6.21.2014

Back to the Islands

They say you can't go back, but they're wrong. You can go back, as often as you like. But you might not like what you find there. When I was in school, 'driving around' was a legitimate way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Everyone would pitch in a couple of dollars for gas, and those two or three dollars bought a full day's worth of exploring. A few times we wound up in Toronto, but most often our destination was Niagara Falls. One of my friends was a little obsessed with the Falls (in a good way) and another had actually grown up there, so she knew all the secret places. She brought us to a place which became my favorite place in the world: the Three Sisters Islands. The TSIs are, as the name implies, three small islands off the west side of Goat Island (Goat Island separates the American Falls from the Canadian Horseshoe Falls). Of course there's a whole mythology about how they're named for the three daughters of a general and they're haunted blah blah blah, but none of that was the reason why the TSIs were so special. Wild, untamed and nearly forgotten, you could wander the islands, walk right up to the raging rapids, and do all the thinking in the world without ever seeing another person. It was an incredible spot. The noise was deafening and yet it was a place of complete and utter peace. You could easily forget that you were just a few hundred feet from one of the world's most crowded tourist spots. As the years passed, I kept those memories of the islands but with no car and 'things to do' it was many years before I returned to visit. It wasn't exactly how I remembered... there were people there. True, only a handful, but still. I was surprised at first, and a little disappointed, but I soon realized that we all had solitude in mind and so everyone sort of spread out over the three islands and it was just as if you were alone. But each visit there were more and more people, until eventually complete solitude was out of the question. That's ok. It was still a magnificent place, and I still greatly enjoyed my visits there even if I could occasionally catch glimpses of other people out of the corners of my eyes. Then New York State stepped in with 'improvements'. The first thing they did was clear out about seventy percent of the foliage (trees, shrubs, plants). The wild, dense islands now looked more parklike. Then they put up fences preventing you from going anywhere near the rapids. This restricted visitors to probably forty percent of the islands' area, where in the past you were free to go pretty much anywhere if you were brave enough to climb up and over the rocks. The paths within the fenced area were paved with faux cobblestones, and in the one improvement I approve of, two of the three bridges were replaced. A parking lot and tour bus stop (!!) were added, and almost overnight the islands were overrun by tourists who were simply checking off another attraction on their list, not visiting and appreciating a unique spot. On my first post renovation visit, I almost cried, and I vowed (on FaceBook, no less) that I would never return. 'The Three Sisters Islands are dead to me!' I posted in my most dramatic style. Well, time passed and I started to wonder if I hadn't been too harsh. So this year I went back, and the island foliage is coming back but it was just as bad as I remembered. Except that it really wasn't bad unless I continued to compare it to the almost sacred place it used to be. It's actually still quite amazing, and if I were to visit the islands for the first time today, they'd still be one of my favorite places. So I've decided to consider my memory of the islands a completely different place; one I can remember and cherish and love but never return to. And the islands of today are a perfectly pleasant place to spend some time. If they remind me of that sacred place in my past, well, that's only a coincidence.


1 comment:

joy patterson said...

Thank you for writing! Thank you!,