We’ve been studying, and have created a main lesson book about the Finger Lakes. This winter at a holiday event, a parent of a former student at Stone Circle School said, “ She just sang us, word for word, the song you wrote for her class about the Finger Lakes in third grade! “ (This student has just graduated college.) I had been thinking about reviving that study, and this gave me the impetus.
So the first thing we did was learn the song together. Some of you might have heard your children singing it; it’s a melodic way to remember the names of all the lakes. “Cay,Cay uga, Cay,Cay,uga…”
Then we did a two-page map of the whole Finger Lakes region including all 11 lakes and notable cities and towns in the area. Next we learned about the East Lakes and the West lakes, and we did a chart of the Finger Lakes showing for each lake: altitude of surface above sea level (ft.), greatest depth(ft.), altitude of bottom above or below sea level(ft.). The marked difference in depths and altitude of surfaces would be better-explained later on when we studied the geology of how the lakes were formed.
Geology: The Pleistocene Epoch in N. America was 2 million years ago. 10,000 years ago the last ice sheets retreated, after covering all of NY State but a small area near what is now Allegheny State Park. The ice was completely melted in Canada 7,000 years ago. These retreating glaciers filled with mud, sand, gravel and boulders ground and scoured the rock. South-flowing V-shaped water valleys were gouged into U-shaped valleys and troughs. Water trapped at North and South ends by glacial debris became the Finger Lakes, flowing North! Keuka is the only lake that flows into another lake(Seneca). The glacier moved at a speed of 1 meter a day. We did an experiential exercise and moved as a group at the speed(?) of a glacier…Drumlins, eskers, kames, kettle lakes (Dryden Lake) and moraines were formed by the depositions of the glaciers
To localize it a little more we drew beautiful, powerful pictures of Taughannock Falls before 1888, as shown in an old photo, and after, as shown in a later photo,1892, where the crest broke in the Sherburne flags to the re-entrant angle now seen, drastically changing the water flow and appearance of the falls. Also we drew in our books the beautiful, 3D maps of the geological features and glacial footprints of our area as developed by the Cornell Geology Dept. These show the southern, eastern and western drainage areas flowing into Cayuga Lake at Ithaca, the southern highlands and the lower topography and drumlins north of the lake.
History: Pre-Iroquois habitations were found at Bluff Point (Keuka Lake). Seneca and Cayuga tribes were joined by other southeren tribes during colonial times, for protection. The Iroquois held the strongest military force in North America at that time, and were able to hold off settlement by whites for almost two centuries. The Siouan, Tutelo-Suponi tribes came up from what is now Maryland, to build a stockade village at Coreogonel, under Cayuga protection. ( where Lick Brook inlet meets Rt. 13). The Iroquois adeptly played the French off against the British. But later, during the American Revolutionary War, some Iroquois tribes sided with the British, and some with the Americans, resulting in the eventual civil war and break-down of the once-mighty Iroquois Nation.
Here we interjected into our studies the Seneca creation myth, the Evil-minded and the Good-minded, with a startling drawing of the first sprouting of the tobacco, corn, beans, squash and potatoes from the mother. We also heard the tale of Drop Star, a child raised by the old chief Skenandoh, along the shores of what is now Kayuta Lake, south of Seneca Lake. Irish Settlement road was built on the North\South trail that separated the Cayugas from the Onondagas. The Irish came over to flee the famine that killed a million in Ireland. Painted Post was so named because of a bloody post in that spot covered with scalps taken by the tall, fierce Seneca Warriors. (Now it’s a road sign on Rt. 17).
Architecture: After the Seneca Longhouse declined with the onset of white settlers, styles from abroad became adapted and popular, such as the Federal Style. But it was the fervent madness about all things from the Greek Classics that overtook the region with the style known as Greek Revival that showed itself in towns sprouting up all around the Finger Lakes, towns with names like Aurora, Ulysses, Ithaca. One prominent feature on all these structures was the use of columns, in the Classical style. We drew very careful beautiful examples of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns that are prevalent around the area. We studied the many museums and gardens that display these various architectural achievements, and the many prominent educational institutions in the Finger Lakes that are famous for their architecture. We talked about and listed many of the Historical museums such as the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, home of the Suffrage movement in America, and the Harriet Tubman House, home of the heroine of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman.
Erie Canal: Certainly one of the chief historical events in the history of America was the building of the Erie Canal, Clinton’s Ditch, a project so preposterously massive at the time that President Jefferson called it sheer madness. We learned about the struggles to convince backers to fund it and governments to support it, the many new immigrants that built it, the amateur engineers that visualized and planned it, and the enormous effect it had on NY State, the US and the world. It passed along the northern edge of the Finger Lakes. Our Lake, Cayuga, feeds into the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge; but at the time of the Canal Constructuion, the only stoppage and really protracted delay came from an outbreak of malaria in what was then Montezuma Swamp, killing thousands of workers and shutting down the project till the cool weather abated the disease. The Hudson was an Estuary, America’s only fjord. (I remember eating sturgeon caught in the Hudson as a kid) eminently navigable all the way from NYCity to Albany. “From Albany to Buffalo !” We learned that famous folk song and sang it as we worked on drawings, drawings of how a lock worked on the Canal, drawings of canal boats being pulled along the towpath, typically north side, by a horse or mule; along the 40 ft. wide, 4 ft. deep trench dug hundreds of miles through wilderness, ascending some 565 ft from Albany at sea level to Lake Erie. With access from NYC to the Great Lakes and the Midwest farms via the Erie Canal, Buffalo became the grain capital of the world! Rochester became flour capital, and New York City became the most important harbor on earth. We drew an interesting pie chart of goods shipped along the Erie Canal in 1849, grain and flour being the most, but other goods like bacon, sugar and butter in the millions of pounds! We also drew a bar graph of the years and amounts of commercial activity along the Erie Canal, which told the mathematical story of its’ rise and fall.
Obviously we did many other things this month, drama, geometric drawing with compass and rulers, craypas drawing\painting, creative writing, using some of my original poetry as a starting, structure point, but that will be for another re-telling.