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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 44.9653, -69.1086
Usually I love celebrations. Whether it's in Peru or Ecuador, being swept up into one of their frequent parades (often with a religious theme), or in Thailand for Songkran, their Water Festival, or in India for Holi, their Festival of Colors, I love joining in with happy people laughing and singing and dancing. Having grown up in a fair-sized city, yet living in a rural area for a quarter of a century, there are times when I hunger for being part of a huge crowd, walking anonymously through multitudes of people, picking up on the energy a large city intrinsically has and projects. Sometimes I just need to be with people, lots and lots of people. So even though I do not agree with much the US has been doing for many years, I can still insert myself into the celebrations, be surrounded by thousands of people milling around, and see some beautiful fireworks. My need for the press of humanity will be assuaged, and afterwards I am usually glad to return to my mostly solitary life.
One year, many years ago, we were in San Francisco over the 4th of July. We love to stay at the Fort Mason Hostel; up on the hill the sound of foghorns can be heard throughout the day and night, the uplifting smell of eucalyptus trees is ubiquitous, and the Golden Gate bridge can be seen from a few of the rooms. I love this area of the city, plus it's a short amble down to the marina, and then one can walk past Crissy Field--spying herons and egrets if you're lucky--all the way to the Golden Gate bridge and beyond into Golden Gate Park. Such beauty! But if you head in the other direction away from the hostel, there is a steep ramp (that very fit runners, skateboarders, and bicyclists love to use) that heads down to the other side of the Bay; it was on this ramp that our family, along with hundreds of other celebrants, squished together to watch the double fireworks over San Francisco Bay. What fun! Everyone was friendly; there were no strangers in that crowd. We all jostled to see the blazing colors in the ever darkening sky. For me it was a celebration of being part of a mass of people desiring the same thing, simple as that was.
Another year we were visiting my mother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania over the 4th. We had eaten dinner at my cousin's house, but the weather had turned chilly so I had changed my clothes and put on warmer layers. Unfortunately I had left my shorts--with my money and keys, etc., in the pockets, at her house, and we were leaving to return to Maine the next day, so we drove back to retrieve my clothes. We were so late getting back we got stuck in the Fort Pitt tunnel; we knew the bridge would be closed so people could watch the fireworks over the Point, but no one expected that cars would be stopped after they had entered the tunnel! We could hear the fireworks starting, so I grabbed the girls and told Bill he could stay with the car if he liked, but we ran between cars and trucks, through the tunnel and out onto the bridge to watch the festivities. Fantastic! We had a perfect view; standing on the bridge, with thousands of other people cheering beside us, we were close enough that our clothes and hair smelled of the smoke and ash from the fireworks afterwards. I was so glad I had forgotten my shorts or we never would have had that experience!
When my son was small we lived in Newton, Massachusetts, and took him to see the fireworks there. We lay on a blanket on a green grassy field and watched the display overhead, until we realized ashes and pieces of still burning fireworks were falling right down very near to us. We quickly got up and moved off to the periphery; less exciting, but much more safe.
Two or three years ago we visited our youngest daughter in Boston for the 4th. We had a long, sun-filled summer day; taking a ride on one of the boats sailing in Boston Harbor we passed the USS Constitution being taken out for her required yearly cruise to remain commissioned with the US navy. At night we took the T (Boston's subway system) to Arlington and walked to find a spot along the Charles River where we could sit or lay and hear the Boston Pops, and watch the truly wonderful firework display there. Finding a place to sit was not easy, as thousands upon thousands of people come to celebrate, many (in the know) claiming their places by early morning or even the night before, but we found a little empty spot of dirt and marked it as ours. People were singing, dancing, playing frisbee; we joined right in. At celebrations like these, no one is excluded; everyone is everyone else's immediate friend. Balloons, music, lightsticks, children running and shouting, babies crying: what more could anyone want in a magnificent celebration? And afterwards the fun did not end; the wise people who run Boston offer free public transportation after such events, so we, along with the throngs of people leaving, all crammed into packed buses and subways, continuing the singing (but not much dancing because there wasn't enough room in those enclosed vehicles), all the way home. What a night!
Other years we stayed in Maine for the 4th, watching disappointingly unartistic and short fireworks in Bangor, Bar Harbor, Newport, Bethel, and in other small cities and towns. In Rumford, touted that year as having the largest display of fireworks in all of New England (no one, however, had advertised it as being the best), we sat and watched and watched and watched as firework after firework boringly exploded over the river. There was no theme, no art involved; it was just a very long show of firework after firework with long spaces in-between. Every time the audience applauded, thinking (hoping?) the show had ended, another firework would be shot. It was a very poorly timed and long exhibition.
So where will go this year? The forecast is for rain, but maybe it will clear out before dark descends. I want to do something, to see something beautiful, to be mashed in with thousands of other people, sitting in the dark, watching the fireflys, oohing and aahing over noise and brilliant lights in the sky, laughing at simply being among others like us, joy in being alive.
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