You may have heard about the Great Lakes in North America. Well, not far away from the Five Great Lakes—Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to be exact—lies a pattern of beautiful smaller lakes in the west-central section of New York State in America. The total of eleven pristine lakes spread like fingers across the region, thus, they are known as the Finger Lakes.
As an old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the gazer. I dare to say everyone who has visited the Finger Lakes will marvel at their tranquility and grace. I am one of these lake gazers. My recent visit to the Finger Lakes deepens my love for this fertile land, which nourishes acres of farmland, and mile after mile of vineyards. Centuries ago, Native Americans settled around these lakes. Their legend is echoed in the names of these fresh water lakes: Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneka, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco.
I spent two days exploring the biggest Finger Lakes—Cayuga Lake and Seneka Lake. The Indian name Cayuga means “Boat Landing”, and Seneka means “Place of the Stone” or “Stoney Place”. These two big lakes are also the most visited ones. Tens of thousands of tourists and summer residents flood in the lake region starting from the Memorial Day weekend, which falls on the last Monday of each May. In May, the lake region is blanketed with lush greenery. From endless fields to rolling hills, from grape vines that are at a teenager’s height in orderly rows to the dense towering trees that canopy the mountain range, each and every perspective offers varied shades of green. The flickering leaves in the sun and the dancing branches in the breeze, together with a palette of flowers, really infatuate me.
Just when I am bathing in the sea of green and colors, a silver belt in between two mountain ranges shines in front of me. The silver belt is the sparkling water in the lakes. The closer I approach it, the more it enthralls me. From the map you will see both Cayuga Lake (to the east) and Seneka Lake (to the west) are long and thin and next to one another. There is a canal in the north tip connecting both lakes. The Cayuga Seneca Canal connects these two lakes to the Erie Canal which runs through the Finger Lakes to the north. Each lake is connected by rivers ultimately leading into Lake Ontario that borders between Canada and the United States.
Well, in reality, the silver belt of water can be either Cayuga Lake or the Seneka Lake as both of them lie between two evenly moderate high grounds. However, the statistics show with 40 miles in length and 96 miles of shoreline, Cayuga is the longest of the Finger Lakes and the lowest to sea level; whereas Seneka is the deepest of the Finger Lakes at the maximum depth of 618 feet. Image that a 62-floor tall building could stand underwater!
To visit Cayuga Lake, you won’t miss its largest city—Ithaca, which is home of one of the Ivy League schools—Cornell University. Do you know Connell’s campus overlooks Cayuga Lake? As its Alma Mater sings, “Far above Cayuga’s waters, with its waves of blue, stands our noble Alma Mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our Alma Mater! Hail, all hail, Cornell!” On this trip I happen to see the proud Cornell graduates in their red-and-black caps and gowns, welcomed by joyous families and friends with bouquets in hand.
The Finger Lakes area is New York State’s largest wine producing region. In fact, the area’s wine trails are very popular. These trails showcase local wineries and tastings are often not limited to just wine—beer, juices, ciders and mead can be sipped throughout the region. It is interesting to know that Seneca Lake seldom freezes in winter. Therefore, there are more wineries along Seneca Lake than any other Finger Lake. And if you need a break from numerous water sports in the lakes—fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, you name it—the Wine Trail, Cheese Trail and Brew Trail may satisfy your sense of taste.
I conclude my lake ride along the Y-shape Keuka Lake. Keuka Lake is the only Finger Lake with an outlet into another Finger Lake—Seneca Lake. Gazing at the crystal clear water and hearing the rhythmic waves rocking against the stony beach, I feel as placid and reflective as the lake. Lake-effect weather is well known in the Finger Lakes area. Perhaps these lakes are as influential to the atmosphere as to humans. This lake gazer is truly hooked.