Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Taughannock Falls


Taughannock Falls, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, is 215 feet tall, set in a 400 foot gorge. Its waters empty into Cayuga Lake. The waterfall is 33 feet higher than Niagara Falls, highest free-falling waterfall in the North Eastern United States, and one of the highest of any kind east of the Rocky Mountains. Taughannock Falls State Park is around fifteen miles from my childhood home.

One of my earliest memories is of being there with my mother and father. It is not a memory that I cherish. It is a dark memory that lurks in the inner spaces of my consciousness. I wonder whether or not all very small children have retained memories of very scary places where they went with their parents.

My father took me to the edge of the gorge, at the lookout point, where there is a stone wall. I vividly remember that he threw a tree branch into the gorge to see how long it took to hit the bottom. His throwing that branch over the edge was the basis of many nightmares over the ensuing years.

Dad loved waterfalls and was always visiting them in our area and all over New York State. He took us with him. The area where I lived had many falls in gorges that emptied into Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.

I took my own children to the same types of places, including Taughannock. We went to many gorges and waterfalls up and down the East Coast, some of them a number of times. Niagara Falls, the gorge and several falls at Letchworth, Watkins Glen, Ausable Chasm, several waterfalls in the Finger Lakes Area, Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon; all were seen by my children when they were very young.

I left the two youngest in the car while the older two stepped out right in front of the car with us to look over the railing at the Grand Canyon, because I didn’t want the smallest ones near the railing. I was always nervous having children at Niagara Falls, also. The kids have never really told me that they have had a lifelong fear caused by being exposed to waterfalls and gorges, although the girls are just as nervous with their children as I was with mine. I would get a weak-in-the-knees feeling if they were close to the railings, and had more nightmares. Why did we go there?

My aunt and uncle, parents of my closest cousin, lived on a farm near Cayuga Lake. Almost immediately behind their barn was a 125 foot waterfall, Sheldrake Falls, in a 150 foot gorge, according to figures I grew up with. You could barely step around the corncrib without falling over the edge, even though my cousin and I did just that. We also played in the corncrib, and when it was empty, we played house in there. We hiked what we called the Indian Path, high on the sides of the upper creek banks, all of the time, any time of the year. We always loved being there.

When we weren’t in the upper creek, we hiked in the gorge. There was a very long path down the side of the gorge, around a bend and at one end of a field. It was a wonderful walk through the gorge to the bottom of the waterfall, along the shale banks of the creek, occasionally through the water via stepping stones, to the great swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. Bumping into an occasional snake was a bit unsettling, but I survived. One summer, when there was not so much water going over the falls, she and I decided to climb to the top. The rock was like ledges in the face of the falls, so it was possible to do so, and I did alright until I was half way to the top. Then a snake appeared, startled me, and I slipped on my backside all the way to the bottom over the mossy rocks. I don’t like snakes, and I didn’t try to climb back up.

This waterfall is one that I visited with my children many times, and my cousin’s brother still owns the farm. I have had nightmares about the place most of my life. It is strange that people continue to do things that upset them. I would go there now, if given the opportunity, because it is a place of great beauty, as is Taughannock, a few miles south of Sheldrake Falls. I would go, and I would have nightmares.


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