|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Eighteen
Lost in the Way
Tuesday, February 16, 1988
My Buick hurtled off I-787 onto the exit ramp, lifting me high above the shoreline. On my right, far below, Hudson River churned slowly towards the Atlantic 150 miles south. On my left Albany climbed slopes rising west above the mighty river. In 200 years this river funneled a torrent of humanity into North America's interior. Here this passage turned west up the Mohawk River to Ontario Lake Plain. Between the St. Lawrence and the Gulf, this was the only break in the Appalachian Mountains that block access to the continent's heartland.
Albany is capital of New York, the Empire State. Crowning the hills above the Hudson is Empire Plaza, an immense white marble wall shining in the sun. The ramp curled up over I-787 and headed me into the marble mall. Ribbons of concrete wound and wove into strands which disappeared into a gaping hole in this immense stone escarpment. Behind this gray wall, the Executive Office Building rose 20 stories, surrounded by other white marble structures. I'd visited there many times before to lobby for state food policy or file incorporation papers.
Empire Plaza is Nelson Rockefeller's marble monument. Standard Oil's heir crowned his long reign as the Empire State's Governor by erecting this immense government office mall. Marley's sits in Oil City; this is capital of Rockefeller's Oil State.
Nelson's father John was born in the Finger Lakes. He was a dowser, but he didn't look for water. He was an oil dowser—a doodlebug, as they're called in oil country. In the Rockefeller mansion down the Hudson from Albany is a room full of the largest collection of dowsing equipment ever assembled.
Today Nelson and John are dead, but David maintains the family empire as Chair of Chase Manhattan. Few men influence American economic policy as much as David Rockefeller. His connections extend beyond statehouse and White House to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Syracuse's Oil City is a tiny outpost in this vast financial empire.
My blue Buick hurtled into the maw of this marble beast perched atop the Hudson heights. Its marble edifice swarmed up to engulf my horizon. Suddenly, I was swallowed into this immense stone monument. As I sped beneath the mall, I heard the drone of my car change, as if power had drained from its V-8.
The Assistant Attorney General blinked once, then began, "As a public official employed by the State of NY in the Dept, of Law, I'm not authorized to give legal advice to private citizens concerning legal or illegal acts they mayor may not perform…."
She paused and I scrambled to digest her statement. "However, I would point out that as a private citizen you're free to pursue the truth in ways a public official cannot." Her face nor her gaze wavered through this entire response. Even now, only the slightest smile twinkled in her steely eyes.
After nearly choking on the meaning of the first phrase I now tried to encompass the implication of her second. Finally I smiled, 'Thank you. I understand your position."
I'd explained I'd come to seek advice about digging a hole at Marley's to expose one of the transformers. She interrupted my
story few times, once to ask, "Who's the developer?"
"Pyramid," I replied.
Her eyes widened, "Oh yes, we've heard of them," said with a
trace of amusement. She knew of the Ethics Commission probe of Pyramid's purchase of Poughkeepsie's Town Council. And a Pyramid mall in Albany was in trouble for disturbing wetlands.
At one point I looked carefully at her and said, "We might have a dead body here."
Her eyes widened. "If that's true, it may require criminal investigation to find out how it got there."
As I talked I stared at a map of Marley's. A sudden insight popped into mind. The north comer where the transformers lay is an obtuse angle. From this point the property line ran straight, but the railroad curves.
This is an old metaphysical puzzle: the union of circle and square. The ancient riddle is to circumscribe a circle round a square so the square's perimeter equals the circle's circumference. The circle is the spiritual world while the square symbolizes the material realm. The point of this conundrum is the relationship between physical and metaphysical worlds.
This ancient math mystery's answer is written in the proportions of the Great Pyramid. It defines the dimensions of the ancient Greek Parthenon. Medieval astronomer Kepler used it to calculate positions of the planets of our solar system. It defines the proportions of the human body. The answer is Phi, a number which, like Pi, is irrational and can't be precisely specified as a finite number. It nearly equals 1.6180339...
