Monday, July 4, 2011

How Birch Bay Celebrates July 4th

The July 4th holiday is a big deal in Birch Bay. Its importance is magnified by the fact that Canada Day (a national holiday that is equivalent to July 4th) is on July 1st.  So, typically, second home owners and visitors travel from both north and south to come to this resort for the holidays.

Though usually a sleepy hamlet, Birch Bay becomes a full fledged seaside resort during the July 4th holidays. Vacationers flock to the C Shop, water slides and the state park. The walks on the tidal lands -- the low tides go way out -- are part of the fun, but the main attraction of July 4th is a truly anarchic fireworks display on the beaches  along Birch Bay Drive. 
Blaine July 4th Parade

A typical July 4th at Birch Bay includes, after a brisk oceanside or tidal land walk, a visit to Blaine to take part in some of its activities. Blaine is a small border town: from its main street (Peace Portal Drive), you can glance over the border to see what is happening in Canada. Usually a non-descript town with a shaky downtown, Blaine shines on July 4th. You can start the day there with a full pancake breakfast served at the Senior Center. Then you can walk downtown to hear a band play at the city's outdoor venue, visit booths selling local food and crafts, view the antique car display, or visit the library for a book sale. These things are located within a few steps of each other.

In the early afternoon, Blaine has an impressive community parade that, while lacking sophistication, is full of smiling costumed locals and their home-made floats, snazzy pimped out vehicles, and tail-wagging pets.  For some, the main attraction of this surprisingly long parade is the handfuls of candy thrown by parade participants. Kids and older candy aficionados' (such as me) can fill a plastic bag with these cavity-inducing treats.

After the parade, it is time to unload some money on one of the dozen-or-so fireworks stands in and about Birch Bay. These are professionally designed and operated businesses, selling the most sophisticated bangers and boomers allowed under state law.  They have little in common with the rickety wooden firework stands that I built for several years in Fayetteville (usually on 71 South, but a couple of times on Dickson, in a vacant lot next to the Episcopal Church). Then, teenagers dominated the business, earning a few summer bucks selling firecrackers, roman candles, spewing cones, and bottle rockets. Now, fireworks are big business.

It seems on July 4th that darkness will never fall on Birch Bay. The sun sets about 9:20 but dusk remains for a long time after that. On this day, darkness is important and eagerly awaited because hundreds of people have plopped down big bucks for fireworks and are waiting on the beach along Birch Bay Drive to shoot them off.  The shooters and watchers are scatted for two miles along the horseshoe shaped bay waiting for the dark.
Anarchic Fireworks begin along Birch Bay

As darkness comes, I usually am hoping that our neighbors, the herons who dine on the residents of Terrell Creek, know what is coming. Perhaps the older herons have told the youngsters to be prepared for the barrage of explosions and flashes soon to come.  They might say, "Now, I know it will be scary, but don't be afraid. No one is trying to kill us. If is gets too bad, just fly east, but be sure to fly high."

When darkness is almost here, some folks cannot wait a few more minutes and start to shoot off their rockets and candles. It's a bit of a waste because the effects are much less dramatic than they would have been a few minute later.
Finally, dark is here and D-Day is re-enacted as hundreds of people fire their Annihilators, Big Bad Venom Extravaganza, and Great Grizzlys over the Bay. It is truly anarchic: nothing is coordinated or synchronized. The lighting of every fuse is the decision of a person or group of persons, and that decision is unrelated to the decisions to light or not light fuses made by all of the other persons shooting fireworks that night. The effects are either a random, post-modern mess or an unscripted ballet, whichever way you choose to view it.
Fireworks where Terrell Creek flows into Birch Bay

The night is a spectacular mixture of explosions, shrill whistles, spewing fountains, and exploding starbursts, followed by moments of unplanned silence, broken by other rounds of lights and explosions. The randomness of it all creates some tension and excitement: you don't know whether to look north or south, and you don't know, when you looked south if you missed an even better display to the north.

The air fills with smoke. A walk along Birch Bay Drive shows the beach lined with people on blankets and chairs watching the display. The young kids are smiling with big eyes. The teenagers, wanting to get in on the action, are begging their parents for money or, having already shaken them down, are crossing the street to the nearest fireworks stand to buy the loudest, brightest things they can afford.

And so it goes for more than an hour.  By then, it is getting a little tedious.  But some folks don't care and are driven to keep shooting their rockets and making the noises they love.  A brief visit to the C Shop for some toffee, then you seek refuge inside your dwelling. Finally, the exploding fireworks pass the point where you want to stick your head out the window and yell, "Enough already."

Crowds along Birch Bay Drive watch the fireworks
At 5:30 a.m. the next day, when the dawn lights Birch Bay, the aftermath of the firework's orgy can be seen. The trash barrels are overflowing with empty firework's boxes. Most of the birds are gone, and the seagulls who have returned to their nests glare at you.

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