|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Thirty Four
Voice of the Ancient Turtle
Saturday, March 25, 1988
The weather dragon smiled. My appointed day dawned bright and warm. Spring finally came to central New York. Gusty March winds blew warm southern air, chasing away winter's last ghosts. The sun shone strong rays on the city, promising a hot day to melt the long winter's cold from my bones. But for the vigorous wind, it was a perfect day for my outdoor conference.
The previous day, former Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander had been sentenced in federal District Court to ten years in prison for extortion and racketeering during his sixteen year reign as the city's chief executive. The man who prevented Robert Congel from building in his own town was going jail, and Congel was free to pursue his great ambition. New Mayor Tom Young was about to throw his full weight behind Pyramid’s Oil City project.
Now it was my turn to stand in the path of Robert Congel's ambition to build at The Place of Beginning.
I packed clothes, books, food, and photocopies, and put on my light brown three piece suit. I would be downtown all day until 3pm when I'd board a train for New York City to see my best buddy from high school. I wouldn't return until Monday, and considering my ominous errand of the day, I couldn't think of a safer place to be than out of town at the farthest corner of New York. I had no idea what response my press conference might provoke, and no desire to be around to find out.
Linda arrived at 9am to drive me to the press conference. We stopped to pick up Rich Phillips, who alone of my accomplices agreed to go public with me. Moments before 10am we arrived at Clinton Square where the press waited. I could see two TV crews, Greg Lowe from WSYR Radio News and newspaper reporters. I gathered up my sign and press releases, and walked across the plaza in front of Pyramid's headquarters. I also had a plastic bag containing the other three quarts of sludge. Handing Linda my camera, I asked her to take photos as I read my statement and answered questions.
Turning to the reporters, I announced, "I'll read a statement and then answer questions." I stood beside the flagpole at the plaza center, placed the sludge beside me, perched my sign at my feet and handed out press releases. Rich stood at my left elbow. Playful wind tossed my hair and tugged my papers.
At last the press was ready. Microphones were thrust at my face as TV cameras peered on. With slight nervous tremble in my hands and a quiver in my voice, I began to read.
On Thursday, February 4, I met with Bruce Kenan, Project Manager of Carousel Center for Pyramid. At that time I informed Mr. Kenan there were extremely hazardous materials, including electrical transformers with PCBs, buried under and around Marley's, proposed site of Pyramid's shopping mall. Mr. Kenan promised to meet with me the next week to discuss my information. It is 57 days later, and I am still waiting. Because Pyramid and the NYS DEC refused to do what is Right, I have been Left to act alone.
On Sunday, February 21, Rich Phillips and I dug a single hole and punctured one of fourteen transformers buried at Marley's. In the newspaper printed March 11, Mr. Kenan promised to go with me to Marley's for an on-site inspection in the spring.
On Sunday, March 20, the first day of spring, without Mr. Kenan's company, Rich Phillips and I returned to our hole at Marley's and removed four quarts of thick, dark grey, oily sludge from a metal container buried six feet underground. One sniff of this highly unnatural material leaves no doubt that Marley's is a hazardous waste dump. On Tuesday samples of this substance were given to NYS Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone, NY's Assistant Attorney General, Pyramid Partner Bruce Kenan, County Executive Pirro, and Syracuse Mayor Young.
I am once again on the steps of Pyramid today to see if Mr. Kenan is ready yet to go with me to inspect Marley's. I have been here over 25 times since January 31.
I have a fourth gift for Mr. Kenan. This one is a video I taped two years ago on farmers in the Finger Lakes titled "Tyonhehkohh,” a name taken from the Iroquois legend about Sustenance, the .Three Sisters and the food the Creator gave to eat in life.
I also have with me three quarts of sludge from my trip to Marley's Sunday. The DEC won't accept it from me and says I must dispose of this hazardous material at my own expense.
I hope Mr. Kenan is ready to set a date to go with me to Marley's to discuss how Pyramid can assist me to locate and remove all hazards to the public and Pyramid that are buried there. At this point, further delay will make Mr. Kenan a liar.
I hope Robert Congel is a stubborn man who won't easily give up his vision to remove Oil City and regenerate the Syracuse lakeshore. I believe Robert Congel has seen part of the path into the future for Syracuse. Mr. Congel's Oil City Project is an essential step to restore health and wealth for all in central NY. I hope everyone will support his great ambition.
I have been doing my imperfect best to help Robert Congel realize his vision in a way that will not endanger his wealth, or the health and future of Syracuse. I fear Mr. Congel has overlooked several powerful elements in his path at Oil City. I have been trying to bring them to his attention. No one in his Right Mind would build on a hazardous waste dump.
