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Niagara Falls: Stepping into Paradise

Updated: May 31, 2022

Surrender to the Falls, the Escarpment and the biodiversity surrounding them. Gaze at the richness of this region with new eyes, and a renewed sense of mystery and wonder.

Niagara Falls, loved and visited by so many, yet deeply known and thoroughly explored by few. Perhaps it is like this for other wonders of the world also, that the area immediately around the highlight (in this case the stunning twin waterfalls of the mighty Niagara River) is full of hidden gems and forgotten corners, overlooked by the masses, perfect for Forest Bathing and quiet reflection. The city of Niagara Falls Canada, and the surrounding countryside is a region of deep contrasts. And today I will be sharing a few of these contrasts, my observations from the heart of the forest, looking out and moving through the world of man with the laughter of hidden trees in my heart. Today we explore Niagara Falls from a different perspective.. one of appreciation for the region as an epicenter of Biodiversity, with a patchwork of Ancient Forests stretching from the sand dunes of Lake Erie, to the great Niagara Gorge, with its mystical boulder strewn carolinian forests and rugged cliff Cedars, all the way along the wondrous Bruce Trail to the great Short Hills wilderness, one of the most biodiverse and scenic forests in the country.

The Children of the Falls grow tall in her mist and thunder, The Clifton Hill Bluff is one of the most visible, and under-appreciated old growth forests of Carolinian Canada. Here adjacent to the Niagara Parks Police station, right beside the Falls, is one fine section of this forest. Alas despite thousands of brothers and sisters behind me viewing the majestic falls (who deserves every visitor she attracts) I seemed to be the only happy tourist gazing at the Tulip Tree's emerging leaves on the hillside, and the way the sun played on the bark of the impressive Cottonwood tree at the base of the scenic slope... Even the slab of concrete looming in the background attracts thousands more spectators than the Rich Deciduous forest pictured. I recommend to bring a pair of binoculars and walk along the grass below the hillside , the ancient trees will reveal themselves as you move, the bluff itself is steep and inaccessible to all but the most determined mountain goat botanists. Sometimes the finest forests exist on the thin margins between developed and cultivated lands. in the case of the Clifton Hill Bluff, it is mostly too steep to be built upon, so has remained wild, green, and mostly unnoticed for quite some time. And though not a large forest, it's presence adds another dimension of mystical wonder to any visit to the Falls. The forest and the water complement each other perfectly, as it has always been.

The Falls and the Clifton Bluff forest. A twin Beech stands over his numerous offspring slowly growing in the deep shade. Beech Trees feed their children nutrients allowing them to dominate in the understory for years until the mother tree falls and the small trees take their place in the canopy.

First to get some context on the uniqueness of the place. The Niagara Escarpment is a UNESCO World Biosphere, recognized as a spectacular natural area of global significance. it stretches from the Niagara River, north to the Bruce Peninsula, onto Manitoulin Island, and all the way into Wisconsin, forming a beautiful U shape. The Escarpment forms a large chunk of Ontario's beloved and mysterious greenbelt. Along with the Canadian Shield, the Escarpment is Ontario's best known and most visited geologic formation, formed over tens of millions of years. Ontario's oldest trees grow here, Ancient Cliff Cedars with unparalleled determination who emerge out of barren cracks in the side of the escarpment (a phenomena known to occur from throughout much of the escarpment at select sites) the oldest of these trees are often extremely stunted, twisted, and look barely alive, but have been confirmed to be over 1500 years old in some cases. However, Old growth White Cedar also grows to significant proportions over hundreds of years on the steep slopes, and it is Cedar that is perhaps most known when talking about Niagara Old Growth.

The Escarpment (see the crowns of old growth Cedars growing in an inaccessible slope forest of the Niagara River, top left. The Cedars, who remind me of mountain climbers for the way they cling comfortably to steep slopes, where most other trees cannot hold on, and a Turkey Vulture, who will be your watchful companion as you traverse the escarpment, you may even see a turkey Vulture perched on the side of the escarpment in the forest if you are quiet enough. The closeup photos of Cedar are from the Spencer Gorge, a spectacular old growth forest ravine of the Niagara Escarpment, in nearby Hamilton, where Cedars hundreds of years old cling to the steep ravine.

