WEB MASTER TUCKER HOTTES is fascinated with fireworks
I could have been a pyrotechnic …
In the depths of the summer heat, it’s great to have a holiday like July 4 to have an excuse to sit around outside, enjoy some cold beverages, fill water balloons for kids (and brave adults), and occasionally blow some stuff up. This year’s unfortunate Independence Hump-Day might ruin a lot of people’s dreams of a long weekend, but it does mean multiple chances to make an excuse for a gathering. Nothing like pre-, actual-, and post-parties for a holiday. And for those of you who did stretch a super long weekend, took the full week off, or have a glorious academic life with all summer off … well, I’ve got a few Roman candles, and you know where to stick ’em.
Most holidays have different ways of bringing out the kid in us, but the Fourth of July has always been the epitome of summer for me. I’ll admit, fireworks have always fascinated me, and perhaps in another life I might have done pyrotechnics for a living. I enjoy big commercial displays, and I really appreciate the coordination and setup that goes into such a show — maybe it would have been a cool career. But I can’t tear myself away from the joy of setting up a display with consumer-grade products and igniting it all by hand. There’s an allure to a firework — mortars and aerials especially. It’s something that exists just to create a single, beautiful, violent, perfect moment. You start with a perfectly benign package of paper and a few dry chemicals. Lighting the fuse is an immediate point of no return. The decision has been made, the die is cast, and it’s time to clear out. Bystanders close enough to see the ignition might take in and hold a breath. When the sparkles of the fuse hit the edge of the tube, there’s usually a tiny fraction of a heartbeat before the main event — a microsecond when you fear a dud. But then in scales of time our brains can’t even perceive, so many things happen inside that paper and cardboard at once. The powder for the charge all goes up, blasting out of a tightly packed package, creating the BOOM that thumps in everyone’s chest — much more powerful for you, of course.
At the same time, the force of that first charge throws out smaller, specially packed bundles of powdered material, some of them with their own tiny fuses and ignition charges. This is for the color — some of them explode into tinier packages still, others burn the whole time they’re traveling. Bright, almost blindingly white magnesium, blues from copper and chlorine, sodium’s yellow, barium’s green.
These metals and salts burn up to thousands of degrees, making a spectacular display that lasts for a few instants at best, leaving behind only darkness, silence, and acrid smoke trails hanging in the air.
It’s a thrill ride that’s over in a bang and a flash, but it’s beautiful and captivating in a way that’s hard to describe, and some people don’t really understand. So even though I might not have gotten a nice, long holiday weekend out of the deal, I’ve had a few chances to indulge myself. That’s fine in my book, and I hope all our readers had a great holiday as well.