I’m sure everyone has a favorite type of natural place, which they could identify if they just thought about it for a moment. For some, it might be the fishing spot on the side of the creek or the mossy spot under an ancient tree. Mine, I have realized, is a waterfall. But it is not the Niagara Falls-type of waterfall, the grand and breathtaking majesty with violent crushing power and thunderous noise, drowning out all voices not its own as well as any organisms that get caught in its flow. My waterfall is the modest, burbling falls; it does not crush and kill but sweeps one up for a ride one may escape with ease, or survive a bit battered but intact nonetheless; it has conversations with all who will listen, but allows you to keep up your own talks with your companions. And as with any affinity, there is one ideal behind it, one perfect incarnation that all others must live up to. The culprit of my affinity is the falls in the Glen Falls Park of Williamsville, New York.
I’ve been going there since I was young, thanks to the ice cream shop, Sweet Jenny’s, at the start of its trails that my grandfather loved to frequent. It was customary after a family dinner for one of my grandparents to ask my brother or I if we had saved any room for dessert. The answer, of course, was yes, and so it was off to the park we went (dinners with my grandparents were a summer affair because they were snowbirds of the Florida-bound variety). The homemade ice cream, was always a treat, and a closely delicious second was the homemade waffle or sugar cone it came in. I remember liking the black raspberry particularly well, and now the flavor will always make me think of a balmy summer evening passed alongside a modestly lovely waterfall. In my memory it’s about three stories tall, with a good rush of water always traveling down its face, streaking it white with its spray. Behind the white, a nearly overwhelming color, the dark brown of the rock is visible, and in some places more gray than brown. At the top of the falls, of course, one witnesses a beautiful rippled-smooth surface of blue-green-brown water that seems unable to paint anything white. And as one travels down the face that follows the falls from its top to its base, the same water is once again evident, re-transformed, from the smooth water to the inexplicable spray back to the water again.
The paths along the creek are impeccably kept up, and trail the creek flawlessly near the falls. Travelers begin walking alongside the creek and follow its curve for a few dozen feet or so before they can hear the water’s conversation change from the normal burbling of a stream to a louder rush of a jumping, splashing waterfall. Soon the top comes into sight and one sees the creek bed open up. The far stone wall becomes visible–a dull, sandy brown, sheer sheet with incredibly sparse vegetation clinging to it, in sharp contrast to the water’s deep, glistening color. It’s possible to see how the water transforms as a few rocks, generously termed rapids, cause the water to splash around them, foaming, on its journey towards the brink. Of course, the view does not present a flat-line stop to the water but a varied, rippled horizon, constructed by the rocky supports beneath, as it goes over the edge.
Further down, the path slopes and curves so that strollers can stop and admire the falls from vantage point midway down the drop and close enough to just barely feel the gentle spray. The view is very different, offering an up-close-and-personal look at the inner workings of this natural phenomenon as well as a different perspective on the rock wall–it gets much taller. Also, the valley the falls leads down to is visible now, and the path looks out upon the expanse of it, with its blue-green flow of water cutting through the rocky banks surrounded by vegetation strips that soon give way to steeper rock walls. This view stretches until the stream curves away to the left, with the path following several yards above it. My attention, however, was only for the nearly-tangible falls itself. Through the white spray, continuous yet solidly in motion, glimpses of the fall’s rock face can be seen, stained a deep gray-brown by the moisture. It becomes evident to all who hadn’t known (and I as a young girl hadn’t) that the spray is an effect of the water streams hitting crags and jutting pieces of rock and splitting, being fractured and thrown into the air, broken apart. This discovery was very important and endlessly fascinating for me, as I could examine this effect for at least half of the time it took me top consume the sizable waffle cone–a very long time for a child who had a roving attention span, especially when it came to exploring the outside. I’m sure it was a welcome relief for my grandparents, who then had a few reduced-stress moments in which they were able to focus their attentions solely on ensuring my younger brother’s safety as I sat rapt.
Soon, however, the path beckons one to go further, and posits the walker at the base of the falls. The falls and the face of the valley’s walls grow a bit taller yet again until they seem to tower, and the focus becomes the craziness at the base of the falls. I could never get over the simple magic of water droplets tossed in the air ( as the reader can probably infer) and the base of the falls was therefore a heaven for my young mind. The water, already battered into spray, struck the sitting water resting under the falls and tossed that up into the air as well to create a visual cacophony of mist. The effect enshrouded the base of the falls slightly and obscured the union of the falling water with the sedentary water, and nearly hiding the rocks n the water. Around the mist the water has spread into a pool carved out by year after year of pounding, pulsing, and rippling that gradually carved its way into a flatter, rounder and more convenient inlet in which to rest after its harrowing trip before it is once again swept along in swift, narrow neck of the creek. The effects of the fallen water can be seen in the pool as it waves outward, still gently pushing its boundaries in search of a momentary respite.
By then I would be finished with my ice cream and my brother would be restless, so we would travel further into the park to watch the ducks and clamber over large rocks and tree roots. But my favorite part was always the waterfall, and every time we passed it I would break from the group to run up and stare, for just a few seconds, before I had to run back to me family. I just wanted to fix the image in my mind, I suppose, by catching that last glimpse, or maybe I couldn’t let go and didn’t want to leave. Whatever the reason, I knew I loved the falls.