The Niagara Peninsula is Ontario's premier Wine country, and a place of huge scale agriculture operations, where driving down a quiet side road to visit a woodlot, one may encounter a pickup truck loaded with Migrant Workers from Jamaica or Honduras on their way to a hard day of work, to tend to the vines that make the wines, that many will taste on tours and at home. They are the little known and often exploited backbone of Southern Ontario's troublingly unsustainable Agro-industrial sector. The city of Niagara Falls is a fascinating landscape in itself that brims with tourists during the hottest months. The river of visitor's disposable income floods the town, representing a source of life and survival for the tourism dependent economy and people. The rest of the year feels much different, when visiting the horseshoe falls during a snowstorm or on a cold winter night, you may be the only person there, in what can feel like a ghost town sometimes.

A lovely but perished Red Ash (Fraxinus Pensylvanica) casts its shadow on a human structure that reflects the trees own fate. For the Ash, it is the little Jewelled beetle from Asia that has brought the species to the edge of existence. For Niagara Falls and other towns like it, it may be another kind of blight that empties the community and buildings of life.. The blight of Corporatism dominating the economic landscape of the Falls, the fall of small business, the rise of online shopping, the moving away of industry and manufacturing, the precarious nature of a tourism based economy (cough C*vid19) even the scourge of substance abuse in communities, all may play varying degrees of a role in emptying the city. And yet beauty, connection, and an abundance of opportunity to create community gardens and immersive shared spaces exist here, as well as a friendly and down to earth local population who enjoy living in one of Canada's mildest climates, beside one of the great natural wonders of the world. I love Niagara Falls, its abandoned or sparsely populated areas, but what I especially love here are the Forests, which are as diverse and spectacular as any I've seen in the world. Let's take a closer look, and I do hope you will feel inspired to take yourself down there to mindfully experience Canada's most biodiverse Ecoregion yourself. Also, I would like to deeply thank and acknowledge the Bert Miller nature club, they led a survey of Niagara's Old Growth, revealing many forgotten forests and giving us a much more comprehensive understanding of the area's ecology and unique value.

Sitting in the Garden, all around me creation and life are totally interwoven and growing from decay and death. Impermanence, No separation, No separate self. The forest is a temple, a teacher, and a reflection of our own true nature. The more deeply we look, the more mindfully we listen, the more peace and deep meaning flow into us.

A champion Walnut, bathed in first light

that pours over the gorge this warm morning

A golden morel grows with a Chinkapin Leaf

Breathing in I feel Calm, Breathing Out I Release

The landscape smiles, I smile too

letting go of distraction, I find my way back to you

Tulip and Trillium, both bloom before me

there's no better place, to spend time with old trees

Then The Falls in the Green Heart of Spring.

Whirlpool Slope Forest

There is a trail in this conservation reserve that takes you to a scenic whirlpool not far from the falls. The trail takes you through a rich Carolinian forest peppered with old Tulip Tree, dominated by Sugar Maple, with Red Oak, Beech, Black Walnut and others making an appearance as well. There are several larger old growth trees visible from the path, as well as a mesmerizing richness in the understory, characteristic biodiversity of the Niagara River. Two of my favourite spring arrivals are Red Trillium (top right) and Canada Wild Ginger (bottom right top of picture) both of which were growing beautifully along the trail.

Bruce Trail Oak Grove

The Bruce Trail enters the forest after beginning at Brocks Monument, and immediately brings hikers into a spectacular grove of ancient Oaks. Red, Scarlet, White and Black are all present. Along with the Oak trees, I was moved by the way the rising sun touched the Beech and Butternut trees, and cast his life giving light across the Earth. The Bruce Trail and a side Trail running adjacent to Portage Road, both pass through this old growth forest. If you choose to go off trail to hug and say hello to the giant Oaks, the forest would love some help, it's fun to bring a garbage bag that you can fill with any litter and invasive GARLIC MUSTARD which is spreading here. By moving slowly and with intention, you can avoid stepping on the Trilliums, Ginger, Mayapples, Trout Lilies and other native understory plants, the forest would be most grateful to not be needlessly trampled. With mindfulness and compassion for the place we can improve the health of this spectacular forest and allow future generations to enjoy its unique tree diversity and spiritual atmosphere.

