A Human Manipulated Natural Wonder

Photo by Shlomo Shalev on Unsplash.com

We Cannot Control Something That Does Not Belong To Us

by Eric Elkin

The life-giving fountain
    belongs to you,
    and your light gives light
    to each of us.
— Psalm 36: 9

Niagara Falls is a vacation destination for many travelers. At one time, it was “the” place to go for newlyweds. However, 12,000 years ago, the only human visitors to the area would have been seeking some kind of shelter from the cold. Back then, the falls would not exist and the only thing towering above them would be blocks of ice, not hotels 

The Canadian/U.S. border in this area was the dividing line between glacier and land. 12,000 years ago the glaciers started to melt. When the ice melted, water flowed, like a life-giving fountain, down into what we now call the Great Lakes and into the Niagara River. The melting of glaciers, a distant event in human history, has meant life to so many throughout the ages.

There were no journalists present to report the activity. Nor scientists to gauge the different stages of the process and to project its impact on human existence. Matter of fact, it is hard for the modern human mind to conceive of water flow so great. The melted ice filled five large lakes and formed one of the world’s grandest waterfalls. Yet, the mystery of it has been celebrated ever since the first human gazed upon those beautiful waters. 

Flow on, forever, in thy glorious robe
Of terror and of beauty. Yea, flow on
Unfathomed and resistless. God hath set
His rainbow on thy forehead: and the cloud
Mantled around thy feet. And He doth give
Thy voice of thunder power to speak of Him
Eternally—bidding the lip of man
Keep silence—and upon thine altar pour
Incense of awe-struck praise.
— Lydia Sigourney

From the first moment humans began to dwell in the Great Lakes region, they drew life from its waters. At first, the people simply fished and gathered drinking water. However, as human progress continued new ideas were developed. People started to conceive different ways these life-giving waters could benefit us.

Nikola Tesla was the first to envision the Niagara Falls as something more than a natural wonder to visit. Even as a child, he dreamed of turning the falls into a source of power. Eventually, Tesla and George Westinghouse built the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls. It was a bold move of progress, but it also ushered in the age of manipulation.

Niagara Falls is one of the most human controlled natural wonders in history. When its natural beauty was threatened by power plants, legislatures in Canada and the U.S. signed a treaty to protect water flow. When scientists realized the rock under the water was still eroding, they turned off the water and reinforced the stone floor. The move was intended to slow the progress of change and protect the integrity of the falls beauty.

One day, despite all human endeavors, Niagara Falls will cease to exist. Erosion and the flow of water can only be manipulated for so long. Human ingenuity cannot control it because it does not belong to them. The life-giving fountain belongs to God. 

Water is a compelling image which continually draws my mind to the Creator. The way it continues to flow and shape human history is remarkable. What I find reassuring is how God can turn the destructiveness of life-giving water into life. And this life becomes a light for all to see.


Click to read Psalm 36: 1-10

Reflection Questions:

  • When has the power of water captured your imagination?

  • Where have humans tried to control water without success?

  • How does God as a life-giving fountain shape your daily living?

  • When has something destructive been turned to light and life?

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