Monday, May 14, 2007

Niagara Falls Syndrome

When we visited Lilacia Park in Lombard, Ill., on Saturday I was reminded of something an old friend put in a letter to me some years ago. In a previous letter I’d described to Stephanie, my old friend and correspondent after I moved away from Nashville, how my students at the time, all Japanese, were familiar with Niagara Falls as a destination. A number of them, in fact, had been there.

Ah, for the long-gone days – the early 1990s in this case -- when I had several regular correspondents on paper. Stephanie wrote back and said:

“You know, it’s sad that half of your students have taken the trouble and spent the money to come to Niagara Falls. All those foreigners wanting just one representatively American sight to remember always – if only someone would tell them they’re about a hundred years too late. I don’t know, maybe I was there on a bad day, but to me it was about as exciting as a municipal water-purification plant. Nothing was attractive or awesome about it, I guess because of the encroaching concrete and cars and because someone had told me the durn thing is artificial now anyhow: The water flows and rushes and falls mechanically. Big hairy deal, Niagara Falls. Now Foster Falls, that’s something. Fall Creek Falls, that’s worth a trip. Maybe they’d be ruined, too, by fame and high traffic.

“That’s the problem with most world travel. Most of it probably a real bad investment and a huge waste of time, because no one knows how to find out where to go. No Japanese person is going to fly to Nashville, rent a car and drive to Chester County, rent a cabin on the lake at Chickasaw State Park, and wake up every morning to gaze from his deck upon the cattails and the glassy lake… I’m convinced that most world travel – and much domestic travel – suffers from the Niagara Falls syndrome.”

I don’t entirely agree with all that, but there’s more than a little truth to it even now, in the Internet age (Stephanie was writing pre-Internet) with all its pots and cans of information available instantly. No one from very far away would seek out Lilacia Park in May, a few amazingly lush acres in the western suburbs of Chicago adorned with not only dozens and dozens of varieties of lilacs, but also many other flowers and bushes in their glory. By the look of things on Saturday afternoon, when the weather was flawlessly warm, not many people from nearby were there either.

When far from home, I still think it’s good to seek out famed places – I was impressed enough by Niagara, though I’ve seen more obscure falls that are impressive, too, including Tennessee’s Fall Creek Falls. But it’s also important to pay attention for the opportunity to run across an obscure gem. Sometimes it’s as easy as a slight variation from the beaten path.

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At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned ... step by step ... inch by inch...

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Mrs. Wendell said...

Well wasn't I full of myself.

You know, the second paragraph scares me because I no longer remember Chickasaw State Park or even having known about it.

Dees, I've found a new waterfall that no one will ever cross the globe to visit. It is called Machine Falls, on a state reserve called Short Springs in Coffee County, between Tullahoma and Manchester. It's not tall, it's a compact wide waterfall with lots of levels. More beautiful in a way than a long tall drop such as Fall Creek Falls. Getting there is fun, because you have to leave the trail and hug the creek bank, balancing on a tiny ledge, to get the last little way to it. (Not a dangerous ledge; the worst that would happen to you is you'd get water in your sneakers.)


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