1) Walking the Erie Canalway Challenge--Start Here



Jim and Lisa Saunders beside the Richmond Aqueduct ruins of the Old Erie Canal, which can also be seen by boaters in the Seneca River, which is now the active Erie Canal. Richmond Aqueduct, the second largest aqueduct, can be found by walking the well-marked trails at Montezuma Heritage Park. There, you will see ruins from the first Erie Canal, known as Clinton’s Ditch;  the Old Erie Canal towpath, which leads to the remains of the Richmond Aqueduct; the active Erie Canal, completed in 1918; and the  remains of Cayuga-Seneca Canal. 

Walking the Erie Canal Trail:

Secrets of the 8th Wonder, CMV and Pandemic Pizza

by Lisa Saunders


WHAT THIS BLOG/FUTURE BOOK IS ABOUT


While searching for the 7 Wonders of the old Erie Canal, itself considered the 8th Wonder of the World, an upstate New York plump baby boomer wonders if she’ll ever finish walking the entire 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Buffalo and Albany. So far, Lisa has endured swarms of mosquitoes, loud gunshots, snakes, snow, violent wind cracking trees above, aching feet and a dead possum. Will she find an outhouse in time? Will she uncover what truly happened to Aunt Rebecca whose body was found in a car submerged in the Canal? Lisa’s progress is continually interrupted as the global pandemic upends her life with demands from her regal mother held prisoner in assisted living, and by home-schooling two young grandchildren when her daughter leaves her job in a castle to work remotely. When deciding on the 7 Wonders, should Lisa only consider the overgrown, stone aqueduct arches and locks hidden along the Old Erie Canal, or also the engineering marvels on the modern, fully operational Erie Canal? And, how will this latest writing project ever get Lisa thin and famous when the only food near the trail is pizza and ice-cream? Trekking alongside is her detail-oriented, rather fussy husband, Jim. They haven’t spent this much time together since their undergraduate days at Cornell. Now a retired Pfizer scientist, Jim is ready to share in Lisa’s latest adventure, hoping to combine their talents to raise awareness of another “C-virus” plaguing the country, cytomegalovirus (CMV). Will their fight for an amendment to the current CMV law in the State of New York be as tough to pass as the legislation to build the original Erie Canal, derogatively called "Clinton’s Ditch"? Will they agree on the 7 Wonders, what kind of pizza to order and overcome the obstacles on the Trail to impact the world—much the same way the Erie Canal did?

Note from Lisa: When we are not snowed in, running  “Grandma and Grandpa School”, or driving my mother around, you will find us on the Erie Canalway Trail—I hope you can join us. Wheelchairs are welcome!

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Jim and Lisa Saunders on the Erie Canalway/Empire State Trail in Camillus, NY. 


INTRODUCTION

I’m a New York grandma walking the 360-mile Erie Canalway Challenge trail between Buffalo and Albany. I will record what happens in a book I'm tentatively titling, "Walking the Erie Canal Trail: Secrets of the 8th Wonder, CMV and Pandemic Pizza." This adventure is ideal for a baby boomer looking to lose weight, uncover the secrets behind this 8th Wonder of the World-- the "longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America," recover from the shame of abandoning ship on the “Mystic Seafarer’s Trail,” and find out what what really happened to my Aunt Rebecca whose body was found in her car at the bottom of the Canal in 1941.

As I walk the Trail, which follows both the active and historic Erie Canals, I will be searching for seven dramatic sites--“The 7 Wonders of the Erie Canal.” When deciding on the "Wonders," should I only consider the overgrown stone aqueducts and locks hidden along the Old Erie Canal or also the engineering marvels seen the modern, fully operational Erie Canal? I hope the public will help me decided and vote on an “8th Wonder of the Erie Canal"--preferably choosing one of thee massive historic paintings by Mural Mania. I'm also hoping someone will tell me the truth--did Buffalo wings really came from Buffalo and chicken riggies from Utica? 