At Marley's, there's a straight property line and curving railroad. I now had a hunch. The transformers were dug in along the railroad bed, in the area between a curved and straight line. They weren't on Marley's after all. Whoever buried them made a slight error and dug them just across the line on Conrail property. Not that it made much difference. Either way, I'd be trespassing and subject to arrest.
I came to the end of my tale and had little more to say, so I offered her my final concern. 'There's more here than a shopping mall on a dump with hazardous waste. There's unusual aspects to this situation. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm convinced we should all keep a close eye on this land beside Onondaga Lake."
She looked curious, so I continued, 'The most tangible evidence I can offer is I believe the last village of Onondaga Indians on Onondaga Lake is buried under Marley's. The very week I found the village, New York's Highway Dept. changed signs on I-81 to say Exit 16 Onondaga Nation Territory. How curious in this innocent way New York suddenly recognizes the existence of a foreign country in the middle of the state."
I stood to leave. The Assistant Attorney General abruptly asked, "Are you interested in the Organic Food Law my office is drafting? We aren't finished, but I could mail it when it's done."
I sat down. My words came slowly. "Listen, I devoted five hard years of life to pull New York's organic food system together. It wore me out, and I've retired from that now. But I remain deeply concerned about anything which affects that industry." I wondered if my voice reflected the deep sad tiredness those years of extremity etched into me.
I paused, then said, "I'd enjoy seeing your bill. I wrote a version 3 years ago which is now before the NY Senate. In fact I'm in town today to meet the Agriculture Commissioner as a member of his Organic Food Advisory Committee. I'm headed there from here. I'll tell him of your interest in a bill."
She looked at me oddly, "I'll send our bill when it's drafted." "Thanks," I returned. "I'll send names of people who should get copies." We shook hands, said good-bye and parted.
I stood before the elevators ready to leave the Department of Justice. A middle aged black woman approached. "Excuse me, but I'm lost. I'm lobbying in the Legislature, but the room was too stuffy. I want to go to my car but can't find my way out. Can you get me out to Eagle Street?"
I couldn't, so I took her down to the Main Concourse which runs underground the full length of the Plaza. Heavy pedestrian traffic flows ceaselessly through the building. Hundreds of people walk the wide hallway. dwarfed by the immense ceilings of Rockefeller's marble mall. I thought of Marley's. Here's another of "meeting of the ways."
I led her to the Information Office down the immense Concourse. To my amazement the receptionist couldn't explain how to get to Eagle St. either. A third woman was called over and vigorous discussion ensued. A map appeared. When it was clear the woman would find help, I slipped away wondering at this little episode. The message was clear: we've lost our way. Lost in the bowels of our civilized structures, we no longer know where we are or how to get home again. Where is the Eagle-that-Sees-Far to sound the alarm? There are no eagles on Eagle Street in Albany, New York. Profound sadness settled on me as I drove to the Department of Agriculture.
That meeting lasted three hours. The Commissioner was there an hour, then left, leaving his Deputy Commissioner of Inspection in charge. In two years since a Committee meeting, the organic industry had been lost amid a crisis in dairy industry—the state’s largest industry. Now a new Commissioner renewed efforts to address concerns of this tiny segment of NY's food system I nurtured for five years.
Members of the Advisory Committee explained conditions in the organic food industry. Farmers and processors explained their concerns to protect the credibility of their products and markets. We told the history of the Natural Organic Farmers Association (NOFA) and efforts in other states to create organic food standards, certification and legislation. An older farmer from the Hudson Valley described the Organic Certification Program I'd initiated four years earlier under NOFA-NY. I reported on the $15,000 grant I'd obtained from the Department of Agriculture which resulted in the Finger Lakes Organic Growers Coop, now in its third year.
I described the Organic Foods Production Association of North America's work to set international standards for organic food production and labeling. I described meetings between Canadian and US organic farmers to create farmer controlled organic certification. And I mentioned the organic food bill being drafted by the Attorney General.