Short Hills Wilderness - St. Catherines

Short Hills Provincial Park, and the surrounding nature reserves in the hamlets of Pelham, Effingham, and St. Johns form one of the great tracts of Carolinian Forest left in Ontario. One of these forests is the Lathrop Preserve, which contains one of the highest diversities of tree species in N.E. North America, owing to the presence of many more southern Carolinian, and more northern Great Lakes species. The diverse topography contains rolling hills and valleys, filled with groves of spectacular trees. The area is home to many waterfalls, and is one of the most accessible places to see Southern Ontario's remaining wilderness, located close to St. Catherines and public transit, and being crossed by the legendary Bruce Trail.

Tulip, Beech, Maple, Hickory, Cherry, Linden are joined by many other trees in and surrounding the Hamlets of Fonthill, Pelham, Effingham and St. Johns. This area including Short hills Provincial Park represent one of the last large refuges of Carolinian Forest. There are many trails one can walk, and I am looking forward to continuing to befriend these forests soon to finally lay eyes on the elusive Cucumber Magnolias known to grow here. What do you want to cultivate in your relationship with Earth this Summer? Who would you like to meet? Our ancestors are not only Human, but the living Plantscape, the World of Fungi, and the curious and shy animals we may meet if move quietly. In your daily life, do you have a practice that brings you deeper into connection with the Earth as you walk, eat and sit?

The Forest is giving a Talk

See the sunspots, on the forest floor, seeping through the canopy above?

And the shadows of the tree’s leaves, dancing on trunks in the wind?

The birds are chirping, the sun shines bright

The language of Earth is natural and sweet

Always perfect, calm or fierce, you fill me with peace

Don’t think too hard, or ask why you’re here

Sitting with trees, the answer is clear

The Niagara Glen, full of ancient rocks and trees, is nestled beside the mighty river. I am filled with reverence for the power of Earth and the elements as I walk through the quiet cathedral, this forest is within walking distance of the Niagara Bus Terminal, and is full of well marked trails to immerse yourself in for a day.

Spreading my branches I soak up the sun

My roots keep me grounded, there’s nowhere to run

No need to escape, or find a new route

Water courses within me, I’ve never felt drought

My canopy is vibrant, covered in fruit

For years i have practiced, I love to grow food

Nyssa Sylvatica, Black Gum, one of Canada's rarest trees grows in a quiet little known woodlot near the Upper Niagara River, a buggy, wet environment, these slow growing gums are some of Ontario's oldest known Hardwood Trees.

I live for us all, come sit in my shade

Together as one, we’ll grow more each day

I reside in Earth’s forest, with family, friends

I’m happily planted, until life starts again

I am the old tree, that falls in the night

My death will recycle, and merge with new life

My body is compost, I’ll sink into earth

And flowers will flourish, on my patch of dirt

My spirit released, my presence still strong

Look deeply and laugh, you’ll see I live on

This is the Place that the Sages have dwelled in and the seekers have hunted

That the faithful have prayed and yearned for, and the lost soul has forsaken out of ignorance

Heaven, The Ultimate Dimension, IS Earth.

This is our life, and our planet, we belong to her, she belongs to us, always equal, never apart.

Humans, we live in great ignorance, we discriminate against one another, we discriminate against the Earth. We are ruled by craving and desire, we get lost in regret of the past, anxiety for the future. We take that which is impermanent as permanent.

That which is connected as separate, that which is selfless as having an independent self origin. And we forsake our most sacred responsibility and cosmic task.

Which is to protect, embrace and love absolutely, calmly, fiercely

The Green and Blue Orb of Pure Life, who is our true mother, our home, our creator.

The Gods are all around us, they do not reserve their presence for those who give them money, they are totally there for us in the here and now. Every tree, every creek, every waterfall and cave, is giving us EVERYTHING. Give yourself back to Earth, come home to the present moment. Let the myriad of shapes and forms, colours, tastes, smells and tactile experiences fill you with joy. Generate a joyful feeling, be gentle with one another, and practice diligently to illuminate the path home to happiness, for all to walk hand in hand.

Thank you for Reading, See you in Paradise.

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