The Calm Beside Niagara Falls at Night
Since last year, I've been visiting the falls just about every Sunday, alternating between afternoon and night visits, depending on which one was more convenient. In the afternoon, I was parking by the upper rapids and walking from there, and at night just driving into the parking lot, since parking is free after a certain time, and it didn't seem safe to walk from any significant distance. That gave me chances to take a number of different kinds of pictures from different angles.
For the last few weeks, though, construction has blocked the route from where I live to the upper rapids, and I haven't found any other way to get there. The orange signs lead me through the outskirts of the city, which really are also its downtown, since the hotels push almost up to the falls themselves, and there isn't a built up district anywhere else, except somewhat on Pine Ave., with its Italian restaurants, and Niagara Falls Boulevard, with its chain stores and motels. So I follow them into the roundabout that leads to the parking lot, where I've been going, and will be going for maybe a while to come, after dark.
It doesn't seem optimal to that part of me that is always looking for just the right photos for my phone camera, which likes light, and I was also feeling like a better Facebook friend when posting a wider variety of pictures from visits there, instead of what might seem like the same image, or quite similar images, week after week. Because it seems like part of me, right now, gauges how I'm doing by my response on Facebook. At least part of that is probably healthy, since it is my way of staying in the most contact with the people who have known me the longest, and part of it might not be. Either way, I had imagined a kind of mosaic, over however long I have left in this area, of the Falls in different lights and from different angles, not the same shade of dark.
But that's what has been happening every Sunday evening for a little while now--I park, after passing the two vacant booths to get in, and then walk, largely in the dark. It's a lit dark, friendly to tourists, which I'm pretty sure I am, but dark enough that the attractions not quite at the falls are inverted. The gorge where people can look out in the daytime and see seagulls wheel over the blue-green, foam-tufted river, with the rock walls on either side holding nothing but that haze of spray that can be seen from however many miles away--it's a lack, an absence between my side and the glittery cityscape in Canada, with its white-lit ferris wheel and, right now, blue-constellated Christmas trees. The observation deck, dark steel, becomes a cut-out also, outlined by Canada's lights which are pixellated by that spray haze.
The parts that normally overflow with visitors are emptied out, too, and show their emptiness. The visitor center is lit but locked. There are no street cars cruising through, just the paths they take empty and illuminated for me to walk. There may be an occasional police car, and that's almost all-- once, a few weeks ago, an SUV pulled up by me, at that point where the visitor center hides the brink of the falls. An older man, tired and tight-eyed, asked, "if I keep going this way, will I get to Riverside Drive?" My surprised reply was just, "that way is the falls." He and the woman with him didn't seem to understand, so I repeated it, and they turned around.
Each week of the last few, I walk down toward the brink of the falls, and can see just a few silhouettes of people above it, at the railing, dark between the shining binocular machines that will still show a few views up close for a quarter, at least in the day time. The people's silhouettes, those machines, and the usually wet pavement by the falls are all outlined and overlayed with whatever colors of light are flooding our side from Canada, rotating, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, from rose to yellow to white. Because of the water in the air and the focus of their beams, they seem to actually be liquid, as if the light itself were concentrated and spread over us--the few of us there are.
By Niagara Falls, at night, especially at this point in the year when the wind and dropping temperatures can stir the air and blast it in gusts over us, there are just us few there to take it all in, and to take pictures. That means I can look out over the railing from right by the visitor's center, to take in that whole, falling wall of the bridal veil with its triangular offshoot, not quite fountain or curtain, and also get a good look at the horseshoe over in the other country, from this distance just seeming to hang there, still, but shimmer a little. When I go closer, I start to feel that mist on my face, not as individual particles, but like a cool skin on my skin, and to see how the little hill just before the cliff resembles the falls--a short, horizontal stretch, and then sheer, last night snowed over enough to look even more like that white water, or some ghostly afterimage of it.
Then there's the point at which I'm too close to the bridal veil falls to focus on anything else--it has that endless rumble with no rhythm in it, or any repetition I can hear, so it seems like a message that's being delivered endlessly to me, or as endlessly as I can stay for, that is more meaningful to hear than to interpret, and its cataracts don't seem so much enormous anymore as just all-engulfing, the one thing that is there for and with me, not with its history or how it might look during the day, but just its glittering, shattering ridges and ripples that look at once to be moving and sitting still, changing in ways that my mind can't hold, and helping me, in those moments, to let go of that need for my mind to hold anything.
That letting go gives me a calm that's not solemn, that's nothing like numb, but charged with the same excitement I get from being in meditation, in another country, or with friends I'm just starting to let myself be surprised by. And I think I also get it from writing, especially poetry. It's that space where my thinking can't cling to anything, and I guess that's called the present moment.