|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Twelve
Saturday, February 6, 1988
The phone roused me from deep sleep. An old man's raspy voice said, "Is this David Yarrow?"
"Yes," I mumbled.
"This is President Ronald Reagan calling from Washington to wish you a happy birthday. As Chief Executive of the United States, I'm honored to share my birthday with a unique American as yourself. How old are you today?"
I decided it was a dream. Then I realized it was my birthday, but it wasn't Ronald Reagan. But someone was doing a reasonable amateur job of mimicking Ron. I struggled awake.
An unusual feature of my life is I share the same birthday as Ronald Reagan. Because of this, I have a special fondness for Ron, although I can't understand why America puts up with such a bumbling leader. I say Reagan is a reborn again Aquarian like me—he's leading us into the New Age, except he's backing us into it, ass first. Only saber rattling, conservative Ron could sign an arms reduction agreement. If a liberal dove tried, he'd be crucified. But not old trustworthy Ron.
"I'm 38, thank you. And how old are you today?" I said.
"I'm a young 76," the voice said, but it's facade was wearing thin. "What will you do on your birthday?"
I could almost tell who it was. Just another sentence or two. "I don't know. My girlfriend's in Florida so I don't have any plans."
"That's too bad," said pseudo-Ron with a chuckle. "I guess you'll have to keep your pecker dry, then."
Even before the voice cracked into laughter, I knew who it was. Few friends would venture such a joke, and only one could match this voice: one of my clients from the Athletic Club.
"Not unless you take me out on the town yourself," I replied, laughing and yawning. The voice lost its disguise in a lusty chortle. We spent a few minutes joking and laughing. Wishing me a happy birthday "Ron" said good-bye and we hung up.
I lay awake a long time thinking about Marley's, Pyramid and what to do next. For a week, I'd gone to bed thinking about the situation, slept restlessly, and awoke to the same thoughts. "Happy birthday, indeed," I thought. "I've got Marley's on my back and my girlfriend 1000 miles away. Some birthday!"
I rolled over to peer at the maps on my wall to focus my still foggy mind, bringing my thoughts into sharper clarity. Slowly details of geography, topography, geology and society churned in my sluggish brain. I reviewed what I knew of Onondaga Lake, the eventual recipient of Marley's toxic waters.
Before 1788, Onondaga Lake was the jewel of Onondaga Nation. Among the lake's treasures were salmon that migrated into it every year. Salt springs bubbled up on its south shores. The easternmost Finger Lake, Onondaga is shallower, only 70 feet deep, while others are 125 feet to 200 feet deep—the two deepest are over 700 feet. Onondaga Lake is also shorter—only Otisco Lake is smaller, and it feeds Nine Mile Creek, which empties into Onondaga Lake on the west.
Of all the Finger Lakes, Onondaga Lake suffered the greatest abuse from development. Salt springs at its south end gave birth to an industrial city which dumped sewage and wastes in the lake and creeks. Other Finger Lakes contended only with towns on their north shores. But Onondaga Lake, small and shallow, absorbed pollution from New York's fourth largest industrial city.
Salt was a big industry in the 1800's, and mineral brines and sludge from salt making was dumped in the creeks and lake. By the 1900's the once beautiful jewel of Onondaga Nation was an open cesspool unfit to drink, swim or fish in. More industries settled in the area, including steel foundry, candle making, leather factory, electroplating, gear manufacturing, and more.
And toxic waste was dumped directly in the waters, including mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel, and industrial oils.
In the '60's Onondaga Lake was cited in a federal study as one of the worst examples of water pollution in the United States. At that time, it was nearly dead. Of all the Finger Lakes, none suffered as much as Onondaga for contamination. The two worst sources of pollution were Allied Chemical's Solvay Process, and the city sewers. The 19th century sewer system of Syracuse still dumps stormwater runoff from city streets into the same pipes as sewage. As a result, every major rainstorm overflows the pipes and dumps raw sewage into Onondaga Creek and Lake.
Fishing and swimming were banned in Onondaga Lake for decades, and it's hardly even used for boating. The only marina on the lake is located near Liverpool on the eastern shore. Most boats simply headed north out of the lake. The only serious boating on the lake is the annual collegiate regatta in which pencil thin crew shells race down the lake.
