Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in southern Africa is a World Heritage site. I’d say it’s the picture of nature’s unbounded power.

Nature is powerful. It exists by the rules that it alone sets, and it progresses on its own trajectory. Its force is far stronger than we are. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly shown us and taught us that. And one of the places where nature makes its power most manifest is in a waterfall.

In the Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape dictionary, American author, environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben defines the word waterfall: “At certain points in the course of many rivers, water descends vertically; these waterfalls may come where the river leaves a plateau, where it crosses bands of resistant rock or where it encounters a fault scarp. On rivers, waterfalls are often wider than they are tall; in mountain streams, they tend to be higher than they are wide. In almost every case, the sound and sight of glassy water turning into froth and fury is an irresistible lure to humans. Niagara Falls, the continent’s highest-volume cataract, was one of the first headquarters of the sublime for American painters, writers and other travelers. Waterfalls are in constant motion in more ways than one—they migrate slowly upstream as the lip erodes and the wall is undercut in the plunge pool at the base.”

Despite their constant motion, waterfalls in dream analysis and in literature are often seen as symbols of permanence of form—even though the content changes. They represent the process of letting go of negativity, the past or something that you hold dear but have yet to part with; the process of cleansing; and the continuous flow of energy and life.

According to Bill McKibben, “In almost every case, the sound and sight of glassy water turning into froth and fury is an irresistible lure to humans.” ©Henning Supertramp, flickr

I feel like we all need some cleansing—especially of pandemic burnout, negativity and stress—right now. That’s why the video below caught my attention.

Smoke and thunder

Africa’s Victoria Falls (or, in the language of the Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800s, Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke That Thunders) is one of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular waterfalls on Earth. Located on the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is considered the largest waterfall, based on its combined width (5,500 feet) and height (355 feet), even though it is not the highest or the widest.

Columns of spray from the falls (rising to a height of more than 1,300 feet) can be seen from 12 miles away; and, on average, more than 33,000 cubic feet of water per second plummet over the edge. In more modern times, Victoria Falls—a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World—is known as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world.

Columns of spray from The Smoke That Thunders can be seen from as much as 12 miles away. ©Paul Balfe, flickr

The wide, basalt cliff over which the falls thunder transforms the Zambezi from a placid river into a ferocious torrent cutting through a series of dramatic gorges. Facing the falls is another sheer wall of basalt, rising to the same height, and capped by a rain forest that is mist-soaked and sustained by the falls.

As for the “thunder,” the noise of Victoria Falls can be heard from a distance of 25 miles.

Obstacle and attraction

It was Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) who named the falls after Queen Victoria. Livingstone, the first European to cross Africa from south to north, encountered the falls in 1855, while preaching Christianity in Africa. At first for him, the falls were just an obstacle on his way.

The basalt cliff over which the falls flow reworks the otherwise calm Zambezi River into a tempestuous torrent. Facing the falls is another basalt wall of the same height. ©i_pinz, flickr

Despite the inconvenience, Livingstone later became fascinated by the falls; and in 1857, he wrote that no one in England could even imagine the beauty of the scene. But it wasn’t until 1905, when a railway to Bulawayo was constructed, that other people began to visit. The falls rose in popularity until the mid-1960s, when the number of tourists started to decrease due to Zimbabwe’s guerrilla wars.

After Zimbabwe gained independence and relative peace, Victoria Falls started to attract a new wave of tourism. By the end of 1990, nearly 300,000 people were visiting the falls each year.

Lifted and purified

Watch the video below, captured in 4K ultra high definition at Victoria Falls in 2017. I suggest you use full-screen mode to appreciate the immensity of this iconic cascade and nature’s power.


Watching this powerhouse of water—even virtually—makes me feel cleansed, humbled and restored.

Personally, I have never been to Africa. And, it could be that I may never get there. But knowing that there’s a place like this in the world and being able to see it—even virtually—makes me somehow feel humbled before nature, transported from negativity and cleansed, at least for now.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,