Niagara Gazette — Politics’ current cranium cracking cacophonous rancor reminds me of the day nearly 50 years ago when I realized that I could breathe easier, think much more clearly and make better decisions when I escaped from the chaos.
By going to the other side of what used to be a very busy traffic-jammed Buffalo Avenue and crossing the railroad tracks on the other side of the smoke-billowing factories that once separated me from the river, I found peace and tranquility on the banks of the mighty Niagara just, a few feet away from the front door of the house where I grew up.
Away from the constant banging, whirling, spitting flatulence of the ever churning factories, I began taking full advantage of my proximity to the peaceful beauty that lay just on the other side by exploring the length of the waterways from Grand Island to Devils Hole and beyond, being particularly fascinated by the gorge; it was the perfect escape from the noise of the local economy, so hot you could smell it burning.
You’d think I’d have gotten used to the noise and smoke having been born and raised so close to it, but I never really did. It was the calm quiet serenity of the river and the gentle trickle of the nearby Gill Creek that I sought over there, on the other side.
My daring partners and I would crawl under the railroad trestle at Gill Creek and Buffalo Avenue and emerge on the other side, past the factory security guards and make our way out onto the river banks stopping and playing in the slimy green ooze that trickled out from someplace along the creek, examining some of the strangest looking dead frogs and other apparently deformed animals that had met their demise in the murky mess.
Once on the other side, it was like being on another planet. The chaos seemed to dissolve, the smoke and grime disappeared, and the urge to follow the water overtook us.
We were on a mission to explore the completely different world outside of the crowded factory workers neighborhoods we lived in. We were learning that there was a great big universe just on the other side of the tracks, one that we’d hear of, but certainly never really seen up close.
Oh sure, we knew there was a river there; our parents drove past it; we visited the Falls, but we had no idea the river that feeds it was so close, so accessible, sort of, but for the walls of factories and their disturbing chaos. We were discovering plants, trees, flowers, and bugs of all kinds that we had never known to exist in our four square block world; this was something new and totally exciting!
Our curiosity taunted, we wanted more of it; over the years, as we made it up the ranks to full-fledged Boy Scouts, geared to the hilt, we ventured farther and farther, becoming more and more daring.
We hiked closer to the brink where the soft rumble of the falls slowly amplifies into a deafening roar; for the foolishly daring, the urge to get closer can become over powering, almost hypnotic, outrageously dangerous. Our hearts pounding loud enough to drown out the thunder, we got close, but we chose the wiser course, the gorge.
By the time we made it to early puberty, at an age when most boys begin to discover girls, and fast cars we were forging our way along the lower river gorge walls, sometimes hanging on by our fingernails for dear life; often dangling from the skin tearing, bone cracking jagged rocks, headed for Devils Hole.
We were by no means alone; hundreds of other local boys and girls, explored every available nook and cranny, searching mysterious caves and caverns and secret hiding places where we decided Native Americans, European explorers and fugitive slaves must have been long ago.
We climbed over the remains of the old power generation station and old bridge structures. A little farther down the river, we confronted the construction of the new Power Project; we saw no gorge route around it. Like the gigantic upstream water intakes pumps, the impact of the project downstream, we discovered, was HUGE! Unaware of the implications, we bore witness to the constant parade of giant Euclid trucks as they hauled tons of earth along the roadway between the river and the Power Project site in Lewiston.
Plodding right next to Bishop Duffy High School, rumbling the ground, vibrating the windows, they streamed by in clouds of fine dust that found its way onto our desks and into our imaginations through open windows drowning out English Literature and World History.
Our world was changing as the source of our Power and Beauty was being stolen right before our eyes. We watched as the Power Project changed everything from Niagara University’s campus, locking them into a small box bordered by the Power Authority’s infrastructure, to communities as far away as Lewiston and Sanborn, even Lockport and Tonawanda and Grand Island were forever changed.
The fish, the wildlife, our hiking trails, the plant life, everything between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario along the Niagara River and beyond ... it all changed as enormous power lines sprung up like gargantuan metal trees across the landscape, stealing hundreds of acres forever from those tiny communities, and Niagara’s tax rolls, channeling our energy and the billions of dollars we should have earned from it somewhere else, leaving us in the dust.
Indeed the falls itself was changed as so much water is diverted from the brink, that even her mighty roar is muffled, much more muted than what I recall as a young boy. And sadly, very sadly, the convoluted, ill-conceived so-called “Parkway” built around what is left of Niagara Falls makes it difficult, but not completely impossible to get to the other side.
So, want to escape the chaos?
Get to the water, release your inner child; hike the gorge (or stroll around it), free your mind, your head will follow, think clearly and then do the right thing, demand easier, barrier-free access!
Come on, the leaves are changing ...Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org