Finger Lakes Reads

There continues to be many books by local authors to include in this annual feature. It is encouraging to see “local author signings” at locations other than libraries of course, such as at Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellar and the South Bristol Cultural Center. These gatherings provide exposure for new and seasoned writers. Hopefully, this trend will continue. If these reviews pique your interest, it’s worth mentioning that many of these authors have other books to their credit.

Wolves & Honey, A Hidden History of the Natural World
By Susan Brind Morrow
Houghton Mifflin, 2004

This is a captivating work based on the author’s years growing up in the Finger Lakes region. Susan Brind Morrow brings keen powers of observation to bear on the area, especially Geneva and Seneca Lake. The book is a tribute to two friends who die tragically, one a hunter and beekeeper, and the other a trapper. The reader sees the natural world they inhabited through the author’s formidable descriptive skills.

Morrow, a classicist, linguist, and translator of ancient Egyptian folklore and mythology, demonstrates an evocative use of language, as when she describes the land her father once owned: “On our land a mud path led through tall white pines, deliciously fragrant in the sun, to a shack of weathered boards in a wooded dip beside a creek.”

Morrow makes connections with the history of the region, ranging from General Sullivan’s campaign against the Iroquois to the beginnings of the women’s rights and spiritualism movements, to the scientific development of agriculture. Such details provide the book with a strong sense of place and will sharpen the reader’s own perception of the region.

The Feathered Crown

By Marsha Hayles
Illustrated by Bernadette Pons
Henry Holt & Company, 2002

Author Marsha Hayles says that while walking her dog and bird watching along the Erie Canal in Pittsford, she was reminded that books so often feature the colorful male birds instead of the less vivid females. This prompted Hayles to write a children’s story featuring mother birds of many different varieties that flock together to journey to the Middle East to greet the birth of the Christ child.

This picture book takes a fresh approach to the story of the Nativity. It is told in rhyming verse which children ages four to eight years will no doubt enjoy hearing often, no matter what the season. The watercolor illustrations by French artist, Bernadette Pons are perfectly matched with the story. Their warm colors and the sweetly expressive birds depicted in flight or as they join together to make a nest for the infant, underscore the book’s maternal generosity and hopeful themes.

The Golden Years of Eloise Wilkin

Eloise Wilkin & Deborah Wilkin Springett
Deborah Wilkin Springett (2004)

If you grew up after the mid-1940s, chances are one of your best-loved books was one of the 110 illustrated by Eloise Wilkin (1904-1987). The Rochester native is best known for illustrating fifty Little Golden Books. The affordable children’s books with titles like, Fix It Please (1947) or We Like Kindergarten (1965) have enduring appeal, thanks to the cherubic-faced children and Wilkin’s attention to detail. Wilkin also designed dolls (illustrated in The Golden Years) and other children’s merchandise, now avidly sought by collectors.

This biography coincides with Wilkin’s 100th birthday. Springett draws upon her mother’s written recollections of her art training, her early career, and her collaboration with her sister Esther, a writer. There are anecdotes about the Wilkins family life and the artist’s political activism in the 1960’s. Springett, who grew up in Canandaigua, also writes about the publication of a book of her own poems, illustrated by her mother.

The Golden Years, with its 25 photographs and 23 illustrations, three of which were previously unpublished, is a lasting tribute to a gifted illustrator.

Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart

Dr. Richard Orzeck
Purrfect Love Publishing,
Trumansburg, NY (2000)

The loss of a pet can often be devastating to its owner. This book, written from a veterinarian’s point of view, shows that medical training is no immunization from the heartache of an animal’s death.

This collection of 16 short stories draws on experiences the author had while pursuing his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, an internship in Oneida, NY, and his small animal practice in Trumansburg. The reader is introduced to each animal, its personality and owner(s) who will together face a life-threatening situation. Dr. Orzeck relates the details of the animal’s struggle with the effort to save its life. Often the death is unavoidable except in one story when a cat, bitten by a rabid raccoon, must be euthanized because the owners failed to vaccinate their pet.

