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June, 2009


by Valerie

Just as the best part about the Christmas holiday is the display of gaudy lights and sparkly decorations, the pyrotechnic shows that typify Independence Day certainly are the highlights of summer. In fact, while fireworks were shown only on July 4th when I was growing up in Illinois, here in Texas they are considered appropriate for just about any kind of celebration, such as New Year's, birthdays (including Christmas), and weddings.

I've never liked the loud noises associated with fireworks, much preferring the visual spectacle, with its intricate but ephemeral patterns and interplays. As a kid, we usually were given sparklers for the holiday, which simply made a pleasing sizzling sound, but which dazzled in the dark as we traced imaginary artworks in the air.

Isabella and Lucas playing with sparklers, June, 2004
Of course, the best place to see fireworks was at one of the big public displays presented by various townships around our little village. Our parents would brave the traffic and take my sister and I, along with a blanket to sit on, to some grassy knoll overlooking a football field, where we would wait for what seemed like hours for the 10 minute production that always ended in a blaze of color and smoke. It was definitely worth the wait.

When I was an undergrad and back home visiting for the summer, I went to see the Grant Park fireworks in Chicago with some friends. The Grant Park Symphony presented a concert which was followed by an appropriately large show of fireworks, as befitting a huge city. I remember very little about the details of that expedition, although the traffic was absolutely horrendous. I went with a friend, though, and only remember that we had a wonderful time, even to the point of managing to meet up with another friend amongst the huge throngs of spectators. It wasn't something that I'd want to do more than once, but I was sure glad that I did it that time.

There were occasions when we didn't go out on July 4th to watch the fireworks. We could, by sitting on the roof of our house, see several different displays, as our house overlooked a deep river valley, allowing for clear views that extended several miles. When fireworks are close, each explosion seems to fill the sky and take a long time to dissipate. However, I have always been impressed at how quickly distant fireworks seem to explode and decay. I suspect part of it is the loss of depth of field that comes with distance, as well as the inevitable fall-off in perception of the dimmer lights.

Perhaps the most magical fireworks displays are those that are encountered unexpectedly. On one trip from Austin to Illinois to visit my parents during the New Year's holiday, Larry and I were driving near Dallas and suddenly saw a beautiful fireworks display. We were able to pull off the road and watch for a few minutes before continuing on our trip. Another time we were in Galveston for the Thanksgiving holiday and enjoying a night walk on the deserted beach. As we sat alone on one of the rocky jetties, admiring the reflections of the town lights in the waves, a fireworks display suddenly erupted from the center of town. We had no idea why it was happening at that particular time, but it sure seemed romantic. We later found out it was to honor the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Nowadays, I usually perform with the Austin Symphony for the fireworks display downtown by the lake. It is generally hot, muggy, and not terribly pleasant. We play our concert and then head for the air-conditioned busses that transport us to the site, where we can watch the remainder of the fireworks through the windows, in cool comfort.

I once had a dream in which a large airplane crashed on the horizon as I watched. Instead of an explosion, fire, or debris, what erupted from the point of contact was, you guessed it, a grand fireworks display!

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