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Friday, September 22, 2006

Autumn Arrives

Summer is fading. The days are getting shorter and the weather cooler. Crops are being harvested and birds are getting ready to migrate south. In the Northern half of the earth winter is coming. Meanwhile, in the Southern half of the earth the days are getting shorter and the weather warmer. Farmers are getting ready to plant and birds will soon be arriving from the north. In New England and other parts of the country the countryside is about to burst into color as leaves change from their summer green to the reds, yellows and oranges of Fall providing a spectacular end to summer.

As the earth continues its never ending journey around the sun, the twenty-three plus degree tilt of its axis causes it to appear that the sun, over the course of the year, moves from north to south and vice versa. During half of the year the sun's rays are concentrated more on the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere and then it reverses and shines more on the Southern than the Northern Hemisphere. It is this apparent movement of the sun from north to south and back which gives us our ever changing seasons. It is also how we determine the official change from one season to another.

As I write this, a transition is about to take place. Later today the sun will be passing over the Earth's Equator and giving us one of the two days each year in which night and day are approximately equal. These two days are the known as the Equinox which is Latin for equal. In the days before the Internet the Equinox had the same name for both the writer and his audience. If I were writing this for the local newspaper I would simply state that the Autumnal (from the Latin word autumnus which means autumn), or Autumn, Equinox will be occurring tomorrow, September 22, 2006 and the season of Autumn or Fall as we North Americans tend to call it, will officially begin. However, for those in the Southern Hemisphere, it will be the Vernal (from the Latin word ver which means spring) or Spring Equinox and will signal the official start of Spring in that part of the world. The same is true for the date of the first day of Autumn/Spring. Here in western United States the sun will officially cross the Equator at 9:03 p.m. on Friday September 22, 2006. However, on the East Coast of the United States this event will occur at 12:03 a.m. on Saturday September 23, 2006. Therefore, in the western half of the world the equinox will occur on September 22nd while in the eastern half of the world the equinox will occur at the same time but, according to their clocks, it will be Saturday September 23, 2006. Meanwhile, for the southern half of the world the equinox will be the Vernal or Spring Equinox heralding the start of Spring while in the northern half of the world the event will be the Autumnal or Autumn Equinox heralding the start of Autumn.

This exercise will be repeated on March 20th or 21st of 2007 (date varies depending upon geographic location), except on that date it will be the Spring Equinox and the start of spring for the Northern Hemisphere and the Autumn Equinox and the start of Autumn for the Southern Hemisphere.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

First Annual One Web Day - Friday September 22, 2006

Friday September 22, 2006 is the first annual One Web Day celebration. At least that is the goal of an outfit that calls itself OneWebDay and is busy spreading the word via its web page (where else would such an organization choose to announce its presence) whose URL is

Unlike the other holidays I write about here, this is a brand new holiday. So new, that the first time it will be celebrated will be tomorrow, Friday September 22, 2006. As of now there is very little history and no real traditions to report on. Instead, this is an attempt to use the Internet to quickly spread and idea and just as quickly build momentum to have people spontaneously begin celebrating it as a holiday. The organizers of the event have deliberately chosen not to dictate much beyond the date, September 22nd every year, and the general purpose which is to celebrate the role of the Internet on our lives. Beyond this it is up the the users of the Internet to determine how it is to be celebrated and what values it will celebrate.

Of course, this is the way all of our holidays started. Some event had such an impact that it stuck in people's memories and some began making a point of memorializing the date as it occurred each year. Others eventually joined in and, over time, traditions intermixed and out of this mixture some common traditions emerged. The only real difference with OneWebDay is the attempt to start the holiday off with a major world wide celebration. According to the website of the OneWebDay organizers ( numerous groups have sprung up around the world to help promote and celebrate the day. Assuming the idea of a special day to celebrate the Internet finds appeal among rank and file users, rather than just those of us who are deeply involved with the Internet, the holiday may take off and quickly become a holiday celebrated by all (including the few who don't use the Internet). However, even if it just becomes a day to be celebrated by those whose lives are intertwined with the Internet, it could still evolve into a widespread and popular holiday - it will just take longer.

According to their website, the idea for OneWebDay originated with Susan Crawford, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law and who is also a member of the Board of Directors of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organization that is responsible for managing the assignment of internet addresses. Ms Crawford used Earth Day as the model for the holiday. The September 22nd date was chosen for two reasons. First, because it fell after school started in the Northern Hemisphere (and school is probably still in session in the Southern Hemisphere although I do not know if that was checked or considered) thereby enabeling schools to promote it among their students. Second, the choice of the 22nd corresponds with Earth Day which is celebrated on April 22nd. Finally, according to the OneWebDay website, the general purpose of the holiday is to celebrate the impact of the Internet on our lives. Beyond this, the rest of the details of OneWebDay are being left to the masses in cyberspace to decide. This is a bottom up celebration with the users of the Internet defining the purpose of the holiday and how to celebrate it.

