Going Small, and Coming Home

With no rain to ruin the concerts and no drought to curtail the fireworks, Houston’s annual Freedom Over Texas festival has been expanded into what promoters call an “extraordinary extravaganza” — a day-long series of Independence Day concerts and amusements meant to conclude with a  “spectacular” fireworks display.

The festival exemplifies the sort of hyperbolic excess dear to the hearts of civic boosters everywhere. Washington, D.C. is promoting its own traditional fireworks as “spectacular,” and of course New York City will be “displaying its patriotism through massive fireworks.” Boston intends to celebrate “in a big way,” while San Francisco will provide “magnificent” and “breath-taking” sights. Not to be outdone, San Diego, Key West, Little Rock, and Huntington Beach have upped their game, promising to rival even the nationally televised shows. Every year, program planners around the country seem determined to live by the well-known rule: “Go big, or go home.”

I’m a great fan of fireworks myself, and enjoy spectacular shows as much as anyone. Cascading swirls of light; gigantic dandelion-like blooms of red, blue, and green sparkling in the sky; thundering, percussive noises that make dogs run and children cry? I love it all. Throw in John Philip Sousa and I’ll be waving the flag with the best of them, telling anyone who tries to talk to me, “Be quiet! Can’t you see I’m watching?”

That said, it’s a fact that the best fireworks display I’ve experienced took place in near-silence and general isolation, accompanied only by the murmurings of friends, the sound of a car engine, and the hum of tires on a deserted road.

We’d been in Port Aransas, intending to spend several days sailing. After a massive July 4th storm sent Coast Guard rescuers out to sea and washed fishermen and sailors back to port, bad weather changed our minds. We decided to drive back to Houston.

At the time, our chosen route, State Highway 35, remained a relatively deserted two-lane road. Winding through coastal prairie and fields planted in maize, cotton and rice, it passes bays filled with trout, redfish and history – Copano, Aransas, Tres Palacios, San Antonio. There are marshes and sloughs and, just to the south, the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, which offers shelter to the endangered whooping crane.

From Aransas Pass to Port Lavaca lies a collection of obscure villages and tiny communities unknown even to many Texans: Francitas, Blessing, Olivia, Caranchua, Markham. Reached via farm-to-market roads, these hidden bits of American life remain invisible to travelers on primary highways.

Invisible, that is, unless you happen to be driving across the coastal prairie on the night of July Fourth. As the lambent sunset fades and the road itself disappears into darkness, the first, barely-glimpsed flashes of light might suggest a distant storm. But when another flash catches your eye, and then another, you’ll turn for a better look and exclaim, as we did that night, “Fireworks!”

Suddenly alert, we began scanning the horizon. In the distance, another display appeared, and then another.  We slowed in amazement, then stopped on the side of the road to stand in darkness, watching the simple displays of color and light sent up from hidden communities.

There were no showering cascades of light, no pulsing, exotic patterns to rival those of the cities. Single rockets soared into the night, interspersed with colorful pairs and mysterious, streaming waterfalls of light. The endings of the shows were marked not by glorious excess, but by vibrant bursts of light sent so high into the sky that any watchers in the towns would have been forced to look upward, toward the stars.

And then, they were gone.


At the time, entranced by the marvelous light show playing out in every direction, I gave it little thought. Today, I find myself moved not by the memory of the shows themselves, but by the thought of the anonymous Americans behind those fireworks: fellow citizens hidden away in little towns with not much of a civic budget doing what they do so well — celebrating, blessing, and rejoicing in their nation and its history.

I take strange comfort in the thought that no television crew recorded the events; no newspaper sent a reporter. If Twitter or Facebook had existed at the time, a teenager or two might have thought to record the show for strangers: but then again, perhaps not.

Love of country, a sense of community, and the sheer pleasure of celebrating with family and friends has no need of publicity. In utter darkness, against a hidden horizon, even the smallest shower of light can be satisfaction enough.

Certainly, event planners know us. They understand we’ve become a nation dedicated to the proposition that bigger is better, and spectacle more admirable than expertise.

I suspect more people in America know which corporation coined the phrase “Super-size Me” than know the authors of the Declaration of Independence. There’s no question that big money affects the political process, or that mega-churches preach a distorted Christian faith. Family farms disappear beneath the onslaught of corporate agriculture, even as media conglomerates blur the line between factual reporting and entertainment, and ever-growing bureaucracies seem intent on regulating everything in sight.

Given these realities, it makes sense that July 4th publicists should choose to highlight the big parties, the extravagant events, and the sheer spectacle of it all. But in the darkness of the prairie, in the wilderness of the inner city, beyond the well-kept fences of the suburbs and the walls of the exclusive enclaves, there are fellow Americans celebrating in a different way.

