The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes

Part One: Chapter Twenty
The Place of Beginning
Sunday, February 21, 1988
© 1989 David Yarrow

I woke to find it was overcast and sharply cold with strong winds—the weather dragons weren't cooperating. Few would brave the weather to dig a hole at Marley's. On the lakeshore, wind and cold would be intense. So much for press coverage.

Anticipating the physical challenge of the long cold day ahead, I ate a warm breakfast as I reviewed my letter to Kenan describing the transformers and why they had to be removed.

Sara arrived and we rode to St. David's. Stepping quickly through harsh wind, I approached St. David's door. A women scurried in from my left and tried to open the heavy door. In the gray of the morning, I remember vividly the bright violet of her midlength gloves and equally violet turban. Her effort failed to release the door latch, and she released her grip. I reached out and opened the door for her, smoothly, easily. She stepped in ahead of me and Sara slipped in behind, sealing winter's rage behind us.

I sat erect in deep meditation, centering myself in the space of the sanctuary and the challenge that lay ahead. Making no effort to stand and sing, or kneel and pray, I sat motionless, sensing, observing but not acting, a rock in the stream of awareness. From the silence within I listened for faint images of deep inner communion. Throughout the winter, I daily set aside time to sit quietly, meditate and contemplate my path. Medha is Sanskrit for Truth, so to meditate is to put mind and body in a state of truth, of unified oneness.

As I sat in deep quiet I received several statements. I jotted fragments of these on my church bulletin. My scribbled notes were little more than keywords and phrases I'd edit later into my letter. Coming after the physical details the paragraph with them is odd:

"As a professional empiricist, perhaps you do not recognize or believe in the power of Spirit. Nonetheless, it is here. We are experiencing a uniquely powerful moment: the simultaneous completion of more than one major cycle of history. At times like this, myth and metaphor come alive to challenge our deeper, even deepest, understandings. So I warn you: there is more danger than PCBs, more wealth than money, and more power than civil law in this situation. I hope the transformer challenge doesn't deter your idealistic intent to build at Marley's, to regenerate Oil City and to clean-up Onondaga Lake. I believe only Pyramid has sufficient power to lead such an effort. This present PCB challenge is a test of both your judgment and your sincerity."

Sara dropped me home after services. Messages on my answering machine told me to pick Rich up at Unity Church and another urged me to call a woman about Marley's. I tried her number—it was busy.

After warming brown rice and vegetables, I drove to Unity Church to pick up Rich. Social hour was in full swing. I tried to be invisible while waiting for Rich. Spotting a phone, I called the number given on my tape machine. A woman answered.

"Hi, David Yarrow. A friend said to call. Said you know something about Marley's." It was hard to hear over the noise.

"Oh, yes! I'm so glad you called. You see, I have dreams about that place. I live in Liverpool and drive by it a lot. For several months I've had a recurring dream. It's not always the same but they always begins with a fire by the green oil tanks." She went on many minutes. Her dream included many things. Only a few parts remain in my memory.

She saw a wide creek and an Indian village on the lakeshore. There were Indians swimming in a creek. Several white men with guns came and shot them all. Their blood turned the creek red. The killers buried the bodies in a common grave.

At another point the ground turned red and caught fire. This red water and fire spread into the creek and the lake beyond it.

She saw a young girl on a dark street. Four Indians who'd been drinking harassed and pushed her down, then she disappeared.

She saw an Indian man shot by two men. They carried the body to a dark area and buried him in a shallow grave.

I finally cut her off, "Listen, I don't understand everything you've told me. I'd like to discuss this more but I have to go. Having been to Marley's I see a lot of truth in your dream images. I don't know what to make of it but I 'll do my best to see your dream doesn't come true." Saying good-bye, Rich an d I swung out of the church into an icy gale.

Rich ate rice and read my letter while I drove. I was tight beyond speech and glad to hide behind a curtain of driving. Our rendezvous was under Hiawatha St. bridge. No one was there. After several minutes a tired compact with body patches rounded the hairpin. As the window rolled down I saw Lee Scribe who I'd met once before at a memorial concert. We chatted several moments waiting new arrivals.

With a subtle chuckle Lee said, "I brought you a present from a dusty book in the bowels of the Onondaga Public Library." He extended a thin sheaf of papers. "You asked about the treaties, well, here they are. I read them once. And they are impossible to comprehend, with all the 'saids' and 'wheretoes'. And the copy is a mite fine and washed out."

