|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Eleven
Voices from the Earth
Friday, February 5, 1988
I woke up shortly after 7am. My mind and body felt heavy; rest hadn't come with sleep. I sat reviewing what was unfolding, trying to convince myself to move forward again. My mind ached, and my feelings sunk in a deep mood. An immense wordless intensity swept me as sobs shook me. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I lurched to my feet, shrugged on my coat, lowered the thermostat, blew my nose and headed out the door.
Morning sun shone bright off new fallen snow as I glided down Interstate 81 through the Onondaga Limestone canyon leading to the Onondaga Nation exit. Soft whiteness blanketed the land, transforming the dark, heavy mood of previous days into light and brightness. My spirit soared as the profile of The Big Hill rose ahead. My eyes lingered on the exposed rock at its summit's north tip, wondering how it looked in new snow.
At the Nation exit I stopped for gas. The air was cold, crisp, clean, and clear. Holding the gas nozzle I peered north up US 11. In the distance I saw US 11A, which bisects Onondaga Nation and meets US 11 at the Nation's north border. Here began Salina Street, Syracuse's north-south axis which ran up the valley to Onondaga Lake at Hiawatha Boulevard near Marley's.
To my surprise, rising above this beginning of Salina St. were the distant towers of downtown Syracuse seven miles away. Faintly in the clear winter air I could see the tip of Onondaga Lake nine miles away. To my back was the Big Hill. Ahead stretched the Salt Road leading through the Salt City's heart to the Salt Lake. I was moved by the meaning captured by this line of vision.
I bought a Post Standard morning newspaper and sat in Smoke Signals with hot black coffee. Page 1 of the Metro section had an article on my press conference. The title made me blush: Healer sees sickness under Oil City. I felt uncomfortable with the title Healer even though I chose it months before. I read on:
Guided by the spirit of the Earth and analysis of an environmental report, a naturalist and teacher from the Syracuse Center for Self Healing has concluded that Pyramid Cos. will build its glistening $150 million mall on a toxic swamp.
David Yarrow asserted Thursday that beneath the surface of the soil at what is now the Marley's Division of Abe Cooper of Syracuse Inc. scrap yard lies a pool of stagnant water contaminated with several toxic chemicals. Construction of the Carousel Center could release those contaminants into the nearby Barge Canal and Onondaga Lake, he said. "I see a sickness here, and it needs to be healed," he said.
The environmental impact statement for the project does note the presence of industrial chemicals in site tests, Yarrow said. Yarrow is not opposed to the project, once it is cleaned up.
A Pyramid spokesman said they intend to do whatever is necessary to clean up the site. "To the extmt there are residues of industrial activity, they're not going to get any better," said Pyramid partner Bruce Kenan, who met with Yarrow Thursday.
Sierra Club and the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation have expressed concern about the quality of soil and ground water at the site. "We're concerned about possible toxic soil contamination but we're not opposed to the project per se," said Julia Portmore, biochemist and conservation chair of the Iroquois group of the Sierra Club. Of Yarrow she said: "I find his ideas interesting and believe they should be further explored."
For a man poised to take on one of the city's corporate giants, Yarrow struck an unassuming figure. After calling reporters to a noon news conference, he asked them to wait as he finished a lunch of brown rice in a wooden bowl. To illustrate his theory, he laid a brick on a sponge soaked in soy sauce. The sauce oozed out beneath the weight of the brick, symbolic of the mall.
It was short, clear and mostly positive. I seemed unusual and odd, but not a "kook." I regretted delaying for TV cameras that never appeared, but I needed those moments to steady myself after the emotional dam that broke after meeting with Kenan. I still felt aftershocks of that intense outburst surging in my soul.
After one cup of coffee a jeep pulled up and a young man in jeans headed in the door. As he entered our eyes met. "Don?"
I'd agreed to take archaeologist Don Anderson to Irving's house to meet Irving and Oren Lyons. I also invited Ed Eagan to come along and meet the Onondaga Indians he was so anxious drag into the "path of progress" at Oil City.
Don had, on his own initiative, filed a letter with the New York State Historical Society contesting Pyramid's archaeology report. Early in the week I talked to Don on the phone about the archaeological situation at Marley's. Now we met for the first time. We talked as we waited for Ed. At one point, with a wry smile, I asked Don, "What's the smallest nation in the world?"
He paused, eyed me carefully and said, "Onondaga Nation?"
