20 April 2009

Mom's Birthday

The longer my Mom is around, the more trouble I have in coming up with gift ideas for Christmas and birthdays. She has all the stuff she could possibly need and more. When I ask her what she wants she just tells me that she wants me to continue going to church and being a good father to my children. Inspiring, but hardly something I can wrap up and give to her.

However, this year I put together a couple of clues she gave me. I went to see her on my birthday, which was one of the high days of abstinence this year, and together we went to Mass at St Patrick's downtown, the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On our way back she began telling me how, when travelling, she likes to take new and different ways and see things she has never seen before. Later on, during March Break, I took the kids on a tour of battlefields and other sites on the Niagara Peninsula, and then dropped by mom's house to show her the photos. Among other things was a picture of Decew Falls, which cause Mom to say "So that's Decew Falls! I've heard about it but never seen it." So, putting two and two together, I came up with a birthday present for Mom: I would take her on a dive through the Niagara Peninsula. I called up my cousin who had been my family's guide in March, and he agreed to guide mother and myself on another tour. I then rented a car and told mother to keep last Saturday open. Come Saturday morning I showed up at her house, and told her to get her paints and sketch books (she's an artist) and told her to get into the car. It sounds harsh, but it's also the best way of dealing with mom. Had I told her what I planned, she would have said: "That's very thoughtful dear, but I don't want to put you through any trouble," and then getting her into the car would have been like pulling teeth, because she didn't want to be a bother, you see.

So off we went, and we spent a lovely day driving around Niagara, which Winston Churchill once called "The most beautiful Sunday drive in the world." We visited battlefields from the War of 1812 and the Rebellion of 1837. We visited waterfalls which are not named Niagara, and then Niagara itself. We ate at two haunted restaurants.

Among the first places we visited was Decew House, or the ruins of it, as arsonists burned the place down in 1950. This house is famous as being the end point of Laura Secord's famous journey in 1813, when she set off to warn lieutenant Fitzgibbon and his men that the Americans were panning a trap. Nearby the Decew house is Decew Falls, which was our next stop. As mother and I were walking around i asked her if she would like to have her lawn chair and paints so she could paint. She answered that there was too much wind, and too many people around to do that, and wished I had brought a camera. As it turned out, I did have a camera, a little pink one with Hannah Montana on the side, which I had borrowed from Younger for the day. That was the end of my peace. Mother now began ordering me around, telling me to photograph the mills and the falls, wanting pictures from this angle and that one, so she could paint the falls later. Here are a few photos from the day.

Here's one of the two mills at the falls, seen from the side just above the falls. The mill is reflected in the mill pond. Mill ponds such as this, by the way, pop up in Canadian history and literature quite frequently. Among other things, when frozen in winter they were the ideal location for young boys to play a fledgling sport called "hockey".

Here's from the falls side. This would be a great photo if it weren't for my blasted thumb. The stream here is going over the Niagara Escarpment, just as the Niagara river does, so the drop is more considerable than this photo shows. Ten thousand years ago, after the glaciers had retreated, there were five Niagara like rivers flowing over the Escarpment. This stream is what remains of one of them.

Another picture, farther up the path that runs along the river valley.

Below is another one of the streams that was once a mighty flood. This waterfall is called Ball's Falls. I think it was the prettiest of the ones we saw that day. Again, it is flowing over the Escarpment, and falls as far as Niagara.

The river has carved out a large bowl shaped gorge that you really have to see. The camera doesn't do it any justice. below is a photo which shows the strata in the rock of the Escarpment, looking as though this river was a knife cutting through a multi-layered cake.

If you're in the Niagara area looking at waterfalls, you pretty much can't miss this one: Niagara itself. Oscar Wilde referred to the Falls as "A vast and unnecessary body of water flowing in the wrong direction," and more famously as "A bride's second biggest disappointment."

It is interesting to compare the mighty Niagara with Decew and Ball's Falls. Decew and Ball's falls are very pretty, even beautiful. The words "pretty" and "beautiful" don't quite seem to describe Niagara. "Awesome" and "frightening" are better words. The Romantics would have described it as "sublime", a word which, by definition, was indefinable. That's Niagara.

The day we went the falls seemed to have more water going over than usual. The spray was so think we could not see across the horseshoe.

Here's another picture of the Falls with a lovely shot of the back of Mom's head. She pretty much refused to have any pictures taken of her.

On clearer days in the afternoon when the sun is high overhead you can see why the falls are called the Rainbow Falls. it's not because of their curved shape, but because you can generally see something like this, which we saw during our visit in March:

Our last stop of the day was a site not far from the Falls. it was the battlefield of the battle of Lundy's Lane, which was fought in a graveyard on a hill. It was the bloodiest battle ever fought in this part of Canada. There is a monument in the cemetery commemorating the battle, and I will blog about that one day, but close by was another monument, a gravestone.

It's the burial place of Laura Secord. (That's mom on the left, backing out of the photo) Among other things we had traced her steps from her house to Decew, and ended up at her final resting place.
It had been a goo day for us all. Our guide was magnificent, and our little jaunt would have been impossible without him. Mom was in good spirits. i had worried we would tire her out, but she kept up all day long, and was quite happy at the end of the day. She finished the day by reminding me that she wanted copies of all the photos from the day so she could get to work on her paintings. I guess I had better get on with that.

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