American Sabbatical 006: 9/3-4/96
9/3 (continued)..Western NY.
From Seneca Falls we took the old highway west, touching the tops of the fingers. The lakes, that is. Stopped for lunch in a park at the north end of Lake Geneva. Sweeping lawns and towering catalpas and locusts. Indeed the trees have soared up in these rich lakeside bottomlands. Familiar breeds lofting into a grander maturity. We forget how close to the edge (of the deciduous range) we live in Maine. And the land is stretching out here, long rolling hills with only an occasional escarpment on the southern edge of our view. Big dairy land, grapes, and of course corn. Brand name signs advertise the rows. Pioneer 4586 is doing better than DeKalb 8736. One yellow barn makes us smile, along with shadowman, who has overrun NY State. There is also shadow miss, shadow critters, shadow horse-and-buggy, shadow dog and cat, you shadow name it. Who says lawn ornamentation is a Maine thing? Just travel the side roads.
(And kids, youve met your Waterloo. In W-loo NY, Birthplace
of Memorial Day, there is a tomb of the unknown middle-schooler.
Strangled to death by his teacher in 1976. Nobody came to claim
his remains. How sad. Just a thought for those of you starting
school this week.)
We must be getting close to Buffalo. Our first encounter with heavy traffic, angry commuters, and then: superhighways. As the landscape flattened out, even the back roads felt like highways, and the semi traffic began to convoy. Maybe it was too much of the resort mentality that had me down on the Adirondack skirts. This is the real America, throbbing with diesel on 18 wheels. Weve got Tony Rice and Bela Fleck booming on the noisebox, and were bluegrassing through the hick burbs, eeeHah. Even had the finger flipped at me in Buffalo traffic. They sure know how to welcome strangers in snowball city.
KOA Niagara (Bryce)
We finally rolled out of the dust and diesel into KOA Niagara. It has all the ambiance of a highway truck stop. Long rows of gleaming busses (megaRVs), all in chrome and dayglo. All with satellite dishes aiming into the sunset. Dang. Turn up that shitkickin music, Maggie.
Questions: What are the American icons of yesterday and today
(the things that symbolize America to ourselves and to foreigner)?
How were the icons created - consciously or not?
Sept. 4 - NIAGARA AND CULTURAL ICONS
Who? promoters and daredevils
What? Niagara Falls
Where ? St. Lawrence River between far west New York state and Canada
How? individual initiative plus national park
Topics: American icons, cultural tourism, the origin and creation of American icons.
Niagara Falls-image and reality
Peggy at Falls
Questions: What are the American icons of yesterday and today (the things that symbolize America to ourselves and to foreigner)? How were the icons created - consciously or not?
Niagara is approached from the highway with an industrial tank city on one side and the river on the other. The first sign of the falls is a mile or so of rapids. Then comes the actual national park (the first in the nation). You park and can then view the American falls from the riverside, or walk over a bridge to Goat Island or go over a larger bridge to the Canadian side. The far shore has several viewing towers and hotels visible. The park on the American side is really lovely, well-groomed lawns and huge trees with flower beds and benches and viewing machines. A group of young Mennonites added a lovely touch. Few tourists at 9 in the morning. Very misty. Two impressions, one is of subtle colors - the water is so green and the foam so white, second the NOISE. The roar of the falls and the endless cascade is hypnotizing. You find yourself staring at one point near the brink as the water falls over. What is it about water? There is mist coming from the foot of the falls and then large trails of foam moving down river.We could see the boats that take tourists right under the falls (our budget tour didnt allow, but no disappointment).
How do you describe either in words or picture something like
Niagara Falls? I think it was Frederick Church did one of the
best - the scale of the huge canvas was right. Painting water
is really really difficult.
AMERICAN ICONS - Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, Plymouth / Plimoth
Rock, White House, Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Uncle Sam, eagle,
Empire State Building ....today - Mickey Mouse, Coke, blue jeans.
In the last installment our heroes had joined the circle of RV busses at KOA Niagara, and were watching a sour sunset glistening off the rows of chrome. In our Festiva we felt like a poor Mormon family with a handcart, among the better sorts Conestoga wagons.
Up with the sun again we took the highroad to the cataract, following
in the footsteps of Father Hennepin and the millions of others.
Nobody warned us that industrial civilization and the tourist
economy has swallowed Niagara whole. There is a rough symmetry
here though, one of the great power places as magnet. The Weehawkenish
fuming and thrumming in the air, the tank towns and rusty refineries,
the majestic lines of high voltage towers marching to the horizon,
the convergences of pavement, railroad tracks, and Kodak-packers,
all culminating in a spumeous plunge, IS an apt emblem of the
American Dream (and you wake up needing to pee).
Bryce at falls
Peggy kept sneaking around, trying to get a cluster of Mennonite
gentlefolk in the picture. Peoplewatcher on the prowl. That must
have been when she lost her wallet out of her bag. Some voluntary
simplicity thing? In any case we didnt discover the loss until
we hit a toll booth at Buffalo. O the breathless sinking feeling
of a lost wallet. O identity. O plastic money. O shit.
We really have crossed over into a new age, however. Your hero
did NOT utter recriminations. Did NOT say the #$@%&* he was thinking.
Didnt even tremble violently and kick the car. We did boogie
back up the asphalt with our brains aboil. Came to a screeching
halt on I-197 out back of the KOA. I jumped the fence and quartered
our campsite, no go. Then explained to the trooper lady when I
got back to the car why I was playing alongside the traffic. She
wished us luck. Heart in mouth we pulled up to the gate at the
falls. The same attendant waved us through again (no fee for Festiva
Pilgrims, apparently), after directing us to Park Info for Lost
While I went back to the overlooks and stared at the ground (kind of like pointing at the sky in Times Square), Our Heroine said to the Info Lady, My name is Margaret Muir... And youre from a town in Maine I can't pronounce, she said. We danced the dance of the redeemed, to the roar of Niagara. Reborn, or at least re-plasticized, we made our getaway! "Have you got your wallet, Peggy? is our new mantra.