I was up early the morning of the trip, even though I’d completely packed—and checked and re-checked everything—the night before. I hadn’t slept much. I was excited to see the Falls, of course, but even more? I wanted to see Gil’s face—wanted to see it and remember it. Remember it forever.
Father drove me to school in the dawn’s early light. The parking lot was already full—well, nearly full, with cars and parents and kids struggling with luggage. It looked as if some of them had brought enough to supply them or a month’s stay. We were going to be there a single weekend.
We finally found a spot—not close, though—and Father helped me get my small case and backpack out of the trunk. Off in the distance, closer to the school, was the bus, its engine running, adding its exhaust to the early morning fog. We stood there, Father and I, looking at each other.
He wasn’t going to make the first move, say the first thing. So I grabbed him around the waist and hugged him so hard I heard him exhale heavily. “I’ll miss you, Father,” I wept into his coat.
I was not sure he’d heard me until, as I was hurrying toward the bus, I heard him say, “Me, too, Vickie. Me, too.”
Niagara Falls is nearly six hours away from Franconia, though almost all of it is on Interstates. I-71 North to I-271 (by-passing Cleveland) to I-90 East. Long before we reached Buffalo, New York, right near the Falls, we began to see signs about the attraction. Ads for motels, restaurants, sites to see.
I’d learned in Niagara: A History of the Falls, which I’d already read—and which was in my backpack, too—that the Falls had absolutely stunned its first white European visitors. (The local Native Americans, of course, had long before discovered and been stunned by the Falls.) But, said author Pierre Berton, “For most of the eighteenth century the Falls remained [to Europeans and Americans] almost as remote as the moon.”[i] His book has great photographs and maps that show that the Niagara River—whose flow forms the Falls—is not really a river at all but just sort of spill-over from Lake Erie, and that spill-over runs for thirty-five miles until it splashes over the Falls and on into Lake Ontario.
Once—and this is almost too bizarre to be true—on the night of 28 March 1848 the Falls actually… stopped. Just stopped. The silence woke up people who were sleeping nearby. The next morning, puzzled residents and visitors crawled all over the rocks above and below the Falls, explored the caves that the torrents of water had always concealed. Some wondered if the end of the world were at hand.
But then they heard a roar, felt the vibration of the earth … the water was back. Everyone hurried to safety.
And what had happened? A powerful east wind had driven the flow called the Niagara River back toward Lake Erie—and some ice jams helped, too. But when the winds resumed their customary direction—west to east—the Falls returned.[ii]
I know. I know. I’m getting off the subject. But if you had to tell what I have to, you would want to get off the subject, too.