So far, Mr. Congel has not recognized or rewarded the assistance I have offered him. I remain hopeful that he will cooperate with his Whole Mind in this necessary adventure into a better future. I hope Mr. Congel will do what is Right, or I fear nothing will be Left to our children.
I have my own vision for central New York, one concerned with agriculture, food supply and human health. Soon, on Park Street next to Pyramid's Carousel Center, will rise a new Regional Market Facility to supply better markets to central New York farmers, and better food to central New York consumers. I hope Robert Congel will support and assist this other key element in a united vision of central New York's future.
Halfway I realized my statement was too long. TV reporters became restless as I plodded through my words. Wind toyed with my hair, pushing it in my face. At least this time it wasn't cold and snowing.
Greg Lowe from WSYR Radio began asking questions. "Are you having the sludge you took from Marley's tested?"
"Yes, I sent samples to NYS's Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone and a private lab. I expect results after next week."
Greg kept probing. "Why did you take these samples?"
"I discovered the transformers January 31. Since then I've made numerous efforts to bring them to the attention of public and private officials. Since no one believed my information and no official action was taken, I felt this action was necessary to prove there's a hazard at Marley's."
"Are there other dangerous materials buried at Marley's?"
"I'm not sure. I haven't surveyed the entire property but I've heard many disturbing stories about the place. Someone should conduct an honest investigation."
Pyramid partner Pat Mannion emerged from Pyramid's building and stood to one side in a dark gray suit. He was about my age and height, and nearly as thin. I reached over and shook his hand in a friendly gesture. As I peered into his face, my macrobiotic training in facial diagnosis noted clues to his health problems. He returned my greeting coolly but friendly.
Greg turned to Pat, "Does Pyramid intend to respond to Mr. Yarrow's contention hazardous wastes are buried at Marley's?"
Smoothly Pat replied, ''Yes, we discussed the situation with Mr. Yarrow and we indicated we'll take whatever steps are necessary to remove contamination proven to be at the site."
Turning back to me, Greg inquired, "Do you feel Pyramid has responded adequately to your contentions?"
"I met with Bruce Kenan in early February, and was promised another meeting to review my information. That meeting has never taken place, nor have I received what I believe are adequate assurances my information would be investigated."
"Have you spoken with the NYS DEC?"
"This week, after I took my own samples, DEC finally called me. I will assist their staff to take official samples next week."
There was hesitation as the press considered what to do next. Suddenly the microphones withdrew. Almost as soon as it began, it was over. The press quickly packed up and left.
Soon only Walt Sheppard and Mike Davis from The Syracuse New Times were left with Linda, Rich and me. Walt wanted photos, so I chatted quietly with Walt as Mike's shutter clicked away. Walt asked, "What did the DEC have to say?"
"They called five times this week. I was assured Marley's is being treated as a hazardous site even though it's not classified as such. Since you've been a steady friend over these weeks, I'll invite you to the party. 10am Tuesday I meet them at Marley's to help them take their samples. I was asked not to tell the press, but you're welcome to come. It's taken two months to get them to act, and I have little faith they intend to pursue this."
Walt's hawklike face peered at me. "Great. We'll be there."
I stretched out my hand, "Here's a booklet I wrote about dowsing. I printed a few for a class I'm teaching in Staten Island this weekend. It will introduce you to this ancient practice. "
Walt scanned the booklet with some interest. Mike was through taking photos, so they left together.
Linda drove me to On the Rise, where I left my travel gear. I once again toured downtown offices: City Hall, Shearson-Lehman, Community Development, Legislature, Civic Center, Fire Department. At the Post Office, I mailed out more copies.
Finishing my round of deliveries I returned to the bakery. As I was about to turn into the door I heard, "Hello David Yarrow."
Turning, I saw a car parked along the curb a few feet up the street. Squinting, I saw Tom, a friend, former client and lawyer sitting in the passenger seat. Stepping to the car, I said, "This is a happy surprise! What brings you to downtown Syracuse?"
"I had to be in Syracuse, so my wife drove me to town. She's in the bakery buying bread now."
I squatted down beside the car for an eye-level conversation. ''You picked a beautiful spring day for your visit. Welcome to the big city."
"What are you up to?" he asked.
I laughed, "Making trouble. I just held a press conference on Pyramid's steps. I sent you my statement in the mail minutes ago." I decided not to go into details of what I'd said.
Tom looked at me sharply. "I got a call from a DEC official yesterday I've known for years. He asked me how my name came up in a conversation about you and Marley's. I told him you were a friend, that I'd been following your escapades closely, and I thought you were doing a good job."
"Thanks, I need the support."
Giving me a low glance he said, "He told me, 'There's worse than PCBs buried at Marley's.' What do you think of that?"
