The Heart of Vestal

 

Nearly every community has a “heart” — a central focal point around and upon which residents build their sense of belonging, weave their memories, and build their lives.  This is not an aspect clearly identified for Vestal, New York.

As someone who grew up in a small college town with a wealth of lovely old buildings clearly establishing the center of town, to me, Vestal seemed amorphous by comparison.  Never actually a village in the traditional sense, Vestal is a broad expanse of former farmland with an unmistakeably linear, east-to-west swatch of “development” along the southern bank of the Susquehanna River.   A stretched-out, commercialized suburb with Binghamton University blurring the lines between itself and the city next-door, Vestal challenges new residents who wish to put down roots.  I spent years in search of the real center of my new home… but I found it.

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This is a photo of what I believe to be the “heart” of the Town and community of Vestal, New York:  the Vestal Museum (housed in the relocated old green train station,) the Vestal Public Library, and the Vestal High School (just visible on the hill above and behind the library.)  Together, these are the past, present, and future of this community and everyone who has or will ever call it home.

The Vestal Museum presents, through events, artifacts, and stories, the relationship of our little Town to the State, the nation, and the world, and reminds us of the importance of roots, our past.   Vestal High School is the building where our young people gather the skills they need and find the harbors from which to set sail for the shores of the future.  Between these two stands the Vestal Public Library — our present — where parents bring toddlers to play groups, preschoolers enjoy Story Hours, teens enjoy gaming events, local musicians share songs and tunes, political and educational groups gather for meetings, and Seniors get help each year with taxes… and that barely scratches the surface of what a library offers to a community.

In times of need, the Vestal Library’s career center is a gold mine of information on grants, skill development, educational opportunities, and vocational guidance.  The community has free Internet access, and students have rich resources for research and reports at every grade level.

Our Library has been there for us, and we need it now more than ever, as strong as it can be.  Our Museum holds the key to a firm foundation for the community’s identity.  Our schools, K-12 and beyond, need to be strong with community support to give our young people the best chance at a better future, for Vestal and beyond.  As a community, when we work together to support such institutions, we are all at our best.

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Spelunking Online

About ten years ago, I brought my sons to Howe Caverns so that they could experience the caves.  Ever since I was a child, myself, I’d wanted to go there, to see the minerals and formations and just feel that prehistoric sense caves create the moment we enter them.

Big mistake, then, to visit Howe Caverns for the experience: they have lined the entire site with electric *colored* lights that obliterate the beautiful, subtle colors of the various minerals and rocks and create a wholly modern environment, miles below the surface of the planet.  Only in the photographs we took were the real colors visible, when the flash washed-out the artificial lights.  We used a cheap mayfly camera, but even then, the quality of the photos far surpassed what we saw with our own eyes.

So, I worried about the Lascoux Cave “virtual visit” when I first clicked on this site.  I’ve known of these caves all my life, and my father — a devoted rock hound and amateur geologist — shared with me his love for ancient mysteries that might one day reveal themselves in caves.

In some ways, the “virtual visit” is as disappointing as I’d feared.  First and foremost, the photos are much too small for marveling.  There is no sense of perspective in these narrowed views, and with no frame of reference, it is impossible to imagine the position(s) the artists had to assume in order to create these paintings and engravings.  I’ve read where there was necessarily scaffolding created to reach some places, but how big were the final works in relation to the average size of a person back then?  I wanted some way to understand the scale of it all.

Most of all, there is a loss of experience in being removed by both the camera and the internet.  Though I understand our breath alone endangers these works of art, and thus we cannot visit them in person, I feel this means we will never fully appreciate them, either.

Here is what I envision:
The artists of that time lived in a dark world when the sun set.  They were afraid of predators, including other humanoids, and they lived hard lives with work that had to be accomplished during daylight hours if they were to survive the night, the next few days, or even the season — and for that, they needed some easy way to train up their young and get them past the fears, past the errors, and quickly into the flow of
survival.  One of the best ways to do this is to fill the idle hours with stories, songs, and art.

Those caves were lit by firelight, by torches carried and thus in motion with every turn and gesture.  The animals would not only feel huge, they would feel alive and in motion — a clever guide could make the animals move to fit the story, could guide the rapt listeners through the tales.  They would mix truth and fiction, history and fantasy, to weave a cautionary tale, but also one of hope.

Some of the side areas, especially the one with the squares of color, tell me they taught others to create these paintings.  There was a class on how to mix or match colors — they had to work with materials at hand, had to spend a portion of daylight finding the red clay or burning the charcoal or otherwise developing what they needed for the artwork.

Some of the engravings may have been learning tools for shape, size, or design. Some of the handprints may have been signatures, tests for color, or even graffiti from later visitors — kids who dared sneak in, unguided. Some of the engravings might also reflect new techniques being explored, or reflect a time when painting materials became unavailable, or the artists were away or lost forever.

The virtual tour was a good start on imagining life in the distant past, getting a glimpse of the souls of these people not so very different from those of us today who love an illustrated book or even a movie.

Women and Social Movements: Research Question

I’m gearing up for a class on Women and Social Movements of the 20th Century U.S., and stressing over how little I have paid attention to women as a mass entity and Social Movements in general.

