And the Rockets’ Red Glare…

…the bombs bursting in air…

Over the years, I’ve forgotten what the Independence Day celebration is all about. Or maybe I never knew. Sure, it’s a day off and sales at the stores. It’s picnics in the park and a fireworks display. It’s time with your family or friends doing fun things.

But that’s not what it really means.

Independence Day is a celebration of the birth of our country and our freedom from a tyrannical ruler.

Want to really understand Independence Day? Read or listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence. I listen to NPR’s reading every year and it brings tears to my eyes. (This year, it was worse, since I realize that President George really has committed several of the same offenses as King George III.) The Declaration is a document that simply declares that the people have had enough abuse and want independence.

“Church bells rang in Philadelphia,” NPR reminds us at the end of the reading. The people were celebrating the adoption of this document 232 years ago. What would follow was a war to achieve the independence we had declared. A war we very nearly lost.

On Friday, July 4, 2008, I had the pleasure of watching the fireworks display hosted by the town of Brewster, WA. Brewster is a small town at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers at Lake Pateros. It’s filled with fruit orchards growing cherries, apples, pears, apricots, plums, and more. The majority of residents are farm workers and, this time of year, many are migrants who have come to Washington to pick fruit. They’ve brought along their children, who are likely to follow in their footsteps as migrant workers in years to come.

Mike and I made our way to a park along the edge of the lake. A huge crowd was gathered and there were lawn chairs and blankets all over the grass. Kids ran and played, carrying or wearing glowing toys. In the open areas, people were shooting off their own fireworks; unlike every other place I’ve lived — New York, New Jersey, and Arizona — fireworks are both legal and easily obtained here in Washington. These little fireworks shows added to the party atmosphere. Rather than putting on fireworks displays at their own homes, these people were sharing their fireworks with everyone.

It was a real community event. The air was thick with celebration.

Fireworks in BrewsterAnd then the main fireworks display began. It started at 10 PM sharp with a continuous display of large fireworks over the lake. Somehow, we’d managed to get a perfect spot in the park. We were both comfortable in our chairs and had unobstructed views. I’d brought along my camera and tripod in an attempt to capture some of the fireworks in pixels. This shot, taken with my fisheye lens, isn’t very good, but it gives you an idea of our surroundings: the people around us in the park, the water of the lake, a high tension powerline tower all illuminated by the rocket’s red glare.

As the main fireworks display ended at 10:30 with a 2-minute finale and the crowd began to break up as people walked back to their cars, the smaller fireworks displays all around the park started up again.

And that’s when it hit me — that’s when I felt what Independence Day was all about.

What do you think?