Falls of the Eternal Flame - CC Road Trip Day 5
We woke up late and groggy after driving so long the day before, and the world looked strange, as it always does when you have such an expansive day followed by a bizarre sleep in a place unknown to you.
We were in New York. Our destination state. Today we would arrive at my new home.
Our first goal of the day to get in a morning swim from the shore of Lake Eerie. I used to spend birthday in August in Ohio every other summer and we would swim in Lake Eerie with family. It was where my mom grew up, so we’d visit her mom - my grandma, and we were really close. So ever since then, when I hear about Lake Eerie it reminds me of my Mom and Grandma, and those summers in Ohio. So, with these family ties connected to this body of water, I made my way onto a dock under bright sun. After facing the wind and darkness of the night before on Lake Ontario, this experience of the last of the five Great Lakes felt freeing. It was an accomplishment and I dove in openly.
To be a human, is to have awareness of the other humans have shaped you. To exist otherwise would be to exist in a vacuum. So I took my family with me into the lake that day.
Clear water, clear skies, swimming alongside the old industrial relics of industry in Buffalo New York. Maybe not the cleanest place in the world to swim, but for that moment on that day, I wouldn't have chosen anywhere else in the world to take a dip.
We drove East from there stopping at more farm stands, and instead of stopping for a proper lunch we made up a game we called, “sweet corning”, where you stop every few miles or so and buy another couple ears of corn for a quarter a piece to eat raw in the car. As soon as you’re done with an ear, you pull over and get another. We had corn silks and corn stalks all over us, and kernels stuck in our teeth. I wanted to make a proper entrance into New York city that day, so I figured showing up with my face covered in corn stuff, barefoot, smelling like wood smoke with 5 days worth of dirty clothes on would help me make a good impression.
Another highlight along the way was stopping at a place called, Fall of the Eternal Flames. It sounds like the title of a 80’s metal album, which it probably is, but in this circumstance it is a naturally occurring / omnipresent fire that burns literally inside a waterfall at the head of a canyon in the Shale Creek Preserve. It’s caused by a ‘micro seep’ where natural gas leeks from approximately 1,300 feet below the surface out through a small crack in the shale, which happens to be in a small cave behind a waterfall. Mind blowing. I was told it occasionally go out, but is easily relit with a lighter.
I don’t know who first discovered the flame, but I love to imagine a story where someone is lost out in the woods in the rain trying to find their way out of the canyon and stumbles across the flames and is shown a vision of the future through fire. (PS I hope someone reading this writes that story and sends it to me…)
I wrote two poems as a reaction to this place:
(PPSS If anyone reading these poems is in a metal band PLEASE turn them into song lyrics for your band)
Between Fire and Water
My wife Emi put up a message in our house last year
It read, Live your life between Fire and Water
And for months, I lived with wavering interpretations
of what these words could mean,
Sometimes feeling like I understood them
and other times confused, or disagreeing
To live between these two elemental forces
sometimes seemed to conjure a life of balance,
a life rich with paradox, these opposing forces being one
Then in other moments
the phrase made me think of being luke warm,
to be spit out of someone’s mouth
neither hot or cold, appearing apathetic
But today, as I drive towards my favorite lake for a swim,
I stop and observe where a wildfire
has licked the landscape along the road
and see that these supposed opposites -
never live that far apart
Like two old friends who know each other’s tricks,
perhaps they share a house and live on opposite sides
of the same wall
and maybe the meaning of my wife’s message lives,
somewhere in the liminal space between them
hidden in the cracks between the two
and to enter it, you must know them both
There’s a place I know…
If I told you about it, you’d say I was a liar
But the world is a strange a beautiful place
beyond reason and outside understanding
Full of paradox.
of light and dark
of day and night
of fire and water
of joy and fear
Every long-lasting metaphor
we hold dear, was invented by the earth
and our minds make sense
of the world only in relationship to place
Every story in every human life,
has to happen somewhere
Setting is the constant
And it is the space between fire and water
Where everything real exists
Off a trail in a canyon covered in moss in Upstate New York
there is a waterfall that pours over shale cliffs,
and within this waterfall is a small cave where a fire burns
and paradox lives
its breath coming from crack in the ground
where the spirit of the earth seeps out,
flammable with the potential for combustion
needing only a single spark to ignite it
In the winter, through snow, ice and flood
the fire still burns
Yet, this flame is not bonfire,
instead, it’s not much bigger than a candle
Today, may your mind be this
that does not hide its true self
when faced with living inside
the very thing
that could extinguish it.
Flames in the wet season (photo by Dilaikshan Rajendran)
A quick Google search will offer you direction to the falls. It is definitely worth the trip.
Aren’t the falls crazy?! Share your quandaries, thoughts and stories about the falls or a “stranger than fiction” place you’ve been to in the comment section below, or send me an email with stories or photos at email@example.com Thanks!