Rolling up my window, I scanned the faint copy:

March 1, 1788 an act was passed appointing commissioners to treat with the Indians for purchase of their lands in the State. A council was held at Fort Schuyler, generally called Fort Stanwix, attended by Governor Clinton convened o n the 12th of September and the following treaty was made:

It is written Sept. 12, 1788. This was what Irving referred to Jan. 31 as the Salt Treaty that gave permission to start salt industry on the Onondaga Lake. Exactly 200 years ago this year. The Treaty Commission was appointed one week more than 200 years from today. The 200th anniversary of the first treaty between NY and Onondaga Nation and here I am because of the Onondaga village Kaneenda.

The print used for the treaty text was tiny and faint, and in a curving typeface which rendered it more obscure. The text itself was written in a continuous style without punctuation or format. It began:

First. The Onondagoes do cede and grant all their lands to the people of the State of New York forever.

A nearly audible implosion swept my brain. An iron fist reached out to clutch Onondaga lands, taking them all away, leaving dark emptiness. The treaty's language was so absolute and cruel. Take away all their lands. Forever? Could this be?

Second. The Onondagoes shall of the said ceded lands, hold to themselves and their posterity forever, for their own use and cultivation, but not to be sold, leased or in any manner aliened or disposed of to others all that tract of land beginning at the southerly end of the Salt Lake at the place where the river or stream on which the Onondagoes now have their village, empties into the said lake, and runs from the said place of beginning east three miles, thence southerly according to the general course of the said river, until it shall intersect a line running east and west at the distance of three miles south from the said village, thence from the said point of intersection west nine miles, thence northerly parallel to the second course of above mentioned until an east line will strike the place of beginning, and thence east to the said place of beginning.

I read this twice to untangle the phrases and assemble their meaning. My comprehension remained confused but I knew one thing for sure: Marley's is the place of beginning. Not only is this the 200th anniversary of the treaty, but we're about to trespass on the place of beginning. My intuition lit up in a fire of images that rushed through my mind, leaving only fading questions as elusive traces of their passage through thought.

Recovering my attention I found my place in the scrambled print:

Third. The Onondagoes and their posterity forever, shall enjoy the free right of hunting in every part of said ceded lands, and fishing in all the waters within the same.

Fourth. The Salt Lake and the lands for one mile round the same shall forever remain for the common benefit of the people of the State of New York and the Onondagoes and their posterity for the purpose of making salt, and shall not be granted or in any wise disposed of for other purposes.

So this is the Salt Treaty. Marley's is also within this one mile round the same. A circle measured from the same place of beginning: the creek's mouth. But this gave the Onondagas "common benefit" to the lake. When did they lose t hat?

This was freely and absolutely confirmed at the same place, June 16, 1790, being signed by 28 Onondagas. Two years later, the Salt Treaty was ratified by the Onondaga Council. If 28 chiefs signed, then it was properly agreed by an Onondaga council. How could the Onondagas ratify such terms? All their lands? Forever?

I moved on to the next treaty. On the 18th of November, 1793, another treaty was made at Onondaga in pursuance of an act of the Legislature, at which the following was adopted:

First. The Onondagoes do release and quit-claim to the people of the State of New York forever, all the rights reserved to the said Onondagoes, in and to, so much of the lands appropriated to their use by the said State, commonly called the Onondaga Reservation as is comprehended within the following two tracts of land (to wit the first of the said tracts begins in the east bounds of the said reservation at a certain basswood tree, marked for 7 miles south from the northeast corner of the said reservation, and runs from the said place of beginning, west to the river or stream commonly called the Onondaga Creek, on which the Onondagoes now have their village, then northerly down along the said river or creek, to the lands appropriated for the common benefit of the people of the State of New York, and of the Onondagoes and their posterity, for the purpose of making salt. Then easterly and northerly along the said last mentioned lands to the line run from the north bounds of said reservation; then east, along the said line to the northeast corner of the said reservation; then south, along the east bounds of the said reservation, 7 miles to the place of beginning. And the second of the said basswood, marked for 7 miles, south from the northeast corner of said reservation; then east, to a point half a mile west from the aforesaid Onondago Creek, then northerly along straight lines, connecting points which shall be half a mile, measured west from the said Onondago Creek, to the aforesaid lands appropriated for the common benefit of the people of the State of New York and of the Onondagoes and their posterity, for the purpose of making salt. Then along the same westerly and northerly to the line run for the north bounds of said reservation, then along the west bounds thereof, south to the southwest corner thereof, and then along the south bounds thereof, east to the place of beginning.

This was barely legible and impossible to decipher. But again references to the place of beginning. But this seems to refer to another place? I couldn't stop to figure it out.