The bottom of Onondaga Lake is filled with thick, inert mineral debris, mostly from Solvay Process. Below ten feet, it's waters are so saturated with industrial brine, they never move, and no plant or animal lives in them. Scuba divers who risk descent into the lake's murky, brine saturated waters report it's so contaminated it's impossible to see a hand in front of their face only 20 feet below the surface. No light penetrates the heavy, thick, chloride laden water. Biologists report there's no oxygen in the water, with the result there's no fish or plant life in the bottom at all. In short, Onondaga Lake is nearly dead.
But now, in 1988, Onondaga Lake has a second chance. Allied Chemical closed its Solvay facility last year, and the last of the salt industry vanished from the lakeshore. Under the Federal Clean Waters Act, city and county built sewage treatment facilities to reduce raw sewage flowing into the lake, although the city's ancient stormwater drains still dump raw sewage after each major storm. Other industries were required to clean up their discharges. It seems Onondaga Lake might come back to life. A resurrection is possible.
I lay there contemplating what will happen if PCBs and toxic chemicals under Marley's discharged into the lake. Given the lake's history, Marley's poisons would be only another drop in a full bucket. But the toxics would probably settle to the lake's dead, unmoving bottom and remain for centuries, trapped in thick mineral waters. Released into the lake's ecosystem, they will cause sickness and mutation for generations. I wondered if Pyramid would really clean the mess up at Marley's.
With a jolt I decided to call the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Hazardous Hotline. "Damn them anyway," I thought, "If they were serious, they'd have done something already." Fishing through my notes, I found the number Irving gave me Sunday and dialed.
"Hazardous Hotline. Can I help you?" A young man with a neutral, emotionless voice answered—the kind of voice you could confide in without any personal warmth or empathy.
"Yes, I'd like to report a site where PCBs are buried."
"Where're you calling from, sir?" the voice said cooly. In the background I could hear the beeps of a high tech comm console. I imagined a technician in white jumpsuit with "US EPA" insignia, headset on, seated at a video screen and keyboard in a sterile, brightly lit room of electronic equipment.
"Syracuse, New York." On the screen would be a report form with blank fields highlighted. The emotionless voice would ask the questions on the form one by one, pausing to type each reply.
"Do you want this to be an anonymous report, sir?"
"No, identify me if it helps get the PCBs removed quickly."
"Your name?" We walked down the video form item by item.
After we covered the location and kind of hazard, he paused.
"Excuse me a moment, sir." Silence for nearly a minute, then the voice said, "Sir, someone already filed a report about this."
"Must be Bob Arrow. He's the person who told me about the burials. He said he might call the EPA."
"Do you want to file a duplicate report?"
"Yes. Bob knows the burials took place, but not where. I've been to the site, and know exactly where they are."
"Okay, sir." The voice droned smoothly on, item by item. "How long will it take an investigator to get here?" I asked.
"Hard to say. This will be referred to the Mid-Atlantic Office in Jersey. They'll review it and assign a field representative to schedule a site visit. Could be two weeks."
This was disappointing but predictable. I didn't like waiting long with this on my mind. In ten minutes, we were done and I hung up the phone. I felt relief to have done something, even if it proved ineffective. Moments later the phone rang.
"Happy birthday, David." I heard a small, soft, timid voice.
"Barbara!" My sweetheart was calling from Florida. " I'm so glad to hear your voice! How are you? I miss you so much!"
"Oh, David, I miss you, too! I wish I was there now. How are you?" My heart swelled to feel the caress of those words.
"Not good. I've gotten involved in an incredible, completely overwhelming situation. I haven't slept well for days because it's on my mind constantly. Plus, I'm getting my teeth rebuilt and can't chew, so I'm nearly starving."
"You don't sound good. Tell me what's happening."
"One of the biggest companies in town—Pyramid—plans to build a shopping mall on the shore of Onondaga Lake. The site was a city dump and scrap metal yard for 30 years. Two weeks ago I went there and discovered the last village of Onondaga Indians on the shore of the lake is buried under the site. Of course, I dowsed it, so no one believes me."
"I believe you. Only you could get into such a situation."
