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Story Last modified at 10:39 p.m. on Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fireworks create 'shock and awe' across Eagle River

By Frank E. Baker

From one side of Eagle River Valley to another on New Year's Eve, pyrotechnic displays created a 'shock and awe' of light bursts and explosions that echoed off the mountains. People were clearly taking advantage of the new municipal ordinance allowing fireworks from 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. the next day.

I took in the show from the front steps of my house, which faces directly across the valley into South Fork. I was amazed at both the quantity and quality of celebratory ordnance exploded – leading up to and including midnight. The fireworks stores north of Wasilla must have made a haul.

My beagle Parker became quite agitated, moving from place to place in the house. It made me wonder what the area's moose, coyotes, owls and other wild creatures must have thought about the sudden cataclysm. I bet the noise could be heard far into Meadow Creek Valley.

I'm no stranger to fireworks. Back in the day, we used to buy them at stands along the highway just a few miles outside of Seward, and even in Anchorage. As kids we liked cherry bombs and M-80s with a high-explosive yield that could really cause extensive damage to something like a tin can. Sometimes people weren't careful, however, and received extensive damage to hands and other body parts. Items like this that packed a powerful punch were taken off the market a long time ago, and I haven't seen them since.

Rather than light up the sky with fireworks—even back then Roman candles and other aerial fireworks were expensive—we leaned toward the creative and preferred to explore what we could do with firecrackers' explosive power. In short, we'd blow things up. We built miniature houses with sticks and blew them up. We taped firecrackers to those balsam-wood airplanes, lit the fuse and flung them skyward, squealing with delight as they exploded in mid-air. With a short piece of steel pipe we created cannons that shot rocks. I'm beginning to think that as kids, we saw too many war movies. Our demolitions even included blasting the dirt to create small roads for our miniature cars.

We conducted all of this mischief from a vacant lot or gravel pit that was well away from people's homes. But even back then, I am sure there were people who didn't appreciate the racket.

I no longer set off fireworks, but enjoy watching them. My only reservation is that they should be used safely, especially around children, and that their paper and other refuse should be cleaned up afterward. And I don't think fireworks should be legal in summer when fire danger is high, and I refer here to the Fourth of July. That's a time, I think, when we should let the pros do it for us.

As I watched the fireworks extravaganza build to a crescendo at midnight, along with the grinding of noise makers and shouts of merriment, I wondered if instead of reveling in the coming of a New Year 2011, people were celebrating the end of 2010 – which for many wasn't the best. Either way, I think the celebration conveyed something bigger, more brilliant and extraordinary than any kind of fireworks. It spoke of people's strong, undaunted spirit, their strength and their resilience. I think it said, "no matter what was dished out to us in 2010 and no matter what is in store in 2011, we will deal with it."

Before retiring about 1 a.m., I heard a dog bark from up the street. Somewhere back in the woods a chickadee was probably re-fluffing its feathers and settling in for the night, relieved that quiet had returned.

For me, 2010 had been a pretty good year. Drifting off to sleep, I could not think of one New Year's resolution. My quiet, unspoken celebration was that tomorrow would be slightly longer than the day before. Spring wouldn't be that far away.

Frank E. Baker is a lifelong Alaskan and member of the Eagle River Rotary Club.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 5, 2011.