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Two Centuries, One Mile

“I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal” — Erie Canal

For the last three days I’ve stacked up miles walking along the Erie Canal (Nearly 15 miles, reminding me of the old Erie Canal song). Roughly a mile of that walk traverses the Great Embankment, completed 200 years ago this year. Back in 1822 building an earthen embankment a mile long and 70 feet high was kind of a big deal, and so was the completion of the big ditch known as the Erie Canal. It made the young United States less dependent on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the whims of Canada and the Great Britain to give them access. The success of the canal made fortunes in places from Buffalo to New York City.

Nowadays, it’s more of a tourist attraction than an active commercial highway, but you still see a barge or powerboat making its way from there to here. Seeing them is interesting, and reinforces the belief that the Erie Canal isn’t just a big ditch, but a once powerful statement that we’ll make our own way, thank you. When I walk on the path next to the canal I hear the whispers of history and my very brief moment with place. Think of what that mile of canal has seen in two centuries. And this week it hosted me once again.

On my recent walk the path was filled with bicycles, walkers and runners. I make eye contact with most, give a brief nod of hello and march onward. I’m but a momentary close encounter in their lives, as they are in mine. Someday we’ll all be history ourselves, just a flash of movement in the long life of the long ditch. I wonder if they’ll write about us?

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