Many are struggling. Some may have names recognizable beyond the boundaries of their county, but few have great wealth or power. What they do share is a deep and abiding love for the country they call home. They share a willingness to serve that country, and work for her preservation. Committed to values that include self-sacrifice and responsible stewardship, they intend to pass those values on to generations yet to come. Some might ridicule them for “going small,” but they know the value of having a home to come back to.

Several years ago, circumstances demanded I spend the evening of July 4 tending to chores rather than celebrating with friends. As I pulled into a nearby grocery store parking lot, I discovered it had become a prime spot for viewing fireworks being set off at a municipal park.

Early arrivals with coolers and chairs were joined by surprised shoppers who perched on the hoods of their cars. Others stood, captivated, chatting with nearby strangers.

The fireworks display was beautiful, and nearly twenty minutes in length. When it ended with a cascading spill of patriotic color , there were “oohhhs” and “aahhhs” to spare. Then, in a ritual as old as celebration itself, folks picked up chairs, strapped sleepy children into car seats, shoved coolers into trucks, and began the slow trip home.

But for those who lingered, the celebration wasn’t quite over. As I pushed my grocery cart over to a rack, I found myself caught by the sound of a light, trilling whistle: a memory-stirring whistle that made me turn.

A man wearing blue jeans and work boots, a man who looked like he’d spent the day working, and working hard, was leaning against his truck. He was the one trilling away, whistling the piccolo obbligato to John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever with a hint of a grin and real skill.

Celebrating Independence Day in his own small way, he made me smile: just as he made all of us smile, all the way home.

Comments are welcome.

 

92 thoughts on “Going Small, and Coming Home

  1. Terrific essay and terrific photos.
    We’ve seen distant fireworks, driving around the Northeast, at unexpected times, and everyone wracks their brains to recall what event. County fairs, college commencements, a sauerkraut festival, etc. And sometimes, when you’ve been seeing these events for years, and the fireworks have been scaled way back, due to dwindling population or tightening finances, they do seem like distress signals from the small towns. Just can’t plug all the holes in the budget anymore, send up a flare, we’re goin’ down.
    I went to Washington College, in Chestertown, MD, and before I got there, someone in the chemistry dept retired, who had been a professor of pyrotechnics (doesn’t that sound fun?!) I wondered about that specialty, and then one day, walking around the little town, came to a bulldozed area, and a local person told me, “that’s where the defense plant used to be.” Turned out, it was a company making flares, detonators, training firecrackers, etc. for the military, until the plant “went up” one day, making one heck of a show, and unfortunately, taking a number of Chestertown folks with it.

    1. I provided links with the photos, but should have noted that they’re from free-use, non-attribution sites. Now that I rarely use photos other than my own, I didn’t think of it in my haste to post before having to leave. I’ll take care of that in a bit.

      I laughed at your sauerkraut festival, and wondered if it was real. Then I remembered that we have a Mosquito Festival, an Alligator Festival, and a Watermelon Thump in our neighborhood. Those have an equally crazy sound, so why not?

      There used to be a big fireworks show on the lake where I live. Then a developer of restaurants and other entertainment venues on the bayfront started competing. His budget was larger, and his shows far outshone what the communities could do with their limited resources. Today? If you want fireworks, the developer’s the only show in town. Big pharma, big ag, big fireworks. So it goes.

      We often read about explosions in fireworks factories, but I never think about munitions factories. I was surprised to find that there was an incident in Independence, Missouri, this year, near where my aunt lives. It wasn’t nearly so deadly, but still — it happened. Around here, we worry about chemical plant explosions. I suppose the worst I’ve been around was the Phillips explosion in 1989. I was on the north end of the bay in a sailboat, and it rocked the boat. We didn’t have a clue what had happened, but we knew it was time to head home.

      1. “Watermelon Thump” would make a nice title for a ragtime song. Yes, the Sauerkraut Festival is very real, in Phelps, NY, just up the road. This is the summer I summon up the nerve to try Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake. They still grow a lot of cabbages around here, but the nearest sauerkraut cannery is now 20 miles away, in Shortsville. (Come to think about it, you probably want to be at least 20 miles away.)

  2. The drive that you described of the fields of various crops was so enjoyable The best part was of the man whistling in the store parking lot. Sometimes one find unexpected entertainment in the oddest places. Loved this article/post.

    1. That still is one of my favorite drives. There are a lot of refuges in the area, as well as prime agricultural land, so it’s almost always pretty. It’s not to everyone’s taste, of course. It’s flat, and often monochromatic, but I like to think of it as subtle rather than boring. Highway 35 is one of the primary routes along the Great Coastal Birding trail, so it can get busy during migration times — or when the “snowbirds” in their RVs and camping trailers arrive.