"Nice to know someone in DEC doesn't think I'm a total flame. But if he thinks that, why's he let me swing at the end of a rope all these weeks?" I made no effort to conceal my anger.
"That I can't say. But it seems you've pushed the situation to the point where something will be done now. Congratulations."
"Thanks. After all I've been through, that's nice to hear."
"What're you up to next?" he asked.
"At 3:30, I catch a train to New York City. My best friend from high school invited me to teach at the Staten Island Holistic Health Center. I'm talking about my current favorite subject: Dowsing and Geomancy. I'm grateful for this timely opportunity to get away from Syracuse and the intensity of Marley's."
We said good-bye. As I entered On the Rise, his wife came out carrying loaves of handmade whole grain bread. She congratulated me on my success.
I headed for the Athletic Club, where I had two appointments. At 3pm, one of my cancer clients drove me safely to the rail station for a quiet weekend on Staten Island. The ride was less than cordial, however, since Bob was upset.
Bob was a successful lawyer, struggling with a second bout of prostate cancer. The first time he'd followed recommended medical treatment, which included removal of his tumor and testicles, and hormonal chemotherapy.
But with the second occurrence, Bob looked at other options for treatment. He'd read Dr. Anthony Sattilaro's book Recalled by Life describing the doctor's discovery of macrobiotics and subsequent miraculous recovery from incurable metastesized prostate cancer. Inspired by the book, Bob and his wife came to Wellspring for a consultation. They became regulars at my cooking classes and Friday dinners. He also came weekly for acupressure. In ten months, Bob improved immensely, but wasn't yet free of tumors and discomfort.
An unusual aspect of his case turned up when I dowsed his home. I carefully explained what I might find by dowsing. I found that four water veins ran under his house. Two of them crossed under his side of the bed. The exact site of this crossing lay directly beneath his pubic area. When I detected two veins crossing beneath his tumor site, his face showed stunned incredulity. With a wry smile, I said to him, "And you thought eating brown rice was a big step. Now swallow this." It was impossible to move the bed to a safe position, so he began sleeping in another bed.
Today, however, Bob wasn't happy, and he expressed his annoyance. Not with his diet, or his healing, but with me. I was explaining the week's events to him. Suddenly, with acute agitation, he burst out, "Why do I have to listen to this? I feel like you're attacking the very establishment I spent my life working in. It's like you expect me to do something. Am I supposed to join you on your bandwagon attacking the way of life I worked for all my life?"
Startled and sad, I tried to reassure him. "Not at all. I'm just sharing with you a difficult challenge I've faced. I don't expect you to do anything but heal yourself. Pyramid is my problem, not yours. Why do you think I'm trying to get you involved?"
"I don't know. I feel uncomfortable hearing you talk about it. I'm tired of hearing about it. Let's talk about something else."
Sadly, I had no words to soften Bob's feelings. He soon joined the long list of friends and clients who turned their backs on me because of my long struggle.
On the train ride I tried to read, but the gentle rocking and clicking soon lulled me to sleep. Safely out of the vortex of events in Syracuse, I fell into a deep slumber. I was able to gain a few hours of the peaceful rest I'd missed for many weeks.
The very day of my arrival on Staten Island the front page of the New York Times Metro section announced The Voice of an Ancient Bronx Turtle. An Indian petroglyph of a turtle had been found carved on a granite boulder on the grounds of the New York Botanical Gardens. It had been there for centuries, but never before seen.
This synchronous event was deeply meaningful to me. You see, my nickname is turtle. For nine years, I'd carried my home on my shoulders and the world on my back as I traveled New York to lay a foundation for a sustainable food system. During those long, hard years, on the dashboard of my van, I carried a small hand carved wooden turtle. It was a gift from a friend who lived on an island one mile wide and six miles long in the West Indies. It was a symbol of my mission and identity.
Also, in the Iroquois Creation Myth describing the origin of Earth, the world was formed on the back of a turtle. And so North America is known to Indians as "Turtle Island." And halfway around the Earth, Indians in the Far East also believe the Earth rides on four elephants standing on the back of a turtle. In China, the legendary turtle Kwee directed the creation of the universe, and presides over China's fate. Science tells us turtles are the oldest living reptile—they are 275 million years old—older than the Appalachian Mountains. The Indians say that when the turtle dies, the world will also die.
At the north end of New York, on the St. Lawrence, at the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation (Akwesasne), the turtle recently acquired a new and relevant symbolism. Akwesasne is downwind and downstream from several industrial plants, including Reynold's Metals, ALCOA, Domtar Paper, and General Motors. These heavy industries emit a variety of pollutants, including PCBs, fluorides, hydrogen sulfide, dioxin, dibenzofurans, and other potent contaminants. Mohawk farmers suffered economic losses due to fluorosis, poor reproduction, birth defects, and decreased life expectancy of their livestock. Many Mohawk families rely on water taken one half mile from General Motor's plant. In 1983, EPA fined GM $507,000 for unlawful disposal of PCBs.