The author’s favorite story is that of “Babe,” an elephant from the Syracuse Zoo who died along with her stillborn infant in 1990. As with his stories of smaller animals, including those he and his wife owned, the author describes the emotional good-byes that accompany the final moments in the life of a beloved pet. The result is an uplifting read which underscores the rewards of owning and caring for animals.

The 100 Most Notable Cornellians

By Glenn C. Altschuler, Isaac Kramnick & R. Laurence Moore
Cornell University Press (2003)

At first glance, they appear to have little in common – Dr. Joyce Brothers, the popular media psychologist, Frank Gannett, the owner of numerous newspapers, and Christopher Reeve, the actor who suffered a severe spinal cord injury. But they all share the same alma mater, Cornell University. While this book of 100 most “notable” Cornellians covers the first 100 years of Cornell, ending in 1975, it is bound to appeal to alumni and non-alumni alike. In at least one case, the term “notable” is interchangeable with “notorious”. It makes fascinating armchair reading to peruse the detailed background biographies and accomplishments of the various Nobel Prize winners, entrepreneurs, and holders of high office who sent their first college years, “high above Cayuga’s waters.”

The three authors, all Cornell professors, set criteria for their selection which focused on “the individual contribution to American society and the world, not necessarily to Cornell.” They limited their choices to recipients of undergraduate degrees which eliminated those who earned degrees at the graduate school level. One can foresee a sequel or two.

The Edge Walker’s Guide to Lake Ontario Beachcombing

By Susan Peterson Gateley
Whiskey Hill Press, Wolcott, NY (2003)

Author Peterson Gateley has a masters degree in fisheries science and as a holder of a Coast Guard license, operates a sailing business. As a self-described “compulsive beachcomber.” she seeks out treasures along the water’s edge rather than at flea markets. Hikers, swimmers and all-around nature lovers will find this book a great companion to exploring both public places and little known beaches of Lake Ontario which form the northern boundary of Monroe, Cayuga, and Wayne counties in the Finger Lakes region.

The book begins with an introduction on the lake’s environment, the terrain, and its formation, followed by 20 locations (with maps) beginning in the west at Pultneyville and Forman Park and ending in the east in Oswego and southern Jefferson County.

The author includes a number of examples of lake shore wildlife one may encounter such as the cormorant, a bird disliked by fishermen which may be seen floating offshore, “its long thin neck looking like a U boat periscope as it surveys its surroundings.” By contrast, edge walkers may catch a view of a bald eagle soaring over the bluffs.

Take a Paddle – Finger Lakes New York Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks

By Rich and Sue Freeman
Footprint Press (2004)

The Freemans, the inveterate outdoor writers, have published another well-documented and illustrated guide to flat water ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers in the Finger Lakes region.

It’s all about discovery writes the couple — finding the solitude that accompanies paddling in the 35 ponds and small lakes and over 370 miles of streams and rivers they include in the book on the Finger Lakes region. For the naturalist, there are an abundance of plants and wildlife that reveal themselves during a watery retreat. For the history buff, there is the appeal of exploring the Erie Canal. For those who seek exercise, the authors rank the difficulty of each paddling experience.

The book offers maps, driving directions, and related instructions such as how to locate the launch and take-out sites, where to find the current water conditions on the Internet, and the approximate time it will take to paddle. The authors highlight fun family diversions, where to camp next to or near the waterway, when each waterway hits its best season, where to rent canoes or kayaks, and where to find commercial shuttle services to return to the launching area.

Want more titles?
Local historical societies and museums are a good source of books by local authors. The Ontario County Historical Society has just published its latest Local History Book Shoppe Catalogue.  Call the Society at (585) 394-4975 for your free copy or visit their website at

by Laurel C. Wemett

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