On the edge

American Falls and bridge

For someone so afraid of heights, you wouldn’t take me for a crazy waterfall fanatic.

But something about cascading water — plummeting, falling, twirling, twisting — always holds me captive. And of all the cataracts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing? Well, Niagara Falls stands alone. (Until I see the Devil’s Throat, anyway.)

My first visit was in 2004 on a family trip with my sister and parents; we hit Buffalo, Toronto and surrounding areas one muggy week in July. I had my first “legal” beer at a bar on the Canadian side of the falls, my dad teaching me how to tip the bartender as I tried not to gag on the light-colored brew. (Pretty sure it was Labatt Blue. Kind of a thing up north.)

My husband grew up in New York south of the famous sight, so they’re a wee bit “old hat” to him. On my first-ever trip to meet his family, we detoured from Buffalo to see Niagara — my second visit ever, and my first on the American side. I was captivated, especially when we donned ponchos to see American Falls from below. We got soaked; we smiled and laughed; I felt far away and happy.

Niagara 2010

American Falls from below

When I think of Niagara, I think of looking over the precipice with Spencer. Wind in our eyes and our hair; mist gathering around my shoulders. I remember our romance and how exciting it was to visit when everything was bright and bold and Technicolor. We were with the kind, wonderful woman who has become my mother-in-law, and the very dear friend who would someday serve as the best man at our wedding. The sun was shining, the roar was pounding in my ears . . . and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so happy.

Because of the company, of course.

And because of the giant, exhilarating waterfalls.

Niagara II

When I stand at the edge of Niagara, I have that free-falling, free-floating feeling — like my feet have gone out from under me. My toes tingle. My stomach flips. It’s like I’ve been dropped into a barrel and that barrel is ricocheting toward the edge. Like I can’t be righted, as though I’ve lost my balance; everything is topsy-turvy and uncontrollable.

It’s a strange sensation, an odd stomach-gripping feeling; it’s like I really do need to grip the railing and hold on.

Just a little like love, perhaps.

Niagara I

Though I’m many years out of school, it’s spring break!
And I’m breaking to enjoy time up north with our family.
I’ll see you back here on April 21! Happy Easter, friends.

Can you read this post over the roar of the Niagara?

Home again, friends, and I’ll say this: it’s incredibly difficult coming home from a fabulous weekend, especially when you find yourself back at your desk in less than 12 hours. Good thing I have a Diet Coke, granola bar and some fabulous memories to fuel my morning.

Spencer’s family couldn’t have been any kinder, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed — even at the beach. Though I had my trusty Palm Pre with me to upload an occasional photo to Twitter or scan my email, I wasn’t walking around Niagara Falls clutching a piece of technology. What I was clutching? My camera and Spencer’s hand. And it felt amazing.

They really rolled out the red carpet for me and made me feel so warm and welcomed, and the entire time I was gone I just kept thinking: I’m so happy. His mom made so many awesome plans for us and took me all over the area, where I definitely felt like I was away from it all. Growing up in the suburbs, a land of strip malls with a  Starbucks on every corner, it’s hard to envision wide open spaces. But New York has them — in spades. And it was just fun to be there with such great people and my amazing boyfriend, seeing the place where he grew up. I knew him well before, but I feel like I know him in a different way now. A more complete way.

Oddly enough, I didn’t get much reading done — mostly because I was socializing, traveling, driving about and eating (oh, eating. Lots of eating!). Mockingjay was tucked in my bag through my entire stay, but I only cracked the cover once and read about 10 pages. So I still don’t know what’s become of Katniss, Gale and Peeta, and I’m going to have to tread lightly around the blogosphere until I figure it out! But that should be quite all right.

While I was out, I learned I’d been shortlisted in the Book Blogger Appreciation Awards for Best Written Book Blog and Best Eclectic Book Blog. What an honor — and I’m so excited for all the festivities in September! Thanks, everyone. Voting is open now to registered participants.

I’ll be posting photos from my trip to New York’s Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Jamestown, Chautauqua Lake and Gerry over the coming weeks — probably on Wordless Wednesdays, since that’s often how I roll — but wanted to whet your appetite with just a few snapshots! I took nearly 400 shots over the course of four days — enough to fill up my SD card, blast it — and barely had the energy to lift my head last night, let alone edit my shots. I did manage to get a few up straight out of the camera . . . with many more to come.

Book review: ‘The Day The Falls Stood Still’ by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Bess Heath is 17 when her father loses his job at the powerful, successful Niagara Power Company and brings his family close to ruin. She arrives home from a nearby academy to find her mother has been forced to take on sewing projects for her wealthy former friends while Isabel — the bright, shining youngest Heath daughter — has locked herself away and stopped eating, haunted by a secret she cannot and will not name.

