The sense of being in the presence of forces far beyond our comprehension and control. The sudden clarity of knowing that no matter how powerful we become, there are some things in this world that will forever dwarf us, that will continue existing long after our own brief lives have been exhausted. It’s a hefty dose of amazement, spiked with a good deal of fear and respect, all churned together to create an experience that borders on the spiritual.
It’s a feeling that’s been rendered largely obsolete in today’s world, where the unblinding light of science and technology has swept away so many of the mysteries that used to haunt us. We see godly feats and otherworldly settings every day through our phones and TVs, and the answers to unsettling questions are never further away than a quick Google search. The awesome saturates our lives, to the point where many of us find the “real world” profoundly uninteresting. But occasionally, one finds a place so transcendental, so magnificent, that it pierces through the layers of our psyche and penetrates into their very soul.
For me, that place was the Niagara Falls.
Visiting the falls was the climax of a several day trip that took my family and me through much of upstate New York. We visited the Corning Museum of Glass, a beautiful paean to glassworking from ancient times to modern. I was particularly intrigued by a piece by a Mexican artist, titled “Carroña”. The glassblowing demonstration and the exhibit on the history of glass production were also quite fascinating. From there, we headed north, crossing the border into Canada. We visited the Skylon Tower in Ontario, a huge tower that boasts a revolving restaurant with glorious views of the falls. We watched the nightly firework shows from the tower, before heading to our hotel, looking forward to seeing the falls up close.
The next day, we took the short bus ride to the falls. We roamed around the park surrounding the lakes before lining up for the ferry that would take us as close to the falls as we could get. The noise of thousands of tons of water in freefall was clearly audible, even on the dock. As the ferry got close to the falls, the roar became louder and louder until it enveloped me, transporting me into another world. All of my senses were perfectly engaged. I could feel the drops of spray on my face and hands, taste the cool water on my tongue, see the sheer magnitude of water falling, as though an entire ocean had burst its bounds and was now rushing forth. It was at that moment that I realized the true meaning of awe.
Since then, I have traveled to many places. I have hiked parts of the Grand Canyon and seen Dubai from the top of the tallest building on Earth. But no experience has ever quite matched up to that moment in Niagara when the falls overtook me. That moment remains crystal clear in my mind, one of the greatest experiences of my life. Niagara, to me, represents all the magic of traveling.
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