      I rarely hear anyone whistle any more. Now that I think about it, it may be years since I’ve heard the expression “wet your whistle.” I suppose if no one’s whistling, there’s no need to keep the whistler in shape. There are songs that include whistling, of course, but to hear someone whistling while they work? Not so common.

  3. Small town fireworks displays are the best. Near where I grew up, the volunteer firemen put on a wonderful display every year. It is held south of town in a stubble field of alfalfa. The particular field depends on which farmer got his hay put up before the 4th. My brother-in-law goes to the field first thing in the morning of the display to park his truck. The family members gather with lawn chairs, etc, in hand. The displays are nearly straight overhead and loud and brilliant. Lots of ooohs and aaahs, crying babies, frightened dogs, and cotton candy.

    1. You get cotton candy, too? I haven’t had good, freshly-made cotton candy in ages. Years. Decades. Every time I see it, it’s been pre-packaged, and what’s the fun in that? It’s seeing the machine spin the sugar, and seeing the person wrap it onto the paper cone that’s fun.

      That’s an eminently practical way of choosing which field to use: very midwestern. In a lot of the coastal towns, people will shoot their fireworks on the beach, toward the water. It certainly reduces the risk factor, and if the wind’s down, the reflection in the water can be beautiful.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kathy. I appreciate that you took the time to read and leave a comment. I’m a fan of Sousa, too. I’d never heard him speak, so I was especially happy to find a video that included his voice, as well as his band’s performance.

      Happy Independence Day to you!

  4. I felt as though I was there watching the fireworks along with you, Linda. A wonderful job here in this article. I especially liked how you made a point to say that the man whistling was celebrating the 4th in his own way!!
    Enjoy tomorrow!!

    1. So often, it’s the unexpected that brings real delight. Big events have to be planned, but smaller scale events can allow for more flexibility, and sometimes — as in the grocery store parking lot — things just come together. As for the whistler, his part in the celebration was a little grace note. We need more of them.

    1. What doubly nice memories you must have of the day. My own father, who very nearly was a Christmas baby, used to tease his mother by asking, “Why couldn’t you have given me a 4th of July birthday?” Then, my mother would roll her eyes and say, “You think you have it rough? I got the Ides of March.”

      I hope this year’s celebration is a good one for you.

    1. It was, indeed. For one thing, it’s pure pleasure to witness someone else enjoying life in such a straightforward, unaffected way. The old song has those wonderful lines — “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free” — and that seemed to sum up his little performance for us.

  5. I understand now that the photo after “And then, they were gone” shows fireworks, but I took the subject to be a plant’s dried-out seed head.

    By coincidence, the word “lambent” is in my scheduled July 4th post.

    1. That’s only fair, since so many photos of flowers, dried or not, can look like fireworks. Sensitive briar comes to mind, and buttonbush. I’m sure there are others.

      Both of us choosing “lambent” for a post is a coincidence. Isn’t it nice to have such a deep vocabulary well to draw from?

    1. I’m not sure I’d class Independence Day celebrations as bread and circuses — although they could be, I suppose. I think the B&C dynamic is more clear in other parts of our society, but what can’t be denied is our increasing preference for production value. Parents and teachers used to tell overwrought adolescents, “Don’t make such a production of it.” Today? Making a “production” out of every little thing — every slight, every offense — is considered de rigueur.

      Ah, well. The good news is that we still have choices, and a degree of power to shape the world in which we live. Whether we’ll choose to exercise that power’s an open question.

      But for July 4th? “Hamburger or hot dog — or tofu?” is a perfectly acceptable question!

  6. What a fantastic post. Bigger is not always better and yes, sometimes the smallest shower of light is enough. I can understand why you enjoyed your unexpected firework party, the unexpected is always so much better than the anticipated. xxx

    1. Remember the old song? The one that contains the line, “If everyone lit just one little candle — what a bright world it would be”? It’s a little schmaltzy, and I suppose most people today are too sophisticated for such notions, but there’s a lot of truth in those lines. They probably apply even if we’re lighting Roman candles!

  7. I also love the small town displays My mind hopped to a street I pass occasionally, on which there are about four or five small (maybe 8-900 feet) houses. The neighborhood is run down but these houses are on display. They are the ones that can be seen from the overpass. I love how these owners achieve such a neat, clean, and welcoming effect. The one that really pulls at my heart has a beautiful door with an oval cut glass window. So unexpected in that area. It cries out, “We might not have much, but we do what we can.” If I opened that door, I wouldn’t expect to find a couch potato, that’s for sure. I might find a whistler whittling a whistle.