Still in my first year taking the Challenge, I wonder if I will ever finish. My progress is continually interrupted as the global pandemic upends my life with demands from my regal mother held prisoner in assisted living and by homeschooling my two young grandchildren when schools are closed. So far, I've endured swarms of mosquitoes, loud gunshots, snakes, snow, violent wind cracking trees above, aching feet and a dead possum. But my biggest worry is will I find an outhouse in time? The pandemic has closed many bathroom along the way. Also, how will this latest writing project ever get me thin  and famous if the only pandemic-proof restaurants along the Trail are pizza parlors and ice-cream stands?

Trekking alongside me is my detail-oriented, rather fussy husband, Jim. We haven’t spent this much time together since our undergraduate days at Cornell. Now a retired Pfizer scientist, Jim is ready to share in my latest pursuit, hoping to combine our talents to raise awareness of another “C-virus” plaguing the country, cytomegalovirus (CMV), the leading viral cause of birth defects. Will our fight for a revision of the current CMV law in New York be as tough to pass as the legislation to build the original Erie Canal of 1825? Will Jim and I agree on the 7 Wonders, what kind of pizza to order and overcome the obstacles on the Trail to impact the world—much the same way the Erie Canal did? 

Jim and I live near Syracuse in Baldwinsville, near Lock 24, the second busiest lock on the active Erie Canal. During the tourist season, when we aren't trekking alongside the Old Erie Canal, we love to wave to boaters coming from Buffalo to Lock 24 where they will be lowered 11 feet, as in an elevator, to the next leg of their journey eastward toward Albany. 

As we are only eight miles from Camillus Erie Canal Park--the very center-point of the historic Erie Canal, Jim and I commenced our Erie Canalway Challenge on April 21, 2020, and found the first “Wonder”—Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct, a bridge of stone arches designed to carry boats over the creek. According to the Park, it is “the only restored navigable Aqueduct in New York State.”

As our journey slowly enfolds, I plan to update my blog with images along the way and write our experiences using an epic poem format. Jack Kelly, author of  book, “Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal (2017) writes, “There is no poetry in cement” (p. 48). I hope you disagree—I found a good word to rhyme with that critical ingredient for holding locks and aqueducts together--"invent"!

Are you a boat owner? If so, perhaps you will consider my "Help Wanted" blub I posted in Messing About in Boats magazine:


Give a Grandma and Grandpa a Lift on the Erie Canal?
Although I'm trying to walk the Erie Canalway Trail for my latest writing venture, I would love to boat through and photograph some of the locks along the modern Erie Canal. I am the author of the book, "Mystic Seafarer's Trail" and can be seen on Youtube in a film by Gregory Pettys on the Thunderfish with undersea explorer Captain Bill Palmer. Bill discusses some of the local wrecks he dives on including the Onondaga, the steamer Larchmont, and the German U-boat U-853...


When we are not snowed in, running  “Grandma and Grandpa School”, or driving my mother around, you will find us on the Erie Canalway Trail—I hope you can join us. Wheelchairs are welcome!

If you live anywhere in New York or are willing to travel here, you may wish to start your own quest, especially now that the Erie Canalway Trail is linked to the newly completed, 750-mile Empire State Trail. According to the New York governor’s press release, it officially opened on December 31, 2020, and is "the nation's longest multi-use state trail," which "spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers...from New York City through the Hudson and Champlain Valleys to Canada, and from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal...The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions."

One thing is confusing about the Erie Canalway Trail—there are “Erie Canal” signs all across upstate New York that can point to a dry, overgrown ditch, to a stagnate band of water or to a flowing river. That’s because the Erie Canal waterway was constructed in three phases: (1) the first Erie Canal, completed in 1825, is now referred to “Clinton’s Ditch” after DeWitt Clinton, the New York Governor behind its construction; (2) the Canal was enlarged in 1862, and largely ran alongside Clinton's Ditch-- it is now called the Enlarged Erie Canal  or Old Erie Canal; and (3) the active one, now mainly using rivers, was completed in 1918 with its locks still raising boaters from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. Originally called the New York Barge Canal, it is now referred to as the Erie Canal.

About the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

In 2000, Congress established the “Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor” because it was “instrumental in the establishment of strong political and cultural ties between New England, upstate New York and the old Northwest and facilitated the movement of ideas and people ensuring that social reforms like the abolition of slavery and the women’s rights movement spread across upstate New York to the rest of the country; the construction of the Erie Canalway was considered a supreme engineering feat...solidified a national identity, and found an enduring place in American legend, song, and art...”

