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Niagara Falls


See them for yourself.

Nothing you have read about them, nothing you have seen in travel documentaries, nothing you have watched on television screens, nothing you have marvelled at in Imax theatres, nothing you have heard about them from those who have been there, can prepare you for the impact of the reality.

That first sight of Niagara Falls will render you speechless. Words, however crafted, cannot convey that first impression. It is personal.

Afterwards you can try to explain the feeling. But whatever words you choose, they will be mere banality.

Niagara Falls with Rainbow, August 2002, Courtesy Rynn Solutions

Niagara Falls.
The American Falls (the lesser falls) on the left.
The Horseshoe Falls (Canadian) on the right. Goat Island in the between.
Photo courtesy Rynn Solutions

Here nature's force holds sway. The natural world displays its raw immensity. It speaks in tones of thunder, unending thunder, thunder every second of every minute, every minute of every hour, every hour of every day, every night, every week, every month, every year, every decade, every century, every millennium. It has done so for millions of years, and may well do so for millions more.

Seeing it for the first time, human kind can only marvel. Seen from above, from the window of a twenty-fifth floor room of an hotel, itself built on a 300 meter high cliff, humans are termites as they edge along a promenade skirting the Falls, the Horseshoe Falls.

Day and night those Falls send a cloud of mist high into the sky. By day and by night tourists are covered in mist as they seek the closest vantage point. And none complain.

Bathed in moonlight, shining in sunlight, framed in rainbows, the Falls present an ever-changing spectacle. Not content with nature's illumination, man has trained artificial lighting on the columns of falling water, gaudy colours changing according to some computerized paint-by-numbers formula thankfully confined to evening hours.

The Falls have their own colouring and do not require make-up, however well intended. Bridal white, apple green, deepest blue, race over an undercoat of wet black rock. Try paint them if you will, digitize them if you wish, nothing can capture the full reality.

The Falls mesmerize the watcher. An hour flies by and the eye remains transfixed. Words are unnecessary. The Falls speak to the inner being. Essence melds with essence.

To intrude a personal note, I was seeing the Falls for the first time in my life, and that in my later years. For this I was thankful. I had seen much, experienced much, and could only say nothing had prepared me for the visual, physical, emotional impact of seeing the Falls for the first time.

For once I felt what Cortez felt, "Silent, upon a peak in Darien", as he and his men first saw the Pacific.

I am blessed to belong to that dwindling few who remember a waterfall in my homeland, much smaller in size but with longer recorded history, legendary Assaroe. I grew up with the sound of that waterfall, omnipresent, day and night. Compared with Niagara it was a mere whisper.

Niagara's history is written in stone, line by line in the multi-levels of the gorge it has carved through millennia upon millennia. That distinctive mark, however, is nothing when compared with the rocks at Assaroe. But where we Irish destroyed Assaroe, Canadians displayed a greater sense of what was truly precious. Their hydro-electric plant preserved their Horseshoe Falls. Would that we had been so caring of our natural heritage! Niagara and its sound will continue to reverberate through the ages.

Two memories: An elderly Japanese tourist and I carried on a wonderful discussion as we exchanged our delight with the Falls. He spoke no English, I spoke no Japanese. As we parted, he bent down to pick up two cigarette butts from the pavement, the legacy of louts, and placed them in a litter bin.

At the Mackenzie Heritage Printery Museum in nearby Queenston, Kelly Grant, guide and curator, allowed my grandson, daughters and I, to set our names from case, something I first did when a schoolboy sixty-five years ago.

As we left, a young couple from Cork was entering the printery. No doubt it will be one of their most cherished honeymoon memories, another link between Canada and Ireland!


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