The River Niagara by Donald Lashelle


1930’s Aerial View of Niagara Falls. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library


In nature, all acts that have gone before
Leave traces, record marks, clues, tracks in store
That many persons pause to ponder o’er.
From inside outwards was the earth’s crust made,
The hollows caved in, the high mountains stayed,
Encircling flames produced the waters vast,
And time and seasons scaled things to the last.


Would thirty thousand years of effort score
On your astonishment a mark, or more?
Then hearken to a tale of work replete
With action in rain, sunshine, frost and sleet.
The speaker is NIAG’RA RIVER, old,
Clear, turbulent, odd, scenic giver, bold.


With strength unshorn by time, and white of brow,
But not from years, I am the center now
For myriads that travel from far and
Near to view my Falls as the cascade grand.
My life is in the cycle of the rain,
My strength from waters the Great Lakes retain.


The first to view the drainage plan, of three
Such large lakes flowing into Erie free,
Thence through me to a fifth and on to sea,
Said, “This is quite rare and not apt to be.”
Important link am I, from fourth to last,
The present scanned, the future viewed, or past.


The deep flow of my misting Horseshoe Falls,
Out does thin water leaping from side walls.
The view and sound effects are rapturous,
The roar, thump grind and spray continuous.
At what they sense, the millions gaze appalled,
Awondering, breath indrawn, stilled, enthralled.  


For many, rising quickly from the heart,
Are certain, clear impressions at the start.
The rarest beauty, grandeur, forceful stress
Cause admiration, awe, and mindfulness
Of the extent of earth’s big plan of things,
And other views but more enchantment brings.


Supreme, when at my Falls’ foot, is the test;
The tourists looking upwards at the crest
Through mists that seek a blending with the sky,
A snow-white vapor column rising high,
Are thrilled, feel the drops, hear the thudding sounds
Of fourteen millions, fiercly falling pounds.


Clear water gives the colors white and green
To this historic, rough hewn, massive scene.
The ledges steep show as a tan-tint gray
With here and there a touch of rose-tint gay.
Odd views and scenes, one or more lastingly,
Are etched on the film of each memory.


Observe me at my start, if you can see
Reversed to twenty eight-thousand, B.C.,
When in my pride, as since, I loafed along
Between low, keen banks, with a burbling song,
O’er a firm, hard bed to a ledge of stone,
Poised my great weight and boldly leaped alone.


That first leap from the ledge was not a try
To do one great deed in a day and die,
But was a sharp demand that water flow
Out of Lake Erie to Ontario
And thence to sea.    This did and will proceed
Until grand nature works some other need.


Of history, five ages, maybe more,
Could pass since my first, loud, persistent roar
Broke forth with no receiving eye or ear
To mark, make confirmation, or to hear.
This part of my time span has equalled then
Ten hundred generations of mere men.


While this or that occurred on the round earth,
I constantly worked near my place of birth;
Erosive, bulky, fast, untiring, strong,
I toiled away, be my task right or wrong,
And hence today, there is displayed a part
Of the ambitious plan mapped at the start.


From Erie to my first leap, thirty miles,
Was over hard, smooth, sediment’ry tiles,
In thickness seventy-five feet alone,
And resting on soft shales and coarse sand stone
Which, torn apart by the hard falling spasm,
Wash steadily away and leave a chasm.


Where this effective, rending act prevails
The staunch, old crust of my bed cracks and fails:
Breaks off, falls down, and soon to bits is ground.
Much proof is shown; huge slabs can now be found
Here and there near the shore, or in the flow,
Or as a rough base for my bright rainbow.


By falling sixty yards, I dig the same,
Lest some great force be lost beyond reclaim,
And thus you will see, if so fortunate,
A seven mile Gorge that is deep and great,
Reserved, in part, by my deep, rushing flow
Determined to reach the great lake below.


In the Gorge, my unnavigable part,
Obstructions might be moved that could help start
A change.    My Falls would be a good ten yards more
And the Maid of the Mist Pool would be low’r.
My strong erosive force would slightly gain
And my established channel would remain.