So, we will see how it goes and, if the holiday is a hit this year, then next year I will be able to begin reporting on how the holiday is celebrated. But, for now, you have the history and traditions of this proposed holiday as they stand on the eve the first OneWebDay.


Friday, September 08, 2006

The Genundowa Autumn Light Festival on Canandaigua Lake
by Chuck

Canandaigua Lake lies nestled in the hills of Western New York State. It is the western most of the five Finger Lakes that stretch part way between Lake Ontario and the Pennsylvania border in Western New York. When I was growing up, the five largest lakes - Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles - were known as the Finger Lakes despite the fact that there were other, smaller, slender lakes with a north - south orientation, in the vicinity. Today, I believe all of the lakes are called Finger Lakes.

While cience teachers in school described how these lakes were carved out by ancient glaciers, the local lore had it that, according to local Indian tradition, the lakes had been created at the beginning of time when the Great Spirit spread his fingers wide and left his palm print on the landscape with the five largest lakes being the imprint of his five fingers. Home of the five (later six when the Tuscora tribe joined,) nation confederation of Indian tribes - Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk - the land is packed with history and legend.

As the land changed hands from Indians who hunted and farmed the land, to white settlers who cleared the land for farms to urban dwellers who circled the lakes with summer cottages, some of the legends and traditions survived and have been handed down from generation to generation. One of these traditions that had long been celebrated along Canandaigua Lake is the Seneca tribe's Autumn Festival of Lights Ceremony. Each year at the end of summer following the harvesting of the crops, the tribe held a celebration of Thanksgiving.

One part of the celebration involved lighting a large fire on top of Bare Hill after the sun had set and darkness enveloped the land. Bare Hill, which is shrouded in Seneca legend and tradition, is located on the east side of Canandaigua Lake. The Seneca village of Genundowa was located near Bare Hill and the lighting of the fire atop the hill was the responsibility of the village's tribal elders and Keepers of the Light. The large fire on Bare Hill could be seen from all around the lake and the lighting of this fire was a signal for villages around the lake to light their own, smaller fires, along the shores. Within minutes of the lighting of the fire on Bare Hill the lake was ringed with fires. The fires represented both a message of Thanksgiving to God for a good harvest as well as a ceremonial bonding of all of the native villages that ringed the lake.

Following the end of the American Revolution, settlers began to move into the area of Western New York and many of the Seneca moved to lands reserved for them in the 1794 Pickering Treaty which was signed on the site where the Ontario County Courthouse now stands in the City of Canandaigua. Among the traditions that stayed behind as the lands changed hands was the festival of lights. Over the years new variations entered. With the ringing of the lake with summer cottages in the early twentieth century, the festival became more of an end of summer recreation commemoration than a thanksgiving for a good harvest. My great aunt and uncle had a cottage on the east side of the lake near Bare Hill. During the 1960s, while growing up, we spent many Saturdays visiting them at their cottage. By that time phosphorous flares, the type that are commonly used for highway emergencies, had replaced individual fires and the festival was set for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. I believe that even then, the event started with the lighting of a fire on Bare Hill. As children we would help my Father and Uncle place about a half dozen flares along the front yard facing the lake. At least one was always placed on the end of my Uncle's small wooden pier that extended into the lake. The fire on Bare Hill could not be seen from my Uncle's cottage but there was a specific time, honored by almost everyone along the lake, and when that time arrived you could see flares starting to be lit on both sides of the lake. My Uncle and my Father would light our flares and within a couple of minutes the entire lake would be ringed with red flares burning brightly. For the next five to ten minutes all eyes were on the sight of the red ring surrounding the lake and for those few minutes, just as the ancient Seneca had been linked by fire, the modern cottage dwellers were momentarily linked by the common fire both with the past and in community with their neighbors.

Today, my Aunt and Uncle have passed on, the cottage sold years ago and I live on the other side of the country and rarely visit the lake. But the tradition continues. Today the fire on Bare Hill is now lit by representatives of the Seneca nation and a new generation of cottage (now mostly year round residences) dwellers partakes in lining their lake front with flares which are lit following the lighting of the fire on Bare Hill. For a few minutes time stands still as the ancient Seneca festival is once again celebrated by those who dwell along the shores of this beautiful lake.