Archive for the ‘dairy farms’ Category

Part I

2010_ft_plain_0703_1200_01_thumb6The natural waterways, long before the first canals or railroads, were of strategic importance to any European state trying to control North America. While the surrounding area was still wilderness, critical battles were fought as far inland as modern Pittsburgh and Detroit, as early as the mid-1700s. The Mohawk Valley was no exception, and many of the early forts and fortified homesteads remain as testament, either as restored landmarks or in the names of communities that sprang up around them.

As the newly formed nation, the United States, began to develop in the early 1800s, the settlements became small industrial centers. The Erie Canal followed the Mohawk River, and continued west, to open a route to Buffalo and across the Great Lakes to Chicago. The towns along the Canal grew, as trade and small manufacturing centers. The mid-1800s saw the numerous short line railroads gobbled up by the New York Central and Hudson River Railway, to form the Water Level route from New York to Chicago, eventually reducing a lengthy boat trip to a mere 18 hours travel time at its peak. This boosted local economies even more.

2010_ft_plain_0703_1205_thumb2In a somewhat ironic turn, the area is returning to its pioneer agrarian roots. The Erie Canal is now used mainly for pleasure boating, and the rail line, now owned by CSX, carries mostly high-speed container through-freight instead of locals. Amtrak uses the line, but with stops at the eastern and western ends of the valley, and one in the middle at Amsterdam. Amish families are moving into the area, buying up vacant “English” family farms, and prospering with their low-capital, large-family labor model. This has brought a slower pace of life. Horse drawn buggies, baked goods sales, family-run sawmills, women in simple dresses, and small, neighborhood schools are increasingly common. Public wi-fi hotspots are nearly impossible to find, as are modern chain stores and restaurants.


Mohawk Valley at CanajoharieThis is the area featured in classic novels, such as Drums Along the  Mohawk, Last of the Mohicans, and Rome Haul. The Mohawks drove the Algonquian Mohicans out of the Valley, pushing them east of Hudson before white settlers arrived.

The only avenues of travel in the wilderness of the New World were the lakes and rivers. Along these natural highways, the earliest inland settlements were established, as Europeans moved inland during the first hundred years after the establishment of port cities like Boston and New York (originally New Amsterdam). The communities of the Mohawk Valley are some of the oldest in upstate

Map picture

New York.

The British gained control of New York from the Dutch in 1664. The first major wave of permanent settlers were Palatine Germans, fleeing a century of religious wars and persecution that destroyed their Rhine Valley homeland. By 1723 the Palatines began to settle in the Mohawk Valley, opening the frontier for the British. There they found some peace, but also renewed warfare, first in the French and Indian War, and later in the American Revolution.

Part II

Holly and I took advantage of a moderately decent day after a stretch of cold and rain to run over to Pittsford Plaza. We took the interstate over, not my favorite, but I must say the Fatboy is much nicer to ride on such roads than my little Honda ever was.

Our errand done, Holly turned to me and said “I want to go for a long ride.” So I headed down 65. Drove all the way to Honeoye Falls: beautiful small village.

From there we headed east toward five points, and picked up Rt 15 south  to East Avon. Was great fun just to run through the New York countryside. Passed some family farms—a rarity these days–and a great big winged something-or-other bug met eternity right in front of my eyes on the windscreen, leaving a quarter-sized yellow splotch.

We took a left on 20 and headed over 390 to find a little roadside place called the Countryside Diner. Holly ordered the fried chicken, and I had the hamburger-and-macaroni soup with fried clams and a salad. Good food and generous with the soft drinks, all for the price of a deep-fried carb & starch meal at a burger franchise. A good meal for a decent price.

We headed home the long way, Rt 5 west to LeRoy, then north. It was a good day, and all the more fun for having Holly along. We can’t talk much on the ride, but seem to like the same kinds of places, and when we stop it always seems to lead to good father-daughter conversations. I’ll miss that when she moves on in a few years.

Have you ever caught a scent that triggers a distant memory? Perhaps, the whiff of an apple pie or Tollhouse cookies recalls warm feelings of grandma’s kitchen.

My earliest memories are associated with farm smells. In the day to day, they are faint and seldom thought of, but when I encounter those odors, the full emotion floods my thoughts. Not clear images of specific events, but feelings of fascination and wonder, satisfaction—like a feeling of things being as they should be, and admiration.

According to science, the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic  system and is closely tied to the amygdala and hippocampus, which process emotions and associative learning. So a scent associated with an emotional stimulus creates an emotional memory.

Technicalities aside, it is spring, and riding through farm country means encountering the smells of barns being opened after the winter, ground being readied for planting, and cows turned out to graze fresh grass.

The pungent, slightly fermented smell of corn silage, especially freshly chopped corn, brings to mind corn cob pennies, Papec wagons, wheelbarrows and September. Though corn is chopped in the fall, the last stores of silage are being used up, and with the barns being Bugs on windscreen also come with spring in farm countryopened, the scent of feed at milking time wafts out across the road.

Fresh wood shavings combined with fresh cow manure (not the rancid gag-a-maggot stench of a manure lagoon!) recall  fairground livestock barns and admiration—those cows and barns were pristine, groomed for show, the best examples of husbandry, and lots of hard work.

The smell of sod recalls shiny moldboards, smooth turves curled over, and the tail ends of night crawlers evading a surprise suntan.

In all of it, there is a feeling of rightness, freshness, starting clean, and progress.