“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
I have heard of Niagara Falls since I was a child, but never seen it, except in pictures. Those all led me to believe it was one, horseshoe shaped falls of extraordinary power, set in a beautiful, natural setting. Then I had heard that hotels ran shuttles to the falls, further feeding my expectations that it would be located some distance from the “quaint little town” of Niagara Falls.
Those who have been here will be laughing now at my expectations born of photos, movies and faulty assumptions. Our arrival here was marked by stress – arriving late in the day (our modus operandi, unfortunately – we start the days slowly, even when we rise early), searching for water for the camper (we had been forced to empty it to avoid freezing the pipes – yes! It’s THAT cold), stressing (me, not Allan) over the fact that all the signs to the Falls also included signs to the U.S. border, over which we did NOT want to cross, on top of a long day of driving. Speaking of which, the drive was through absolutely gorgeous, pristine farmlands, just waking up after a deep winter’s sleep, through light snow flurries alternating with pelting, tiny ice balls making a tick, tick ticking sound on our windshield, and past rivers and streams – no complaints about this drive, which was just beautiful! But back to Niagara Falls – I keep expecting to pass through town and back out into the countryside, but the signs lead me, through road construction and past a million hotels, to a street rivaling Las Vegas for lights, Fisherman’s Wharf SF for wax museums and nowhere else I’ve ever been for haunted EVERYTHING. In addition, it surpasses North Beach’s girly club section for hawkers – but these are electronic, LOUD and insistent, and are hawking you into haunted houses, not girly clubs, a cacophony of competing pollution for the ears as we parked our truck on the street. I literally could not believe that any place so touristy, brash and ugly could host a natural wonder of the world.
But if nothing else, traveling teaches one to expect contrasts, and this is no exception. I wanted to leave without bothering to see the falls. But . . . . Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch . . . . . a block downhill, away from the noise, thank goodness, another sound began to make itself known. A kind of faint rumbling. Cross the street and the American side of the falls comes into view. Incredibly powerful, incredibly beautiful, across the half-frozen (did I mention it’s cold here?) river, mist falling as snow below the falls, a wall of water, green, clean, falling toward jagged snow-covered rocks. Allan will attach some photos which will not do it justice. But where was the horseshoe falls I expected?
Far off in the distance, we see the characteristic horseshoe shaped Canada-side Niagara Falls, more mist, less visible from where we stand, a stone-walled walkway beckoning to us to draw nearer. Mercifully, this walkway draws us away. Away from the noise, away from the gaudy, gritty, contrived tourist fare and towards the most amazing, powerful, loud, beautiful river and falls. As it turns out, I expected both too much and too little. This is beyond all my expectations and more than I could ever imagine or describe. Impressions stay with me in flashes: the beauty from a distance, from closer, the sense that I could slip behind the curtain of water literally jumping away from the river above, the raw power as I stand right next to the point where the water tumbles over, SO much water (where does it all come from?), smoothly, almost gently, casually, slipping over the edge – “what’s the big deal, I do this all day long . . . .”