I laughed, "Not bad! Most would say Monaco, revealing their European bias. It's Oneida Nation—a trailer park 35 miles east of here. Less than a square mile of still sovereign soil in the midst of the Empire State. Hardly anyone knows that since Indians are ignored or misrepresented in American history."
Don said, "Oneida Nation is one of the six nations in the Iroquois League, of which Onondaga Nation is the capital."
"Right," I replied. "Of the six nations Cayuga has no land at all. It's a sensitive issue among Iroquois that Cayuga negotiated with New York since 1976 for enough land to establish a village. New York State recognizes the Cayugas have a legal right to possess their land, but a settlement hasn't been reached in twelve years."
Don replied, "I understand Oneidas, too, have a land claim."
"Right," I said. "In 1975 the United States Supreme Court agreed the Oneidas were cheated by New York, but so far no settlement's been reached. You're about to meet Onondaga Nation's Secretary."
Ed never showed, so I left a message with the hostess for "a man as tall and thin as a stringbean" and left with Don. We drove down Quarry Road and turned off just before the bridge across Hemlock Creek. Thick ice hung from ledges where the creek tumbled over Onondaga Limestone. On hot summer days families brought children to play in the cool waters,
The Powless home is a solid log structure with a long porch running the length of one side. No mere cabin, this plain yet elegant home spoke of another culture, another way of living on Earth. Ten minutes from the center of New York's fourth largest city, yet we'd crossed more than an international border. We'd entered not only another place, but another time, as if we'd traveled back 200 years to America's frontier days. We were now on Indian land in Indian time. I could feel a new rhythm pulsing.
As we stepped on the porch, I caught a whiff of sulfur and recalled Irving's water problem. The sulfur odor from wasn't strong or unpleasant. In that instant, I remembered the dragon. Where else to find brimstone than under a dragon's chin?
We stepped inside to be enfolded by a soft aura of peace and beauty. The mood of another time and place intensified as I looked at logs, stained and varnished, rising into one of the most lovely ceilings I'd ever seen. A pungent sweet scent of wood smoke hung lightly in the air, like incense burnt on an altar to Nature. The spacious room was dim and soft in muted browns of stained logs.
On the couch, a tender, poetic centerpiece, was Irving's granddaughter. Her three years looked tiny, swallowed in the soft contours of the huge couch. The house had the completely comfortable feel of a refuge where an intimate family gathered to talk, share, play and listen. My lonely heart swam in and drank this rich human atmosphere of home and family.
I listened two hours while Irving and Don talked. Irving was very cordial and made no effort to rouse me from my somber silence. I relaxed, sank into the couch and listened to Don and Irving from a secluded corner of my mind. My deep mood remained inaccessible to the joyous sunshine. The intense emotions released the previous day still shook in my soul, ready to boil over in the turn of a sentence.
Irving said Oren Lyons, an Onondaga historian interested in our meeting, couldn't attend. I was sorry to miss an opportunity to engage Oren's sharp mind in discussion, but I knew Irving, Secretary of the Council, was an able representative.
Don began by explaining his training and field experience. "I did undergraduate work at UCLA, and worked as apprentice on West Coast digs, and another year in central America on an early Mayan city. I'm the only archaeologist at Syracuse University. There's no archaeology department, so I'm in Anthropology." I got the feeling he was a rare intellect in Syracuse. Archaeology isn't a big science in central New York.
With genuine apology, Don confessed, "I'm a greenhorn. I just moved to New York last year. I know West Coast archaeology but unfortunately, I'm unfamiliar with East Coast Indians and New York archaeology. Once I got settled at school with teaching and boned up on local history, I decided to contact local native Americans, which, of course, means the Onondagas. Someone gave me Oren's number, and your name. I tried to contact the Onondagas without success. When David called about Kaneenda to say he'd be meeting you, I asked to come."
Don continued, "I'm aware there has been bad relations between native American and archaeologists. I believe I understand the reasons why, and I try to be sensitive to those concerns. I'm glad to speak to a descendent of people whose ancestors' homes and bones I may uncover to study." My heart was glad to hear this diplomacy by Don.
He went on, "I know disturbance of ancestral remains is a dispute between Indians and archaeologists. I'd like to maintain regular communication and be completely open to your advice about any sites I might become involved with."