    1. When I was growing up, we called that “making do.” Even if we didn’t have new dresses, the ones we had were clean and neat. If the grocery budget was a little stretched, there always was a way to stretch a casserole or a pot of soup. And so on…. Even the women’s gossiping was productive. That’s when they snapped beans, or worked tea towels, or tatted lace to add to bed linens. What it added up to was dignity: a way of life that reflected their personal dignity. That seems in short supply these days — at least, in the public sphere. So, we do what we can in that regard, too.

      I hope you day was a good one, Oneta. I suspect it was.

      1. Linda, I haven’t heard your expression “worked tea towels” in a long time. I had forgotten. Now I won’t have to learn to spell “embroidery.” That’s learning to make do.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever seen silent fireworks but it sure is noisy around here right now. Love the Americana in this post. Happy 4th!

    1. I’m surprised there haven’t been kids (of every age) shooting off fireworks around here, but there weren’t any last night to speak of, and none tonight. Since they’re against city policy, and since the city limits aren’t that far away, I suspect things are pretty noisy a few miles down the road.

      That’s all right. We’ve had enough rain that fireworks won’t be the problem they sometimes are, and while the lovers of noise are doing their thing, we can sit around and ponder how truly blessed we are to live in this country. Happy Independence Day to you, Jean.

  9. I love fireworks — and I use to really love the sounds — until I realize how traumatic it is for so many including animals and our military. I read today a city in Italy will be using silent fireworks — what a wonderful idea! Happy 4th of July!

    1. I confess I love the noise, but when they still were having their shows over the lake — right in my back yard, so to speak — the kitty was none too happy. I heard some stories about a few very nervous dogs, too, and the death of one sofa cushion when a pup got just too nervous for his rawhide bone to do the trick. Life is hard.

      But, life’s beautiful, and good, too. Happy Independence Day to you, Becca — I hope you found some creative ways to celebrate.

  10. I agree – The fireworks displays that I remember the best were small community celebrations. Like you I remember coming home from vacation one year, and happening upon a lovely fireworks display in a small town. And, I remember the fireworks set off by the local mall when I was a young adult, and the fireworks set off from a bridge over the Susquehanna River. . . The list could go on and on. Have a wonderful 4th!

    1. I remember childhood fireworks, too. We always went to the park. I remember going in my pajamas, and watching the fireworks from our blanket. We’d take a picnic supper in a wicker basket, and listen to the city band concert while we ate. Then, after the fireworks, we’d go home and light some sparklers as a final treat. We probably lit some beforehand, too. A box cost about a quarter. Today, they’re going for $10 a box on Etsy. The nostalgia market is strong!

  11. Full agreement here! the best ones I saw were when I was a child and we were behind the grocery store in a parking lot that was small and simple. When we were really little, my sister would not even get out of the car as the noise scared her! :) Those were happy times!

    1. It’s easy to fall prey to promoters who’d like us to believe that simple joys are no joy at all. Of course they’re wrong, but they keep trying. I smiled about your sister preferring to stay in the car. We all have fears as children — I was afraid of dogs — but if we’re lucky, time and experience help us get over them.

      Speaking of simple joys, I think it’s only about a week now until your big day: maybe a little longer. I can only imagine what a joy it will be to be able to walk again — or at least to begin the process. That will be a special kind of independence day for you!

    1. How in the world could I have gone all these years without hearing of this man? I was so entranced, I bounced from video to video, sampling his whistling and his singing. Better late than never, as they say.

      I’m glad to have been introduced to him, and I must say — I haven’t a clue how he does that. I read that he whistles by sucking air in rather than blowing it out. If that’s true, I don’t know how he doesn’t hyperventilate. He certainly has the technique down pat.

  12. I’m sorry. I tend to resist “planned” fun. Fun is by its very nature spontaneous. You get the right mix of place, people and refreshments, and once it reaches critical mass, parties will occur. Micromanagement, like regimentation, is a major buzz kill as far as I’m concerned. “I’ll fire up my back yard grill on this day at this time; bring food and drink and lawn chairs.” That’s my kind of 4th of July celebration. and a 4th of July party without hot dogs and tater salad ain’t much of a party, in my opinion.

    You’ll no doubt recall Mitch Miller’s version about web-footed friends, and the importance of being kind to them. Sousa was the march king, hands down. People know more of his marches than they think they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ov1kjVvYpWk being a case in point. Walking for exercise? Sousa makes it fun.

