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Monday, July 6, 2009

Banners Away

If you count the special that we watched on TV Saturday night, we saw three fireworks displays this weekend. Even though we didn’t attend the Boston event in person, there is something warm and happy about hearing rockets explode and bombs burst from a distance—we know somewhere there is a celebration and our sense of hearing includes us as participants

After a last minute decision Friday to chase down a display that landed us on a grassy stretch in front of a Mexican Restaurant in a parking lot beside Route 3A, and then watching the Boston festivities on Saturday post-cook-out TV, we craved shall I say, a more legitimate experience? So, last night, we drove to our annual viewing location at the edge of the harbor in the town next door, to view an Independence Day celebration that had been postponed due to the potential of bad weather. As the sun dropped down, we climbed up a rutted path, marched over a grassy field to a pebble strewn beach, where we unfolded canvas chairs, dosed ourselves with bug spray and hunkered in. While the darkness thickened, we listened as a breath of wind lifted the leaves of the trees behind us. Lines of tiny taillights flickered on the road across the harbor and blue flashing police boats scuttled like water bugs around the shadowed islands rising in the middle. With hoods pulled tight against the midges, we flinched as the first green chrysanthemum blossomed in the air.

When you sit by the water, sound echoes and reverberates. Each subsequent explosion thumped in our chests as reds and purples and whites rained and expanded, flashed, collided and disappeared into a haze of drifting smoke. A fountain of yellow sparks spewed from the ground, hatching pounding streamers, ovals and diamond sparklers reflecting then disintegrating in the water below. Each detonation carried heft and weight as it rumbled like thunder over us to crash against ledge then reverberate back to sea—yet in the midst of this concrete and seemingly touchable sound, we could hear an airplane droning its way to Logan and a startled seagull cark. Across the harbor a siren blared; our feet crunched on broken shells; the stones that the child in front of us threw plopped at the water's edge.

For just a moment, I absorbed these ordinary noises and stepped away from the present, searching for the phrase from our anthem: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air...” What might it have felt like during the war of 1812 to sit in a distant ship listening to the rumble and crash as the British shelled Fort Henry in Baltimore?

I thought of the fireworks we watched electronically Saturday night, when shortly after witnessing a display on the TV; open windows introduced actual reverberations as they landed after the fifteen-mile trip. It’s hard to believe that pyrotechnics aren't always indicative of celebration. Thankfully, the night that Frances Scott Key observed his battle; the good guys withstood the bombardment. How would it feel to hear that same thumping that vibrated our windows and to know that instead of a party, it was evidence that an enemy was methodically approaching? How hard it is for me to imagine, yet for those who live other places, so sadly easy.

Pondering this thought, I returned to the present as a new timbre entered. Busy looking up, we failed to notice rising water that now threatened wet shoes as it lapped and burbled at our feet. Chairs adjusted out of range, I leaned back again and gazed at the fireworks, grateful that for the time being our only adversary was the tide, marking a more stealthy advance.

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