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Views From The Cottage

Views From The Cottage

Views from the Cottage by Melanie Martyn –  BEAUTIFUL DISPLAY ON CANADA DAY!

Orr Lake was ablaze with colour this past Canada Day weekend! All you needed was a lounge chair at the water’s edge and the show was on! Each, and every evening, a spectacular display of colour and sometimes deafening crackle, filled the skies while mirroring the scintillating effects on the calm, still, spring-fed waters. I’m sure I saw a ‘school of fish’ learning everything they needed to know about the art of pyrotechnics. A few, no doubt, were diving to the shallow depths of the lake thinking “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”.

Can you imagine that fireworks were first discovered by accident when bamboo was tossed into a fire some two hundred years BC? It was about another thousand years before true fireworks surfaced. An alchemist, searching for ‘life eternal’ mixed sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (a food preservative) around 800 AD. The mixture caught on fire, and gunpowder was born! When this powder was packed into bamboo or paper tubes and lit on fire, the world saw its first fireworks!

Military was quick to adopt this chemical composition to their advantage. China built the first rocket cannons using the powder to aim and blast projectiles at their enemies around 1200 AD. Off the battlefield, however, this technology led to something beautiful: the first aerial fireworks. Initially, the only colour was orange so the displays would have certainly paled in comparison to what we see today.

Used for military victories, religious events, or royal celebrations, aerial fireworks were run by “firemasters” and their assistants, “green men”. The green men, named thusly for the leaves they wore to protect themselves from sparks, would tell jokes to the crowd while they prepared the celebration. It was no joke, you can imagine, when any of the fireworks malfunctioned. Not the safest vocation in those days.

Italian inventors added in metals like strontium or barium in the 1830’s and so finally, our modern fireworks were born, and celebrations took on an entirely new and multi-coloured lighting bonanza.

We all have fond memories as children, oohing and aahing at the micro displays held in the back yard while running around wild with sparklers, trying to write our names in the dark sky. Living in Rexdale in the early sixties, it was common to see each family lighting up the street with fireworks shooting off at the end of the driveway. We always finished with the miniature schoolhouse burning as an effigy for the end of the learning year and the beginning of the great summer adventure. Freedom baby, yahhh!

Precautions should be taken in the handling of fireworks and the oh so fun, mini firecrackers that have burnt many a small finger (and a few adult thumbs lol). I recall an occasion when my teen son had a few friends over for a firepit gathering on a warm Friday night. They decided a few fireworks would brighten up the sky and their spirits. As would happen, the following evening I was tidying up the yard and burning some of the scruff wood and clippings from the front yard bushes. Some empty cylinders from the previous nights gathering lay dormant on the grass. I grabbed the empty cylinders and threw them casually onto the top of the now dying, brush fire embers. Dusk was quickly falling and as I stepped away from the pit, I thought how careful you’d want to be about disposing of these used paper tubes. Visions came to mind from early days when my brothers would throw tethered packets of the small red firecrackers into the fire. The memories of the muffled rat-tat-tat-tats made me laugh, but not for long…

Pituum! Pituum! Pituum! What the??? Flaming balls of red, then green, then blue, were flying horizontally out from the fire, aimed precisely at my newly vinyl-sided old summer kitchen! Worse than this, was the fact they were blasting away at the only exposed wooden areas just under the edge of the roof shingles. You never saw anyone run, slip and slide so fast for the garden hose! Try to pull a hose rolled up on the ground that curls into knots as you stretch it to the limit trying to reach the vulnerable facia. I pull the trigger and it pours out in a pathetic stream, quite like my train of thought at the time. I did tromp on the remains of the roman candle, but I was worried embers could now be forming somewhere between the cracks underneath the roofline. In the hopes of bringing more power and distance to the rescue, I press my forefinger into the nozzle and now I’m spraying more water on my new summer cycling jacket than the target. I whip off the clinging jacket in a flash and it pulls off my T-shirt along with it! I now resemble a firefighter of the likes you see on posters (minus the muscles lol)!

All I can say is that the house was saved and if anyone happened to be driving down our sideroad at that time, I hope I didn’t scar them for life, heh-heh. Note to self, dispose of unused firework debris properly as in soak them in water before placing them in the garbage. Other note to self; wear jackets with a zipper….and stay safe!

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