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by Jessica Kuzmier
It's just a small corner in the middle of a city past its prime. But here, in the middle of an urban jungle, for a moment you can sit and have nature as a backdrop. Albeit it is nature that is harnessed by man, as you witness the hydroelectric station nearby. But in the city of Cohoes, New York, there is a place where you can take a minute out of your asphalt world and watch a waterfall just down the road from the city's rush. Cohoes Falls is a piece of nature that shows up in an unexpected place.
Cohoes, although a city unto itself, is located on the outskirts of Troy and Albany. This gives it a feel of being an inner city of the other places rather than an independent entity of its own. Located along the Erie Canal, it had been famous for cotton manufacturing, whether it was for spindles, knitting, or whatever processes that were involved in creating material. Iron, it seemed, had helped contribute to its boom in the nineteenth century. Here, in the twenty-first century, it is a city which survives, but at least in appearance comes off as one of those places that burgeoned once upon a time but lost its identity in a changing world.
One actually couldn't park directly at the park, as is not uncommon in city locales. Find some convenient location along the one-way road, and that was where one could park at the park. Those whom I saw at the park traveled by foot. A young couple approached the steps which led to the overlook, but then bypassed the view of the falls for another place in the grass away from anyone else. Perhaps it was their moment of privacy, perhaps once you've seen the falls once, you've seen them. But we were the only ones this summer day actually at the falls. Anyone else besides the couple were just people wandering in and out a building behind us, sleepwalking and sleepworking despite the clock reading noon. The building, a brown, decaying sprawling entity, had an institutional feel, like it had been some secret warehouse in some earlier day. Now, it housed people, those who walked back and forth completing whatever it was their day lay in store for them.
Cohoes Falls themselves have had a complicated background, as is much of nature when it seems to have a potential to be harvested. Depending on who you ask, it is a 65-foot, 70-foot, or 75-foot block waterfall of black shale, which reputedly is the second biggest cataract in New York after Niagara. Like its rival, it is also harnessed for its power of hydroelectric. At some point in the nineteenth century, builders created a dam for water supply across this place. The waterfall itself was from Creation, but the diversion I saw was not, compliments of the dam which eventually became a source of electricity.
From what I could find about the place, the waterfall seemed to run high in spring and for some reason, fall. Being here on a summer day, apparently was encountering the low season. This meant that the water ran over in a few canyons within the rock, and not overflowing over the entire structure. It gave the falls a marble feel, like the entire waterfall had come to a halt and all was left was this black wall with white rock sandwiched in by time. Or, if one looked closely, the one waterfall had been replaced with several narrow ones lined next to each other. The Mohawk River may have been diverted here, but it was certainly still clutching to life.
Walking down the steps, away from the current power company that channeled the falls, there was some opportunity to separate out the industrialized with the natural. Somewhere I had heard that there was in the works a project where one could walk across the falls on some kind of boardwalk, or at least, walk up close and personal. Whether or not this was really happening, I didn't know. Whatever the future held, for now, this distant view would have to do, an observatory deck where one could witness where his power came from. The view, I would think, was better than looking at an oil pump or a coal mine. And although I certainly sympathized with those who lamenting the practice of damming in the first place, now that the dam was here, one may as well use it to combat global warming with hydropower. Not the best solution in the world, but compromises usually weren't. They were conclusions in which nobody was truly happy, it seemed.
But here, at least, one could see nature in man's industrialized back yard and know it still existed. Maybe the dam was a good thing for man and bad for everyone else, maybe the dam was bad for everyone, maybe nature had adapted in her own impersonal way without any help from the species who tried to alter her. For a moment, in the middle of a world that seemed to be made of asphalt and buildings, one could come here and see a different side of the world. They would run off, the clothes having completed their cycle at the laundromat, the lunch break over, or school would begin again. For now, they could come here. In the distance, they could see the nature that paralleled them. Even far away and altered, that was better than nothing at all.
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