Buffalo, New York: A lake forgotten—a performance renewed

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

Mine is a watery world. Mirages that swell the tales of fisherman as distant sailboats and canoes glide along the edge of a lake forgotten. Lake Erie, at the edge of Buffalo, NY is a fragment of the world that is just now rejoining the mass of lakes surrounding it; showcasing its great comeback.

Sitting on a hollowed out log as laps of water dance near my toes, I gaze at the once putrid green water, now cyan. Its color revived, restoring the glory days of what once was considered one of the grandest vacation destination in America. Inviting visitors, storefronts, corporate investors, restaurants and beachgoers back to a city once labeled a dying part of the Rust Belt. You shall find no rust here. Nothing but clear blue skies, River Birch’s and American Hornbeams, soft white sand, skyscraper-sized fans that harness free energy, and a soft northerly breeze that reminds me of our closest neighbor. As the fan blades rotate in the distance, so gigantic they seem inches from me, I watch a haze of hot summer air lift, removing the veil that covered the city landscape moments before. The lifting of the veil, a dinner bell of sorts to surfers across the city as they descend suddenly upon the tranquil beach for which I sit. Surfers in Buffalo, NY? Technically they are Kite-boarders, but add the waves of Lake Erie and what culminates is a sport of beauty—kite-surfing. It’s an interesting tango between wind, water, human, and machine. I marvel as I watch, in awe of their talent. Beyond them is the vast lake where boaters, canoeists, fishermen, yogis, and sunbathers all gather; everyone taking advantage of Act 1 in a new play where our lake is the star.

A faint smell of the aquatic underworld combines with the tantalizing smells of a taco truck stationed nearby. People lining up to get a taste of their latest creation, or eat one of their popular fish tacos—insert irony here.

Further down the coastline, the lake wraps around the Golden Gate city, breathing new life into a downtown district that was beginning to petrify. Awash with new vibrancy, color, and youth, the harbor bears witness to fitness fanatics, a booming food culture, and artists and musicians all leaving their mark on the city’s revitalization. Yogi’s jump at the chance to workout on the water, balancing on water mats. The old and young seem joyous as they paddle the canal on water bikes. Old steel grain elevators showcase a bit of Vegas with its silos lighting up in multi-colors along Route 5 at night time. Artist’s renderings are displayed along the canal; murals depicting stories of our great comeback and the lake that made it possible. Enormous Adirondack chairs, in their bright greens, whites, blues, and oranges, are staggered under trees, providing a safe haven from the summer sun. Children excitedly play in a sandpit built just for them. How many of them have played in the sand before, in the heart of the city, I wonder?

It wasn’t long ago that the canal was just a stagnant body of water, having once-upon-a-time provided the city with the means for electric power. It was 1901; the era of Nikola Tesla and an age of renaissance for Buffalo. Harnessing the power of the water and electricity, Buffalo showcased, in dramatic fashion, the Pan-American Exposition. However it didn’t take long for Buffalo to slowly descend into a downward spiral of lost opportunity and decay. The lake waited, patiently, for the city and surrounding suburbs, to remember its strength and beauty. It could provide—we just needed to let it.

Snaking my way west down route 5 toward home, past the grain elevators mini-Vegas light show, I roll down my window, taking in the cool night air, listening as gentle waves hit the shoreline. Tree frogs begin their nightly lullaby with cicadas on harmony, and the lake gives its curtain call for another job well done; another show well performed.

Shannon Traphagen

Shannon Traphagen is currently the Associate Publisher at Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine and an international freelance writer. She writes essays, fiction, food reviews, inspirational articles and articles on the great outdoors. She also writes and records for radio, and gives motivational speeches. She sits on the Board of Directors for the Hamburg Chamber, a committee members for the Hamburg Tourism Committee, and a Board of Directors member for the WNY American Heart Association. Find her online here.