Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leaving the Buffalo area and seeing the waterway that narrows to flow into Lake Erie reminded me of the turbulent Saint Lawrence Seaway. Canada is on the other side and Niagara Falls is not far from here. The Erie Canal, like the song says, goes from Albany to Buffalo. I am going from Buffalo to Albany though and I only know 'every inch of the way' to about Rochester at this point. The canal, believe it or not was thought up in 1808 and built by 1825 to connect the Hudson River with Buffalo and the Great Lakes. The result was a population expansion into the west. Instead of hauling materials overland, flatboats could now be pulled down the canal. This had a net result of increasing the capacity of transporting goods by 95%,- says the information plaques alongside the canal. I spent most of the day riding along the towpath that runs adjacent to the waterway. Looking at historic photos along the way, I still can't believe that early 19th century technology was able to dig this thing and displace all that water. Quite a Civil Engineering feat! I entered the path by the locks at Lockport and by the descending water. Originally this canal was only 4 feet deep and 40 foot across but over the years many expansions have been made to the system. On the sides of the canal are farms with fields of corn and it reminds me of the midwest countryside but with fishing boats and houseboats floating by. A bit of a surreal scene to a midwesterner. The calm water and the mirror reflections reming me of Eugene Atget's photos of the 'Ancien regime' outside Paris in the 1900's. It is very otherworldly, still, and visually symmetrical in the early morning hours.

Lincoln's inaugural train passed from Buffalo to Albany in a day and it made brief stops in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Schenectady, as well as Clyde, a small port town on the Erie Canal. Many of these stops were again very quick in order to service the locomotive and again Lincoln would say a few words at each location. Reading his comments I can't tell if he was a product of Victorian times or just a bit of a Mark Twain humorist. When caught on the spur of the moment at a short stop, rather than saying 'no comment' as today's politicians might say,- he gives brief soliloquys about not having anything to say. At Rochester 8000 people showed up to see the President elect and his family. However, he can also be humble in his comments telling the crowds that they did not come to see him but a "representative of the American people". Lincoln lived at a time when language mattered and reading his comments I can see his talents and mastery as the consument politician. He knew how essential this was for developing intellect and personal clarity and I also sense he knew that his role as an individual was not to just isolate himself but to reach out,- not too unlike the song says, "you'll always know your neighbor and you'll always know your pal..... navigating on the Erie Canal".

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