Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Landfills Up Above Niagara Falls

About once a week, for a lot of months now, I have gotten to drive to Niagara Falls, the falls themselves, and take pictures, in winter as easily as the other seasons, without even paying for parking when I've gone at night.

But about once or twice a day, I drive through the city of Niagara Falls to work here at Niagara University, and pass through what seems like a harsh, sometimes nasty contrast:  the stink of methane gas that hangs over the interstate, right by the fashion outlet mall.  It's hard to find any nice way to describe the smell, except that it's over quickly, and I can tell I'm headed where I'm supposed to go when I drive through it.  It's like the rank alloy of smells that I seem to have driven through whenever I've gone by a large scale farming operation--one where there is no natural place for the waste to drain, so the reek of it sits in the air, just like it does on the ground.

In this case, it's in the ground--the landfills that sit just across the highway from that strip of Niagara Falls that holds almost all of its shopping, the factory outlet stores and restaurants that have their mazes of lanes and signs to drive through, where Ontario residents come for apparently nearly everything being cheaper, and it's just one turn to head to the reservation or the military base, two to go to the small, Falls airport that has its metal dome not far from a mostly closed mall.

There, though, on the other side from all of that, is nothing but earth, at least at first sight--hills too tall to see the tops of from the car window if you're driving right by them, with slopes too steep for a casual climb, and even, today, when they are all coated with only white, wet, heavy snow, too treacherous for a good sled ride.  Their forms, though, seem too dominant, and too useless for any particular purpose, to be more than features of nature.  And, when I thought that, they seemed like places to at least imagine mountains, distractions from the smell and hinting at the falls.

Someone mentioned that they were created by people, really by one person, and, really, that person had a vision.  Building landfills up instead of digging them out of the ground might be common, but shaping them into these hills, not even out of sight, but a few blocks from one of the wonders of the world, so that who knows how many tourists take them in on the same trip as it--that is not a plan that just anyone could have come up with.  Though the plan had to have included some aesthetic sense, with each of these mountain structures having that sloped shape, it can't have meant for them to blend in.

A quick look might read "mountain" to me, but however many days now of making the drive has shown me, through just casual glances and maybe a few more oriented by curiosity, that they have what look like pipes protruding from the tops, possibly to let out excess gas, possibly creating that smell.  And it's the smell that keeps them from being anything like beautiful, plus that knowledge of their purpose.  A look up today, when the snow made them all almost absolutely white, showed what seemed like a railing along the top of one, maybe for maintenance.  Nothing in their structures, these pieces of steel stuck into their peaks, or the odor, in its dailiness that comes to seem like a weight every driver by there carries, makes them seem like they will ever fall.

The web searching I've done so far hasn't unearthed (so to speak) the name of any particular architect, and that might be for the best.  It's tempting for my mind to fly right from the little I know about these towering mounds to some dim figure, an easy target for my projections, of someone who doesn't care about the list of things that constitute, for me, a clean and natural experience in this area, or any.  My mind can make this person (inevitably male) into some kind of landmoving mafioso, maybe someone with bodies to bury, figuratively or literally.  It's easy for me to see and smell what I drive by quickly, and might not live near for much longer, with that automatic impulse to label a problem, then the hotly satisfying one of finding someone to blame.

But the other thing that keeps coming to me seems more useful, at least somewhat.  It's been told to me that I tend to stuff things, to hide, if not the facts, then their emotional impact.  That has its use, I think for anyone, and there are probably lots of experiences that can't be taken in, really, all at once.  It is possible, though, to have just that one strategy for dealing with both elevating and devastating things, and any others that have a transformative impact, and to have them build up to a point that can't be sustained.  And nearly every time I drive by those hills, it comes to me that maybe I have built up my own along the way, and that I need better ways to let my feelings out.  Maybe that's the usefulness of those hills for me personally, that they show me at least one way I need to change, in a way that I can't ignore.


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