Look at just Niagara Falls—not the surrounding streets, the crowds, the hype, the helicopters and boats—just the falls. Those may well astound you, maybe to the point of renewing your faith in God. Niagara hardly fails. However, the above-mentioned distractions might cause your faith to falter a bit, if not in God, then whatever faith you had for our culture.
With a fair amount of focus, and ignoring the side-shows, the thunderous waters falling over the edge of the Niagara escarpment command all attention. All the moments we fixed on those waters—the mist-cloud taller than a skyscraper, the sharp cliff edge, the sheer volume of water and the stream flowing from its base into Lake Ontario—were undiluted awe for us.
Still, the surrounding craziness, which I will shortly describe, is almost enough to distract your good attention to God’s handiwork.
We had come from Ohio on Day 13. The heat had broken and now the country seemed scrubbed in a blustery mix of sun and clouds. It started to look a bit more like fall. Crazy downpours, then a patchwork of sun. The ag hills teased our rig with grades upward, then (please-make-up-your-mind) down again, cows on the green, the unlimited green, and also corn without end. Finally it flattened up to Erie, PA. The tollway to Buffalo was an industrial utility for us, and at this point we wanted simply to get to Four Mile Creek State Park. With a wind off Lake Ontario, we set up, ate and rested.
Four Mile is a campground on a lawn. It is not messy, as some camps are, but has a fastidious culture. It’s as if all campers intuitively knew to stay symmetrical, each unit behind its hedges, no stray BBQ’s, kayaks or six-packs. Most of the campers were in big RV’s (our little pop-up pretended not to notice). With the wind quieted down from the day before, we loved lounging and not moving too fast.
Then we drive to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls about 10 miles away. A little customs game on the bridge was followed by a short drive to Queen Victoria Park. And when we anticipated an almost reverential crowd, moving carefully to the rail to wonder at it all, we saw instead a setting like a carnival. The milling and bumpy crowd, oozing between Ripley’s and Madame Tussaud’s, chattering, staring, giggling, yelling. Loudspeakers competed on the street: step in here for thrills, or there for the wax museum of rock stars.
I love that the crowd was international, probably the most so that we’ve seen. And the crowd was sizable, also not an issue (I like it that so many can enjoy the falls). It’s the nearby entertainments themselves that disappoint.
We hardly begrudge anyone their fun, and we’d not ask for a different economic model than the free market that put this bit of Disneyland up beside a sight worthy of a National Park. But if our culture had a modicum of propriety, maybe even a good old-fashioned sense of shame, it would not do its silliest games within a wide-angle lens shot of something as wonderful as Niagara Falls. It’s as if whatever happens in Vegas did not actually stay there, but had slid eastward and settled here.
But, as I said at the top of this post, we did our best to focus where our hearts took us, to the falls; I just could not resist a passing rant about the contrast just a few blocks away.
To bring us back to something warm and very real, we had the utmost enjoyment of dinner that evening back at Four Mile with new friends Jim and Elaine. He is a fellow blogger; we made our acquaintance on one of the online forums for pop-up campers, and began a correspondence several months ago. When he saw that we were camping near their home, they reserved a spot at Four Mile that coincided with our itinerary. We share much in common, and had a great flow of topics, ranging from travel notes to children to academia (we both teach, though he full-time) to dutch-oven practices to myriad other things. Great couple, campfire and conversation.
For us, the answer to the question posed in this post’s title is no, Niagara did not fail. Perhaps I should not have made as much of the carnival atmosphere near the falls. In the end, we learn to overlook these things in favor of what is worth our attention.