Mist and Maple Leaves
By Ann Chiappetta
August 17 – 24, 2009
We’re on the bridge poised between the flagpoles separating the United States and Canada.
“Hey Mom, we’re in two countries at once.” Says my daughter.
I don’t think crossing into Mexico would feel the same. For one thing, we’re surrounded by water not desert; the other reason is The Canadian border patrol officer is brisk and efficient, dismissing us once my husband casually adds that he is a Customs and Border Protection officer back in the United States. Somehow I don’t believe that a border crossing in or out of Mexico would be as simple. In any case, it pays to have perks. In fifteen minutes we’re over the bridge and heading to our hotel overlooking the Falls.
The hotel lobby is busy and full of obstacles, and my guide dog expertly whisks me around them all and into the elevator. Luckily our room is at the end of the hall and easy for me to find.
The daughter, husband, and mother-in-law, ooh and aah over the view from the 36th floor facing the falls.
“It’s beautiful, Mom.” My daughter says.
I look out the window and realize that it’s all lost to me. For her sake, I try to smile. I manage a horrible sounding sigh instead.
“I wish I could see it.” My words are choked and I fight back tears. The hope of being able to sear the visual loveliness of Niagara Falls past my damaged eyes and into my memory flies away with the mist. For a few minutes I’m overcome with grief. What a bittersweet way to take the final plunge into blindness, facing the daunting and unforgiving power of Niagara.
My guide dog, Verona, steps up TO the glass and looks down. I can tell by the way she holds her ears that she is thinking. It’s at a time like this that I would willingly give away the rest of my sight to know what’s going on inside her doggie brain. I stand beside her, knowing that she will make my time here less stressful. I can’t wait to work with her while we tour Niagara and downtown Ontario.
Rather than obsessing on what I can’t experience visually, I unpack, the busy work is calming. When I’m done, the grief is gone, replaced by anticipation of the pleasant sort mixed with resolve. I came here to learn how to vacation with my new guide dog and prove to myself and to family that I don’t need my vision to do it. I just hope I didn’t set the bar too high.
Our suite is spacious and well appointed a whirlpool tub and fireplace completing the amenities. Verona loves the plush, sculpted carpeting and inspects every inch at her leisure.
Day three we take the deluxe bus tour, ending with the ride beside the Falls on The Maid of the Mist. But first we are driven to other key points in and around the Lake District. Verona and I get the front seat behind the driver. The tour bus driver, Dave, is like a cross between a big brother and walking history book. As we drive through the Niagara region, Dave tells us The parkland and the falls are leased for tourism and maintained by the parks department. The Canadian government has control of the entire area.Even the casinos are leased out, adding that the hotels and tourism by the falls have developed due to the government finally legalizing gambling.
During the tour, Verona has to work hard to keep me safe. In one park she is asked to keep up with our group. As the crowd parts to surge around a low stone bench, she stops short but I keep moving and hit my knee against it. Before I can even react, my husband is urging us around it
“Hurry up or we’ll loose our group.”
We hup up and when I finally feel my knee, I find a scrape and it’s already hot and swollen. I pop two ibuprofen and choose to ignore the pain.
On our way back to the bus I go past the bench and Verona guides me around it. I’m not quite sure what happened on our way in but our little error makes her pay even closer attention now. I relax my doubt that she can’t keep me safe and remind myself that new teams will have moments like this. Our instructor at guide dog school was always reminding us to trust our dog. She also reminded us that younger dogs will make mistakes and we need to pay attention to avoid potential errors. Perhaps if I’d paid closer attention to what Verona was trying to tell me I wouldn’t have stepped forward and hit my knee.
It’s two p.m when we finally get on line to board the boat for the falls. We’re herded cattle-style into a small plaza outside the quay. It’s hot and I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with the other tourists. Verona stands with me, patient ands stoic. It takes an hour for us to finally get on the boat and I don the blue plastic poncho; the hood barely covers my head but it fits easily over my bag and body. The boat is shaped like a small ferry. The ride to the Falls is only three minutes and I hear the roar and feel the wind rushing under my thin, plastic poncho. We ride along the horseshoe curve of the Falls and it is awesome; we’re pelted with water and wind gusts so strong that our ponchos are being ripped off as we try to stuff them back in place. I’m yelling, laughing, and loving the feeling of the water and wind on my face and body. For a few moments I forget I’m holding onto Verona’s leash and a stab of concern pulls me from my adrenaline rush. I look down, feeling her huddled under my husband’s legs, trying to avoid the water. I pet her and tell her its okay. I get the feeling that she can’t wait until it’s over.
Then, as fast as it begins, it is over and we’re back at the quay, wet, excited, and glad to have done it. I have just enough time on the way out to let Verona shake off the water and I dry her, knowing she truly is a great dog. Unflappable. I’m so proud of her, and I tell her she’s done a good job. The flub into the bench is forgotten.
That evening we order pizza and have it delivered to our room. We’re all wiped out from the tour and even
Verona takes a long nap on the king sized bed, belly-up, her snores making me smile. It sounds so satisfying and less annoying coming from her than coming from my husband. Before long, I’m lulled to sleep by her soft sounds, foot sore and ready to take on what ever comes our way.