When Niagara Falls

The light, the snow, and my soul all go over the Falls.

It’s blinding, really.

I peered 100 yards past the metal guard rail and toward one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. You know you shouldn’t squint at moments like these, but nature compels nature.

This is a sunny day at Niagara Falls. On the waterscape, of course, solar brightness is repeated by the reflection upon the surface. The killer, though, is the snow. At shear white, all around, it is literally too much light for your eyes to absorb.

Normally it’s the thunder you think of: four million cubic feet of water dropping off a cliff every minute. That’s a quarter billion pounds, and it sounds like it. But it’s still winter, so my eyes are receiving the real sensory overload.

It is said that the Native Americans used to send sacrifices over the Falls in a canoe. If incineration is a powerful means of worship, destruction by a river in freefall surely must have been a fine one as well. It is not hard to imagine the mystery, because when you are standing there on some lookout deck, like an Aztec waiting on the lip of a volcano, it seems right that a virgin should be sacrificed or at least a portion of the harvest. I am a Christian and I do not think of appeasement, but the water is hungry and it doesn’t stop. It just doesn’t stop. The very rocks are crying out as they are obliterated.

As I look across the escarpment, this holy baptism gives way to concrete towers with gorgeous views. The other sacrament of Niagara Falls is marriage, for it is the Honeymoon Capital of the World. That is how the railroads and airlines and hoteliers christened it. Business is good, at least on the Canadian side, and millions of people, for some reason, still know they are supposed to come here. When I was young, we came for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Planet Hollywood, the Skylon Tower with its revolving restaurant 775 feet above the Falls.

The American side sports decades of failure to capitalize. But what does it matter? You come here for lights, or gambling, or legal drinking at age 19 in Canada. You come here because it was hyped in a travel brochure. You come to take a picture of yourself here. The reasons are all wrong because who the hell could know why you need to do something important. In the end you are there and you yourself are being submerged while you watch it all fall.

Like I said, the water doesn’t stop. It’s always loud and big. As it’s crashing, the restaurants and hotels are rushing down with the entirety of four Great Lakes that empty in a narrow corridor north of Buffalo. The chintzy attractions come down, the morning and the evening fall down, the sky starts to peel away, and I’m just staring at the Falls as they do what they’ve been doing for a hundred centuries. And I’m squinting from the light.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

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