Rolling Rockets’ Red Glare

Amazing experience the night of July Fourth…

Jim, Chip, and I had gone down to Belen for a cook-out at the home of our friends Kathy Hedges and Walter Jon Williams. Despite excellent company and lots and lots of food (or maybe because of the latter), by about nine o’clock the three of us were beat and ready to make the drive home.

Belen is a forty-five minute drive from where we live in Albuquerque. On the way down, we’d taken the “surface roads.” These wind through the South Valley area of Albuquerque before melting into farmlands (northern New Mexico style, which means lots of scrubby pasture and rocks populated by a scattering of horses and cattle, with these pastures, in turn, interspersed with occasional plots of growing things), and then into lands owned by Isleta Pueblo, before going back into farmlands and then into Belen.

I like this drive because I’ve always been a sucker for staring out the car window and enjoying whatever is offered. This time, since we’ve been behind on rain, I did a lot of noticing of how dry things have been, but noted the calves looked healthy.

But I wander. (But then again, isn’t that the point of this?)

Anyhow, for the trip home we decided to take the I-25 expressway since it would be too dark to see much of anything.

Boy, oh, boy, were we ever wrong!

We’d forgotten that this was Fourth of July and that full dark was just falling. (In fact, when we’d walked to our car, the skies had been this amazing shade of grey-blue with undertones of pale lemon, rather than the more usual velvet black scattered with stars).

With the fall of darkness, the fireworks shows had begun and we were in a perfect position to enjoy the greatest display ever. I don’t know New Mexico’s regulations on fireworks displays, but I suspect that, in the spirit of Independence, they were being a bit flouted that night. Everywhere we looked, fireworks were shooting up into the air, exploding into showers of sparks and colors.

I’ve seen some fancy shows, carefully choreographed displays that leave you going “ooh” and “aah,” marveling that anyone could arrange chemicals and rockets so that they produce such astonishingly varied shapes and colors.

This wasn’t one of those coordinated productions. This time the shapes were basic – rounds bursts and cascades, occasionally multiple clusters of either or both. The colors tended toward gold and silver, interspersed with reds and greens, dotted with occasional bits of blue or violet (my personal favorites).

What was extraordinary was the sheer quantity and exuberance of the fireworks. For the duration of our drive (which was largely at 75 miles an hour, flat-out and smooth) the skies to either side were never empty of these human-made stars.

Sometimes a more tightly clustered display would hint at a small town celebration, making me imagine some park where replete New Mexicans were sprawled on picnic blankets or in folding chairs, enjoying not only the fireworks but the shared pleasure of their companions. More often the fireworks came up one at a time, hinting at a few friends having a private show.

We sped through it all, oohing and aahing, telling Jim (who did a yeoman job of remembering to keep the car on the road) what we were seeing. Except for our conversation, this was a purely visual show. No explosions penetrated above the hum of the car engine. No scent of gun powder filled the air or stung the eyes.

At the end, we turned into our little street to find our neighbors still involved in the annual informal event of setting off small (all absolutely legal) fireworks in our street. After seeing Chip off, Jim and I wandered over to join the party.

Now we were part of the noise and laughter, the oohs and ahhs and thoughtful assessments of this one rather than that. Over the tops of the houses, we could glimpse some of our neighbors’ celebrations and be reminded that all around the skies of New Mexico were alight with fireworks.

6 Responses to “Rolling Rockets’ Red Glare”

  1. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Two stories to share! Once, many years ago, I had the experience of traveling on a major highway on a motorcyle on the eve of the Fourth of July. Much like Jane describes, it was a unique and almost surrealistic experience. Blooms of color would suddenly appear in random air space, and since this highway circled a major metropolitan area, there were huge fireworks to be seen along with the smaller visions that appeared from private celebrations.

    In our neighborhood, we live on the end of a court. Our next door neighbor puts on a fireworks display every year, and each year it is a little more spectacular. The happiest aspect of this fireworks display for me is the memories being created for my 8 year old son. This is a part of his life, his childhood. He measures his maturity by how long he is allowed to stay up and watch the display ~ along with how much supervision his over-protective mother provides! We are one of the little communities Jane describes, sitting on lawn chairs and blankets, ooohing and aahing, and evaluating our favorite heavenly jewels.

  2. Tori Says:

    I had a similar experience this year to yours, Jane, only I was walking through a natural arroyo on the way to a friend’s house from the Los Alamos fireworks celebration. We foolishly did not bring flashlights, but the occasional firework would light our way better than cell phone glow.

    The friend also happened to be a former employee of a stage pyrotechnics company so later we got to set off hand-held firecrackers that would spray a good 15-20 feet without even warming your hand! Most of them were leftovers or rejects from Barney the Dinosaur on Ice. o.O

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    We do fireworks in November to commemorate Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses Of Parliament (“Remember, remember the fifth of November / Gunpowder, treason and plot…). I suspect most of the British Commonwealth does that. However when Robin (who is Australian) came to live in New Zealand with me she was quite astonished to find that ordinary folks could buy fireworks and set them off. They’ve been illegal in Australia for as long as she can remember and the only fireworks displays are “official” ones. We have our official ones too, of course, and generally they are most impressive. But everybody still likes to set off their own.

    However I strongly suspect that those days are numbered — more and more rules and regulations now apply to the sale and setting off of fireworks and I would not be at all surprised to see them completely banned any year now…

    In many ways that’s a shame. On the other hand, when I remember some of the things I used to do with fireworks as a child, I think it might be a good idea. I consider myself lucky to have survived unscathed!

  4. Hilary Says:

    Fireworks aren’t allowed above 6 ft in NM, according to my Dad. So yeah, most of those you saw were probably illegal. 🙂

    We saw a lot more from “up the hill” than we usually do. I think it might have something to do with the city announcing they weren’t going to respond to calls of illegal fireworks this year because they don’t have enough people/money for it.

    It was fun to see all of them from the foothills, especially against the lights of the city, but I wish I could’ve seen it from the highway like you did! Maybe next year I’ll plan to do that. 😀

  5. Paul Dellinger Says:

    What a neat idea — not just one stationery fireworks show, but continuing fireworks while traveling for some distance. This would make a great scene in a story…

  6. janelindskold Says:

    Thanks for the clarification on NM’s fireworks situation, Hilary…

    I’m betting that lots of people did take advantage of that loophole.

    It’s funny how childhood memories of fireworks are so important. I know for me fireworks will always be associated with a cool (comparitively) breeze off the Chesapeake and all the adult males in the neighborhood down at the end of the community pier indulging their inner pyromaniac.

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