    1. I certainly do remember the web-footed friends — every word of that gem. I wondered if someone else would remember, and here you are. As soon as I heard the “Liberty Bell” I remembered the “Washington Post,” and “The Thunderer.” Spend four years in a high school band, and some things never leave you.

      When it comes to partying, micromanaging is one thing; attention to detail is quite another. I well remember the socializing my parents and their friends did during the 1950s and 1960s — and which clearly still goes on in some circles. For one thing, it always required mountains of food that required hours of preparation: tiny cream puff shells filled with creamed shrimp come to mind. But all of that was set aside on July 4th, and the casual nature of the day was a good part of its pleasure.

    1. Like many kids, I was eager for the big city life years ago, and I’ve lived it in several places. Now? If I could move to a small town, I would. Life’s funny that way. I’m glad you enjoyed my little tale, and I hope your July 4th was enjoyable, too.

    1. I’m so glad, Shimon — glad that you enjoyed those celebrations, and glad to have stirred the memory. Independence always is worth celebrating, and worth preserving. Our July 4th, despite the changes that have come in the ways we celebrate, still stands as a reminder of that.

    1. That’s so funny, and so true. Part of the reason it’s funny is that it reminds me of the Sweet Potato Queen. If you don’t know her, I suspect you’ll enjoy this introduction. The waving comes at the very end, but it’s all delightful.

  13. What beautiful prose, Linda. Your words create such remarkable visions of your experience, yet take me back to some of my own, long-forgotten memories. The most memorable events in our lives are often those that happen without plan… slipping into our busy lives for a few moments and then quietly disappearing.

    1. There are so many forces today trying to divide people into groups — and then set them against one another — that it can be hard to remember how much we share. It’s not just 1950s-era midwesterners who’ve experienced the joys of community and celebration, and I’m glad this particular story raised some good memories for you.

      As for those unplanned events, I suspect you’ve learned to appreciate them through nature, too. For good or for ill, nature always offers the unexpected — that’s part of the joy of learning to live with her.
      Happy July 5th — who knows what memories today might bring?

  14. I think I will continue painting the outside of my house today since the last time I had an opportunity to paint outside was some time around August 2016. So now maybe the half undone will get done.

    Which I will do while listening to the neighborhood get “shot up” and then at dark the area communities will have their displays. Last week was the massive event http://shakethelake.org/. And it DOES shake the lake and everything nearby!

    Me, I’m appreciating the act of interdependence these days. Let that be our goal to celebrate.

    1. I hope you got some decent weather to finish the painting project. Believe me, I know the frustration of “waiting on weather” to get something done. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about July 4th is the laid-back nature of the day. Everyone seems to enjoy doing a little gardening, or some household chores, when there’s no pressure to be somewhere else, or fit it into a schedule. And for me, July 4th is a great holiday because everyone’s on their boat, and there’s no possibility of working, even if I had a mind to — which I never have, in twenty-seven years.

  15. Linda, this just might be one of my favorites that you’ve done! I, too, have seen lots of fireworks shows, but the small town displays hold a special place in my heart. Knowing they’re working with a limited budget and fewer trained personnel makes what they accomplish that much more impressive.

    As a former band student, I’ve long been enamored of John Philip Sousa. We had just one girl in my high school band capable of playing that difficult Piccolo part to his famous march (and methinks she struggled just a bit!). His concluding quote about music brought tears to my eyes with its profound truth.

    Happy Fourth to you, my friend!

    1. And a happy 5th of July to you, Debbie! It occurred to me that, if you like Sousa, you’d like this version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Starting about 1:40 in the video, five piccolo players come forward to highlight their performance. I’ve listened and watched several times, and I still can’t find a single spot where they aren’t perfectly synchronized. It sounds like a single instrument.

      I liked that quotation, too. I was happy to find a video with his introductory words as well as the performance. I’d never heard him speak before, and I loved his graciousness.

      Smaller budgets and fewer personnel necessarily mean the community works together, instead of just hiring professionals to “put on the show” for them. The value of that never can be calculated.

  16. About 8 years ago we were in Yamhill County, Oregon and staying at a b-n-b on a farm which produces grapes (for wine) and cut flowers. After sundown, we sat on the terrace overlooking the valley and could see the various fireworks displays in different towns for miles–it was a treat.

    This morning–as with every Independence Day morning–I listened to the recitation of the Declaration of Independence read by the reporters and hosts of National Public Radio. While my listening to this remarkable document being read is tinged with sadness and no small amount of fear this year, I never fail to marvel at the courage and intellect that founded this nation.

    I loved this post–happy 4th to you!

