The other day I realized that I grew up only 32 miles from Niagara Falls. To my child self, it always seemed like a pretty long trip. I would guess that, when I was a child, we visited Niagara Falls perhaps a half-dozen times. We also went to Old Fort Niagara once or twice when I was about 14 or 15, and my dad I may have gone to the fort once after my mother’s death.
The last time I saw Niagara Falls was in October 1987, when I went home to help my dad pack for his move to Pennsylvania. The weather was chilly and overcast, and it is one of those bittersweet moments that mark a major transition in life. I had to acknowledge both that my father had grown old and that I could no longer be a child, as much as I wished to be in some ways. I could not go home again because I had no home left to which to go. The town had changed, the landscaped had changed, my family had changed, and I had changed.
I could remember how my visits to Niagara Falls had made me feel, like I was going on an adventure to a different and alien place that was outside the realm of my everyday life. The very young, sheltered girl that I was, it was an inspiring, joyous feeling of excitement that I will never experience again.
The first people who saw Niagara Falls — how did they feel? Those who first saw the Grand Canyon? The ancient redwoods? The Painted Desert? The Everglades? Most Indian peoples seem to have felt a sacred connection to their surroundings, whether or not they were spectacular, recognizing in their environment the place where life begins, is sustained, and ends.
Imagine seeing Niagara Falls as it must have looked before the Europeans arrived — surrounded by forests, with the river pure and unimpeded by hydroelectric projects. Imagine it without the expressways and roads, the traffic, the hotels and restaurants, the houses and apartments, the formal gardens, the attractions, the souvenir shop, the pathways with railings, the stairs, the parking lots, the glare of windshields on a sunny day. Just imagine it as it must have been. Perhaps you were following the river, seeing rapids appearing here and there, hearing a thunderous noise in the distance, walking more quickly as the noise grows louder, and perhaps suddenly coming upon the falls, a scene unlike any other on earth and unlike any you have seen before in your wanderings.
Imagine that you could see Niagara Falls as it was and then today, as it is.
Which Niagara Falls is exciting and powerful, yesterday’s or today’s?
I would like to remember the Niagara Falls I have never seen — unimpeded and glorious.