First Impression: Taughannock Falls

story by Maggie Barnes • photos by Nigel P. Kent

“It’s not much farther.”

My photographer, Nigel, glanced over his shoulder to confirm I was keeping up.

We were walking through an embrace of trees and mossy earth on my first ever approach to Taughannock Falls. It was a short walk and I would be sad to see it end. The breeze carried an intoxicating scent of honeysuckle and memories of childhood walks that led to discovery. 

On this path, you approach the falls from the side and walk across a bridge to square up your view of them. Nigel, a man wise in the ways of nature, stopped and let me proceed without comment.

My first thought was, “How can something be so impressive and so … cozy at the same time?”

Taughannock is intimate, like a cove in the heart of the first forest ever grown. The water crested over the top of the falls in a thunder of sound and then transformed into lace as delicate as an angel’s

laugh as it plummeted. Swallows danced with the water as it fell, swooping and turning around the curtain of lace, seeming to disappear before bursting back into the sunlight. Somewhere before the bottom the water returned to something

substantial and crashed into the pool in joyous chaos.

I’m sure I heard once how tall the waterfall is, but it suddenly felt wrong to assign a number to its impressiveness. Who cares how tall it is or isn’t – look at it!

Nature’s design of the entire area, the cliffs with their stories carved into layers, the canopy of evergreens which have been alive longer than any of us, the very placement of the falls, are presented to you the way a fine gift is. Full appreciation can only be attained by standing back quietly and just feeling….what? Small? No, maybe humbled?

Still not right.


That’s it. In the middle of dozens of people – taking selfies, skipping stones, corralling disinterested children – seeing Taughannock Falls for the first time is to receive a blessing. It’s as if you have been invited to gaze upon the favorite waterfall of heaven itself.

My eyes traveled back up the path of the water to the rim of the falls and caught a blinding starburst of sunlight.

With eyes closed, I felt rather than saw Nigel stand beside me. When I re-focused, I glanced over at him leaning casually on the top of his camera tripod.


I returned my face to the falls and gulped another breath of that sweet, damp fragrance.

“It’s perfect.”

Does this sense of blessing happen every time you see Taughannock Falls? Many of those around me seemed too preoccupied, too much in the current world to feel it. They continued to talk and shuffle from spot to spot. I fought the urge to say, “Stand still! Be quiet and listen to it! Don’t you feel it?”

It was my inaugural visit. Maybe on future encounters with the falls, I won’t feel it either. You only get one first.

But, I’m sure gonna try.   

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