    1. Despite the quite different setting, your experience sounds remarkably similar — and delightful. I’ve never been to Oregon, but I’ve seen photos of that area, and it’s beautiful. I did have to look up “Yamhill,” and discovered there’s a Native American history to the name.

      The Declaration is a remarkable document, and our Constitution as well. Multiple forces are eroding the values underlying both, but I’m not ready to give up all hope. Not yet — even though I do wonder at times how we’ll ever get out of this quagmire.

      Thanks for your greetings — I trust you and yours had a fine celebration. Now, it’s time to start enjoying the height of summer!

  17. Some of the best 4th of July fireworks displays we ever watched were in silence from the top of one of the high knolls on the home ranch. We could see all the displays from the small towns out in the valley.
    Happy Independence Day!

    1. “High and away” isn’t just a baseball call — it’s a great description of a place for good fireworks viewing. Those have to be some wonderful memories you have. I hope this year’s Independence Day was a good one, too — thanks for your greeting!

  18. “As the lambent sunset fades and the road itself disappears into darkness, the first, barely-glimpsed flashes of light might suggest a distant storm.” Now, first, given Steve’s post, which I just finished reading, this sentence caught my eye, and I’m sure I needn’t tell you why! Beyond the word choice, however, when I first read it, my mind associated to the smallest fireworks of all–we’ve been on the lookout for them here on evenings, lately, though we haven’t seen any as yet: fireflies. I remember as a kid visiting Uncle Andy’s farm, where we ran out into the night with jars to catch fireflies. We let them go fairly quickly, but just for a while, we each had a miniature fireworks in a bottle. I can’t think of any better fireworks than that. Happy 4th!

    1. It was quite a coincidence that I used the same, rarely-used word as Steve did in his post. When I tried to imagine how he would use it, I certainly was off the mark. A lovely sunset seemed more probable, but it was perfect for the use he made of it.

      Which brings me to your fireflies. I used to catch them, too. I remember at least one Skippy peanut butter jar with holes punched in the lid. I’d fill it with grass and a few drops of water, and then set it on my window sill, to watch as I went to sleep. In the morning, I’d let them go. They never seemed any worse for wear, and it was great fun.

      Remembering that brings me back to the point where the lambent light of fireflies still flickers — in this wonderful quotation from Mark Twain: ” The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

      Needless to say, that quotation is hovering around behind the tagline for this blog.

      1. Love how you twined this post around to get to the Twain quote. PS: I just realized now that I am not getting the handy-dandy notifications of your replies to my comments, which I always look forward to and enjoy so much. I suppose there’s a way to fix it, but for now, in the event you notice, I went back through and you’ll see a number of “likes,” which is me having discovered all the delicious replies that have been awaiting my viewing!

        1. A quick note, since you’re around — some people have had success unsubscribing and then resubscribing to blogs, to solve an assortment of problems. You might try that, and see if it resets the notifications. Be sure that the little slider button in the Reader management area is set properly, too. I found that it had become set to “off” for email notifications for some blogs I follow. When I reset it to on, all was well.

  19. Couple things came to mind reading your excellent post. On July 3 evening, I had the pleasure to photograph a local high-school baseball game on what used to be the outskirts of town, now encircled by development. What fun that was, chatting with friends, photographing a few good plays and watching a storm roll in, complete with a lightning show that eventually ended the contest in the fifth inning. It was called a complete game and the local team had a one-run win over the neighboring community’s high-school team. In every direction, there were impromptu fireworks displays, thanks to Iowa’s new law that allows fireworks in the state. (An old gent commented about “the orgy of blowing shit up.”) Added to that was the intense lightning in the east in a storm slowly moving east and building back toward us. What a great way to usher in the Fourth, I thought.
    Then, today, I was struck by footage of a drone flying by high-rise after high-rise after high-rise in a large city. I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was taken aback by the thought that each of these people, including the undocumented folks in the city, are experiencing Independence Day in a different way, with a different walk of life than someone else, even someone else in their own building.
    That’s a perfect balance for the mega-displays of patriotism. Thanks for helping this stuff take focus.

    1. Those building storms with lightning are a summer phenomenon for us, and you’re right that they provide some of the best fireworks in the world. They’re one constant in a world that’s slowly (or not so slowly) turning from miracle (loosely defined) to spectacle for its celebrations.

      As for fireworks, it’s up to towns and municipalties here. It makes it interesting to drive any distance in the period before the 4th, since you move through areas where they’re permitted and areas where they’re not. I’ve always wondered how the sellers make any money, when a dozen stands can be squeezed right next to each other. Apparently they do, since the stands continue to pop up. As for your gentleman’s comment, in my day, there wasn’t a need to wait for July 4th. Events like the traditional end-of-school cherry bomb in the bathroom were highly anticipated.