"Yes, well, that's the easy part. Sunday I went back and located where several electric transformers are buried which contain PCBs, a very toxic oil—so toxic EPA banned them years ago. So, I decided to get them removed."
"What's a transformer?" Barbara asked innocently.
"It's a device that uses electromagnetic induction to change the voltage of electrical power. In your stereo, a transformer changes 110 household volts into the nine volts needed by the transistors. The transformers I found Sunday are industrial transformers. They stand eight to ten feet tall, and probably handled a few thousand volts. I was told one of them could service enough power for a ten story building downtown."
"That's incredible. How'd you find them? You dowsed?"
"Of course! How else can anyone see what's underground? But no one will believe a dowser! and that's my predicament."
"Aren't you afraid what the corporation might do to you?"
"At first, but not now. A good friend and client lives next door to the man building the mall. If anything happens, I'll call him."
"Please be careful. I've seen some ruthless businessmen."
"I promise. But that's not all. Remember I used to tell you if you got involved with me you'd have a dragon by the tail? And I'm only the tail? Well, I found a dragon. I'm staring at a map of it now on my wall. This dragon is probably 30 miles long."
I explained my discovery of the Onondaga Dragon. She had a passing knowledge of my Earth mysteries studies, so some of my explanation made sense. But I could tell she didn't really grasp this unusual idea.
"So how is Florida?" I asked. "Are you having a good time?"
"It's actually dismal—cold, overcast, wet. I've been to the beach twice when the sun was out, but it was cold. It's wall to wall suburbs with roads and cars everywhere. And food is terrible. I can't find fresh vegetables at all. You'd think Florida has lots of fresh vegetables, but it's mostly canned and frozen."
"I promise to cook you my best macrobiotic meal when you get back. And make love to you all night."
"Oh, David, I wish we weren't so far away. But I found you an unusual birthday present. Something few people could appreciate. You'll love it."
"Really? Can I find out now, since my birthday's today?"
"No. I want to see your face when you get it. You have to wait."
"When are you coming back?"
"The wedding is the thirteenth. I'll be back soon after that."
"Well, I'll hang on until you get back. Right now, I'm surviving a day at a time—can't eat, can't sleep! I need you." My voice broke and tears flowed as the emotional strain and loneliness of the past week boiled up again. We talked a few more minutes, then said an emotional good-bye.
That afternoon I began to call the press, City and County to announce the transformers. No one was in city or county offices on Saturday, so I left messages on answering machines—ripples of gossip would be set off Monday. The more people who knew Marley's secret the better. I managed to reach two Common Councilors, and I talked to Joan Christensen again.
The news media was a bigger problem. With every call, I was challenged for proof. With each call, I became progressively more agitated. During one call, I said I was sure enough to go to Marley's with a shovel and dig up one myself. This may have sounded like genuine conviction and determination, but I knew I lacked evidence to convince anyone.
Sunday after services at St. David's, I drove to Marley's. The only person to meet me there was Common Councilor Matt Driscoll whose district includes Marley's. We met under the Hiawatha Street bridge. Matt wasn't excited to be out, his reluctance doubled by the fact his wife was full term pregnant and due any day. He wanted to get this over and get back home. We hiked the railroad bed to the north corner.
It was a harsh challenge. Our hike took us across several hundred feet of open land. Strong winds blew harsh bitter cold off the lake. It was clumsy and slow hopping railroad ties hidden by freshly drifted snow. Snow whipped by vigorous steady wind bit our faces. Neither of us wore a hat, and long before we reached the north corner my face ached and ears screamed from exposure.
Matt surveyed the mounds with me. He eyed me skeptically and challenged me for evidence transformers and PCBs were hidden under those four piles. I, of course, had none and said I couldn't reveal my source of information, which heightened his skepticism. He looked annoyed to be dragged from his warm home into this ugly, frozen landscape on a wild goose chase. We hiked in silence back to our cars and departed.
That evening I looked up Bruce Kenan's home phone in Skaneatles. We had the briefest conversation. "Good evening, Bruce. I decided to get the transformers removed. I called EPA's Hazardous Hotline yesterday to notify them."
|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 understand," came his flat reply.
"I expect it will take them two weeks to respond," I said.
"Undoubtedly," was Bruce's emotionless reply.
"Well, that's all."
"Thank you. Good-bye."