We went up to Canada last weekend to see Niagara Falls. I had always seen it in movies, and a few months back we saw a National Geographic special that really piqued my interest. Nothing in print, or on television, can do justice to the magnificence of the real thing. The water is clear and mesmerizing. The falls (both Canadian and American) are stunning forces of nature. The Gorge is filled with swirling waters and (right now) ice floes and sea gulls.
We did the whole tourist thing, the tunnels, the cable car over the whirlpool, and the trip up through wine country. The one thing that my mind's eye keeps coming back to is the little uninhabited island in the middle of the two major falls.
Its name is "Goat Island." In the middle of all that grandeur is "Goat Island." In juxtaposition to the commercialized overdevelopment in both the U.S. and Canadian quadrants, it looks particularly odd. There is a tourist perch on the edge called Terrapin Point, and two bridges connect the island to the mainland.
It got its name after the winter of 1780 when pioneer John Stedman's herd of goat's all died in the harsh cold. But they got an island named after them. These days it would have been a highway - but you understand the idea nonetheless. It is peculiar how something so centrally located could virtually escape the urban commercialization that fringes one's view of the island.
Remember what I've said before about legacy champions? Well, Goat Island had one. His name was Augustus Porter. Somewhere in the middle of the 1800s he said, "Hmmm. This is going to have some long term value." (paraphrased) So he purchased the island and allowed a group of Tuscarora Native Americans to live on the land and peddle to the tourists. That's not to say that he didn't face some issues, his first toll bridge got done in by ice. He built another one. That one soon became the best traveled walkway in the area. Then in 1885, the island was included in the Niagara Reservation State Park (the oldest state park in the U.S.).
Now you'd think I gathered all this flotsam and jetsam up in Niagara Falls wouldn't you? Nope. I had to wait until I got back home to get on Wikipedia to find out the facts, ma'am. I couldn't find any one person up there who knew diddly about the dang waterfall. When I would question the locals about whatever depth, width, height question - they'd shrug, wrinkle up their nose and say, "Eh, I dunno."
That'd be like us not knowing squat about Stone Mountain (who are the riders in the carving?) or the nickname for the Tom Moreland Interchange (Spaghetti Junction). Let's make it more local - Do you know how to get to Ola? Or how to pronounce Towaliga? Or the Legend of Butler's Bridge?
Before I go galloping off on my high horse, I think I'll do a tad more time with Gene Morris' book, "True Southerners."
Denese Rodgers is executive director of Connecting Henry, a social-service, networking organization in Henry County.