Jilly D.

Between the fingers of God: I love where I live

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on February 14, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Ithaca NY May 29-June 9 2009 Trip 111I love where I live. I loved it from the very first moment I laid eyes on this place. I loved it even after the blizzard of 1993 when five feet of snow fell in one day. After traveling across several continents, I had never felt more connected to the land. Before I even met Sam, I knew there was something special about this place.

Legend is the Great Spirit left his handprint here. Some part of me believes this Indian origin tale. Scientists claim the last glacial age left its imprint on the terrain. I can see for miles and miles. No sign of man’s hand. The Endless Mountain Range rears its green, blue and grey shoulders into the sunset.Ithaca NY May 29-June 9 2009 Trip 816

Before the Europeans arrived, this place was where the Iroquois nation convened in great meetings and spiritual ceremonies. Henry Hudson conspired with the Algonquin and Delaware and other tribes in an expedition to overthrow the Iroquois from this spot. Henry Hudson on July 6, 1706, shot the first gun the Indians had ever seen and all scattered. An easy victory but a fatal blunder. Hudson earned the enmity of the first true democratic republic; the Iroquois confederation of Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk tribes.

This land is often referred to by historians as the “Burned Over District,” because of General Sullivan’s rapacious destruction carrying out the government’s campaign to rid this region of Injuns. From the start it seems the white man’s government wanted to rip the heart out of true democracy, hoping to have stolen its ideal for a totem.

Between these fingers of God was borne the Suffragette Movement, the Underground Railroad, the Mormons, The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and a variety of utopian and intentional communities during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today it’s the wineries, artisan cheeseries, emerging Finger Lakes anti-haute cuisine, sheep and alpaca fiber farmers, pasture-raised pork, grass-fed beef, bison and elk, and free-range chicken ranchers, organic produce farmers, Amish craftsmen, Eco-Village, the New Roots High School and family homesteaders who sustain this rural culture here.

It wasn’t the job teaching at Ithaca College that sold me on moving north. It wasn’t the reputation of Ithaca as a progressive, liberal community. It was here that attracted me. I belonged to the land.

When I took the job at Ithaca College, I fell in love with the place. Cathy Webb, a realtor, showed me Bird and Annie’s house on Enfield Center Road which she needed to rent before she could sell them another house in Trumansburg. I talked Bird and Annie into letting me rent the place even though I didn’t have the full deposit. I wasn’t even sure I had the job. When the offer came, I packed up and left the red clay of Georgia behind. This Yank was going north.

My first night on Buck Hill I woke up in the middle of the night. Bob didn’t bark but there was a floodlight shining in on us. A huge strobe light poured in through the windows on the east side of the house. I kept low to the ground, so whoever it was wouldn’t see any movement. I groped around the floor for my eyeglasses.

A full moon had risen in the eastern sky. I swallowed and took a deep breath once the focused view of the familiar moon reached my consciousness. I laid awake and enjoyed how safe and secure I suddenly felt. I loved this place. The moon would look out for me and protect me. While I would work in Ithaca, my home sat upon this hill.IMG020

Here we look each other in the eye. Everybody waves. Nobody locks their cars and half the folks leave the keys in the ignition, just in case somebody needs to move it for the snow plow.

The EPA declares the fish in Cayuga Lake to be healthy and provide good nutrition. From Kindergarten through 12th grade, all the town and country kids attend school together on one campus in the center of the Village of Trumansburg. In a local survey, residents reported the number one issue was the Village police force: too big and too expensive. Village deputies routinely set their speed traps on Main Street and stop cars moving in too big a hurry. Pedestrians halt the 18-wheelers trucking down NY State Route 96 because on Main Street they have the right of way.

There are no parking meters and sidewalks line both sides of Main Street. The paper comes out once a week but everyone knows the places for news are the post office, bank, public library, the coffee shop, and the bulletin boards in the Laundromat and the grocery store. In the Village, disgruntled citizens participate in public assembly at the NAPA Auto parts store and the Pro-Democracy group meets in the Fire Hall. In our neck of the woods, the unemployed and retired men hold daily court at the Citgo gas station and convenience store at the intersection of State Route 79 and Halseyville Road, known as Miller’s Corners.

A ridge separates the glacial waters of Seneca and Cayuga and marks the county line between Tompkins and Schuyler. It is here the Warren family farmed for more than one hundred years. Grampa Harry and his three sons cropped for seed: buckwheat, corn, barley, oats, wheat, clover. Mecklenburg, now nothing more than a Post Office, Fire Hall, Doug’s Auto Repair and the Methodist Church, once had a prosperous grain mill powered by the natural springs and creeks running into Trumansburg Creek and falling into Cayuga Lake.

