How vivid are your childhood memories of places visited when you were young? I recall many family trips, church picnics, and personal explorations in Central New York. As time went on, I discovered many facts about the trips, picnics, and locales. Unknown to me at the time was the fact that the Wisconsin Glacier had shaped many of those beautiful spots.
Our past blogs have described many personal childhood adventures. We shall repeat several of these. My brother and I enjoyed living only a half-mile from the Seneca River, one of our childhood fishing venues. The river was part of the hydrologic drainage basin for the famous New York State Finger Lakes—a unique group of eleven narrow north-south oriented deep lakes situated in ancient river valleys. The Wisconsin Glacier Stage reached its peak over 20,000 years ago and covered my childhood home state almost completely with over a mile of solid ice. It left moraines when it retreated—glacial debris which acted as dams to alter drainage to the north. The Seneca River is an example. It eventually drains into Lake Ontario. Ten thousand years ago glacial ice had melted from New York State and was essentially gone from southern Canada 7,000 years ago. The legacy of the Wisconsin glacier remains as the beautiful Finger Lakes region with numerous fascinating leftovers of past glaciations.
One of the most interesting glacial features are drumlins, teardrop shaped hills which taper north to south. The glacier molded these when millions of tons of ice flowed over certain types of soil deposits. Their shape is blunt on the north side and tapered toward the south. My brother utilized our neighborhood drumlins to launch his model gliders.
Some close church friends had a permanent home on Seneca Lake. The bottom of that lake is below sea level. Watkins Glen State Park is the site of a “hanging valley,” in which a valley has been widened by ice moving within it. Tributaries perpendicular to the lake are “left hanging” over a steep valley. They often form waterfalls. Glen Creek has been deep cutting into the rocks surrounding Seneca Lake for thousands of years, forming a two mile long gorge 390´ deep where it begins. It is said to be one of the outstanding beauty spots in the eastern US. Neighboring Cayuga Lake also boasts an exceptional natural spot on its eastern shore. Taughannock Falls plummets downward 215´— higher than Niagara Falls.
My mother did not focus on the scientific realities of historical geology. It is possible she would have been baffled by the exceedingly well-documented age of the universe and our Planet Earth. The Pleistocene epoch lasting from 2.588 million years before the present to the Holocene epoch beginning 11,700 years ago comprises only 0.00057% of our planetary history. Perhaps she believed our planet together with all life forms, including humanity in the image of God, was created in the last 6,000 to 10,000 years. Many believers were raised with that teaching. My father, in contrast, searched out the scientific evidence for a 13.8 billion-year-old universe at age 84 and joyfully endorsed that knowledge.
It is probable that when my mother quoted Psalm 121:1 from her KJV Bible, “I will look unto the hills from whence cometh my help,” she was expressing her intense love and devotion for the Creator of all things. She did not trouble herself with the possibility that our timeless God’s creative processes could span millions of years.
Other wonder-provoking phenomena such as glacial erratics, kettle holes, eskers, glacial wetlands—the dying gasps of great glacial meltwater lakes—and revised drainage patterns are the product of the God of Creation who prepares Earth for the benefit of all humanity and entrusts man with ability to exercise resilience. In the Summer 2001 issue of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine, we read, “Many unique features of the natural scenery of the Finger Lakes area owe their existence to the glacial invasion of the Pleistocene epoch.”