When I want to be alone sometimes, I take a drive. One of my all-time favourites was a midnight run to Niagara Falls.
Here’s a description of that drive slightly edited from an article I wrote for the Independent on Sunday.
One evening, between Christmas and New Year, I wanted to escape the hustle of the holidays. I got in the car, not really knowing where I was headed, and pointed west along the Queen Elizabeth Way. When I saw the sign for Niagara Falls, I thought, ‘Why not?’
It’s a drive of an hour and a half over a lovely stretch of highway. The road hugs Lake Ontario. At Burlington, the Skyway bridge points me toward the stars. When I reach the crest, the expanse of the town is stretched out before me, a roller coaster worth the view. The drive is a quiet one until you reach the city of Niagara Falls.
Unlike a daytime trek, though, you have to get right into the heart of the city, near the Peace Bridge over to the United States, before you begin to see people. Then, drive straight through to the park with the luxury of no traffic; all the parking spots are free on this December night. And I’m there.
I put on a hat, a big sheepskin coat, a thick pair of gloves, and get out of the car. The air is still and clear and crisp. Mist is rising from the foaming downpour. It has frozen along the cast-iron fence, the barrier between the sightseers and the Niagara gorge, and the bushes that line it.
As it’s just past midnight, the falls are in darkness except for the lights from the city and the full moon. The amazing thing is that all I’m hearing is the thunder of the water, without being drowned out by the cacophony of voices and cars that usually overwhelm this part of the park, and I’m able to see the falls without the spotlights that usually shine on them at night.
It is, perhaps, the closest I can get to getting a sense of their natural beauty. I imagine what it must have been like for the first people to hear and see them, wondering from afar about the cause of the thunderous roar. At this time of night, the falls have become a natural wonder to contemplate and a reminder, amid a populated tourist destination, of the size of the country.
Here’s a link to the full article on acting the tourist in my own backyard.