Last winter, 2011-
I had a very interesting conversation with 2 state troopers in the bitter cold pre-dawn hour this morning, on an ice covered walkway overlooking Niagara Falls. First they asked me, was that my van? Then, what was I doing there, and had I not seen the barriers that I had gone past in order to get to this spot? I quickly pointed out that I had not crossed the barriers; I had entered the area by the road that said "No Entry: Park Service Vehicles Only." It was a logical choice at 4:30 in the morning, upon arriving at the park after a long drive, only to find it closed due to icy conditions.
It was well worth the trespassing. There was a vast plume of fog and mist billowing down the echoing chasm, with the falls thundering through it, and all the trees on the rim of the gorge had a thick coating of rime-ice. I found it perfectly enchanting. But then the officers arrived, and they were skeptical.
"Are you sure you didn't come here to hurt yourself; something along those lines?" one of them kept asking me. He wouldn't come right out and say what he was insinuating; anyway, I kept saying of course not.
Finally, after the third or fourth question and answer, I gazed out over the yawning edge of the precipice, and observed, "If I had come here to hurt myself, I would be dead now."
This was the wrong answer. "Why do you say that?!" the officer barked in alarm, all his suspicions redoubled. The other fellow was giving me an intense squint.
"Look," I told them, "I came here to view the Falls. I love Niagara Falls; I would never dream of doing anything to harm this park, or myself." Finally, they relaxed a bit.
"You understand why we have to ask these questions," one asked me. I assured them, very apologetically, that I did understand. I implored them to let me be an honorary Park Service Vehicle, just for 20 minutes, just this once.
"Why should I do that?" the officer asked. He was softening up.
And thus began our interesting talk. The conversation had been preceded by the usual, "May I see some identification," and then the other routine questions about why I was there at that unusual hour and season. Didn't I know that I could be liable for some serious fines for what I had done? Why, the van was even pointed in the wrong direction on a one-way avenue! (Deserted though it was.)
My situation, as I explained it to them, was that I was driving all night on my return trip back to Boston from Cleveland, where I had driven my son to his college, and I had not been expecting anyone to be stirring at this beastly hour: the dark hour before dawn in the ghostly fog. However, as they explained to me, at this time the night watch at the park happened to be on high alert for suicides. Unstable characters were drawn to this place frequently, especially at this season, and there had been an unpleasant event right on this spot a mere week ago. A man had illegally entered the park (imagine that!) at much the same time as this, and he had disappeared without a trace: presumed dead over the falls. And without question, my present activity certainly fell into the category of "irregular." However, they ended up letting me drive away, which I considered terribly decent of them.
"Be careful," one said. "This place is a sheet of ice. I fell down investigating your van." I didn't press him for further details about that; I told him I would be careful. They even directed me to the one viewing area that was still open to public access, with a parking lot within walking distance of one of the finest overlooks. It was awesome: you could walk right up to a railing at the icy edge of the thundering torrent; swirling mist, bitter cold, and a faint gleam of dawn beginning. I went and stood for awhile, immersed in the roaring thunder, on the verge of infinity.
I'm sure they were watching me from concealment, and I'm sure they were relieved to finally see my taillights; to find out that I was not a jumper after all.
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