Irving smiled, "This is a historic meeting—the first time an archaeologist came to us before disturbing an ancestral site. Usually we find out after the archaeologist files his report."
Don found this hard to believe.
"Oh yes," Irving insisted. "At Akwesasne up north years ago, a backhoe at a construction site turned up some bones. They kept digging until more were found. An archaeologist came in and took over. Studied the bones, took photos, made drawings, moved the bones, labeled them, organized them. The way we found out was some of our guys worked at the site."
Don was again apologetic. "Well, I hope to avoid a repeat of that bad communication and injured trust while I'm here. I hope now we've met, we'll stay in communication."
Don and Irving discussed local digs, including the Pompey and Howlett Hill sites, at length. I was impressed by Don's extensive knowledge of Iroquois archaeology. Obviously he took study of New York archaeology serious, and learned much in a few months. But I listened with only a small piece of my mind. The rest of me was weeping.
Suddenly Don interrupted my inner reflection, saying loudly, "There's never been political recognition for…"
The sleeping child stirred and Don lowered his voice, "Onondaga Nation?"
Irving smiled ever so slightly. "Three years ago National Geographic sent a reporter to do a story on the Confederacy. He was surprised to learn in 200 years neither the City of Syracuse or Onondaga County has given political recognition to Onondaga Nation. It's only ten minutes on Interstate 81 from our capital to theirs, but we're never consulted about anything. Yet, Syracuse's City Hall was built with Onondaga Limestone quarried here on our land."
Don was surprised at this. "I understand Onondaga Nation has a special legal status much different than other tribes. Out west, most tribes have been stripped of their land, culture and government, and are wards of the federal government."
Irving's smile hardened. "That may be true." He stressed "may," implying there is dispute over the issue. "But we're different. We Onondagas are persistent. We've survived and held on despite continuous, repeated attempts over 200 years to take away our land, our sovereignty, culture, and religion. But we're still here. We're not American citizens, and chose to retain our own ways and identity. We survived because of our skill as diplomats. As capital of the Confederacy, we've many old traditions about negotiation."
"What's your relationship with New York?" Don asked. "I'm surprised to see Onondaga Nation on exit signs."
"Not much. They continue to discount us after 200 years. We stay safely out of their way while they rush about building their great Empire State. Those signs are new and surprised us also. We didn't request the change," said Irving with characteristic amused irony, without trace of anger or bitterness.
Irving said, "We had a few serious arguments over the years. In 1971, they tried to build a third lane on I-81 through our land, but the Highway Department never asked permission. So, we went to let them know this is Indian land and they had no right to be here. Construction halted. Governor Rockefeller came to tell us he'd take care of everything. He went back to Albany and sent an armed force of State Police. Things got very tense, but we stood our ground. At the last minute, State Police were called to take part in the bloody massacre to retake Attica Prison. In the end, New York State agreed with us, and the Highway Department relented."
"In May, 1979, up at Akwesasne on the St. Lawrence, a county sheriff tried to arrest a Mohawk chief on Mohawk soil after the chief stopped federal work crews from cutting trees to erect a fence on Mohawk land. The chief confiscated their chainsaws, so the sheriff charged him with a felony for theft. It turned into an armed standoff that lasted months. By June, 1980 New York State Police were there with SWAT teams preparing an armed assault."
"Two Onondaga chiefs were in New York City when they got word of an assault at Akwesasne. They went immediately to the office of Ray Harding, assistant to New York's governor for military and Indian affairs. They informed him invasion of any of our land was invasion of all Iroquois territory, and would be resisted by all our people. They pointed out major gas pipelines pass through Onondaga land. Once again, they backed off and respected our sovereignty. Mario Cuomo, New York's present governor, was Secretary of State then, and helped negotiate a settlement."
I knew the story well, having heard and read about it. Few people knew that for months New York State Police stared at Indian men and boys sandbagged behind machine guns. After the initial event, the press ignored the confrontation as the most powerful nation on Earth tried to bully one of the smallest. In the end, New York dropped all charges, and withdrew its armed men.
Irving looked proudly at Don, "As a sovereign nation, we have our own passports for international travel. The United States lets us out of the country to visit other nations. Many foreign countries recognize our passports, but so far the United States refuses to recognize our passports when we try to reenter the United States."
