Water Falls. It Really Does.

[First, to get this out of the way, allow me to introduce you to Miss Globe-head. That’s her over there on the right. And if you don’t know why I’m introducing the two of you, please check my previous post.]

For a number of reasons — most of them having to do with writing, by the way — I’ve been fascinated for years by the country of Wales.

(The Missus might argue with that “most of them,” by the way. She believes that I must have lived a former life there, and maybe she’s right. Not that I have any memory of it. Or evidence of it, for that matter, beyond the fascination.)

This Welsh thing of mine has taken several turns. I’ve got books about the history and culture of Wales. I’ve got a Welsh-English/English-Welsh dictionary. Somewhere along the line I even picked up a cassette-tape “teach yourself Welsh” language-instruction course.

Sometime in the early ’90s I was in a used bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia, and came across a beautiful picture book called The Waterfalls of Wales, by one John Llewelyn Jones. (And it was beautiful, despite the fact that except for the cover, all its photographs were in black-and-white.)

Aside from the Welsh connection, I think what drew me to the book was the subject: waterfalls in general.

Now, if you’ve been following weather news during this hurricane season, you know that the topic of running water is especially fraught for people around the state of Florida right now. But the water-borne terrors of Fay, say, are of a completely different character than the sorts of running water I’m thinking of.

Consider, for example, this photograph (not from the book) of Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn, Afon Mellte (roughly, “White Meadow Lower Falls, [on the] River Mellte” — and if anyone can supply more polish to the translation, please speak up!):

I don’t want to inject significance into your head where no prior significance exists. But it’s hard for me to imagine someone who might look at that photo and run away in fear or, shuddering, say, Ewwwww! (I am prepared to accept, though, that someone who lives near a setting such as this might simply yawn. More’s the pity for them!)

Growing up in southern New Jersey as I did, I had few opportunities other than on TV and in movies to see water tumbling downhill over rocks for more than a few inches at a time. My first first-hand exposure to waterfalls came during a Boy Scout camping trip, maybe in 1962 or so.

Back then, anyhow, most of our troop’s overnight camping trips took place in the Jersey Pines. There the signature experience (for me) — when trying not to drown — was trying to keep one’s eyes open at night, lest one drop off… to become famous in the tabloids, weeks later, as the Jersey Devil‘s next victim. (In my mind, I could already hear my parents sobbing. “Why did he have to sleep?!?” they’d wail.)

Not this trip, for some reason. (Who knew how an adult Scoutmaster’s mind worked?) Rather, we went to a forested area of northeast Pennsylvania, near the city of Wilkes-Barre. The campsite was a big clearing, and I don’t recall anything of the camp itself except that our camp food — for at least one meal — consisted of Sloppy Joes and a form of fruit juice we called, for some reason, “bug juice.”

What I never forgot was the name of the Pennsylvania State Park whose trails we hiked: Ricketts Glen. The name itself stood out in my mind, so that when I later heard of Watkins Glen I never confused it with Ricketts Glen — even before I knew the former was in New York rather than Pennsylvania.

And although I’d been in the woods many times (some would argue that I’ve never gotten out of the woods), I’d never been in woods like these. Like the Frost line says, these woods were lovely, dark, and deep. And as I made my way along the trail, I found myself enthralled by the sound of the water. Water ran everywhere, in all those delicious-sounding verbs like trickle, babble, and plash. Water dripped from ferns, ran in rivulets down rock walls, pooled in every low-lying hollow until it overflowed there, too, and then ran over the rocky lip and raced ever further, presumably to the Atlantic Ocean.

But I had no thought at the time where the water might be headed. All I could think of then was, first, the colors: the blue and silver and deep greens and browns of trees, trees reflected in the water, sky reflected in the water and on the surfaces of shining rocks, the water itself, the water, the water…

And I couldn’t imagine how much water was there, and how much water had already run over these same rocks and cliffs, and how much, apparently, was backed up behind it. I didn’t get it then, and to some extent still don’t get it — the way that all that water (even with the global warming, the shrinking of the ice caps, extended droughts) always runs, especially downhill from mountains to foothills in brooks and streams and rivers, but never seems to run out.

And these really aren’t, y’know, ginormous waterfalls or anything.

Something like Angel Falls in Venezuela — the world’s tallest, at 3,200+ feet?

I’m telling you, I’m serious: Where does it all come from?

(And yes, I know, I know already: I know as a matter of dull scientific fact where it comes from. I’m just saying I don’t get that the there — all those snowy mountaintops, trickle-trickle-rush-roar — that the there is so seemingly inexhaustible that it doesn’t simply dry up.)

(But hmm, now that I think about it… Kinda like sentences, eh? which likewise just keep rolling along.)

Finally, I leave you with one more image.

Turner Classic Movies loves the 1953 film Niagara, with Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten. As the critic Robert Weston says:

Niagara is a good movie for noir fans who crave something a little different… Undoubtedly, the best reason to see Niagara is just as the trailer promised: for the scenery. There’s some terrific location work that showcases the breathtaking aspects of the Falls before the city evolved into a tawdry Canadian answer to Atlantic City; and of course, there’s a gal name Marilyn Monroe, burgeoning at her humble beginnings.

(Ah, Robert Weston, you sly devil: you had fun with that “burgeoning,” didn’t you?)

Here’s a publicity still from the film; so much for “the scenery” — of which the studio clearly had a different notion than Mr. Weston.

Somehow, this image doesn’t exactly chime for me (as those above do) with the majesty of the outdoors. “A raging torrent of of emotion that even nature can’t control!” indeed. Leave it to Hollywood, which — given a choice — always goes for subtlety.

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  1. John, this is really a beautiful post. Waterfalls always amaze me, particularly so when they’re hidden away in the woods.

    On a side note, I used to drink bug juice at Girl Scout camp. The counselors would tell us that its green color came from all the bugs they had to squish to make it. Yum!

    Now I’m going to have to search out Niagara!

    Thanks for joining in on the party route. I really enjoyed my stop at your place!

  2. @Wonders Never Cease – Funny about the green bug juice. Maybe it was region-specific, or maybe it had something to do with teaching us our gender roles as men-to-be — carnivores in training, y’know — but ours (if I remember correctly) was red.

    Thanks for organizing the party. Miss Globetrotting Globe-head seems to be getting a real workout. :)

  3. You’re aware then of Peter Ho Davies’ The Welch Girl, right?

  4. @Shelly Lowenkopf – I must have read of it somewhere, sometime; the descriptions I just read sound awfully familiar. (They also make a good case for not overlooking it.) That said, thank you very much for the reminder, Shelly — Amazon will be sending you your finder’s fee!

  5. I wanted to do a wonder of the world today. I thought about and thought about and had several wonders in mind…and then the day was gone.

    But your wonder is, of course, wonderful.

    reCaptcha is a wonder in and of itself. Today–Mellen Sunset. Indeed.

  6. @marta – Funny… all yesterday I kept coming across things I wished I’d “wondered about” instead of what I chose (which on retrospect seemed completely obvious). reCaptcha was one of the first!

    When I read your Boys with Sheep post yesterday, I thought to myself, laughing and shaking my head, Dang, she’s good! See, I’d convinced myself that you’d picked young love/first love as a wonder and, in classic writing on the water style, had just “mysteried it up.”

    Laughing and shaking my head anew, now. :)

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