By Alyssa LaFaro and photos by Bill Banaszewski
When Leonardo da Vinci said, “water is the driving force of all nature,” he wasn’t kidding. Water covers approximately 71 percent of the earth’s surface. It is the foundation of cities, many of which are built along the coast, near rivers or on lakeshores. It is fundamental to the human body, which is composed of 60 percent water. In short, water is life.
The Finger Lakes Region, in particular, not only offers some of the freshest water in the world, but the best fruits of its labor – agriculture, wine, abundant wildlife, and breathtaking scenery. The 11 Finger lakes – Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco – are Central New York’s lifeblood. Many of the Finger Lakes provide drinking water for their surrounding communities.
As if these lakes couldn’t get more magnificent, they’re also steeped in history. More than two million years ago, massive glaciers moving southward out of Canada gouged out the land, carving trenches. Large volumes of water consumed the newly formed depressions when those glaciers melted 10,000 years ago. However, Native Americans believed, “The Creator looked upon the land with special favor and reached down to bless it, leaving the imprint of His hand, hence the Finger Lakes.” Native Americans called this land their home for thousands of years until European settlers arrived, driving them out with war.
The tragedy of war transformed into an era of progress. The 1794 treaty of Canandaigua established peace between the six nations of the Iroquois Confederation and United States of America. The Women’s Rights Movement began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention. In 1908, the first public viewing of an airplane in flight took place in Hammondsport, as Glenn H. Curtiss successfully flew “June Bug” a distance of 5,090 feet.
But none of it would have been possible without water. The Genesee River was utilized as a land dividing point in the 1794 treaty of Canandaigua; the Erie Canal helped supporters of the Women’s Rights Movement travel to Seneca Falls, and was often called the “Network to Freedom”; and Keuka Lake provided the take-off point for a handful of Curtiss’s test flights. American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens truly said it best: “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” And, boy, how the Finger Lakes have shaped us.