The September 1987 National Geographic carried an article on the Iroquois entitled The Fire that Never Dies. In it a photo showed three Iroquois holding their passports as they passed through customs in Columbia, South America. They'd been invited to observe negotiations between the Sandinistas and Miskito Indians of Nicaraugua. Most Americans know of the war between contras and Sandinistas, but few know there's a second war in Nicaraugua on the east coast between Indians and Sandinistas trying to grab Indian land and resources.
Irving continued, "Fortunately, Akwesasne is on both sides of the US-Canadian border. The International Peace Bridge crosses the St. Lawrence River on Mohawk land, so we have free passage across the bridge without customs inspection or fees. Canada recognizes our passports and sovereignty, so we fly to Montreal and enter the US over the Peace Bridge."
"Have you brought this to public attention?" Don asked.
"Quite a bit," Irving replied. "Especially in the '70's. We had a tour group for several years that lectured and put on shows around the country. It was called The White Roots of Peace, after the Legend of the Peacemaker. Later, we changed it to Voices from the Earth. But it took a lot of effort from our small community, and we haven't done any tours for years now."
Coming to life, I said, "I remember that. In 1975, I organized a day of lectures at Syracuse University. Know what Voices from the Earth sound like?" Placing my hand over my mouth, I said, "'Voices from the Earth." My fingers muffled the sounds, rendering them barely intelligible. Irving smiled at my little joke, sensing there was as much irony as humor in my gesture.
Irving continued, "We have several publications, including Akwesasne Notes, official newsletter of the Mohawk Nation. In October, 1977 we addressed a United Nations Commission on Discrimination Against Native Peoples in Geneva, Switzerland. Our story of the meeting and our testimony to the Commission is printed in a book called A Basic Call to Consciousness, the only comprehensive statement by native nations on conditions we face. Last fall we began publishing Daybreak, a quarterly, to communicate our traditional culture."
I chimed in again, "I got the second issue last week. Great job! Oren had a wonderful article about Water is a Sacred Trust. I included it in my press release along with Handsome Lake's prophecy about the time when waters will be polluted."
Don brought the dialogue to the concern at hand. "I sent a letter to the New York Historical Society to contest Pyramid's archaeology study. To my mind their study was inadequate and not up to professional standards. A backhoe isn't a proper tool for archaeological study. All they did was prove they couldn't find the village. The study doesn't prove the village is there, or not, or where it is."
Irving was cautious. "We've our own oral history about where our ancestors were. The Council will have to meet to discuss this. I can't know what the Council might decide."
Don nodded, "I'll pursue my protest to the Historical Society, but from what David says, I doubt there'll be a dig. The site has many feet of water saturated with toxic chemicals. His information on the village isn't credible in archaeology, but I keep an open mind about unusual methods like dowsing."
Their talk came to a close. I listened quietly as Don and Irving agreed to stay in touch. I informed Don I'd stay to talk to Irving. After Don left, Irving and I chatted for three hours.
"How are you? You seem a lost man." His voice was kind and compassionate as his dark eyes gazed at me in soft intensity.
"I'll be okay. I learned years ago, moments of power come at times of personal weakness. I'm trying not to be swept away."
Irving searched my face with a warm concern. "So, tell me how the meeting went yesterday. Did they listen?"
"I presented this list of Right Actions." I gave Irving my copy on which I'd jotted notes for my meeting. "Kenan was patient and cordial, but had little of substance to say. He insisted their own studies failed to show evidence of the village or toxics."
Irving understood. "Their best strategy is to ignore you like we've been ignored."
"I've no idea what to expect next. They may understand it's in their interest to remove the transformers. But I think they'l ignore the village. No need for them to break a 200 year tradition. I'll wait to see if Bruce calls me to another meeting."
Irving nodded. "I talked to our man at EPA, just to alert him we may have a concern here. He's interested in the situation. When I told him about the smoking piles, he was astonished. He said, 'Yeah!? Really?! What would do that?'"
I shook my head, "I don't know, but it was spooky. I'll concentrate on environmental conditions at the site. I won't discuss the village publicly until your people have a chance to decide about it."
Irving replied, "The Council hasn't met for weeks. We just finished midwinter ceremonies. There'll be a meeting in a few days, but there's a backlog of business on the agenda. I don't know how long it might take for this to come for discussion."
I was disappointed to anticipate a slow response by Onondaga Council, but why should their government be any quicker than my own, which will do nothing? Heavily, I said, "Tll keep you up on what occurs as best I can. I'm in over my head and don't know what will ensue. I'll answer questions for the CounciL"
Irving's warm look radiated sympathetic understanding as he said, "I'll let you know what the Council decides."