Fair seven miles of Gorge, cliff lined and keen,
Show mostly natural scenes, gray or green.
The waters of the Maid of the Mist Pool
Start from the Horseshoe, eddying and cool,
Impatient grow with steep, confining sides,
And break between with mighty waves and glides.


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Captain Matthew Webb who lost his life attempting to swim the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

These rapids are seen to be rushing strong,
Where Captain Webb’s bold swim resulted wrong.
Next is the Whirlpool where swirl mighty streams
That sink, rise and pass on as smooth as dreams.
One mile beyond is rough Niag’ra Glen;
Where are in stone, large holes not bored by men.


For ages I worked, lonely at my chore,
Until the last few centuries or more
When humans and canoes skimmed by before
LaSalle launched “Griffon” from my eastern shore,
And blazed the way for much that has been won
From woods and wilds, and for construction done.


Viewed from the cable car, wire-held on high,
The Whirlpool shows sights to delight the eye;
The spidery, steel strands from shore to shore
Revert some thoughts to days long gone before
When Blondin, Leslie, Dixon, strong with hope,
Crossed the Gorge, back and forth, on wire or rope.


Swift over my high Falls went Taylor game,
As other stunters, lured by risk and fame;
B. Leach came fast in a steel barrel-boat
And Jean Lussier in rubber-felt ball float,
Nissen and Larsen, nerves alert and cool,
Steered northward from the Maid of the Mist Pool.


Nearby are monuments to deeds of men,
LaSalle, Brock, Johnson, Hennepin, and then
A budding science turned both eye and ear
To certain features of my long career
And bound my strength to electricity
For commerce, homes, display and industry.


Much electricity, a mighty force,
Now radiates from here by wires of course;
The Falls, streets, buildings, parks are light as day,
White heat in mammoth furnace blasts is play,
The sick are helped, winged words fly far, wheels turn,
And few the tasks this active force will spurn.


These modern places are not hard to find,
Substantial, useful, trim, they serve in kind;
In parts, they spin, hum and sing gleefully,
Controlling my great strenght most fittingly.
It is mind over matter, modern way,
If this can be heard in such tuned display.


At times, some structures, bridges, forms precise
Are over strained by winter’s surplus ice.
As other seasons pass, they stand so proud
While nature drafts, in whole or part, a shroud
And carves a caution clear on steel and stone,
“When years of service pass, ye shall lie prone.”


Without control, regretful, dreaded plight,
My Falls will steadily erode outright.
Far better to be bound and marshalled here
Than to erode wholesale and interfere
With navigation, ports and industry
And lose my scenic Falls, and energy.


An excavator of much strength and skill,
My open, glaring record gives more thrill
Than puzzled visitors expect to find;
So very few have thought that I might grind
Relentless, day and night, and with my flow
Carve out a scenic gorge to Buffalo.


Some calculated my great age to be
From Thirty Seven Thousand, net B.C.
My efforts have moved now, up to this day,
ONE BILLION CUBIC YARDS of stone and clay,
And for some Great Lakes make another shore.


Out of Lake Erie, my new channel low
Would drain all harbors westward, and if so,
Trade, commerce, peoples, steamships, tugs and things
Would follow the routes that lake water brings.
All city sites that faced on the lake line
Would be left on a creek, high and supine.


Now high, now low, combined or variate.
My Falls, eroded at a changing rate,
They should be highest, by fair estimate,
Near twenty-two hundred and eighty-eight
Unless dams, weirs or works of men forestall;
Whatever is done should be done for all.


Long centuries in geologic span
Count as short breaths in the brief life of man.
In one tick of a clock, a mite is done,
Clock after clock wears out but on I run;
My efforts follow methods slow and sure,
The rock formation may not long endure,
And failing, leave my age old plan secure.

Source: Donald Lashelle. The River Niagara. Buffalo: Hammond Press, 1938.

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