I’m taking a week long writing break just now. I’m away from my laptop and flying instead. This is time I’ve come to use for thinking…of ideas for new characters, stories, plots; thinking, too, about a possible rewrite for my completed MS: having been given some pointers as to how I can go about this, I am now in full thinking mode! Taking an enforced break from writing is perfect timing for that.
This week the flying brings me to Toronto. Unusually, I have two nights here, so took the opportunity to go to Niagara.
Like many literary characters, this is a place with two faces. It is a place which tells two very different stories. And it’s a place where some folk choose to tell their own stories, or create a story to be told.
Of course, the falls are spectacular. Even (maybe especially) on an overcast day, they are awe-inspiring. The volume and speed of the water was most impressive. That, and the wonderful wolf-eye blue of the falling water.
But my canny ability to frame a picture hides the true horror of Niagara Falls, the town.
On the one hand, the force of nature tells its tale of erosion over time. It bears witness to the powerful strength of water, the weaknesses of solid rock.
It offers the chance to stand and think about life, death, the passing of time.
And then you turn to witness a different tale told. A tale of the erosion of sensibilities. A tale of the powerful strength of commerce, and of the weakness of humanity in the face of it.
Dante no doubt had Niagara Falls in mind for his Inferno.
Niagara Falls has fallen. It has fallen to the same place as British seaside towns. But where these places, faded memories of Victorian grandeur, now wear their irony all over their piers, Niagara Falls appears quite sincere in its brash disregard for the grandeur of the natural wonder just round the corner.
The story told by the town is a melancholy one. Lost opportunities; lost dreams of low-wage fast food servers; lost expectations of eager travellers.
And so to those folk who created stories of their own. The inspired, intrepid, insane collection of people who dared to duel with nature. Some lost the encounter; others fared better.
Quite why these marvellous people thought riding the falls in a barrel was a good idea is beyond me. No doubt they wanted to create a sensation. To make a story. To write history.
Or perhaps they had a vision of what Niagara Falls would become and couldn’t cope with the sheer horror.
Stories of nature; stories of humanity. They are as varied as they are beautiful. As different as they are monstrous.
All of them fuel to a writer’s fire.