Learn more

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New York CMV Project


I hope to reach strangers willing to contact their representatives about CMV. I love how art, music and the medical expertise of my friends came together for this news segment filmed in my backyard when I lived in Connecticut during the CDC's CMV Awareness week: News 8: Mystic mother raises awareness of CMV, a risk for pregnant women and their babies (Sarah Cody, June 13, 2018).

Want to help women protect their unborn babies from CMV, and are interested in New York passing a revised CMV law to better battle the disease? Follow: 

Similar Struggles behind the Erie Canal Construction and CMV Awareness

As I continue to walk and research the history behind the Erie Canal, I can relate to the struggles of folks like George Washington and the politicians and engineers who worked to find ways around water falls and through mountains. When construction on the first Erie Canal ("Clinton's Ditch") was completed in 1825, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton celebrated the end of "all the years of hope and anger, progress and retreat, and design and redesign" with a boat parade from Lake Erie, where he filled a green keg with water, to the southern end of the New York Harbor (Sandy Hook), where he poured the Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean. He declared to his companions, "...may the God of Heavens and the Earth smile most propitiously on the work, and render it subservient to the best interests of the human race." (Bernstein, Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, 2006, p. 319)

Just as the first Erie Canal opened our nation to the west, promoting trade, immigration and ideas, such as women's rights and the abolition of slavery, throughout the world, I believe knowing how to prevent, diagnose and treat CMV will also be in the "best interests of the human race."

"Perhaps no single cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the United States currently provides greater opportunity for improved outcomes in more children than congenital CMV. Given the present state of knowledge, women deserve to be informed about how they can reduce their risk of CMV infection during pregnancy..." (Cannon, Davis, Washing our hands of the congenital cytomegalovirus disease epidemic2005)

Scriptures for inspiration to stay the course: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-verse-of-the-day/

If you have any advice/questions for me, write to: LisaSaunders42@gmail.com


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1. OUR FIRST YEAR WALKING THE 

ERIE CANALWAY CHALLENGE


What is the Erie Canal?


It’s winter of 2021 and we’re still walking the
Erie Canalway Challenge of 360 miles.
One foot in front of the other,
no fancy equipment, no bicycles, and there are some trials.

The Erie Canalway Trail follows both the active and historic Erie Canals
between Buffalo and Albany.
Walking through the Niagara escarpment, Montezuma's marshes and Appalachians Mountains
seems a worthy challenge, don’t you agree?

Digging through mosquito and snake-infested swamps
must have been a miserable task.
Blasting through rock with gunpowder was a dangerous thing, 
especially if addicted to the whiskey flask.

I stay inspired to press onward because the Erie Canal is considered the 8th Wonder of World--
with its restored towpath, walking has been made easy for us.
When the men of old overcame rock, swamps and rivers,
they made our journey almost as simple as taking a bus.

When the Erie Canal was completed in 1825,
it was the longest artificial waterway in our nation.
It was designed for smooth, current-less transport back in the days before
one could catch a train at the station.

Canal constructed occurred early on in Onondaga County because it’s relatively flat--
this region also happens to be home to Andrew Bartow, creator of waterproof cement.
Finding limestone in a quarry near Oneida Lake, Bartow ground and heated it just right--
a critical product he did invent.

In Search of the “7 Wonders of the Erie Canal”

Now that my husband Jim is retired, I’ve been searching for the “7 Wonders”
of the Trail with him at my side,
So far, we’ve conquered the mosquitoes, snakes, sun, snow and foot pain—
we are starting to glide.

To stay the course, we've overcome our fear of loud gunshots, 
rain and violent wind cracking trees all around.
We’ve endured because of the pleasant echoes of nearby trains--
and because we haven't yet drowned.

Mostly, however, our biggest worry has been,
“where will the next outhouse be?”
But Jim’s lucky—
he can go behind a tree.
 
Finding a parking space for the next leg of our journey
can also cause stress.
Sometimes it’s not enough to rely on satellite images,
maps and GPS.

It drives me crazy how long it takes Jim
to gather supplies for his backpack,
But I sure do thank him when we rest and
he pulls out a water and a trail-mix snack.

