Niagara Falls...Almost Fell!

It was winter in Ontario. The year was 1998. I was on a national tour lecturing across Canada. One night Tracy, Ruby and I decided to visit world famous Horseshoe Falls. Niagara Falls is actually a collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the border between New York State and Ontario.

One of them is Horseshoe Falls and Horseshoe Falls is where this memorable event happened.

It was a frightfully cold night for a BC Boy, like -28° Celsius (-18° Fahrenheit), but apparently during the cold winter months at Horseshoe Falls, the water shoots up and sprays everywhere as it normally does, but because of the freezing cold ambient temperature, it literally freezes and creates a fantastic display of frozen icicles and spectacular designs suspended in the surrounding trees and tree branches. If the moon is out and full, the lighting effect is out-of-this-world. During winter and in the dark of night, the Falls create a mystical-like glow that yields a strange eerie sensation.

We wanted to see it.

So after dinner we drove down to the falls from our Hotel and parked close to where we could go up to the edge of the Falls. We wanted to see and feel the power and majesty of the Falls, so like most Niagara tourists, we decided to get as close as we possibly could.

After parking the car we all hopped out eager to see the Falls up close. They're not difficult to find. You just walk towards the sound of thunder.

As we approached the Falls, we noticed that all of the trees and bushes close to the edge of the Falls were laced with frozen limbs sagging down from the weight of ice frozen crystal clear. All of the fine spindly branches on the trees were covered in ice that sparkled in the light. The water torrent from the Falls sprayed high up into the air and began to freeze right in front of us onto the tree branches.

It was spectacular.

As we all approached the fence, a barrier that prevented any tourist or onlooker from getting too close and accidentally falling into the Falls, Ruby, the little rascal that she was, decided to bolt forward catching Tracy and I off guard. She just took off like active kids will and sprinted with excitement towards the frozen fence. We were about 2 or 3 meters away from the fence walking towards it.

Even as a child, Ruby was a strong and powerful athlete. She loved to run, and she was unusually fast. In fact we thought she was going to be an Olympic athlete.

Now the fence guarding the Falls was maybe four feet in height and completely covered in frozen water, a layer of ice maybe 2 or 3 inches thick. Of course the foot path we were walking on towards the Falls was also frozen and therefore very slippery.

Well by this time Ruby was on her way up over the fence and into the falls. That’s right. She peeled toward the fence, grabbed the railing with both hands, lifted herself up and over the top of the fence she went. Our little girl was heading right over and into the Falls, and because no one could survive such a trip, we knew it would be a sure fire one way ticket to eternity.

But quickly and suddenly, like an involuntary reflex impossible to control or initiate consciously, I lunged forward and grabbed Ruby by the scruff of her pants preventing her from going in, head first over the edge.

Now you've got to understand that all of this happened remarkably fast and impromptu. In fact it happened so fast I barely knew what was going on when it was happening. When I lunged forward and grabbed Ruby with everything I had, it was like watching myself in slow motion.

Stage left. By this time Tracy was completely freaking out and hyperventilating. We had almost lost our darling child! Our sweet precious Ruby. The emotions were very strong. She had come inches from a tragic and horrific demise. The thought alone is frightening, never mind the reality.

What a terrible feeling that was. Even thinking of the experience, now only a memory, is difficult. Tracy and I were both terrified and bewildered but also incredibly thankful. Our daughter was safe and I had saved her. For whatever reason, fate had other plans for Ruby.

When I think about my reaction speed, I'm reminded once again why being in functional athletic shape at any age is so important. Numerous times throughout my life I've responded quick enough to avoid certain death myself, be it in a car driving and swerving instantly out of harms way or on the roadside as a pedestrian diving out of the way to avoid being run over by a maniac.

Chance had saved Ruby, whoever Chance is or was. But we didn't care who, how or why, only that she was safe. We were so fortunate, so relieved. That Holly Luck embedded in the sound of our surname was certainly on our side that day.

But isn't fate what we make? Was it Ruby's destiny to go over Horseshoe Falls? Unknown. Did I prevent one of an infinite number of alternate realities from unfolding or was I simply part of one? We live in a world of ordered chaos, but it seems more like a chaos of disordered order. Does everything happen for a reason? Of course. Every event is an effect preceded by a previous cause. But how far back do the causes go? Where did the first one come from?

Whatever the reason, we thanked our lucky stars and rejoiced in our good fortune, and we still do. But like it or not, Ruby should have been wearing a harness with a short lease, even if she was 7 years old! We probably aged 10 years in one day because of that bizarre event!

Later I thought about what I would have done if Ruby had in fact, gone over the falls. Standing there watching my daughter go over the falls into millions of tons of water falling over 180 feet? What would I have done? To follow her over the edge and dive in after her would have meant certain death for me as well.

But there would have been no time to reconsider. I would most definitely have had to try and save her. In that kind of situation, how can a man not respond with action?

I would have had to dive in after her, into a certain death, but in the process, in my mind, knowing that I myself would be crushed at the bottom and die for certain, at least for a brief moment, I would have known I had tried, and in that situation, in that tiny fraction of time, it would have been my best possible effort.

Maybe I could have found her, squeezed her tight and saved her from drowning. Despite of what the Falls require as a toll charge for those who flirt with disaster, maybe we could have survived. We would both have had to survive the drop itself, the massive fall to grace, the freezing water temperature and the giant rocks and boulders below.

Somehow I had to believe, however impossible, that if I made the effort faced with death, that somehow, someway, we could have miraculously survived. Stranger things have happened.

How could I have lived with myself if I hadn't gone over to save her? How could I live with the pain of her death? The pain of her loss? Yes, I definitely would have jumped in after her. But then what about Tracy? What would she have done standing there after seeing us both go into the Falls? Her two closest companions now gone forever. Talk about a final act.

Would Tracy have jumped in after us? Thank goodness she never had to decide.

Superman Saves The Day At Niagra

Photo by Osama Sidat from Burst

Stay well and live free!