I added a note of urgency. "This mall is nearly a done thing. They plan to begin construction this spring, so there's not much time. Nearly anyone in town with money has a finger in this and wants it to happen. This isn't just a shopping mall, but an ambitious plan to put a new community on the lakeshore. If the mall is built, Pyramid will be hugely successful and very rich."
"Who's on Pyramid's side?" Irving asked.
"I hear the Mayor and County Executive have money on this project or economic fallout from it. New York Senator Lombardi is in business with two brothers who own land all around Oil City. They'll make a fortune from increased property values. So, city, county and state government are pushing for this mall. Anyone in the way faces tremendous political and economic power."
Irving nodded, "Money's very powerful in your government. If what you say is true, there's probably no way to prevent these people from getting their way. Still, if our ancestors lived there, we may choose to speak our concerns."
I shook my head, "As I said Sunday, I don't urge Onondaga Nation to get involved in a fight over this mall. You'll only get hurt. Some people oppose the mall, most because it threatens their investments and will suck business from downtown. Eagan Real Estate is an opponent of the mall. A grandson of the Eagan family is a friend of mine. I invited him to our meeting but he didn't show."
Irving gave a sad shake of his head. "We've had experience facing up to this ambitious development mentality. We lost most of our land 200 years ago, and today we have little left. New York State claims we sold our land, but our elders had a different view of the treaties. Still, at times we had to protect ourselves from developer's more interested in dollars than our children."
I smiled and said, "I ran into Oren downtown one day last fall when I was writing my article on The Great Law of Peace. We had a chat about government. I told him, 'Democracy without Reason is a ship without captain or compass.' Reason isn't mere thinking, but involves finding the common ground of being and fundamental order of the universe."
Irving nodded, "Centuries ago, The Peacemaker taught us Reason is the Creator's Mind. Reason isn't simply to think. Reason respects the order of Creation so our society harmonizes with the Creator's plan. We call this the Good Mind. It requires us to control our Mind—not just our thoughts, but also imagination and ambition. The Peacemaker instructed us to consider the effects our acts have on seven generations of our children."
I shook my head, "Today true Reason is forgotten. America's leaders are concerned with economics and politics, with the increase of money and power. Years ago, I realized few people understand Universal Truth and are aware of God's intent."
Irving said, "One criticism we have of American democracy is this doctrine of separation of church and state. We believe many abuses in American government occur because you left spirituality out of the center of government. Tyranny of church or religion is certainly against Creator's intent, but to separate religion and government is to have heart severed from brain."
I replied, "I agree. Yet, I believe America's Founding Fathers were guided by understandings of Universal Law. For example, nearly every signer of the Declaration of Independence was a Mason, a brotherhood devoted to ancient spiritual knowledge. Masonry isn't a religion, but a spiritual philosophy dedicated to liberty, equality and fraternity. Some say Masonry was a primary force to unite the colonists and coordinate the rebellion."
Irving was sharply curious, "Really? I know little of Masonry. I often wonder if another spiritual force besides Christianity lay behind the United States. Somewhere is a spiritual seed to its origin."
I nodded, "That's one thing I appreciate about the Peacemaker. Peace didn't come from human cleverness or power. Rather, Iroquois government is rooted in the spiritual world. The Peacemaker was Creator's messenger who came to fulfill a divine plan. He taught Reason is more than cleverness, but a way of thinking based on universal principles."
Irving looked up in reflection. "A political system without strong roots in spirituality will be a tool of private interests. Our 200 year experience shows us this weakness in America. In our community, those who uphold The Peacemaker's instruction are faithkeepers. In your world, they're politicians."
I decided to deflect our talk on a new course. "Modern culture left spirituality out of the environment, too. The Earth is reduced to physical resources devoid of spirit, to be extracted and exploited for profit and personal gratification. The concept of Earth as a sacred, living being is thoroughly lost to modern people."
Irving's face clouded at these words. "Yes, but Nature is just. And also ruthless. She's very patient, and will allow us to go so far in upsetting Her order, then She acts ruthlessly to set things right. Our traditions teach what matters in life is not what you take from Nature, but what you give back. This is forgotten by Europeans, and will be your downfall."