I think the “7 Wonders”, which should include at least one lock, bridge and aqueduct—
so many structures in the running.
Will the public help us decide,
will people find our choices stunning?

The overgrown stone locks that once raised and
lowered boats can still be seen.
The modern Erie Canal boasts bigger, fancier locks--
made of concrete, they have lots of metal parts that gleam.

Are only man-made structures to be considered,
or do dramatic waterfalls and lakes count?
Green Lake is rare—a deep “meromictic” with no mixing of surface and bottom waters--
a striking aquamarine color, it’s close to the trail and easy to mount.

Do we consider Wonders found on the off-shoot paths
like the “yellow brick road” in Chittenango?
We followed it to the home of L. Frank Baum, now All Things Oz Museum--
it was so easy, not hard like learning the tango.

What about the massive, one of a kind murals brightening faded canal villages
with historic scenes of Erie Canal life?
Mural Mania began in Lyons in 2007, with today’s artists giving us a spectacular
glimpse into the past—I consider these works of art Wonders, does Jim agree with his wife?

Standing in the snow beside the painted citizens of Clyde on February18th, 2021,
we imagined them shivering as they listened to Abraham Lincoln.
His train stopped beside the Canal exactly 160 earlier on his inaugural trip to Washington—
it was so cold, the skaters in the Canal seemed unworried the ice was too thin.

Jim appreciated the Weedsport mural on a building beside a road--
once the site of the Erie Canal full of barges.
Weedsport is no longer home to the Canal--
it was bypassed when rerouted with its enlarges.

Reading one historical sign in Weedsport made Jim sad—
it decried the railway to Auburn as killing its canal-side town.
Casting aspersions on his boyhood home gave him “Auburnian shame,” making him frown.

But I reminded Jim that the town of his birth
still makes me smile.
Its home to Auburn Prison, the first electric-chair execution,
and to Copper John’s statue whose private parts were shaved down--flat as a tile.

Another Wonder of the Old Canal must surely be the high ruins of Richmond Aqueduct
found among the swamps of Montezuma Heritage Park.
Jutting partially across Seneca River, it was the second largest aqueduct on the enlarged Erie Canal,
now in an area so remote, you won’t find it in the dark.

To reach the Richmond Aqueduct, unless you boat beside its stone arches in the modern Erie Canal,
you may want to park on Chapman Road.
There, you will find ruins of “Clinton’s Ditch”, the historic Erie and Cayuga-Seneca Canals
and overgrown walls from a creepy abode.

Another wonder is found at the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum,
which also has a nice19th century view from one’s stroll.
There, we saw one-of-a kind dry dock ruins where wooden barges were fixed,
Free to view from the other side of the Canal, we didn’t have to pay a toll.



Our Erie Canalway Challenge


Our Challenge began on April 21, 2020, at its mid point--
You can see remains of Clinton’s Ditch,
a replica of Sims' canal store, a house boat, artifacts and many signs--valuable to instruct.

We often travel back in time through the vintage photos and facts
lining the Trail.
In the breweries many Canal towns feature,
we’ve also been learning about local ale.


The Canal through Canastota is lined with old buildings still in use,
giving a feeling of yesteryear.
Jim peeked in the windows of the Erie Canal Brewing Company,
to see what was on tap, what kind of beer.

We learned the hard way not to walk the Trail after dark--
even in sparsely populated towns, evil can trot.
We won’t easily forget the zombie-like man
who charged us in a town parking lot.

Maybe because we are baby boomers,
our aching feet, back and knees often cry out for a bench,
One hot day, because there was only one bench around,
I was forced to beside a dead possum baking in the sun--my nostrils still hold the stench.

In the summer months,
we’ve learned that sunscreen and bug repellent are a must.
At the end of the day,
how we long for a shower to wash off those lotions and dust.

Of course we hit every ice-cream stand
we can find,
Not the best policy when our ever-tightening belts
keep us in a bind.

I wonder how many pizza parlors we
have found along the way.
Towpath Pizza of Jordan is one,
but with most canal towns serving pizza, we should count them some day.

On December 31, 2020, the Erie Canalway Trail was connected
to the Empire State Trail.
Should we tackle all 750 miles of the nation's longest state path--
or is it too early to think about that, perhaps our zeal will grow stale?

