Two Hours on the Erie Canal

These days I live less than a mile from the Mohawk River/Erie Canal, and which one it is at any given time is a distinction I wasn’t clear on until a few of us took a boat tour originating in the next town over, Herkimer. Having gotten lunch at the Waterfront Grill, we picked up our boarding passes and got on the Lil’ Diamond II and cast off.

While the original canal was built between Buffalo (Lake Erie)  and Albany(Hudson River) the barge canal system as it currently exists was built between 1905 and 1918 (it took a while) and all the lock mechanisms still in use today date from that time.

Here comes the distinction between what is the Erie Canal and what is the Mohawk River: the canal and the river run together except in places where the river gets a bit too “natural” and shallow/twisty to make a good canal. In that case what is called a “land cut” was created, a separate channel where barge/boat traffic would travel until it was safe/practical to rejoin the Mohawk. There was then the problem that the water depth in the land cut was not the same as the river. That’s where the locks come in. We were only on the river a short while before we entered one of those land cuts, terminating in Lock 18.

Here we are entering Lock 18. The building in white would have housed the original power-plant for the lock, since there was no grid at the time, though it has since been converted. The Lock doors are visible straight ahead. All boats entering need to moor to prevent jostling. We were the only boat in the lock on our trip down, however on the trip back up we were joined by five other boats, some rather bigger than we were, and it got a bit crowded.

Once we were secured, the rear doors of the lock closed and the water level started to drop as we were being matched with the Mohawk again. You can’t see them in this picture, but steel mooring cables run from the top down the canal lock sides, and boats moor with sliding hooks so they can move up and down freely as the water level changes.






The difference was about 20 feet, as you can see now that the lock doors have been opened to let us on our way. Beyond this point we’re back in the Mohawk, at least for a while. We’ll turn around soon to come back to Lock 18. I wish the cruise had continued to Lock 17 at Little Falls; it has a vertical lift of 40 feet, which for many years was the largest of any canal lock in the world, even the Panama Canal. It’s since been dwarfed by one in China, with a vertical lift of 250 feet.

Here’s a close-up of one of the lock gates, which fits into the canal wall when open, to give the boats more room. It’s of steel, except for the two lower beams which are white oak. They are replaced about every fifteen years.

Most of the river traffic these days consists pleasure boats who pay a yearly fee for the use of the locks. They’re divided into “locals” and “loopers”. The term Locals is pretty self-explanatory. Loopers are ones who travel a great canal circuit through as many waterways as they can before returning to where they started. Sort of like a road trip, except on the river/canal. Must be fun, if you’ve got a fair sized boat and nothing else to do.





LeVar Burton Reads

I’ve told this story before, but in the current circumstance it bears repeating:

In an earlier version of the Writer’s Group With No Name we had a member who was working hard on a romance novel. We’d read excerpts and thought it promising, but the story wasn’t coming quickly or easily for her. In the meantime, most of the other members of the group were working on short fiction, getting stuff finished, and a few of us were selling. At times the meetings would turn into gripe sessions about slow markets, slower payments, incomprehensible editorial decisions, the usual. All true and the bane of working writers for practically ever, but our romance writer, working but still with nothing in shape to show an editor, was not impressed with the bitching. Continue reading


Back from a couple of days at Niagra Falls, first on the American side, and then on the Canadian. Tons of pictures, most of which I will not post here. Regular vacation shots, that kind of thing. I am going to post this shot from the gorge just beneath the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Impressive, isn’t it? Watching the Niagra River as it speeds along the channel then makes a sweeping left turn just before it plummets into the gorge below is almost as impressive as the falls itself.

And yet, in the paraphrased words of the non-immortal Lord Voldemort, “I confess myself…slightly disappointed.”

The reason I am slightly disappointed is rooted in what appears to be a universal truth—Nothing is as good as you imagined it to be. Yes, Niagra Falls was incredible. Awe-inspiring. Beautiful. All those things, and yet…just not what I imagined. I’d been hearing about Niagra Falls all my life. I expected several hundred feet high, glistening rainbows everywhere (other than the few there were), a roar to drown out thunder! It was surely something, all right, just not quite all that, because nothing ever could be. It’s not a shortcoming of the Falls, it’s a hyper-heating of the imagination. Expectations.

Applies to many aspects of writing as well. Something along the lines of “I envisioned an Eagle and labored to produce a sparrow.” No matter how good (or bad) a finished book is, it’s never quite as good or pure or powerful or…whatever, as you envisioned it. That’s par for the course. Sometimes you get lucky and the book is different from what you imagined, and that’s almost always a good thing.

