|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Five
Another Indian Story
Friday, January 29, 1988
I left home at 11am for the Teall Avenue post office to check my mail. In nine years of volunteer organizing, my post office box was the only permanent feature of my life. In my box this morning was a letter from Joan Christensen, a woman on the Syracuse Common Council. Joan's boyfriend had been a client for seven years who I'd helped by teaching him about his milk allergy.
Earlier in the month I'd sent Joan a letter expressing concern about a political conflict she had with Roger Knight. I enclosed a copy of my article on the Great Law of Peace with a comment that the Legend of the Peacemaker contained wisdom about pacifying conflicts. Her reply was short, thanking me for my concern. She closed with the sentence, "Sometime you can tell me another Indian story."
I chuckled to think of the lost Onondaga village buried beneath Marley's. "Another Indian story, indeed," I thought.
I had a massage appointment at noon downtown at the Athletic Club. Noon came and went with no sign of my client. At quarter past, I decided to run two blocks down Montgomery Street to City Hall and look in on the Common Council meeting.
The meeting was already in progress. Councilors were seated around the conference table in the Council chambers. A small gathering of 25 people listened to a presentation about the negative impact of proposed Carousel Center shopping mall on downtown business. I listened for several minutes absorbing the reasoning of the speakers. As I listened I became restless.
The third speaker was my friend Ed Eagan. After opening remarks, Ed held up a 3x4 foot aerial photo showing downtown Syracuse looking north towards Onondaga Lake. I stood and walked to the front of the room to see the aerial photo Ed used to illustrate his talk.
With gentlemanly decorum he explained how Pyramid's new mall would draw commercial business away from downtown. In the last decade millions of dollars had been invested to revive downtown and many small businesses had located in the central city business district. Ed spoke slowly and quietly, insisting that a major new mall only 2 miles from downtown would pull the rug out from under those businesses and discourage future investment in downtown's revival.
Ed made a pitch to site the mall in downtown, perhaps in the area once occupied by Mulberry Square housing projects. Mulberry Square had been demolished recently, leaving several acres of land vacant southeast of downtown. This site would tie nicely with the proposed convention center and the existing Syracuse Hotels, and keep the city's commercial center in downtown. I became progressively more restless as I listened until I was pacing behind the Councilors.
Ed finished his talk and I returned to my seat. Discussion began among Councilors and audience on the effect of Pyramid's mall on downtown. I passed a note to Ed to ask if he was going to comment on environmental conditions at the site. He replied no and seemed to discourage me from making a statement. But my agitation steadily increased. When other members of the audience began to ask questions and make comments, I decided to speak.
I raised my hand and was recognized by Council President James Walsh. "I don't wish to intrude on other people's time but I have a concern I'd like to speak to."
President Walsh said the meeting was open and anyone could speak so I asked, "Has anyone here been to Marley's?"
No one gave a positive reply so I plunged ahead. "Well, I went there last Sunday. I've been working several years with a friend who's an engineer on a new remote sensing technology. We've studied ancient Indian sites around central NY with this technology and we thought we'd try to locate the lost Onondaga Indian village rumored to be buried on the lakeshore. While studying the site we discovered some unusual and alarming conditions. I want to know if a study was done to determine if it's really feasible to build there, and if the site is safe."
President Walsh replied, "Pyramid drafted an Environmental Impact Statement in accordance with state and federal laws. A copy is available downstairs in the City Clerk's Office."
After this a reporter stepped over to ask me questions. It was obvious this would be an extended talk so I led him into the hall. Shortly we were joined by several other reporters. I decided to remain tight-lipped about the situation and limit my words to the water table. After a few minutes I was back in the Council Chamber where the meeting was coming to a close.
President Walsh adjourned the meeting. The room broke into a dozen small discussions. Democratic leader Joe Nicoletti was explaining to Syracuse New Times editor Walt Sheppard it would be hard for any Councilor to justify opposing the offer of any developer to invest in upgrading the city's infrastructure. Pyramid's project promised tremendous benefits for the city and would therefore be hard to turn down.
Nancy Duffy, a veteran reporter for TV-9 News came over to me. We had met a few times over the years, and we traded greetings. "What about the Onondaga village? Did you find it?" she asked with intense curiosity.
"As a matter of fact, yes," I answered. "I believe it's located under Marley's. Pyramid has scored a bull's eye on the past." I said this much because I knew Nancy was a friend of the Onondagas and could be trusted to be discreet.
"Are you be sure the village is there?" Nancy inquired.
"I've only been to Marley's once, and I have several questions about the site. I'm thinking about going back for more study.
At the moment, though, I have no definite plans."
Nancy persisted, "What kind of remote sensing do you use?"
"Uh oh," I thought, "speak carefully." Looking into Nancy's large, dark eyes, I simply said, "Oh, it's a new technique I've been developing for several years with a friend who's an engineer. I can't say much about it without asking my friend what technical details he wants made public. We've a lot of work invested in this and I don't think he's ready to compromise his proprietary interests. But we've used it to study other ancient Indian sites in central New York." This seemed like an impenetrable smoke screen.
And it seemed to satisfy Nancy, as she asked a different question, "Did you speak to the Onondaga chiefs about this? I'm a friend of several chiefs and I'm sure they'd be interested."