Gere's Lock.

The Empire State Trail provides more off-road walking along
the Old Erie Canal that ran through private property.
The Trail now heads from Camillus toward the ruins of Lock 50, Gere's Lock--
recently groomed by volunteers, I bet they removed trash and at least one tree.

Since we began this new part of the trail in January 2021,
we stretched ice cleats over our boots and grabbed walking sticks.
At least the cold means we don’t have to pack bug spray—
no fear of ticks.

Mule statue across from Erie Canal Museum in the Weighlock building. 

We walked off-road from Camillus to Syracuse, our nation’s former salt production capital,
to the Erie Canal Museum housed in the only surviving Weighlock.
We imaged it weighing cargo for toll collection in its reconstructed barge—
seen from the outside, it’s a time travel glimpse at a once busy dock.


Crucible Steel


Along the way from Gere's Lock to the Syracuse Weighlock, the path ran beside Crucible Steel, New York State Fair Grounds and Onondago Lake to its southern end.
We crossed over train tracks on a pedestrian bridge from where we saw bald eagles
perched beside its ice-free edge--made so by warm water pumped from a plant around the bend.


Standing in the cold, deep snow on the bridge,
we could see the largest shopping mall in New York, Destiny USA.
We could imagine the food, bathrooms and warmth inside,
but kept trudging toward our goal, not wanting to be lead astray.


Clinton Square and fenced in ruins from Old Erie Canal. 


We soon reached the Onondaga Creekwalk,
now joined to the Erie Canalway and Empire State Trails.
We read signs about salt harvesting and drying as we headed toward Clinton Square
and its stone remnants of the Old Canal—a familiar scene on postcards sent in the mail.

An "Erie" imagination is needed when walking from the Syracuse Weighlock
toward the Butternut Creek Aqueduct in DeWitt.
Gritty buildings and dollar stores line the way, 
but that stretch of Trail is not without benefit.

Several bathrooms, benches and restaurants can be found--
enjoyed lunch at the funky Mello Velo Bicycle Shop & Cafe.
Then walked through the center of Erie Boulevard,
where we imagined barges floating by, as though it were yesterday.

We came upon a strange, lock-looking structure that seemed too neat to be ruins, 
but the stones were old and one was etched "Kasson--1848".
Locals told us it was the Erie Canal Monument--
made from old Lock stones, its plaque had been stolen, an insult to the State. 

The Trail takes a left on Bridge Street then onto Tow Path Road--
relief from the whizzing cars along Widewaters Pond.
The Old Erie Canal could be seen again in East Syracuse,
overgrown with little water, it is still a sight for which I've grown fond. 

Lisa above the Butternut Creek Aqueduct.


What a reward to reach Butternut Creek Aqueduct,
now that is a site for sore eyes.
From there its 38 miles of off-road Trail all the way to Rome,
That's just a few more miles than the crow flies. 



Living Along the Active Erie Canal


When we don’t have time to tackle new sections of the Erie Canalway Trail, we walk at home
in Baldwinsville, near the active Erie Canal at Lock 24.
We enjoy chatting with the lock tenders when they’re not busy filling or draining lock water--
they have Erie Canal stories galore.


We stand over the lock, welcoming boats from all over the world as they navigate
toward the Finger Lakes or Buffalo on the 61-mile Seneca River.
It’s better than drinking too much,
which is not too good for the liver.

It’s been said that Lock 24 is the second busiest lock on the Canal,
boats get lowered 11 feet as though there were in an elevator.
Watching sailors frantically secure their craft within the enclosed walls,
is better than reading the news, talking politics or getting eaten by a gator.

Instead of walking the Erie Canalway Trail,
we could just take Amtrak to get where we want to go.
I-90, the New York State Thruway, also makes travel easy,
especially in the snow.

If we pedaled bicycles on the Trail,
I hear we can do it in nine days at about 40 miles a day,
But since we’ve chosen to walk,
it will take a long time, since at each outing, we only make two miles one way.

It can be so tiring trekking our nation’s greatest public works
project named after Lake Erie.
Sometimes I stumble, my throat gets parched,
and I grow weary.

