out. Nervously we exchanged a few more comments about the village, then ambled west in dignified retreat.
As I walked I wondered about the original topography of the site. Obviously many feet of fill had been dumped here, yet, beneath it all, was the original landscape of the lakeshore. What had it looked like? If there was a village here, there must have been a sacred space nearby. Where was it? Was it still here after 300 years? I posed my question and watched my rod swing to point the way. As we retreated, I took two more bearings. We arrived back at northwest corner. I told Tim and Rich to wait in safety across the railroad tracks. Leaving them, I then headed off in search of this sacred space. My search led me down along the Barge Canal toward the green Hess oil tanks.
There in Marley's west corner I found mullein plants growing in a thick clump. A powerful healing herb, mullein grows in a cabbage head rosette of large, light green fuzzy leaves. In summer mullein erupts upward in a single six foot spike crowned by bright yellow flowers. A pioneer, mullein grows on wasteland and subsoil and begins to restore fertility so other plants can inhabit the impoverished dirt. Similarly, in herbal medicine mullein dissolves mucous, fat and oily waste in the human body. Leaves are smoked for lung congestion, and flowers soaked in olive oil will dissolve wax in the ears.
To a dowser and student of Geomancy, mullein is also a power plant. It grows at natural centers of invisible terrestrial energy fields. The mullein at Marley's grew in a spiral vortex where six energy channels unite in a rising column. Directly beneath this ascending vortex, a water column rose from deep in the Earth to feed five water veins.
This is the strongest sacred center on Marley's west end. It is now, and probably was 300 years ago when Kaneenda sat on the bank of Onondaga Creek which at that time flowed through the site. As much as I wanted to study this place more, this day a flock of anxieties hurried my step, so I quickly returned to my friends. Leaving Marley's and crossing the tracks, I shed layers of tension as I stepped on safe ground again. From our height atop the railroad embankment, we could see the entire expanse of Onondaga Lake's south shore.
Tim had more observations to report. "David, I'm getting there's another older village site almost 2000 feet west of here."
"How old?" I asked.
"At least 500 years."
After a moment of silence to consult my own dowser's mind, I started west, saying, "Let's have a look." We crossed the bridge over the Barge Canal, which is now Onondaga Creek's mouth. On the far side was the Metropolitan Sewage Treatment Plant. Stopping at intervals to dowse, we learned the other village was at the opposite corner of the plant.
I left Rich and Tim to examine a concrete culvert where sewer water discharged into the lake. Standing atop the pipe's mouth, I peered at a mighty gush of water. "The asshole of Syracuse," I thought wryly. The rushing water was warm and, although clear, a distinct musty aroma wafted up. Although benign now, this massive orifice was once the source of much of Onondaga Lake's pollution. "If this is Syracuse's anal terminal, does that make Marley's a rectal fistula?" I wondered.
Warm sewer water kept the lake water from freezing. Far off, beyond the swirling currents, birds floated on the water. Warm, nutrient rich water fed a vast population of life in the lake. The birds gathered to join the feast. "This is recycling," I mused, "one creature's waste, by successive consumption in the food chain, becomes another's lunch."
Rejoining my friends, we headed east on the transcontinental tracks. As we passed by Marley's, we stopped periodically to confirm our location of the Onondaga village. I crept into weeds along the scrap yard to study its terrain and study puddles for signs of a water table.
As I poked in the brush, I reasoned our predicament. Dowsing holds no weight in archaeology or shopping mall politics. No one will dig 30 feet to look for Kaneenda, but every village has sites associated with it. Two important to archaeology are trash heap and cemetery. Maybe they're nearby in a place not endangered or deep. I explained this to my buddies.
Bingo! We detected a burial site east of Marley's across the north-south railroad tracks. After a short hike we stood between I-81 and the railroad. I was over my head in dry grass standing over what my dowsing sensed was a human body 15 feet under. From a distance Rich and Tim's dowsing confirmed my find.