"I know several Onondagas myself. Most of my Onondaga friends are longhouse traditionals, and they've expressed interest in my findings. I hope to meet two of the chiefs on Sunday. Until I speak to them, I'm not going to say much about the village. I'll leave it to their decision what to do about the situation. So for the moment this is between you and me and not public information."
Nancy accepted my comments and we ended our discussion with my promise to keep her informed.
After a few minutes I stepped up to have a few words with Councilor Christensen. I began by acknowledging receipt of her letter that morning. I then inquired if she'd any further encounters with Roger.
Her eyes widened and rolled around, "Yes, he cornered me after the last Council meeting and began to verbally attack me. I tried to be patient and listen but he's so aggressive and makes so many accusations. He doesn't listen, never stops talking, and kept hammering away at me. It was very unpleasant."
I knew Roger well enough to know he could verbally dominate. I could almost see how the scene occurred, and empathized to Joan, "I've had a casual acquaintance with Roger for eight years. We have a mutual respect based on our similar work in community organizing, he with housing and neighborhoods and me with farmers and food policy."
"The interesting thing is that earlier this month on a Monday afternoon I was working on my essay on the Legend of the Peacemaker," I said. "As I was writing, suddenly you and Roger came to my mind and I found myself puzzling over your relationship. I thought how the Peacemaker might resolve your conflict with Roger."
I went on, "Then, that same evening Rick came by my home for dinner. He was hot and mad about the scene between you and Roger at the Council meeting that afternoon. You and Roger came to my mind at the very hour you and he were having your confrontation. I don't know if you believe in intuition or psychic stuff, but to me it was more than coincidence you came to my mind then."
"The very next day I was downtown when who did I run into but Roger. This struck me as more than coincidence since I don't see him often, and never downtown. We went to the Library and talked in the stairwell for nearly an hour. He explained his position to me and, I must say, he has some good points. He's definitely attacking you in an area where you're vulnerable. But he's so damned rational and verbal. I usually listen more than talk."
Joan thanked me for my concern and confessed her exasperation at communicating with Roger.
"Look, take this." I handed her a photocopy of an article on the Great Law of Peace by a scholar copied from a recent Turtle Quarterly of Indian Arts and Culture. "You asked for another Indian story, so here's one for you. The writer of this piece is far more articulate than I. I hope you find some inspiration in it to resolve your conflict with Roger."
She folded the papers and then looked intently at me. "So, you're going to tangle with Pyramid over their shopping mall?" This was half question, half statement.
"I hope not," I replied with embarrassment. "But having been to Marley's I have serious doubts about the wisdom of building there. The place is an ugly mess, and I have a terrible suspicion it's ugliness is more than skin deep. There's probably nothing I can do to stop them anyway."
Joan peered at me and said, "It's futile to stand between a powerful man and his ambition. Anyone who will invest several hundred million dollars in the city is sure to get his way."
"Well, this is way out of my league," I said heavily. "I've spent my time with small farmers and sick people. And I've never fared well with politics. But, here, here's something else for you." I showed her a copy of Edwin Steinbrecher's Inner Guide Meditation: A Technology for the 21st Century.
I explained that Steinbrecher had achieved a remarkable breakthrough in inner work. He had united Jungian depth psychology with astrology and meditation to create a map of the inner world. Most important, he discovered how to contact the Inner Guide, our inner world figure who assures our complete safety and growth as a spiritual being. By being able to contact our inner guide, we have access to protection and direction on our life path. Joan was intrigued, and copied down the title and author. With that, we parted.
I stepped over to Tim and Ed Eagan. We chatted for several minutes. In a light mood, I congratulated them on their presentation, but chided them for not being more assertive about the economic threat to downtown and the environmental questions about the site. I told them the story of the PCB-laden transformers.
Ed replied, "There's probably a lot of dirty secrets buried at the scrap metal yard. That place has quite a history behind it. You know, this year is the tenth anniversary of the discovery of the toxic dump underneath Love Canal. Marley's may be a central New York version of that Niagara nightmare."
We talked about their efforts on behalf of the Young Businesspeople of Downtown Syracuse, a coalition which had formed to oppose the mall. I thanked them for their efforts to organize and speak up for the small shopowners of downtown, but I recognized their underlying motivation was not so benevolent. In truth, they were acting to protect their own family's multi-million dollar investments in downtown.
|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
144 pages, 8.5 x 11 soft cover
available from Turtle EyeLand
I asked where I could get a copy of Pyramid's Environmental Impact Statement. Reaching into his leather case, Ed pulled out a thick spiral bound book of several hundred pages and handed it to me. Obviously I had my weekend homework set out for me. I noticed this was a Draft EIS, not a final version.
Ed asked if I was going back to Marley's. "Yes," I said, "this Sunday after church I'll meet two Onondaga chiefs there."
Ed smiled and said, "At first I wondered what 'remote sensing' was, then I remembered your dowsing. But you know that isn't acceptable evidence in court. But if the Onondagas come forward with information from their own oral history, that would be enough for a judge to order more investigation."
With a frown I said, "As I said earlier, I can't in good conscience urge the Onondagas to get involved in this fight. If you like, I'll arrange a meeting for you to discuss this with them yourself. But I can't sell them your strategy."
Ed was hesitant, and said, "Let me speak to my father. If he agrees, I'll come to a meeting."
I then described the oily metal shavings and smoking pile I had seen at Marley's Sunday. Ed suggested that I take water samples next time I went to Marley's, offering to ask his father to pay for lab tests. With that, we all left City Hall.