Monday, July 4, 2011

Fireworks can't compare with nature's own sky shows

Sky shows aren't always pyrotechnical...

Simply Living
July 4, 2011

Many Floridians will be attending firework displays tonight as part of their Fourth of July celebration. Pyrotechnics have been associated with Independence Day since July 4, 1777, a year after the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. In those days, revelers celebrated the day by lighting bonfires, ringing bells and setting off fireworks.

Although Congress did not make the Fourth of July an official holiday until 1870, people continued to mark the day by igniting black gunpowder and other explosives. Right from the start, fireworks became an Independence Day tradition accepted by all and loved by most.

Although I appreciate the spectacle of orchestrated pyrotechnic displays, they don't make my heart sing. Despite living in theme-park-crazy Central Florida, where, for the price of admission, one can attend extraordinary illuminations, I shy away from such over-the-top events. Even smaller, city-sponsored displays or backyard blasts of bottle rockets fail to pique my interest. Given the choice of watching fireworks light up the night sky or watching stars do the same thing, I choose stars every time.

I'd rather sit on my front porch on July 4 (or, for that matter, on any other day), gazing out and upward. With a cup of tea in hand, friends and family nearby, I savor the pleasure of nature's own sky show.

On past Independence Days, my stay-at-home pastime has yielded some amazing performances. I've seen beautiful moonrises reflected on the lake as well as moonless nights filled with twinkling stars. Flickering fireflies have added sparkle to the lawn, while fleeting meteors have showered the sky.

On nights when it has been stormy, lightning has illuminated the darkness. I've been entertained by the percussive tattoo of raindrops on the roof accompanied by jagged streaks of white and the roar of thunder. Heat lightning has been equally impressive. I've watched silent streaks of brightness do an electrifying dance.

Because of Central Florida's fabulous cloud shows, lightning-free Independence Days have also been captivating. Puffy pillows of shape-shifting clouds change color by the minute, capturing my imagination and inspiring awe. Why pay for fireworks that explode in patterns when cloud patterns are there, free for the watching?

But my passion for nature's own sky show isn't about money. It centers on beauty and the wonder of nature. Dusk is a special time of every day, holiday or not. Sunset is a dash of transition, dividing the day into light and dark.

The waning sunlight triggers activity for many mammals, birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles. Diurnal birds fly by in a "V" formation. As they head home to roost, nocturnal creatures are just waking up. A decided buzz underscores the evening hours. At dusk, an insect chorus presents a rising song accompanied by the steady croak of frogs and toads. Aerial entertainment begins with dragonflies, followed by bats, nightjars and owls. I get more pleasure watching the erratic flight of mosquito-catching bats than watching Roman candles, missiles or flowery diadems.

Even without artificial illumination, nature puts on impressive displays. And if you miss one show, there will be another — not only on July 4 but every night of the year.

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