I continued to the third: On the 28th of July, 1795, a treaty was held at the Cayuga Ferry with the Onondagas.... It began with convoluted legal language referring to previous treaties and payments. Coming to a point it said:

Now know all men, that the State of New York, in order to render the situation of the said Onondago Indians more comfortable, have granted, and by these presents do grant and agree instead of $410 annually, the Onondagas are entitled to a perpetual annuity of $800...
followed by more twisted phrases.

Each treaty became more difficult to understand, evidence civilization was taking hold. This had to be an early dialect of modern "doublespeak."

It continued:

there was also reserved to the said Onondago Indians.... a common right with the people of this State to the Salt Lake, and the lands for one mile around the same, and.... all lands lying one half mile on Onondaga Creek's west side from the north border of their village to the Salt Lake.

Next came the grab:

Now know all men further by these presents, that in order to render the said common right, and the said lands adjoining to the creek... more productive of annual income to the Onondago nation, it is covenanted, stipulated and agreed... that they will sell... to the State of New York and their successors forever, all and singular, the common right in the said Salt Lake, and the one mile of land around the same, together with all... lands within one half mile of the creek... and the Salt Lake... to the State of New York and their successors forever....

Firmly Clinton's fingers now clutched the Lake.

In consideration. the State of New York shall pay Onondago nation $500 for the common right, and $200 for the 1/2 mile adjoining creek and 100 bushels of salt to be delivered at the Salt Lake on the first day of June next and annually forever.

And so the Onondagas lost their precious lake. The heart of the Confederacy would now have its "white gold" pumped out and its shores and waters choked with wastes. Governor Clinton succeeded in his great ambition.

My mind was foggy as I set the copies aside. Reading fine print and deciphering legal language tightened my mind to a straining knot. In my gut emotional reactions wrestled with the sad, tragedy recorded in the treaties. I rubbed my eyes to rouse my attention back to 1988.

No one else came. No press. No other dowsers. I wondered whether to quit this doubtful foray onto the thin edge. I had little chance of success. The weather was against me. The radio reported 17 degrees! And 30 mph winds for below zero wind chill.

I consulted Lee and Rich. They were still game, so we drove to Park Street to park under the I-81 overpass by Ley Creek.

We hiked the railroad tracks, hunched against the wind. In the lead, I kept a steady sharp scan for other humans. No one was in sight. No sign of a brown sedan I saw entering Marley's.

Arriving at the burial site, I dropped my shovel and pick and tugged out my rod. My first task was to find the property line. Amazingly, the previous week the property had been surveyed and a pink stake with pink plastic streamers sat six feet from the site I chose. Standing north of the stake and sighting south I saw my hunch was correct. The transformers are just beyond the property line on Conrail property. My hole would be on Conrail property, not that that precluded arrest.

Next I looked for the body. Standing by the railroad, I asked, "Where's the body buried?" My rods pointed to Marley's. I stepped 50 feet away and took a new bearing. The crossing was close, near Marley's edge. I dowsed the distance t hen followed my rod to the site. I was guided to an area covered by several feet of pipe. Wherever the body was, I couldn't locate it today with four feet of pipe in the way. I took bearings to note a position amid the scrap. I told neither of my companions what I'd done.

I returned to choose my spot. Dowsing , I located the hidden outlines of the shallow transformer. I elected to dig the edge of the mound. My hole would descend beside the transformer, rather than directly above it. I began swinging my mattock in tentative arcs, testing the soil for hardness and rocks. It wasn't hard to dig. The ground had barely frozen and few rocks impeded my mattock. Confident, I swung harder. As I dug I thought of my garden and longed for spring to dig in its soil.

Suddenly six rapid rifle shots punctured the air. Already acutely nervously, I whipped to a crouch and looked in the direction of the shots. Lee and Rich stood erect and turned. My heart surged in my chest as I awaited new bursts.

It remained quiet. No voice called out, no one appeared. The shots originated several hundred feet away across the railroad, not nearby from Marley's. Nearly every sign along the railroad has bullet holes in it, testament that people come here for target practice. This was about the only place in the city to bang off a gun without attracting attention. After a glance at Lee and Rich I shrugged and resumed my dig.

But my eyes seldom left the surroundings. I stopped every few strokes to look around. In a few minutes I was winded so Rich shoveled loose dirt from the hole. I nervously watched all around. Suddenly a man appeared in the west over the tracks with a rifle on his shoulder. He saw us and slowed his gait. I decided to observe and yet ignore him as if we were on official business. Abruptly he turned and walked away.

Rich finished shoveling so I resumed picking the soft ground, prying loose rocks and soil, pulling them from the deepening hole. We alternated picking and shoveling. The work wasn't hard but weather and heavy clothing impeded our efforts.

