As many of you were, I hope, reading all about how rising fuel prices had me firmly resolving to stay home this summer, I was, as with most things involving my willpower and resolve, already breaking my vows.
I was packing for summer vacation. Abroad.
“Abroad?” Doesn’t that sound classy? Aren’t you breathlessly awaiting my announcement that I have just returned from a tour of Europe?
Well, close, but no. We went to Canada! Niagara Falls, Canada, to be exact. Some Canadian natives take umbrage to this and will insist that Niagara Falls no more “represents” Canada than Disney World represents the United States, which is silly. The U.S. is represented by McDonalds.
In deference to Canada, let me state for the record that I absolutely agree that in most parts of Canada, they do NOT feature displays of two-headed calves and wax figures on every doorstep. Just at Ripley’s and Tussaud’s — which between the two of them, have almost single-handedly developed the Niagara Falls area. Leaving only a small niche for the Hardrock Cafe to conquer.
Now I am not, by nature, a “nature lover.” I am generally NOT moved to tears by scenic vistas. Yet, Niagara Falls takes my breath away. There is something about the pure, raw power of The Falls that kind of makes you come undone a little inside.
It’s hard not to shiver and imagine the first explorers hacking their way out of the wilderness to discover THAT. Then trying, in vain, to explain the sheer size, scope and majesty of it all to the folks back home.
You can just imagine some poor guy, hundreds of years before Kodak would allow a picture to tell a thousand words, trying with a pencil sketch and flowery phrasing to convince others of what he had found.
“Sure, sure pal, big water, taller than the clouds indeed, what-ever dude. You need to lay off the ale.”
Now imagine trying to explain this conundrum to thoroughly modern children who must be convinced that no, early explorers could NOT just stop up at the visitor’s center for a handy map to take home with them. Or a refrigerator magnet.
Speaking of buying stuff (and the galling fact that nearly every single attraction anywhere nowadays exits through a gift shop) — as much as I love, adore and would marry Canada if I could, do not for a moment let anyone tell you that Canadian health care is free.
I’m fairly certain I paid for some pricey medical procedure every single time I purchased as much as a bottled water. There are an awful lot of taxes to keep track of up there. No one holds it against them, though, because Canadians are almost universally friendly and have a marvelous sense of humor.
They repeatedly refer to the water churned up by the falls as “mist.” They will even squire you around on a lovely little boat cleverly called Maid of the Mist. Yet, in every photo taken of us the day we rode the boat, we appear like drowned rats because recyclable rain ponchos can only do so much and Maid of the Mist would be more aptly named Maid of the Drenching Wall of Water.
You just know the Canadians get a good laugh out of that one.
To make up for the near-drowning, they also offer a Butterfly Conservatory. I, not personally being “one with nature” but more like “97th with nature,” could have passed on that, but one cannot travel with a 9-year-old girl and not see butterflies. It goes against, well, nature.
Thus, we trooped off to a building stuffed full of butterflies. The only possible way this could have been better for my daughter is if it had been a Kitten Conservatory full of flying kitties.
We had the best of times — and the wettest of times. So much so that our daughter sobbed quietly in the back seat as we crossed the Peace Bridge. I fear she’s thinking of becoming an ex-patriot.
More important, we traveled “abroad” to find that we were more alike than different and that the world is not, in fact, “all about us” or “them.” Rather, that nature will best us all.
We’re also more alike than different in one very telling way. To cross the bridge “back home,” travelers must traverse through the parking lot of the “duty free” shop. Thus, upon leaving the country, as with all major attractions, you exit through the gift shop.