"I agree," I replied. "My own perception is Nature has taken all the abuse from industrial society she can. My sense as of last spring is Earth's atmosphere is upset beyond its ability to compensate for the disturbance, and our climate is changing. Scientists are divided—some predict an Ice Age, and others claim it's getting hotter due to the 'greenhouse effect'."
Irving echoed my thoughts, "We have prophecies which include disruptions of weather. They describe how air and water will be poisoned, great destructive winds will blow, and heavy rains fall causing floods followed by droughts. There's one message about a time when the maple trees will die from the top down. We know this will occur because people forget what we were taught by The Peacemaker—that leaders must act to assure a good life for children to the seventh generation."
Pausing, I took another step. "In recent years, I've studied many man-made constructions scattered around the Finger Lakes. Many are called 'Indian' mounds, and there's many more than suspected. They're remnants of an ancient Finger Lakes civilization. But I've found much more, including stones marking peculiar places, stone rings, underground chambers, even a lake which disappears."
Irving's eyes opened wide, "You don't say? How old?"
"Archaeology dates them only 1000 years, but I suspect they're older. More likely they were built near the same time as Stonehenge in Britain. I believe they're 3000 years old. I've mentioned my studies to Jeannie and Audrey, who say there's nothing in Iroquois tradition to account for them."
Irving said with excitement, "This is quite interesting. Europeans believe Indians never had more than a Stone Age society, and all advancement came from contact with whites. But Aztecs discovered by Cortez in Mexico were very advanced, and yet were a corruption of an earlier, older culture."
I nodded, "True. I've begun to believe Central America wasn't the only center of ancient New World civilization. I'm convinced sophisticated people lived in the Finger Lakes a few thousand years ago. They did things with a technology that's virtually unknown today. Very subtle things."
Irving peered at me intently. "This must have been very long ago, because The Peacemaker came at least 1000 years old. At that time, our society was in a terrible state, with killing and anarchy. People who built these mounds must have lived much earlier."
I nodded, and turned to a new issue. "A question which interests me is why Onondagas retreated to the Big Hill? Why is this Onondaga Nation's refuge? There must be special significance to this place if your people retreated here as New York seized your lands."
Irving looked at me deeply. "I don't know. Maybe there's a clue in our oral tradition. We believe we were put here by Creator. It's our emergence place on Earth. We don't accept anthropology's theory we migrated across the Bering Sea."
I shook my head, "I don't take sides. There were migrations in the past just as there are now. But each race has its place on Earth—its own 'navel' to mark its ancient place of inhabitation. Perhaps there's truth in both views."
Irving looked sharply at me, "You express unusual perception. Our tradition tell us we've been here since this world was made. We're part of this land as much as trees, animals and rocks."
I pursued this thought, "I'm interested in names. I've come to understand pure sound has basic primal meaning. Sounds evoke specific meaningful images. For example, the sound 'fffff…' usually evokes the image of fire in most minds. "
"And 'wwww...' immediately is associated with wind and water."
Irving nodded, so I continued, "If I use this understanding, what does Onondaga mean? It's an interesting sound pattern. It has rhyme and rhythm within itself. It must have an ancestral meaning in a universal language of sound. Perhaps your traditional language can shed light on this."
Irving was intrigued by this thinking, "We have three names. Haudenosaunee—the name given by The Peacemaker in the Great Law of Peace—means People of the Longhouse. The Peacemaker instructed us to live in pole and bark longhouses. Peace isn't just politics, but a social order including longhouse and clans."
He continued, "Before that, we were Onondaga." He said this with a depth of inflection never heard in downtown Syracuse. "This means People of the Hills. We have another name which is even more ancient." Irving said this name, but I couldn't capture its inflections. "It's rarely used except in ceremonies. It too, means People of the Little Hills."
I was disappointed none of these names gave a clear answer to my question, but little hills suggested an idea. Pointing over Irving's shoulder I said, "I've an interest in this modest mountain behind you. The one you call 'The Big Hill.' I've been to its top three times and made interesting discoveries."
Irving said. "Yes, we have a strong connection to that hill."
I smiled slightly, "Last week, I saw something which deepens my interest. I saw the Big Hill is the head of a dragon. That's a European or Asian idea. Your people might call it a serpent—a winged serpent."
Irving eyes opened and head nodded. "Yes, we have legends about great serpents in the Finger Lakes. The Seneca people have a legend about a two-headed serpent beside Canandaigua Lake."