So far, we drive to different parts of the Trail
once a week and walk about one mile out.
At this rate, our quest will take years--
its so slow and not helping us get less stout.

We are grandparents with pandemic school closings and an aging mother,
leaving us always on call,
Will we ever finish the Erie Canalway Trail,
will we peter out to fail and fall?

I would love to boat the Canal,
but we don’t have one nor does any pal.
So far, I’ve received no response from a magazine promising to publish my plea:
“Help Wanted: Weary Grandparents Seek to Hitch a Ride on the Erie Canal.”

I didn't tell the magazine editor how I abandoned ship on my previous adventure,
as told in my book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail.
I'm hoping to gain a new reputation as a fearless voyager,
not a spineless women, with a propensity to fail.

Unlike the sea, Canal travel appears so calm I'm not likely
to lose my mind imagining going down with the ship.
Although the active Erie Canal follows rivers with currents,
there appear to be no unforeseen dangers, so few deterrents.

Although boating portions of the Erie Canal
rather than walking is "cheating,"
some portions of the 360-mile trail is on a busy road,
where pleasures seem fleeting.

If you, Dear Reader, are a boater wondering
if you should help us with any portion of the Canal by offering us a ride,
You can “meet" me in the film, "Mystic Seafarers Trail" by Gregory Pettys, with undersea explorer Captain Bill Palmer—if I don’t look crazy, then download the Erie Canalway Map and Guide.


Accidents, Suicides and Murder?

Given today's lonely times,
it’s important to stay connected to friends and family by email and phones.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

When my Aunt Rebecca’s body was found, the coroner said it was “suicide while temporarily insane.”
The Brockport paper said she went shopping on Saturday, November 8th in 1941--
four days later, a boat hook found her car, her body they did attain.

“HAMLIN LADY FOUND DEAD IN SUNKEN AUTOMOBILE” read the headline about 37-year-old Mrs. Rebecca Whyland.
Husband Lester of Chase Road reported her missing to Sheriff Skinner the first night, while brother-in-law Ray Conley followed a “hunch” and searched along Canal land.

Four days later, Ray found automobile tracks leading to the edge of the Canal--
when the sheriff was notified, dragging parties searched with a boat hook.
“Finally, it struck the car in the center and a tow truck was called,”
It must be brought to the surface, they must take a look.

When the coupe was raised, Rebecca was found “jammed under the steering wheel and the top of the automobile was crashed as though hit by passing barges.”
Did my aunt really drive herself into the Canal or was her body placed there—
should I declare this a cold case, should there be charges?

In 1922, her older brother Frank shot himself in her father’s barn when rejected in marriage.
Found dead on a pile of hay by children, was Rebecca haunted or did something else go amiss?
Will I find clues about this 80-year-old case 
at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office?

The newspaper said the tire tracks were found about two miles east of Brockport
Since I have yet to walk there, Jacquie Owens of Baldwinsville Public Library provided insight, 
where Rebecca went into the Canal, where it flowed.

Jacquie says that where Rebecca’s coupe was found
was off East Canal Road, which made her think.
Jacquie has driven that stretch and finds it picturesque as there are no guardrails,
nothing to hold a car back from the drink.

The post-autopsy headline read: “Death of Woman Driving into the Canal Declared Suicide”--coroner convinced Rebecca “deliberately drove her coupe in the Barge Canal...where it was found...
“Funeral services will be held at the home at 2 p.m., tomorrow.
Burial will be in Parma Union Cemetery,” where Rebecca still lies underground.

Years ago, when my Aunt Elisabeth learned about Rebecca’s suicide,
she asked family members what they thought--what was their statement?
Aunt Elisabeth said the family "got very upset--
they insisted it was an accident.”

One Canal lady’s life was saved in 1917 when she jumped off Bridge Street Bridge in Seneca Falls,
an act that years later attracted a film director moved by the strife.
This failed suicide inspired the Christmas movie directed by Frank Capra—
the bridge is replicated and featured in Bedford Falls in the classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I was touched by the It's A Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls and
its memorabilia donated by actress Karolyn Grimes who played little girl Zuzu.
I recalled how the movie lifted my spirits after our daughter's birth with congenital CMV, which damaged her brain--life is bearable when friends rally around and bring hope anew.

