Hot time, summer in the city. One day last week, Buffalo smoldered. The West Side baked in the noonday sun. A boom car throbbed in Broderick Park.
Luckily, there was a magical getaway.
It is called the Bird Island Pier. It begins at Broderick Park on the southern end of Unity Island and stretches – into nowhere.
The pier is a stretch of concrete several feet wide and around two miles long with the Niagara River on one side, the Black Rock Channel on the other. Within 15 minutes, all that heat and noise is gone.
Great things come at a price and taking a long walk on this long pier takes nerve. You are setting out on a unique journey. On the pier, there's no room for snack stands, T-shirt sellers, hot dog carts, anything. I found myself thinking of the signs you see on desert highways in the Southwest: "Warning: No goods or services for the next 50 miles."
Got a water bottle? Good, but don't drink too much of it, because the pier has no facilities. Wear sneakers. You'll find yourself, at least first, in good company. We ran into people from Rich Products out for a lunchtime stroll. We also met tourists.
Ellen Moyer was walking the pier with her two young daughters. They were from Charlotte, N.C., visiting Moyer's college roommate.
"We were at Canalside yesterday. I drove by and saw this and was like, 'What was that?' " Ellen Moyer said. "My friend was like, 'That's the Bird Island Pier.' "
She was glad she had followed up on her impulse to check it out.
"This is so cool," she said. "I did a Facebook Live post. I like that it's on the water. It's really pretty. And on a day like today there's a breeze that can be helpful."
Her daughter Emily, 11, chimed in. "I like the fact that I can see Canada from here."
Don't walk the pier wearing headphones or looking at your phone. You would miss so much.
Spillways are every few feet; the water courses through from the channel into the river. They're musical – like waterfalls – and each one is a little bit different. Listening to them, you realize the magic of where you are. Where else are you free to listen to nothing but the splashing of water and the squawks of seagulls?
Relaxing, we studied the scrubby plants. It was exotic to walk under the Peace Bridge, past one of the massive supports that hold it up. There was barbed wire in case we wanted to climb it. No, thank you!
Now and then we passed someone fishing.
"Catching anything?" we asked one guy with a fishing pole.
"Nothing you can take a picture of," he sighed.
None of the fishermen wanted their picture taken. A heron, also fishing, was not so shy. The bird seemed used to people on the pier, because we ruffled no feathers as we approached. He remained focused on the water, poised to catch a fish.
Geese, also fishing, were a hilarious sight as they bounced on the waves. They stick their heads into the water, but their rears float.
Rumor has it that the pier was named for its birds. Actually it was named for Bird Island, a land mass that used to lie a couple of miles from Unity Island. The pier was created in 1860 to link the two.
Bird Island was gone by 1880. Since then, the pier has been rebuilt and extended. In the last couple of years it was fixed up, with new railings. The water, too, appears clearer than it did a few years ago.
Otherwise, the experience of walking it has remained pretty much unchanged from year-to-year.
About three-quarters of the way in, the people thin out, but the goose droppings multiply. That is the reason to wear sneakers. You'll also encounter clouds of tiny gnats. Something landed on my sunglasses. It was an iridescent green and gold bug. A baby grasshopper, maybe? Whatever it was, I brushed it off and it left peacefully.
The end of the pier is charmingly undramatic.
There's an American flag, which adds a nice touch of ceremony. It's as though you're on the moon or at the South Pole. A couple of bikes were tethered to the railing. Their riders were out on the breakwall. Walking on the breakwall, a narrow catwalk with no railings, is not suggested.
Enjoy the quiet and the sense of achievement. The two do not often go hand-in-hand. Look back at the Peace Bridge in the distance. Look across the water to the wind turbines. Smile. You still get to enjoy the long walk back – getting there was only half the fun.
Story topics: Bird Island Pier