Quite a title don’t you think? Let’s see if I can do this. It kinda works out in MY mind, so we’ll see.
As my father moved slowly towards retirement he became the minister for two small “sister” parishes in central New York State. It was an interesting assignment for him. Having been involved for many years with Cornell University as minister, educator, facilitator, he and his Conscientious Objector card had felt at home at Cornell in an era of protest, Civil Disobedience, peace rallies….
In these small parishes, before congregations made up of farmers and employees of the Seneca Army Depot, he faced a tough audience as he championed for Peace, Fellowship among World Religions and the struggle for Social Justice.
The sleepy towns of Romulus and Ovid are nestled between the two largest Finger Lakes: Seneca and Cayuga. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people have a beautiful story of the creation the these lakes. In 1876 this creation story from the oral tradition of the Haudenosaunee was written down. It tells of twin brothers, Enigorio, known as the Good Mind and Enigonhahetgea, the Bad Mind.
“In it’s light, the older brother Enigorio, went forth and made the hills and valleys
and into the valleys he poured out the water of his mouth and it formed
the rivers and creeks, and the waters flowed into the deep valleys and
made lakes. Then he created the stars and the moon and to the moon
he gave the task of marking the months and the years.”
(book, Seneca Myths and Legends, Arthur C. Parker)
Most of us in the area know the localized, slightly different, flowery version of the creation of the Finger Lakes from Arch Merrill. It is now understood that he took many liberties with original stories from the First People, and adapted them for the general, yes, white, population of the area, romanticizing the stories and altering the meaning.
“There is an old Indian legend that the Finger Lakes came
into being when the Great Spirit placed the imprint of his
hand in blessing on the Upstate land.”
This idyllic setting is where my father began subtly at first, more aggressively later, to include in his sermons the little known truth of what the Seneca Army Depot was about. He included the thoughts of others as well as his own, and slowly people began to think differently about the Depot.
Up until about 10 years ago it was impossible to find the Depot listed on maps. This was not unusual then, or now, for military bases and properties.
For many decades the Seneca Army Depot provided jobs and economic stability in the area. What we know now, is that many employees and their families did not fully understand what the purpose of the Depot was.
The Seneca Army Depot was under military operation from 1941 to 1990.
In the 1950s a portion of the Depot property became a special weapons area. These special weapons areas were designated by the government as “Qs”. Becoming a Q area represented the highest security levels known at that time because their mission was to house “very special” weapons.
Taking two years for construction, this area that was approximately one square mile, and it came to include 64 igloos, some of them atomic bomb blast resistant. This specific area had it’s own security force, specially trained Military Police who patrolled the Q 24 hours a day. There was a triple wall fence surrounding it, with the middle fence being electrified at 4,800 volts. (2,000 volts is enough to stop the heart and cause unconsciousness) No one was allowed inside the Q without a heavily armed MP escort.
Even today the Army does not openly acknowledge exactly what was stored at this site. Documents released under FOIL prove/confirm that the Depot housed the Army’s largest supply of atomic weapons. It is known that during the Cold War the Depot held the largest stockpile of Army nuclear weapons in the country. This stockpile also included atomic bombs and atomic artillery shells for the famous Atomic Annie. Atomic Annie was a military weapon fired only once in the desert of Nevada, but deployed in Europe and South Korea. The Depot was the point of departure for nuclear weapons bound for Europe. The base also stored radio active material for the Manhattan project.
This meant this base was a strategic target for any and all of our “enemies” during most of the years the base was functional.
The citizens of the area did not know this. Nor did they know about the radioactive material stored there.
On July 4, 1983 a group of women began what would be known as The Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. They began to shed light and inform people what was stored at the base. They drew attention to the fact that the residents had no idea their little hamlet was a viable target circled in red on many maps around the world. They lived and breathed Peace Movement and non-violent protest.
Local newspapers and media sources at first did not understand what this group of women was doing and why they were creating trouble and seemingly threatening a very important economic resource in the area. Headlines often included the words “witches” and “vegetarians”!
For all of my life, and well before my life began, my father always had a movie camera at the ready. Usually he filmed family vacations, complete with little cars being pulled by a a barely visible thread across a map showing the route of us vacationers.
Now, he turned his camera on the Seneca Army Depot and this band of women committed to peace. CO card in his pocket (he carried it all of his life), camera in hand, peace as his motivation, this was perhaps a match made in heaven.
His parishioners may have thought otherwise.
Who was this man of the Cloth siding with the vegetarian witches?
My father was an active participate in various peace movements all of his adult life. It was the thread that, in his mind, wove the fabric of his personal Cloth of the church.
He took his 8 MM movie camera and would drive his little red Honda around the road next to the chain link fence of the Depot. He would film the military personnel, behind barbed wire, shadowing him in armored vehicles, pointing loaded, automatic weapons at him. He would film the women sitting in small groups under criss-crossed lines filled with laundry drying in the sweet, warm breeze, as well as marching hand in hand in non-violent protest calling for an end to war and weapons of mass destruction. And he would report every week to his parishioners on what he had seen and learned.
As facts were slowly released and shared in the media nationwide, many of the townspeople began to understand more fully why these determined citizens were there. These resolute women were there because they cared. Parishioners began to understand why my father chose the Biblical passages and specific teachings of Christ he did when talking about the cause of The Women’s Encampment and the goings on at the Base. Because he cared.
When he left these small churches in Romulus and Ovid, his congregation gathered not to cheer his departure, but to thank him for his convictions.
Fast forward to yesterday, July 16, 2016. My father has been gone for almost 30 years. Seneca Army Depot closed and is now a mix of private sector businesses that continue to provide economic stability in the area.
In my Saturday meditation group we were reminded of another Native American teaching story: The Two Wolves.
Here we are, many years after my father stared down machine guns with his 8 MM camera and wrote sermons calling for global peace. I’m a Montessori preschool teacher who has (maybe) found her voice by way of a blog. I guess I am my father’s daughter in many ways. He understood Truth is not always shared openly and honestly. It’s not always fun, obvious, or easy. It can be tumultuous and painful. It can cause us to flinch and be uncomfortable. We may have to face things about ourselves we would rather not. We may have to face things in others we would rather not. We may have to admit to being ill-informed and change our thinking. It may require us to change in other ways too. But truth is Truth whether we like it or not. There is A LOT going on in the world today. Social media, biased media, arrogant pundits and politicians, corporate capitalists want us to believe their truth, not the Truth.
Do your homework. Everyday, as in the story above, we carry inside of us two battling wolves. The Good Mind and The Bad Mind. The one who will win is the one we feed. Which one are you feeding?