Five irreplaceable, unduplicatable things I love about Ithaca

Every home has its habits and favorites: the best places to run, the best places to shop for bread or coffee or shoes; the best place to hang out and meet friends.

This month, my husband and son and I moved away from Ithaca, NY, where I’ve lived (with a couple long breaks) since 2004. Now in the Boston area, I’ve already started to pick out my running routes, my grocery habits, a happy place or two. But some things we’ve left are irreplaceable. Today, I am thinking about five Ithaca landmarks you won’t find anywhere else.

Person standing in front of a giant egg made of stone, holding a baby
The Dinosaur Egg

The dinosaur egg

My son howled the first time he saw this. He was 13 days old, most likely cold or hungry, and was simply doing what newborns do. Or maybe he in his infant wisdom sensed something I didn’t.

The Dinosaur Egg (not its official name, I’m sure) sits alongside a swampy wooded path in Sapsucker Woods, part of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. With no plaque, plate or explanation, it leaves the imagination to speculate how it got there and what it means. Aliens? Artistically-minded engineering students? An ancient, overgrown lizard? Bill and I ran this path a lot and every time I had to pause and press my face to its cool stone slope. In my days of running-while-pregnant, I paused to hug it, absorbing some of what might be fertile power. And soon after Paul was born (small but healthy, perhaps due in part to my prenatal visits to the egg?) we took him to see the dino egg as part of a fun family walk.

He screamed.

Not just near the egg but throughout the whole walk. Yeah, definitely channeling something.

Red Feet Wine

Once upon a carefree time, a small, wood-floored wine shop opened its doors every Thursday night for a wine tasting event. As happens when free alcohol is offered, people crowded the small space, holding the funky wine glasses the staff called “shapeys” and trying to look thoughtful. We really did need our thinking caps, because tasting nights at Red Feet really were mini-classes in viticulture, one five-sample theme at a time: “Spanish-speaking Wines;” “An Exploration of Volcanic Soils;” “Winter Busters.” This is the way wine ought to be framed.

Spring 2020 eliminated Thursday night tastings, but I continued to be a loyal customer. Bill and I found our wedding wines at Red Feet; he brought a Red Feet bubbly to the hospital to celebrate the birth of our son; and I used their curbside pickup a lot while running errands with a sleeping baby in the seat.

It isn’t convenience or free stuff that makes Red Feet unique. It’s curation.

Red Feet Wine Shop

Cambridge is both a college town and high-brow, meaning there are wine shops everywhere, but you can’t replicate Red Feet. The first time I shopped for wine in here, I was pleased to learn that one of the two (only two?!) Finger Lakes wines carried by the Cambridge shop is Forge Cellars, a label founded by a close connection to Red Feet’s owner. A bit of Ithaca following me.

Cayuga Lake

There are lakes everywhere, but not this lake. Forty miles long north to south, more than a mile wide in some place and reaching 400 feet deep, Cayuga is one of the region’s Finger Lakes carved by the nails of glaciers clawing its way across the region 10,000 years ago. Ithaca sits at the far southern tip. For a long stretch of my life there, when I lived downtown, I tried to catch a glimpse of the lake every day. It wasn’t hard. Driving north up Route 13, running along the waterfront trail, hanging out in Stewart Park: Life in Ithaca orients itself toward and around this strange body of water. At least it did for me. I’ve run along it countless times, biked around it, swum miles in it (although not yet across it – I leave that to my friends who do Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare) and sailed on it. I fell in love on its shore.

No matter how many times I gazed at it – sunrise, sunset, midday, midwinter, midnight, and even mid-hurricane as the edges of Sandy washed up – Cayuga Lake looked breathtakingly beautiful. For years, this body was my north star, pointing me to the top of the compass and, in some dark times and some more hopeful ones, forward through life.

The Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca

When I hear someone say “friends are the family you choose,” I think of these people. Yes, it’s an acting studio housed in the founder’s basement that, through a five-semester curriculum, trains aspiring actors in the Meisner Technique. But it’s also magic. And difficult. And soul-baring, gut-wrenching. And exactly what I needed at a certain point in my life, a point that extended into a line of seven semesters of classes and several years of creative community.

Someday, I’ll write a post about Meisner Technique. For now, I’ll simply say it’s intense. One acting friend called it “Fight Club for creative types.” Another called the studio the MAZE: morally ambiguous zone of experience. No matter what we were doing in there, when you spend more than six hours a week in a windowless space, saying what is precisely on your mind at any given moment while your classmates watch, listen and take notes, you either implode, or you grow. I grew.