I took Rich home and drove south on I-81 to my garden behind the midwife's house at Onondaga Nation. It's a spectacular drive. As I-81 threads its way through downtown Syracuse, the Big Hill sits low on the south horizon. I-81 skirts a low income neighborhood, Upstate Medical Center and Syracuse University, then the serenity of Oakwood Cemetery. Beyond Brighton St. I-81 climbs from the valley to the heights at Seneca Turnpike. From there the Big Hill at Onondaga Nation fills the south horizon. I-81 descends through a narrow canyon cut into Onondaga Limestone. In my windshield, the rock walls of the roadcut framed the Big Hill's summit. Emerging from this narrow passage, the landscape opens onto a wide shallow basin which gently curls to the foot of the Big Hill. One mile ahead lies an exit before I-81 curves east around Big Hill to head for Lafayette.
My excitement at dowsing Kaneenda was lost to astonishment when I saw new signs at that exit. Since I-81's construction, the signs had said: Exit 16 Nedrow. Another small sign had read Onondaga Ind Res, the only cryptic clue that travelers had crossed an international border.
Now, that very same week, new signs had been erected. Both exit signs announced: Exit 16 Onondaga Nation Territory. The small sign had grown to announce a new message. Not "Onondaga Ind Res," but Onondaga Nation Territory. I stopped on the shoulder and took a few photos of these new signs. In the background, framed by the signs, sat the Big Hill. I wondered deeply just what was taking place.
Jeannie's car wasn't in sight when I arrived at her house, so I headed up the slope to the field where we have our gardens. The weeklong January thaw had melted the snow cover, so I wandered the garden checking my plants. I stopped to nibble parsley and harvest collards, kale, turnip greens, and other hardy survivors. The collards were luscious, sweet and tender. I came to the carrots and onions. Soft, wet soil clung to their roots. As I dug, I pondered the events of the day.
I believed we'd found Kaneenda. Congel's Pyramid mallers made a direct hit on the ancestral past. The last village of Onondagas on the Onondaga Lake shore lies directly under where Pyramid intends to build the flagship of their shopping malls. I find the last Onondaga village lost under industrial fill about to be covered by central NY's largest shopping mall, and that very week new highway signs proclaim Onondaga Nation Territory. Suddenly NY publicly recognizes the presence of a native nation at the heart of NY. Something's going on. Under this synchronicity must lie a powerful lode of hidden meaning.
Few Americans realize there are native nations in NY. Most think Earth's smallest country is Monaco in Europe. Actually it's Oneida Nation—32 acres in Madison County, NY. To the west, Cayuga Nation has no land at all, though they've negotiated with NY for 13 years for enough land to start a village. Up north, Mohawk Nation inhabits ancestral lands on both sides of the US and Canadian border on the St. Lawrence River. The International Peace Bridge is on their land, so they enjoy free passage across it: no customs, no duties, no searches. And Seneca Nation occupies three reserves in western NY.
I came to no conclusion, but I felt something was up. Change was subtly slipping into reality. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you change public thinking? One small detail at a time. Small details were quietly preparing to transform public awareness. Exit signs on I-81 are no longer small details. A major shift is in progress. Where's it taking us?
At sunset the overcast sky darkened rapidly. A chill swept the field. I scraped mud from numb, cold fingers, gathered my food, and headed down the path. Jeannie was home, so I climbed the front porch. Inside, I heard sounds of happy children playing and ceaseless TV chatter. Jeannie invited me in, but I declined, observing that my boots were caked with mud and I wanted to go home to cook a hot dinner. With words that were too brief, I explained about Kaneenda.
"Oh really!" Jeannie smirked, "Had to be there. Our ancestors picked the best spots on the lake long ago. You should tell Vince or Irving. I'd like to get Uncle Leon involved. He's a dowser, too."
It was easy not to be enthusiastic. "I'm not anxious to go back there. It's the ugliest, meanest place in the Salt City. Huge piles of rusted metal, sick green puddles, oil stink everywhere, upwind is the sewer plant. Not a fun place. By the way, what's with the new signs on 81?"
Jeannie showed her own puzzlement. "Don't know. Neither does anyone else here. Seems New York State got the idea all on their own. As far as I know, we never requested the change."
|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
144 pages, 8.5 x 11 soft cover
from Turtle EyeLand
"Next thing, the Syracuse Mayor will invite Onondaga Nation to discuss the future of the lake," I theorized.
"I'll long be a grandmother first. Er, great-grandmother." Jeannie sometimes forgot her daughter recently made her a grandma at age 41.
"Won't be long. Only another generation, another 20 years. Gotta go. I'm cold and starved."