At one point, I told how a year before newspapers in the Finger Lakes carried an article about plans by anonymous investors to construct a 20,000 square foot organic baby food factory in Geneva, New York. They applied to New York's Urban Development Corporation for $800,000 to finance the plant. No one in the organic food system knew these people, nor were organic farmers we knew contacted to provide product.
Our suspicion was the multinational "big boys" were about to jump into organic food. I knew two years earlier a national survey by the Food Marketing Institute had discovered many consumers were willing to pay more for "chemical free" foods. The FMI survey found the largest, most committed market for organic food was mothers of young children, so it was no surprise the anonymous investors planned to make baby food.
I said, "I'm deeply concerned giant corporations are about to enter organic markets, yet there's no legal standards to define exactly what "organic food" is. My voice was sharp with emotion. I worked with mall farmers all over NY who invested their lives to produce and market products which express an organic ideal not shared or respected by corporate giants. I'm upset to think the hard work of these little people to create a product of unique integrity will be grabbed by conglomerates concerned with dollars, not quality. I hope your Department will help protect these folks' hard work."
The meeting ended with the Department's promise to research an Organic Food Label Law. The Deputy Commissioner would obtain copies of similar state laws. A meeting was set for May.
I left feeling my five years wasn't wasted, and at last would bear fruit. My trip to Albany was a success. I wished I could recover the financial sacrifices I'd made to achieve this small victory.
On the three hour drive home I had time to think. Clearly I had to dig a hole at Marley's. No one believed me or had serious intent to delve. If I wanted the transformers removed I had to prove they were there. The only evidence I can provide is to expose one.
I knew a water table was close to the surface where I had to dig. Most likely I'd puncture the water table before I exposed a transformer. How could I dig a hole through water? Was the soil already contaminated with PCBs from the rusted metal cans? Would I be contaminated? Should I wear rubber hip boots? Who could I ask to dig with me? When?
Arriving home, I called the other dowsers to pose my question: "To dowse, you must have clear questions to get accurate answers. So, here's a clear question: 'Is a human body buried at Marley's?'" I asked each to let me know their answer.
Sitting at my computer, I realized I was tired and depressed. I wanted to give up on this impossible task, but I reminded myself of my prayer and promise I'd made to the Earth on January 31. Before I could allow sleep to overtake me, I had to clear my mind. I sat at my keyboard typing out my thoughts from the day. By midnight a new press release took shape on the screen. At the end of the week, we'd know the hole truth.
The next day the Syracuse New Times carried two paragraphs:
Last week representatives from the DEC visited the site of the proposed Carousel Center mall with David Yarrow, who's convinced several scrapped electric transformers are buried below the surface. If so, serious PCB contamination may be brewing. The DEC said they'd like the situation studied further, but without more confidence nothing can be done.
Yarrow maintains such evidence will be unearthed by digging down to the transformers, but the DEC told him it's not so simple. The site can't be dug without a court order, he was told, and a court order can't be obtained without more evidence. Digging without a court order would be trespass, Yarrow explained, adding, "I hope it doesn't come to that."
That afternoon, I made phone calls to announce another press conference. A knock summoned me to my door. Looking out, my heart leapt to see Susan! She'd returned from Florida! Flinging the door open we rushed into a long embrace.
|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
144 pages, 8.5 x 11 soft cover
available from Turtle EyeLand
I closed the door and we went in my dining room. She looked at me in alarm—I'd lost weight in three weeks. I explained the ordeal I was undergoing, both with Marley's and my teeth. Reaching out, she confessed regret to leave me alone.
She handed me a package, wishing me a happy belated birthday. Shyly I accepted her gift and carefully peeled wrapping. Opening the box I found a turquoise T-shirt. Unfolding it I confronted a winged dragon! This dragon looked rather cross, encased in thick scaly armor. Not at all the friendly, smiling creature I glimpsed in my imagination two days earlier driving past Oil City. But a dragon, nonetheless.
With deep affection, I embraced and kissed her profusely. Falling over, we lay together kissing on the cushions, talking softly about the difficulty of our separation. I got up and went to the kitchen to cook miso soup, millet and vegetables to warm her blood which was unaccustomed to New York winter.