      One of the inevitable side-effects of aging is that old traditions fall to the wayside as the people who helped to maintain them fall away, too — in any number of ways. The flip side of that coin is that there’s a new freedom: the freedom to experience Independence Day differently. I didn’t have a hamburger and potato salad this year, since the group that was going to get together decided to wait until one of our number has her new patio finished in a week or two, and we can celebrate that, too. Instead, I headed out into the fields, and watched some ladybugs brunch on aphids. It was wholly as satisfying.

  20. I’ve always spent my Independence Days in small towns and have spent many a 4th sitting in a plastic chair in a parking lot or a field. This year, I am mere minutes from the Houston extravaganza of which you write, but I think we will still amble out of our small neighborhood and just set up on a street corner nearby to watch the fireworks. I love to see the sprays way up high and feel that deep boom in my chest cavity, but I am now scared to be too close to the action, especially when the show is in the hands of amateurs. Nine years ago, we sat on a sandy beach with our daughter and some friends, and a faulty firecracker shot backwards instead of out over the lake and went, unbelievably, straight up our seated daughter’s dress, which caught fire. We rolled her in the sand and carried her into the house and on to the ER, where the burns on her upper legs were treated. It was a terrible awakening to the danger of non-professional fireworks and the start of a different way of celebrating for us.

    In spite of that sobering comment on fireworks, I did very much enjoy your post!

    1. What a terrifying experience for all of you. I hope your daughter wasn’t badly injured, but even an oven rack burn hurts like the dickens, and a burning dress is exponentially worse. I’ve never been a fan of bottle rockets and other sorts of “personal” fireworks. We limited ourselves to snakes, sparklers, and strings of penny firecrackers at home — but mostly sparklers, because they were pretty.

      In any event, that sort of experience certainly could re-shape a family’s celebrations. You’re in a wonderful spot now — being close enough to the festivities to enjoy them, but not having to contend with the drive, the traffic, the crowds. Besides, being too close to a fireworks show diminishes the beauty — at least for me. I like having a little distance, so the combinations of colors and the full blossoming of the patterns can be seen.

      I’m happy you enjoyed the post, and I hope your holiday was a good one: accident-free and filled with fun.

  21. Happy Independence Day to you! I love the “going small” flavour. This year we spent Canada Day with my Doktorvater, his wife and a fellow student and her husband from my graduate days. We left too early to catch any Toronto fireworks and too late to catch any Kitchener fireworks, but from the highway we enjoyed many a backyard, or farmyard, fireworks which seemed about just right!

    1. Your comment about seeing fireworks in backyards and farmyards reminds me of the pleasure of being out in the country at Christmas time, too. There’s always a star atop a windmill, or strings of lights twined through the barbed wire. The very modesty of the displays is part of their charm. In the case of the Christmas we share, and the independence celebrations we share in spirit, “less is more” does seem to apply — and delight.

  22. Your joy and appreciation of those isolated fireworks reminds me of suddenly driving around a turn on a narrow, dark 2 lane road in Dec and seeing a small Christmas tree glowing with lights by a ranch gate – a single strand of lights across the top gate piece – awesome in the truest words – just there for itself and any car that came that way. Sometime less is more.
    League City had their big fireworks on the 3rd. (Wrong, wrong, wrong). I saw a bit of the Macy’s big show (I thought that store was struggling, but extravaganza hardly describe the fireworks’ the complexity and pageantry.Overwhelming). We watched Nassau Bay’s fireworks from our back yard – also quite lovely, but
    I remember standing barefooted on the still hot red sand in Brushy Creek with my one of 5 sparklers in the dark dark night – we only had one light bulb in the kitchen then). A brightness of that one still is what comes to mind when someone says fireworks.
    Sometimes less means more.
    Stellar post.

    1. I knew we saw a lot in the same way, but honestly — look at my comment to Allen, just above. I must have been channeling you, re: less is more, country Christmas, and so on.

      Your comment about Brushy Creek and your sparklers brought to mind this observation from Annie Dillard: “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.” As for stars, so for sparklers — and all the other lights that flicker and glow. Thank heaven we have them.

  23. I don’t mind going big with fireworks, but we had a very quiet 4th this year. It was nice. Hope yours was great.

    1. Sometimes, quiet is good. Mine was quiet, too. I wouldn’t call it great, but it was satisfying — I spent the bulk of it roaming the wildlife refuges with my camera. I may have overdone it just a bit (it’s gotten very hot, very quickly) but I don’t regret a bit of it — especially since I found some fun sights, like ladybugs lunching on aphids. It might not sound good to us, but the ladybugs seemed pretty happy.