Even before I met Sam Warren, I would get up and out of Ithaca as quick as I could leave my office behind. I would hurry back to this special place. Up and down Buck Hill Road, I found new animal friends walking my dog along the country roads. The wild turkey and Whitetail deer covered the same trails we did. I watched the hawks and other birds of prey soar in the gusts and streams of wind across the fields. Meeting my human neighbors took longer.

The beef cows at the Fisher’s farm came up to the fence so friendly. Sometimes they had already come through the fence and strolled leisurely on the blacktop road down towards the Millers’ farm. The Fishers had a dog named Patch. She was mostly white with big brown patches. Big and goofy, Patch loved my dog Bob and she laughed at me. Never seen a dog that could smile that wide and chuckle so.

Patch would lope around us as we walked. Some days Patch would walk all the way down to Millers and then back past her house to hang out in the backyard and play with Bob.  I didn’t feed her, so she always went home before dusk. Patch taught Bob how to back into the low branches of the birch tree for a really good back scratch self-induced. A very clever dog.

One afternoon I was walking on the road and Bob and Patch ran along through the yards and gardens of my neighbors near the corner of Enfield Center and Buck Hill Road.

“Why can’t you keep those dogs out of my flower beds?” Up popped a petite gray-haired lady from somewhere in the midst of all those flowers. “Get them out of here!”

“Bob. Patch. Come. Come here! Sorry.” I said.

“You got all this space to walk these dogs and they don’t need to come through my beds.”  She shook her garden trowel and stomped her feet in fury.

“Get a grip, lady. You could be living in the city where there’d be drive-by shootings and gang bangers selling coke in your front yard. This is the country and these old farm dogs aren’t going to hurt anything,” I met her wrath with my fury. I had lived too long on the south side of Chicago for graduate school and then in Georgia where I rented a duplex on a cul-de-sac with 24 hour drive-by cocaine transactions.

I had met Janet Warren, Sam’s mom. She pissed me right off. I said I was sorry. That wasn’t good enough for her. I knew I had crossed her.

Charlie Warren walked “Little Fella,” an old Pomeranian, to the corner and back every afternoon when I first moved to the hill. He introduced himself to me and Bob. Tall with a white shock of hair on his head, he smiled and made small talk whenever our paths crossed walking dogs along the road. I would see them at the grocery sometimes. Chuck always smiled and waved. Janet was cool.


Rosehips under freshly fallen snowSam and I got our coats on and left my place in his pickup truck to spend the night at his cabin. He pulled right into his parents’ driveway. He hopped out.

“Aren’t you coming in?” Sam asked.

“To meet your parents?” I looked incredulous. Seemed totally premature. I wasn’t ready to face them but I couldn’t say no. I had spent the last ten days sneaking past their house to the lane that led down to Sam’s cabin.

“I can’t keep hiding you from my mother,” Sam said. “Come on in.”

Janet Warren greeted me at the back door with a kiss and a hug and pulled me inside her home.  Her short hair wasn’t really grey. A natural blonde, her curly locks framed her dimpled smile. Janet’s petite frame contrasted with Chuck’s height. Both of them stood in the kitchen entry next to the coal stove warming their back sides. Chuck in his flannel pajamas and Janet in her silk kimono, they weren’t put off by my unannounced company.

“Mom and Dad, This is Jill; who I have been telling you about.”  Sam made the official introductions.

The smile beamed on Janet’s face. I began to relax.

“Welcome to the Warren family,” Janet pulled me close and gave me a hug and kiss. Chuck chuckled and smiled.

Little did I know the introductions were long overdue. Everybody in the neighborhood had seen Sam’s pickup truck in my driveway. I hadn’t gone unnoticed these many days walking down the lane to Sam’s cabin. Sam’s sister, Judy, and her husband, Wayne, lived on the other side of the driveway and had watched me walked down and wondered. Everybody already knew something was going on.

I quickly discovered in a small rural community there are very few secrets. If Sam were to mess around with other ladies or go to Kuma’s for a night with the boys looking at the nude dancers I would hear about it before he could make it back home. Everybody knows everybody’s business. This kind of security in a relationship seemed foreign to me; my family had moved 7 or 8 times around Minnesota and Wisconsin before I went to college and became a transient academic. These people were born here and died here. If they went away for a period of time, they came back eventually. This land beckons the soul home.

  1. We know what our men are up to in the country–and they’re usually doing something good for the land or for us. I love the Finger Lakes, too, and this afternoon’s sun peeking out for a last minute show on a gray overcast day. Thanks for reminding me once again why I live here.

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