That night I slept soundly and deeply for the first time in weeks. But I still had Marley's on my mind.
THE HOLE TRUTH
prepared by: David Yarrow
February 19, 1988
On Sunday afternoon, February 21 I expect to perform an act of preventive medicine at Marley's Scrap Metal Yard. My examination of that site convinces me there is a pool of poison hidden there which will soon boil to the surface, erupting with horrible consequences for us all. I believe my simple act at this time will prevent several great harms, including:
||Several thousand cancer cases
Several hundred children with birth defects
Permanent—perhaps irreversible—contamination of Onondaga Lake
Contamination of the central New York food supply
Loss of $120 million of City of Syracuse money
Failure of Pyramid's $150 million Carousel Center Shopping Mall
On Sunday I will attend church at St. David's in Dewitt, and then proceed once again, for the fifth Sunday in a row, to Marley's. There I will expose a large metal canister of PCBs in order to confirm the worst of my diagnosis. Using a pick and shovel, I will excavate a twenty second trench at a carefully studied and chosen spot. Pyramid's contractors have already dug 21 trenches at Marley's and found "nothing". I expect to find a huge electrical transformer, one of five buried at this one site.
These transformers contain perhaps a few hundred gallons of PCBs, enough to contaminate Onondaga Lake for centuries. This situation will not be safely sealed under the asphalt cap proposed for the site by Pyramid. Rather, construction of Carousel Center will disturb these rusting genetic bombs, and accelerate the release of their carcinogenic contents into our environment. Because PCBs can spread through air as well as water, once this ugly oil oozes to the surface, the prevailing westerly winds which blow constantly across the burial site will carry this toxin east across the Central New York Regional Market Facility on Park St.
Since learning of this situation on January 31, I have made every effort, including issuing two press releases, to bring this situation to the attention of private and public officials, including Bruce Kenan and Robert Congel of Pyramid, members of the Syracuse Common Council, Tom Young, Nick Pirro, Bill Sanford, David Michel, Syracuse City Engineer, County Health Dept., Senators Hoffmann and Lombardi, Assemblymen Zimmer, DEC, NYS Attorney General, Public Service Commission, and EPA. Until yesterday, this produced a minimum of response; mostly I have been ignored. At best I have been asked to provide "sufficient evidence". On Sunday I will provide such proof.
I do not oppose Pyramid's construction of the Carousel Center, I merely try to assure that whatever construction takes place is done Right, and does not endanger our safety. I continue to pray that Pyramid officials will awaken to their Right Minds and do what is Right, as I outlined to them on February 4. However, because the danger is such an immense and immediate threat to us all, and our natural environment, I feel I must take this action to bring this to public attention and initiate corrective action.
This act of preventive healing is possibly illegal and undoubtedly dangerous. I risk prosecution and public ridicule, and personal contamination. I have sufficient evidence to myself believe that the illegal burial of 5 electric transformers at Marley's creates a danger to us all that is real, extreme and immediate. If my hole turns up empty, I will admit my folly and be silent. If my diagnosis proves right, we can all feel grateful and safer. In either case, we can all sleep better.
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' classic novel of the early Industrial Revolution, Marley was the ghost who returned in chains from his grave to warn his business partner Scrooge to do the Right thing. On Feb. 4 I urged Mr. Bruce Kenan of Pyramid to do what is Right for Carousel Center. I believe digging one more hole at Marley's is also Right. I pray what is happening on the shore of Onondaga Lake can inspire everyone in central New York, especially our businessmen and public officials, to do what is Right.
It's my profound belief that there's more than 5 transformers loaded with PCBs buried at Marley's. It's my deep faith that a tremendous wealth lies waiting to be unearthed there, but first we must address the sickness, neglect and abuse there. I insist it's time for all the facts of the situation to come to the surface, before the water itself begins to rise. I hope everyone can look beneath the dark, murky waters to see the Right path that leads to a bright, clean and healthy future.