It sounds like a battlefield all around me. Every year I think of real wars in the world – this year in Ukraine – and I imagine how people feel where the sounds I’m hearing mean life and death. I wonder why anyone wants to voluntarily live through this noise and cause this needless destruction.
The air is acrid with smoke and the smell of burned powder. The sounds of sirens can be heard above the din. One engine speeds past my house with its lights on full. I’m sitting in the dark in the barn, trying to ease the horses’ anxieties, and watching for potential fire. Tomorrow people will ask me how my Fourth was – do I tell them the truth?
I didn’t always dread this holiday. As a child I looked forward to the festival and fireworks in the park close to our apartment. The year I returned from working behind the Iron Curtain it was just before The Fourth and I could not wait to celebrate the freedom we had after experiencing what it was like not to have it. But I spent most of my life in an area in which only organized fireworks were allowed. Not even “safe and sane” fireworks were legal for personal use. When we moved to this house I got my first taste of The Fourth as battlefield simulation. The dog I had at the time nearly lost her mind. And thus started over two decades of dreading this time of the year.
I can hear people cheering their efforts at a distance. They are obviously unaware of the stress their entertainment is causing in the barn around me, and in the house where my mother is calming the distraught dogs. Illegal fireworks are in the air all around me, and the sky is now hazy with smoke. Sirens are now a steady sound from all directions. All around me are animals in distress, not just mine. An owl desperate to get away from the chaos flies by in a panic, nearly colliding with a tree in its haste.
It’s apparently not enough to celebrate this day each year. No, as soon as fireworks go on sale you can hear them disturbing the night. In the beginning that was weeks in advance, and lasted weeks after. As the state finally recognized the fire danger, the window was shortened to two weeks before the holiday. This year it seemed to be only one week – perhaps because of supply chain issues I’d heard reported – which felt like a small blessing!
We spent the week leading up to the day feeding the horses calming supplements at night. The long time residents seem to be taking it well. That was not the case two years ago, when our neighbor had a big party and set the fireworks off not fifty feet from the barn! I felt sure that night we would lose at least one horse, as they spun around their stalls, crashing into walls. Last year our neighbors were sick for The Fourth (they had planned a repeat performance), and this year they seem to be celebrating elsewhere. Thank goodness for small favors!
My worry this year is Chase. This is only his second Fourth here, and his Mustang heritage has him on high alert. Even the simplest bangs at a good distance have bothered him this week. Now it sounds like bombs going off behind our own barn. He spends most of his time facing the corner of his stall. I talk to him with my hand in his shoulder when he comes to the front. I truly wish I could make it go away, for his sake.
I walk a circuit around the barn, looking for potential signs of fire. We are surrounded by fields of dry grass, just ripe for a disaster. The recent fire on our street still has me spooked. Sprinklers ran all afternoon, wetting any potential risky areas on our property. As every year my fingers are crossed that we escape the fate of many in our area. A recent story of a house lost from a neighbor’s fireworks is not comforting.
A breeze blows through the barn cooling my face, but my enjoyment is cut short by what sound like three consecutive bomb blasts seemingly just behind the barn. All munching from the horses stops as they brace to flee if necessary. Of course they cannot flee their stalls, but I prefer that to the prospect of one or more bolting through a fence. Facebook has been rife with just such harrowing tales this week. Horses lost from panic over fireworks. Still, the insanity continues.
As I get up to get more hay for the horses, I realize that the cats have sought solace in my company. Angel is laying just past my feet while Frappie is curled up beneath my chair. As I move to the hay trailer Angel restlessly follows me, circling and looking for cover. Frappie, too, gets up and looks for another place to hide. When I settle back in my chair, the cats return to their places.
The horses are back munching as the ‘war’ rages on. Even Chase is munching behind me. I don’t know if my presence has helped, although each time I get up to make my rounds he comes to the front and watches until I return. I will take some small comfort in thinking that my vigil is helping.
It is getting late, and I am getting tired. The entire sky suddenly lights up from a series of illegal fireworks that sound so close. A silver streak runs across the side of my pickup outside. Chase stops eating and whirls around in his stall. I don’t blame him – I feel like doing the same. Instead, I speak softly to him and he pokes his nose over to sniff me. After a moment of conferring he seems comforted and the munching sounds begin again. This will be a very long night.
Finally, quiet returns. It is occasionally punctuated by a distant boom, but relaxation begins to return. I make my final rounds with the hay. The cats ask for some food so I accommodate them. I check in with Chase who stopped eating a while ago. He puts his head over my shoulder and I lean my head against his neck. I’m not feeling his heart as clearly as I have all evening – a good sign. After a few moments of silent comfort, he asks for a scratch for the first time all night. I oblige him happily, seeing it as a sign that he too is feeling less stress. I try to leave and he reaches out, so I scratch some more. This repeats once more before he seems more willing for me to walk away. I turn as I leave the barn. He’s still watching me, but with much less stress than his gaze as the evening started. It seems we have all survived another Fourth of July.