In June, 1985, Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook requested NYS Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone to study the industrial toxins at Akwesasne. Mohawk health worker Doug Smoke captured a fourteen-year-old snapping turtle 300 feet from the GM landfill. Stone's tissue analysis of this turtle found PCBs at 835 parts per million (ppm)—28 times higher than turtles elsewhere on the river. At 3 ppm in poultry, PCBs are unsafe for human consumption. The turtle had 300 parts per trillion (ppt) of TCDD, the same dioxin found in Agent Orange. In fish, 10 ppt is considered unsafe. Turtles are omnivorous, sedentary and long lived. Any toxics found in their tissue is locally acquired.
So the discovery of this turtle petroglyph on Manhatten at the gateway to North America's interior was deeply meaningful to me. Its appearance in the New York Times on my arrival was a personal synchronicity to highlight my own moment in history.
Michael and Sandra lived on the tenth floor of a high rise on a high point in northwest Staten Island. From their balcony, I looked west across the Kill Van Kull to the Jersey shore. There, amid endless acres of development and marsh, I saw round white tanks and towers of Jersey's equivalent of Oil City. Michael explained that some days prevailing winds blew exhaust from the oil refineries across their highrise to deposit oily film on the building. The stench was annoying. Michael also said Staten Island has the world's largest landfill. Trash on the island is piled in one giant dump—by 2000AD, the landfill would be the highest point on the island—a modem version of the ancient Indian moundbuilders of North America.
Looking out at this crowded landscape of river-to-river urban development and heavy industry, I sniffed the scorched air and thought, "Look out central New York. This could happen to you."
I sat up until after midnight telling Michael and Sandra my story of David vs. Goliath, of the Dragon and the Ice Castle. They listened in amazement as I unraveled my long tale, asking questions. And I thanked them for providing me a safe refuge at this momentary respite in the adventure.
Michael and I reviewed the course of our lives since we'd parted in 1967 after our high school graduation. We'd seen each other four times since our days as whiz kids in Computer Technology at Syracuse Central Tech High. Yet, we'd followed different paths to similar ends. Unlike me, he had completed college. Now he did free-lance computer programming in Manhattan and helped Sandra run the Staten Island Holistic Health Center. He'd gone to chiropractic school, but he wasn't presently practicing. The previous year, he had gone to Peru to see Machu Pichu and the Nazca Lines. As I studied his photos of his trip. I wondered if the mysterious Incas were indeed the source of the "moundbuilder" culture which I was discovering in the Finger Lakes. What's the connection between Finger Lakes and South America before the time of Christ? We traded tales for hours until fatigue drove me to sleep.
On Sunday, I took my class on a field trip to High Rocks Park, one of the highest points on Staten Island. After teaching my class to dowse for water veins and earth energy channels, we toured the park so my students could use their new found perceptions to study the hidden forces of its landscape.
At our walk's end, I found a sacred space in a hollow enclosed by the park's highest peaks. We formed a circle holding hands around the dry basin of a small pond where streams of heaven and earth forces met. There, I led a simple Earth healing ceremony of songs, prayer, thanksgiving, and meditation.
As I meditated there, I felt the presence of Staten Island's bedrock deep under me. Listening to my intuition's inner voice, I knew Staten Island is a turtle. I wondered about the islands of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Bronx. Are they turtles, too?
The Hudson and Mohawk Rivers form the dryland passageway into the interior of native America's Turtle Island. In 200 years, this northwest passage of river valleys had funneled mighty torrents of Europe's humanity into the heartland of America. This crevice in the continent wasn't only a migration route, but is also the boundary between several geologic regions. And it's part of the ancient Warrior Path of the Peacemaker Legend.
|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
It may be that New York Harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River is guarded by granite turtles. In central New York, Onondaga Lake, the eastern gate into the Finger Lakes, seems to be guarded by winged serpents. The Onondaga and Salina Dragons also stand watch at the entryway to North America. They guard the gate into the Finger Lakes, the sacred Water center of Turtle Island.
If the Great Lakes are a vast watery womb for waterfowl and wildlife, then the Hudson-Mohawk passage is like a vaginal canal. And the Salt Lake is perhaps a cervical entry into that womb, with Onondaga and Salina dragons to guard the way in. Where is the boundary between metaphor and reality now?
Thanks to that trip and the workshop, I was able to pay my March and April rent. It seemed my life could return to normal, and I could again concentrate on buying my house, establishing my own services, and being with a woman I loved.
But the real adventure was far from over. It had only begun.