Capra said, "People are seeking spiritual and moral reassurance, and if the movies can't supply this, they will be serving no worthwhile purpose."
His film gives people pause before ending their lives,
reminding us to focus on others and what's good when in distress.

The museum commemorates Hollywood at its best
and educates people of today.
It displays suicide prevention pamphlets and a
lifeline when no one knows what else to say.

People can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at
1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Expressing oneself helps a person in distress-- 
sometimes we need help in our life's journey and walk.


Following in the Footsteps of a Mule Named Sal


Mural, "They call me Sal," in Lyons, NY. Part of Mural Mania.

When we hear our grandson sing about mule Sal on the Erie Canal,
we recall our days half a century ago in New York schools.
We were all taught to sing about Sal’s mule power in the days
prior to fossil fuels.

These fine working animals made boom-towns across upstate New York--
bred by George Washington, the hybrids were valuable tools.
Sal of the song, “Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal” by Thomas S Allen,
memorialized the canal towns of the 1800s and its mules.

I've got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal...

As you may recall, a mule is the infertile offspring
of a male donkey and a female horse.
Mules are considered more hardy than their mothers and smarter than their fathers--
one of the oldest crossbreeds we all can endorse.

So, like mule Sal we will walk on--
at about three miles an hour,
If we didn’t sleep, eat and take bathroom breaks, we could finish the trail in five days--
but that’s not within our power.

Jim calculates we take 2,000 steps per mile--
at least that's what his phone's step tracker shows.
With 2,000 steps needed for each of the Trail's 360 miles,
we will log 720,000 steps following the Canal's flows. 
  
Before the canal was built, it took at least 18 days to haul cargo
by mule and wagon from the Hudson River to Lake Erie.
Afterwards, it took mules half that time to pull floating barges through the canal,
their drivers walked 10-12 miles a day--they must have been so weary.

The mules walked in six-hour shifts, day and night,
It didn’t matter if it rained or if something caused a fright.
Erie Canal was the cargo highway from May through November,
In winter, drivers found other work while mules relaxed on farms--resting with all their might.


My Ultimate Goal in Following the Erie Canalway Trail


Many thoughts come to mind as we learn every inch
of the Canal from Albany to Buffalo,
For one, that route spread ideas such as Women’s Rights from Seneca Falls,
but there is something additional I wish people to know.

Can we share our news as we walk across New York
to help raise awareness of CMV?
Pregnant women should know how to prevent what happened to our daughter Elizabeth,
who was so dear to Jim and me.

Will people want to read this poem about our journey,
Should I keep updating it on my blog?
Or will my words be lost on the Internet,
be viewed as pointless dialogue?

As we stroll the straight, level path beside the Canal,
I wonder if the Book of Isaiah holds the verses Canal surveyors pondered,
It seems to present the tasks set before engineers,
in case they ever wandered:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Folks like George Washington and the politicians who fought for years
to get the Erie Canal funded and built had many obstacles in their way.
Despite the hope that it could unite the nation, they were mocked and ridiculed—
told to go home and stay.

When construction on the first Erie Canal, or "Clinton's Ditch", was completed in 1825,
Governor Clinton celebrated with an eight-day boat parade from Lake Erie to the New York Harbor.
He carried a keg of water from the Lake and was greeted throughout the towns by cannon fire,
I don’t know if stopped long enough to get a trim from a barber.

When he reached Sandy Hook, New Jersey, at the entrance of the Harbor,
he poured the Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean.
He said "...may the God of Heavens and the Earth smile...and render it subservient to the best interests of the human race," hoping the liquid would be an economic, unifying potion.

The Erie Canal opened our nation to the west,
promoting trade, immigration and ideas throughout the earth.
Knowing how to prevent CMV will mean more healthy babies,
more joy at a newborn’s birth.

"Perhaps no single cause of birth defects…provides greater opportunity for improved outcomes in more children than congenital CMV...
women deserve to be informed about how they can reduce their
risk of CMV infection during pregnancy."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bernstein, Peter L., Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great NationW. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition (February 17, 2006), p. 319

Cannon, M.J., Davis, K.F. Washing our hands of the congenital cytomegalovirus disease epidemic. BMC Public Health 5, 70 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-5-70

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