A Mountie, Mists and Wine by Elizabeth Moore
I am staying in Burlington, Ontario and our plan for today is a trip to Niagara Falls. I visited them over twenty years ago but memories fade and I am looking forward to seeing them again. Two things today will make me even happier – meeting a Mountie and cruising as close to the white-water fury as possible.
We leave our car at the Butterfly Conservatory and take a shuttle to the falls. I am bemused by the mixture of amazing natural beauty and the encroachment of man’s development. Towering casinos seem oddly out of place in this park of mists and thunder. The falls are one of the world’s natural wonders – the surrounding buildings are poor neighbours, offering little more than beds and meals.
There are internet whispers that there might be a genuine Canadian Mountie at the park this morning. Mounties in full traditional uniform can be rare creatures, so I am hoping we are not too late. As we walk down a path bordered with red canna lilies, I see the familiar tip of a campaign hat and I hurry ahead. It is indeed a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Her name is Elizabeth and she is part of the Meet a Mountie program. We are both smiling at the fact that we share the same name and she poses for a picture. From her lemon squeezer hat right down to her shiny belted brown boots she ticks every pre-conceived box I might have had. Her leather handed grip is strong as we take our leave. It is a beautiful summer day - her red serge uniform must be feeling the heat.
The falls have donned their shimmering silver skirts and capes for today and their centre stage appearance is worthy of a Royal Command Performance. They do not stop for applause or standing ovations. They have extended this particular theatrical run from the eddying prologue of timid waters upstream to the thundering finale on the rocks at the base of their descent - the swirls of mist and their crashing barrage courtesy of an unseen stage hand in the wings.
We buy tickets to ride on the Hornblower. I wanted to take this tour when I last visited but no-one could be persuaded to join me. Today I have two willing accomplices and we don green transparent rain apparel and wait our turn. We are lucky. The last group has just boarded and we are head of the queue for the next departure; when we are called we are able to secure the best vantage point in the bowsprit. The vessel heads off and I am fascinated by the cormorants. The boldest of these swim swirling and pirouetting in front of the approaching prow. They dive at the penultimate second, surfacing safely several metres away. It is an infinite game – they are practiced participants.
The heavy spray is fresh, not salty. I am surprised and even with my plastic cape I am wet. The Horseshoe Falls. I think of all the hardy souls who have challenged this white water and failed. The vessel slows as we reach equilibrium with the avalanche that is Niagara. There can’t be silence with the water that rages around us, but I sense a shared, hushed respect as we turn back to the pier.
An afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake is suggested and I need no persuading. I remember the Christmas store and the Olde Angel Inn from years ago. Season’s Greetings in August feels a little unusual but the shop is a cornucopia of yuletide offerings. I find red and white wine bottle ornaments and purchase several. I cannot decide between a Dr Who TARDIS and Spongebob. I buy both. They are hardly traditional tree decorations but the recipients will be thrilled. My friend selects a ceramic red robin for my tree. I love it on sight and will carry it home with utmost care.
Alas the Inn is crowded with summer visitors and we decide to move on. The vineyards of Niagara are close and suggest a wonderful alternative. I have had some delicious local wines since my arrival and am anxious to sample what the local cellar doors have to offer. I am not disappointed. I try an oaked Sauvignon Blanc. It is smoky, quite unlike anything I have sampled, and I decide to get a bottle. True to my travelling traditions I also acquire two glasses bearing the vineyard’s crest. My friend has misgivings about their safe return to Australia but this is one travelling technique I have mastered well. As I type they sit intact – on my sideboard.
It is late and we must eat. Several turns down rustic lanes yield nothing, despite small billboards promising the world. We travel on and are intrigued with a sign listing wines, a cooking school and a restaurant. It looks beautiful at first glance and it is still early enough that the restaurant is not demanding a booking.
We are seated at the rear of the restaurant on a terrace bordered by climbing roses and a tangle of trees and undergrowth. It is one of those perfect moments I want to hold onto for ever but I am interrupted by our young waiter. He takes our orders. I choose wild snapper in pink peppercorn cream. It sounds delicious. I may need to ask for the recipe. Later as he brings our meals, he asks where I am from. I tell him Australia. He asks for more detail. As we narrow in on my address, he says he was an exchange student at our local university, barely five hundred metres from my front door. He loves my little corner of what is obviously a very small world. My friend’s wonderful husband takes a picture with my camera of us in this flawless setting. I will frame it when I return home and it will be my gift to my hosts.
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