The small Michigan town where I attended college had a welcome sign on the main road, proclaiming: “H_____. It’s the people.”

We smart-ass undergraduates smirked at that. But it’s true. Case in point: my education at a tiny liberal arts college set in mid-western farm country was not made special by the unremarkable brick buildings, the library collection or the losing football team. It was my co-smirkers. My friends.

Ithaca was my home most especially because of my friends, people who took me in, got me involved, invited me places and challenged me. No one can replace them. I can’t duplicate them.

I miss Ithaca. Comparisons are inevitable, and the new inevitably can’t measure up to the beloved and familiar. But also, this new start feels good. It’s exciting. There’s a lot of potential curled up in the next two years, waiting to hatch.

Although probably not in the shape of a six-foot tall stone egg.


  1. Erein on August 28, 2022 at 10:58 am

    Unduplicatable? Is that a real word? Wouldn’t ‘unique’ be more suitable? If we’re going to read an article about the well educated people who are in love with an area, it would be nice to read a well written article.

    • Kate Blackwood on September 2, 2022 at 8:38 am

      I’m so glad you pointed this out. No, “unduplicatable” isn’t a word you’ll find in the dictionary. I guess you could say I made it up. It expresses exactly what I wanted to say, and the rhythm was right for the headline. When your blog doesn’t have an editor, you can do what you want with language ; )

      • H. on September 3, 2022 at 5:33 am

        This word actually made me read the article. Unique wouldn’t be unique.

    • Alan on September 8, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      Unduplicatable is a real word, but you can only use it once. Because it can’t be duplicated. This makes it far more unique than ‘unique,’ which is the standard word everyone uses and that you expected. Which makes ‘unique’ not all that unique after all. You were able to parse forth the meaning of the word ‘unduplicatable’ in order to arrive at your conclusion, which means you know what the word implied, and it gave your brain a squeeze hard enough to elicit a response. So your neurons got all fired up at a strange word and got you thinking. What’s the problem? Seems like a win to me.

  2. Ms. Jody on September 1, 2022 at 4:46 am

    Excellently written! I know the love of Ithaca as I raise my family there. I am a native to the area. I too fell in love on the shores of Cayuga. Only an outsider would criticize your wording! We happen to be a very creative bunch where everyone and everything is acceptable. I owned a school on the west side of of this Lake for years. I town is gorgeous, or as the natives say.. Ithaca is g o r g e s and there is no place like home!

    • Kate Blackwood on September 2, 2022 at 8:35 am

      Ithaca is such an amazing place to raise a family — and to run a school, I imagine. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. Mary on September 1, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    Kate, you are so right about the special qualities that make Ithaca what it is-as you said unduplicatable. Thank you for a beautiful read about an area that I love and appreciate very much.

    • Kate Blackwood on September 2, 2022 at 8:36 am

      I’m pleased that you enjoyed it — I think EVERY place has its unduplicatable features. It’s just a matter of finding them, and finding them is an act of love.

      • Susan Jerome-Nelson on September 2, 2022 at 9:42 pm

        Ithaca is really an amazing place. I lived there for ten years because my daughters were PhD and BSc students at Cornell University. We created a CaribIthacan Family group, I missed them dearly. I recently moved to Massachusetts.

  4. Susan Jerome-Nelson on September 2, 2022 at 9:42 pm

    Ithaca is really an amazing place. I lived there for ten years because my daughters were PhD and BSc students at Cornell University. We created a CaribIthacan Family group, I missed them dearly. I recently moved to Massachusetts.

    • Kate Blackwood on September 9, 2022 at 9:37 am

      A CaribIthacan family group — that’s one of a kind! How wonderful that you were able to live near your daughters while they studied.

  5. Johnson Nasimolo on September 6, 2022 at 6:16 am

    Great information and expression. I have thought of visiting the place one day, its in my bucket list now.

    I got enchanted by the Greek classics, Homer and Odyssey, with Ithaca being the home of Ulysses, it got inprinted in me. Now this is a modern Ithaca, Its a mythical beauty, thanks for sharing.

    • Kate Blackwood on September 9, 2022 at 9:39 am

      There are some likenesses to the ancient Ithaca: lots of water, for one! I hope you get to visit the modern Ithaca.

  6. Leslie on September 6, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    You can take the woman out of Ithaca, but you can’t take Ithaca out of the woman.

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