Unsure of how to help her family withstand their sudden fall from grace, Bess takes on the thankless task of coming back into Isabel’s confidences and mending the clothes her weary mother cannot tend to — just as Mr. Heath is drowning his sorrows daily at a nearby hotel. The only source of interest or comfort in Bess’s new life comes from daily sightings of Tom Cole, a handsome young riverman who knows more about nearby Niagara Falls than anyone else. Almost to a mythical degree.

Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day The Falls Stood Still is an atmospheric, heart-breaking look at family, love and industrialization — weighty topics that rarely come across as dense as they sound. Told by Bess smack in the middle of World War I, the lives of so many on the Canadian side of the falls are touched by the battles happening thousands of miles away, and the war mentality hangs heavy over our narrator and her acquaintances. The novel felt thick, like soup, and once I’d fallen into it? I just couldn’t pull away until I’d finished.

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is its keen sense of place; never for a moment do you forget how close you are to Niagara, that great and terrifying waterfall on the U.S. and Canadian border. Everything that happens in the story seems to revolve around or make mention of the falls — it is, in fact, its own character. Giant. Daunting. Powerful. And as I whipped through page after page of Buchanan’s story, I could almost feel the mist on my face — a familiar and awesome sensation.

It’s hard to pin-point what I loved about this book, and harder still to describe my favorite moments without spoiling any of the content. As a reader, I never felt like I had my footing — something ominous seemed to be hovering just on the outskirts of Bess’s story, waiting to yank me out of a happy scene and push me beneath a current. Normally this would really bother me, that insecure feeling, but I have to say that it really worked for The Day The Falls Stood Still. The danger added a compelling element to the story that might not have otherwise been there!

Tom and Bess’s love story was convincing, romantic and heart-breaking. Those first love feelings were compellingly explored by the author, but it never lapsed into anything treacly. And thank goodness for that! Their love was the story’s anchor, but so much else was happening, too — including a powerful look at the loss of faith and maybe — maybe — how to get it back again. Also fantastic in the novel? The metaphysical way in which Tom relates to the river, a beast of its own; I can’t say there was actually “magic” happening here, but there isn’t any other way in which to really describe it.

I really, really loved the story, though I must confess to getting a little bored as I made my way through the final 60 pages of the novel. The pacing slowed down to a crawl just as time seemed to speed up. But don’t let that discourage you from reading this stunning story, a novel I’m happy to share with friends and coworkers. Anyone interested in the alteration of the natural world, industrialization, family dynamics and what it means to have and be a sister, parent, or friend will find something to enjoy in The Day The Falls Stood Still, and I’m eager to relive that awe-inspiring walk by the Niagara again myself.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1401340970 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from The Tome Traveller’s Blog

Where In The World Weds.: Niagara Falls

We’re heading north for this edition of Where In The World Wednesday — to Canada, in fact! Yes, friends, it’s time for us to wade into the fog aboard the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. The Canadian side, no less, which is much prettier than the American side. Just sayin’.

I visited Niagara with my family in July 2004 — like our trademark blue rain slickers? — and was totally blown away by how big and scary it was. Seeing it in photos does nothing to demonstrate just how massive this waterfall is — so huge and kicking up so much mist that it’s often partially obscured. Like so many visitors before us, we took the tiny boat out and stood beneath the falls, looking up at the rushing water pouring toward us. I put up my hood and slung an arm around my sister. It was her sixteenth birthday.

The above photo doesn’t even begin to do justice to just how tiny and fragile you feel standing by something like the Niagara — something that’s been there so long, it’s hard to process what changes it has seen. Through what it has existed. The subject of countless books and novels, the falls is a thing of fear and majesty. And while reading Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day The Falls Stood Still? I couldn’t help but remember the moment I stood by the falls with my family, taken aback by the sheer force of it.

When my mom and dad planned our trip to Buffalo, New York and Toronto, Ontario, Niagara Falls was — to me — just a stop on our way back to the U.S. I didn’t imagine we would have much to do there, just staring at a giant waterfall. How interesting could that be? Especially in the heat? But we stayed overnight in the small town and had a wonderful time. I was delighted by the fact that in Canada, nineteen — an age I’d just turned days before — allowed me to both gamble and drink. I didn’t really indulge in either, but the very fact that I could was intoxicating. I was growing up.

That was an important summer for me — the summer after I met M., fell in love for the first time and then visited his hometown. But without him. Back then, Buffalo was just the place M. grew up . . . it hadn’t yet become my arch-nemesis, the place that would eventually lure him away. That was before I learned not even I was strong enough to battle Buffalo — and I’m glad I didn’t know. I have these memories — crystal, perfect — before I knew more about myself. And more about heartbreak. Looking at these photos now, that’s what strikes me: what I had yet to know.

And I’m glad I read The Day The Falls Stood Still with an on-pitch perception of what those falls can mean — for me and the countless other people who visit each year. And like riverman Tom Cole, one of Buchanan’s principle characters, I’ll never doubt the power of the river.