Friends have pointed out to me that I happen to be a woman, myself, (I knew that, btw,) and therefore ought to be well aware of this topic, but that’s completely my point.  I take people one at a time and don’t actually believe there is an entity of Women as a solid front, a single organized force or character.  There are too many variations on the theme, and simple genetics isn’t enough to create unity.  I fight enough with my brothers to know that.

I’m not even certain what the difference is between a Social Movement and a fad or fashion trend, in some ways.  Is a Social Movement necessarily a cause toward some ideal?  I’d welcome thoughts on what the definition might be.

I’ve always been geared toward taking people one at a time and rolling my eyes in impatience when I see generalizations — that “we” in statements like “We love our hamburgers in the US!” is particularly annoying, since I live in the US, but I don’t even like hamburgers, much less love them.  And statements like “We are fascinated with [celebrity]” actually anger me, since I’m again clumped in by default even though I have no idea who they’re talking (or writing) about most of the time.

This all must change for the next four months or so: I must embrace the collective and pretend that Women behave en masse like some sort of Hive mind (Ender reference) and then study this chimera.

So, here’s a research stab:  How many of you have a take on women and the Internet as a social medium rather than an information resource?  Do you find you encounter more (apparent) women in discussion boards, or social sites, or blog sites?  Any thoughts on that?

I am slowly awakening to the fact that I have made a lot more women friends through the internet than I ever did in the Real World.

And, is blogging a Social Movement?

New Authors, Listening Readers

In the two years I have been writing on-line, the real benefit has been meeting those who write far better than I ever will, in any style or genre. I don’t yearn for them to achieve Fame or Status or Celebrity, and yet, I do often wish that more people could read their writing.

On one site, we are able to email links to the stories we’ve enjoyed, and thus assist in growing the reading audience. This means we can share with our friends who are also able to connect to the internet. We can also print off a paper copy of a story and share it, but then we get into the murky territory of intellectual property rights and possible copyright infringement.

Libraries have always been treasure troves: books and magazines were joined by new media as they came into existence. Innovative librarians found ways to transform libraries from storehouses to portals, offering Internet access and digital downloads. The limitation to all this, in my opinion, is the dividing line between published and non-published material in the formal, traditional sense.

Enter the new website Sniplits. This innovative on-line service connects new, aspiring, talented — and dedicated — writers the chance to be heard. Yes: writers can be heard, not read. Sniplits offers the literate listener the chance to download smaller works to fill those times when a full novel is too much. Their own description is of stories to fill up a coffee break, a lunch hour, a trip to the dentist, or just a short drive. Certainly, an audiobook would allow listening to a few paragraphs, a page, or a chapter — whatever fits the timeframe — but this would just be a portion of the whole work. Sniplits offers a complete work, and subscribers to their site can browse by length of time for a work as easily as by genre or author.

Best of all, any writer may submit their work. It is the chance for new writers to find their audience, by way of filling the niche in their daily schedule. My poetic friend, who presents herself as a Little Fluffy Cat, has recently been accepted as an author at Sniplits. For a nominal fee listeners can download her original story The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and they are then free to store that story on an iPod, their computer, iPhone, or any other compatible device, and even share the story with up to 10 friends.

Sniplits fills several niches this way: the reader’s need for a story, the author’s need for an audience. I’m wondering if libraries — where authors can sometimes come to read their works, and often come to write them — might someday be able to offer this same service.

Soundtrack

I’m getting used to this new stage in life, where I get a few hours to myself. The boys are all old enough to borrow my car or take off in their own, and until the husband gets home from work, it’s just me and the cat.

Listening has been the most important of the senses, for me. First, there was the pleasant aspect: the soft chime of my mother’s medal striking the cross on her necklace meant she was nearby; my father’s amazing snores meant he was home to keep us safe; and all the usual sounds of favorite television shows or songs on the radio — the usual reassuring stuff of normal life.

Soon enough, there were other things to listen for: the voice of an unfriendly classmate, the sound of the school bus engine, the unwelcome tap on the door, the heavy footfall of the person I was avoiding. Listening became a survival skill.

By my early twenties, listening grew even more important, when, as a new mother, I had to learn a language without words: was the baby breathing normally? Did he burp? Was that a hungry cry or a pain cry or a ‘diaper duty’ cry or…

I came to know every creak of every hinge and floorboard and stair tread, and all the neighborhood noises: car engines, doors, barking dogs, new voices. I learned to tell which of my children was in which room of the house, and what toys they were playing with, never needing to see these things, but just hear them.

And now, the world has grown steadily quieter. No more squabbles to hush between siblings, no more dogs to quiet down…

But somewhere outside, farther away than the windchimes crazily ringing in this winter wind, I have heard a muted booming sound. If this were daytime, I’d say it was hunters’ shotguns, but this is night, and there should be no such noises in the area.

And that’s when it hits me: there are places in the world where that booming noise would not only be a normal part of the soundtrack, it would be much closer, and it would be vital to know who was making it. In my part of the world, it might be fireworks; elsewhere, just heavy fire.