Speaking of different, there are other things to see aside from the Falls. There was a butterfly conservancy, which was lovely, and then there was Cham Shan Temple. Here my experience was likewise different, because I didn’t know about it ahead of time and therefore had no expectations whatsoever, so it easily exceeded all of them. I think perhaps it would be a good thing to approach other areas in life and work with the same attitude—no expectations, simply being open to the experience, whether it’s a vacation or a new story. That way it’s all about the discovery, and not about what you expect.

I can’t imagine that would ever be disappointing. Even slightly.



Waiting again. This time for the furnace technician. The same boiler that serves our radiators also feeds the hot water heater, of which at the moment we have none (hot water, that is). So. Waiting. I should be better at it by now. In this avocation you certainly get a lot of practice.

The advice everyone hears, once a piece of writing has been submitted, is: Don’t Wait! Write! It’s good advice so far as it goes. For one thing, it keeps you doing what you should be doing anyway. For another, there’s a good chance you’ll have a finished piece ready to submit elsewhere before the first one sells or comes flying back (Figuratively, as almost no one does that now. It was a paper thing.) Never having to pin all your hopes on just one possibility, which may (likely will) disappoint you. Doing your work, also a coping mechanism for waiting.

But you wait anyway, despite all the defenses and deflections and denials. There’s that one market you really, really want to crack before you die. There’s a special piece that you just know is the best thing you’ve ever done and you want it Out There! Rather than sitting in some editor’s queue. And if it gets bought, then you’re waiting again, until it’s actually out there, which means there are lead times and what’s bought in March doesn’t get published until October, if you’re lucky. For books it’s even longer as a rule. Before you even get to that point there are edits to get through, and then you’re waiting (again) for editorial approval of the changes, or more corrections and the process starts again…. Then there’s the gap between buying and the check arriving, and don’t get me started on that.


I seem to be living in reverse. When I was younger, I had more patience. I find it’s a scarcer commodity as time marches on. Too conscious of the passage of time, too aware that the time to get things done and find whatever it is you’re trying to find in your work, in yourself, is very finite. Any time spent waiting feels like wasted time, even when you’re not just waiting, you’re also waiting. There’s no real escape from it. Just make it share the time it wants to take from you with whatever doesn’t involve waiting. You can’t get rid of it, but at least you can make it earn its keep.

Words I Hate, Continued

Writers are among those weird groups of people who actually care about words. We’re a long way from the only ones, of course: Language professors, lawyers, English/French/Spanish/etc  majors…the point being that there are people who actually believe that words matter. How they’re used and misused, what power they have. So when I say, as I have before, that there are certain words I absolutely despise, understand it comes from a place of caring. You have to care about something in order to despise it properly. Works for hating something, too. As in the old illustrative exchange:

“He hates me!”
“He doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t care enough about you to hate you.”

I’ve already talked about “impacted” vs “affected.” Today I’m going to mention another one.


I really hate that word. Or rather, I hate the usage it’s been put to by every shill marketer in the whole damn world. Whenever some Conglomerate goes on the tv and pitches “Products for the discriminating consumer” I don’t picture a discriminating anything. I picture this mindless maw gobbling down every piece of crap thrown at it.

Do writers look at readers that way? I doubt it. While “consuming” might be a useful metaphor for a certain type of reader at a certain stage of their awakening(me included), it is literally not true. You read a book, anyone’s book or story, and the book/story is still there. Anyone could still read it. You can pass it on to another (and we love you if you do) saying, “You gotta read this.” Maybe that next person would become our customer/reader too. Readers have tastes. They either like your stuff or they don’t, given the chance to try it, but there’s nothing mindless about their reactions.

I’ll give farmers a pass because we really do consume their products, and bless them for their service. But then, except for the occasional farmer’s market, we rarely do this directly where I live. It usually goes through distribution and into a grocery store. Whose customers we are, not consumers.

I understand why “consumer” is a useful term for the average marketer. I know that’s how they want us to think of ourselves, which is why they say “consumer” rather than “customer.” I know that’s exactly how their customers are viewed. It’s easier to think of a mindless, indiscriminate consuming maw rather than people, who have quirks and want something better than is usually on offer. Sorry, but I am your customer, not your bloody consumer. Though if you keep pitching crap at me I won’t even be that. Fire is a mindless consumer. I’m not, and neither are the rest of us.

Forget that at your peril.