Finally on the road again. Sun is shining. Scenery is vernal. Sweet scents of spring waft through the cab as we cruise I-90 from Massachusetts to New York. Singing merrily to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,"we are happy, stupidly happy, for a moment, till Ken points to a monster sky ahead. Big black clouds gather menacingly toward us as pelting rains viciously attack our windshield and bounce off like bullets on Superman's chest. The wipers can't keep pace with the angry, tormenting rain. Thunder growls. Lightening bolts snap, crackle and pop before our blinking eyes. We exit onto a small country road leading to the campground in Cooperstown where we have reservations for tonight. Suddenly, some young ruffians drive alongside the truck and wildly signal us to stop. "Oh-oh," I worry. "Road bandits! "But no banditos. Just a warning that a window is open in our RV behind us. We pull off the road and discover that the window is not open. No. It's gone. Blown completely off. An office window, too, right next to the computer. Little puddles dot the desktop. A few rags and many moans and groans later we're back on the road again, dodging and swerving around gigantic trees downed in the tornado that we had just missed. Harsh yellow lights from public utility trucks blink incessantly. Screeching sirens blare ubiquitously. Houses and buildings sit in depressed blackness, defeated by the storm, made powerless by Mother Nature whose ferocious winds howl to us, "Welcome to New York, suckers."
Time for repairs. The wind outside is mean, wild, unmerciful. Ken is outdoors balancing precariously on the end of a picnic table trying desperately to cover the window hole with plastic and duct tape, his shirt blows straight out like a flag on a flagpole. The place is cold and lonely. The RV shakes inside like it's possessed by the devil himself. I sit staring forlornly at my hot tea that tastes suspiciously like rubber. Don't know if it's the RV hose or the flavor of the water here. Whatever the reason, rubber-tasting tea offers no solace. As I sit wondering why we are so unlucky, a hummingbird hovers by my window for a full minute. My eyes are fixed on its beauty. Its elegance. So exquisite. So unexpected. So exciting. Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip. Its wings flutter rapidly into a colorful blur. A bit of joy brightens the bitter day.
There are not many biographies (only three) on James Fenimore Cooper. That's because on his deathbed Cooper made his daughter, Susan, promise to destroy his mementos and never ever cooperate with the biographer vultures waiting for his last breath. Never knew that. Also never knew that James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F.B. Morse (the guy who invented the telegraph) were friends. Morse was always over Cooper's house and sometimes managed Cooper's affairs. The old geezer even wanted to marry Cooper's young daughter but Cooper wouldn't hear of it.
Time to leave Cooperstown and head to the campgrounds at Niagara Falls.
While packing up we meet our only neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt. Mr. Gaunt wrote a book on baseball called, "We Would Have Played Forever," about old-time minor league players and their love for the game. He comes here every year to do research. The Gaunts are what's called full-timers, which means they live in their RV and travel to their hearts' content. Hearing that we are neophytes, they give us some pointers and wish us luck.
Here we are at Niagara Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. A seismic site. The Falls are stunning. The parks nearby, neatly flowered and beautiful. The town itself, though, ouch. It is sorely disheveled. Houses sag in disrepair. Time-worn, neon-lit shops and old factories argue against the ultra-malls and big fancy hotels elbowing in. Ken says, "Zoning. That's the problem. Poor zoning."
We board the famous150-year old "Maid of the Mist" boat tour. The captain relates the story of a seven year old boy who fell in the Falls back in 1961. The kid was wearing nothing but a bathing suit and a life vest and yet he lived. I want to know more, so at the Visitor's Center I buy a book called "Niagara and the Daredevils" to see if this incident is listed, even though the boy is not technically a daredevil. He's in the book. His name is Roger Woodward. He had been boating with a neighbor when the boat got caught in the rapids and went over the Falls. The neighbor's body was crushed beneath the tons of rushing water, but Roger's lightweight body was propelled out and over. He was rescued by the "Maid of the Mist." Incredible. I wonder where Roger is today. He must be about 44 years old. How did that accident affect his life? He survived the Falls, but how did he survive the memories?
Another survivor was a school teacher named Annie Taylor. In 1901, she was the first person, not the first woman, mind you, the first PERSON to go over the Falls in a barrel. Even though her cat died when she tested the idea, Mrs. Taylor tried the stunt and lived to tell about it. She did it to win fame and fortune. She won the fame, no fortune. The book says she died a pauper. When I told Ken the story, he asked, "What is a pauper anyway? And, how do you know if you are one?"