    1. I rather enjoy the noise from a professional show, but the noise-for-the-sake-of-noise crowd can be annoying. There’s a spot here where we can get high enough to see the shows in all the little towns surrounding Galveston Bay. It’s especially nice that the communities consult, so the shows don’t all take place at the same time, and everyone’s efforts can be appreciated.

  24. A refreshing post, all around. Unpredictable and crisp, just like those solitary beacons of color falling on family farms that you described so well.

    Big. Spectacular. Tremendous. Such hyped hyperbole has ironically diminished the planned grandiosity, hasn’t it?

    We drove home from San Luis Obispo, up 101 on a July 4th about 5-6 years ago. It was a road show. Coming from one Salinas Valley farming community after another–Greenfield, Gonzales, Soledad, King City–was a fireworks show that went on for 50 miles even on a major thoroughfare. Not nearly as charming and meaningful as the one you write about in this post, but unexpected, nevertheless.

    Last Tuesday, we were in one of the most liberal places on the planet–Portland Oregon. And yet, despite the reality of Portlandia, fireworks are legal. OMG. It was like being in a war zone, right in a sweet neighborhood.

    For once, we were happy to get back to regulated California, if only for a minute.

    1. Both positive and negative hyperbole are wearing me out. If everything is awesome, nothing is awe-inspiring, and when apocalypticism holds sway, real and present dangers often aren’t recognized.

      As a society, we seem to be hooked on our own adrenalin. It’s an odd thing to watch people chase bigger and better “experiences” on a daily basis, even as they become less and less able to truly experience anything. In my darker moments, I suspect people like Zuckerberg are counting on our increasing numbness and detachment from reality to help ease acceptance of their “virtual” realities. They’re clearly interested in increasing their control over our lives, not to mention their profits.

      But there’s a beautiful sunset tonight, and you’re safely home, and we’ve celebrated liberty and independence once again. I suspect there are a couple of horses waiting for you, on the easel if not at the fence, and I’ve got a big bowl of fresh figs to enjoy. On with summer!

      1. What an invigorating comment. Your first two paragraphs are carbon copies of those daily rants that swirl inside my mind.

        The moon was beautiful last night as I tried, hopelessly, to photograph the owls. I’ve decided to let that goal go–and just relish in the knowledge that we HAVE an owl family in the box.

        And yes, I have finished my bison painting and am very pleased with the result. I “oiled it out” today and will wait for it to dry before signing it and varnishing.

        I’ve begun a painting of the Palouse to help me understand glazing. Whether the painting will turn out, I do not know but I have learned that I am slow and methodical in my painting.

        Go for those figs. Enjoy the weekend, the sunset AND the Great British Baking Show is on PBS every Friday at 9:00 pm.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Sheryl. Just because most celebrations don’t make the front pages of newspapers — or get thousands of likes on social media — doesn’t mean they’re any less important to the people who participate. And after all — they’re the ones who count, the ones whose hearts are stirred by the celebrations.

      I was thinking about you when I read about the Montana earthquake. Did you feel it? I didn’t realize that your area’s so active. I read that Montana has four or five earthquakes per day. Of course most are so small that no one feels them, but it’s still interesting.

  25. July is birthday month on a large scale, 1st is our 150th, 4th is yours. Anyway, I choose to stay home, enjoy the AC, and watch from afar, the small scale if you will. We’re under a heat warning these few days, the Calgary Stampede going on, with temps. in the high 80’s to low 90’s. Can you believe it?

    1. You know, I just heard a friend from Montana mention their heat, and wondered if it had reached you. It looks as though you have a little relief today, but that there’s more heat to come. Inside in the AC is a good solution, especially with books and films to keep company with. I’d wondered whether you might have lower humidity, but no: you’re getting full summer.

      It’s hard to believe it’s Stampede time again. It seems as though it just happened. Amazing, really.

  26. This is simply wonderful. I can see why you love the quiet, real-meaning Fourths over the super-size-me ones. I do like our Lake fireworks, which are pretty big and not at all fond of those put out by independent “neighborly” revelers (ask Lizzie about that one. Up here those freak me out with fire concerns. But the friendliness of the small towns — they’re just the best!

    I’m always glad when it is over, though. A good festivity, a good reason to celebrate. But a little loud for me!

  27. What a thoughtful article. I enjoyed the simplicity you brought to it. Honest, pure, having integrity as you talked about those who celebrate in quiet, sincere ways. Thank you

  28. Simplicity, honesty, and integrity seem in short supply sometimes, but they’re still around. I like to find examples, and write about them. It’s a good reminder for myself, too. I’m glad for your nice comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s