Encouraged, I continued, "A dragon is a symbol for the power of the Earth Herself. Dragons and serpents appear in strange places in history as symbols to describe certain powers that exist in life. They even appear in western science. One European chemist dreamed of a serpent chasing its tail, and solved one of the great puzzles of early organic chemistry. Through this dream, he discovered the atomic structure of benzene, which—ironically—is what PCBs are made from."
Irving listened intently as I continued, "Dragons are still part of Asian culture. Dragons symbolize energy flows in the Earth. No Far Eastern parade is complete without a dragon in front—a fertility symbol of the lifeforce in rocks, soil, plants and animals."
Irving nodded, "Yes, a cold blooded reptile without legs must crawl on the Earth, and so represents the primitive power."
"Right," I replied. "Europe has legends about dragon slayers. Their message is that Europeans, in an ancient time, went to war against Nature. Dragon slayers express the thinking which led to Europe's separating from the natural world. The West's technology is based on conquest, and manipulates Nature."
Irving listened quietly, making only the comment, "Yes, that would make sense to our Onondaga traditions."
I continued, "Orientals had a different approach to dragons. They created a science called Feng Shui to comprehend these forces. Rather than manipulate these forces, they found subtle ways to harmonize with them. For example, pagodas in the Far East aren't architectural ornaments, but are spiritual antennae to create channels to unite Heaven and Earth. Properly placed pagodas align the dragon forces to everyone's benefit. Trees normally perform this function, but to build cities, trees were removed. Much of China lacks forest cover. Pagoda are replacements—tall spires to concentrate the flow of forces."
Irving was captivated, "Asian's have a perception of man's relationship to Nature more in keeping with our traditions."
Going on, I said, "It's easy to understand dragons. They unite Fire and Water harmoniously in one organism. In simple imagery, dragons live in lakes and breathe fire. In the land. Fire is a mountain going up to intercept forces streaming from the sky. Water runs down mountains in streams to pool in lakes. The major mountain and principal lake are the two prncipal centers in the land. A dragon is energy flowing from one to the other."
Irving nodded, so I went on, "In this area, the Water center is obviously Onondaga Lake. But the Fire center is obscure. It's the Big Hill behind you. Last week, for the first time, on maps I saw features which connect the two. I'm overwhelmed by the implications of this, but more insight will emerge in time."
Irving spoke at last, "What you say is unusual, but makes sense. My culture doesn't speak of dragons, but our legends have giant serpents which controlled the land. Our tradition is rooted more humble, natural images to remind us all living creatures are part of our family. We refer to them as all our relations to express a unity of man and Nature."
I stirred in my seat, "It's late and I must go. I appreciate your time. I'm sorry to fill a small time with so many thoughts. I'll write down my discovery about the dragon and send you a copy. We stood to trade parting words. I told him I cherished the peaceful beauty of his home, especially in my perturbed mood.
I drove Quarry Road back to the diesel stop at the I-81 exit, but on impulse, turned onto US 11 to drive back home. As I came down the ridge into the valley, I saw again that almost magic, mythic image.
|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
Route 11 rolled north toward the Salt City. A mile ahead, it entered Nedrow to become Salina Street. Half a mile further, this Salt Road crested a small rise, then disappeared into Onondaga Valley. Far beyond this crest in the roadway, I saw the towers of downtown Syracuse, the Salt City, seven miles away. Two hundred years ago what's now downtown was swamp at the south end of Onondaga Lake. Now stone, steel, concrete, and glass high rises pierced this north horizon.
Two miles beyond these ramparts of industrial society lay the Salt Lake, sacred lake where Peacemaker founded Iroquois government. Squinting, I saw the white tanks of Oil City with its black gold at the end of Salina Street, the paved path from sacred mountain to sacred lake—a path now paved with asphalt along which roll cars burning gas from Oil City.
In my rear view mirror, The Big Hill flooding my view. Two hundred years ago, Route 11 was a footpath through deep forest and swamps. Today, it's crowded with thousands of human homes and businesses, restless with bustling of human activity.
Looking ahead, I resolved to pursue the struggle in the Salt City between the two sacred centers. I wondered, "Is there a way to open the channel so the energy can flow freely again?"
The evening, the Herald Journal newspaper made no mention of my press conference. They decided to ignore my discoveries and warnings. "Looks like its going to be a long road to get the transformers and their PCBs removed," I thought.