At 28 inches, I punctured the water table. My mattock made a sucking sound as it struck into water saturated soil. I grunted in surprise. I knew the water table was shallow, and I expected to reach it before I reached the transformer at six feet. But this was shallower than expected. Part of me was relieved, hoping this would provide an excuse to abandon this terrible task.

As I pulled my pickhead back to scrape the waterlogged mud from the hole a strong odor invaded my nostrils. It was a sharp, pungent, penetrating odor of oil—fuel oil. I stopped. With wide eyes, I looked up at Rich and Lee. A 25 mph wind, fresh off Onondaga Lake, whipped across our hole. Yet, I knew from the looks on their faces both of them smelled it, too. We paused, looked sharply at each other, exchanged brief words of surprised alarm, and then I continued digging. The odor intensified as I widened our window into the water table.

But our window, opaque with muddy water, revealed nothing. Without rubber boots I could only dig perhaps 12 inches into this brown soup. Not even three feet down to a six feet deep object, my advance was stymied. At that point I quit and sat down to rest.

Lee finally asked, "Well, what next?"

I replied, "I brought a pipe to push in the ground, but we hit water sooner than I planned. I don't think I can push a pipe into this ground anyway. It's too thick, there's rocks and I don't have a tool to pound with." I tried to sound enthusiastic for continued efforts, but my faith had punctured a leak.

But Lee was still fresh for action. He chuckled softly, "Well, Mr. Marley has provided us a virtually unlimited supply of pipe." He set off across the property line in search of pipe.

I tried to push my four feet pipe in the hole and after several minutes gained but inches. Meanwhile Lee returned with long sections of conduit. Tired and discouraged, I got a smoke from Lee and sat to collect my remaining will and energy.

Relentless wind tore smoke from my lips and hurled it east towards the Regional Market. Lee wrestled a twelve feet long conduit. Twisting and ramming it, he slowly inserted it in the soil. I estimated he gained two feet deep before he could make no further progress.

At last, I felt a surge of ambition. I lunged up and grabbed my mattock. Grasping it with both hands, left below the head, right hand at the handle, I swung it across my front, ramming its head against the end of Lee's conduit. The mattock was heavy, and with each blow the conduit crept down an inch. My swings were rhythmic and progress was steady.

But this was damaging my handle. Most blows left a small ring indented into the hardwood grain. But one blow was off-center and chipped off a large splinter. Focusing my vision on the head, I resolved to center my blows and minimize damage. If I shattered the head, we probably couldn't find another tool for this job.

Suddenly, the slow rhythm was broken. My last blow sent the pipe several inches forward. Pulling up my arms, my battering ram missed to swing past the conduit. Dropping my mattock, I grabbed the pipe with both hands and pulled back. It slid several inches with ease.

Then, to my surprise, I pushed the rod forward two feet with light hand pressure. We had punctured a void.

Black water bubbled up into the hole mixing with brown muddy water. Rich let out an astonished exclamation as he stared at the ugly boil. "We hit something! Whatever is in it is squirting up!"

Lee chuckled. We talked excitedly for a few minutes. Pulling the pipe out, I estimated the void was six feet deep.

I was disappointed. I assumed a transfomer is clad in thick metal, and expected to hit a barrier. Instead, we had punched a hole into a void. Maybe it's only a 50-gallon drum. At least our dowsing was right about an object buried at six feet.

I asked Rich to see if he could locate the body. He paused with his rod, then proceeded onto Marley's. Soon he was poking at the same pile of pipe I'd gone to earlier. He started to climb over the pipe to get closer, but I called him back.

Standing by the hole, we saw large clots of oil floating on the water. We talked about this and the odor venting from the hole. Lee said, "In Oil City, what else would be in the ground?"

"Yes, but we're in the north corner, as far as we can be from an oil tank," I countered. "How did this oil get here? Can it migrate underground all the way from Oil City?"
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

We hiked in silence back to our cars, grateful the bitter wind was now at our backs. As I started my car, I tried to think how to extract humor from this situation. My mind searched methodically for a twist or pun to hang a laugh on.

Stepping over to Lee's window, I said, "Seems we've uncovered evidence this is a sacred lake. Apparently the Pope was here long ago to visit the Onondaga Indians who lived here then."

Lee looked puzzled, so I continued, "Yeah, seems he left a great gift of many sacred blessings to the Indians." I raised both arms in pontifical gesture. "He gave them a lot of PCBs."

Behind me, Rich choked. Lee smiled, then winced.

David YarrowTurtle — updated 3/21/2000