My hometown of Montague celebrates Independence Day with a bonfire. This extravagance has taken place for approximately the last 75 years (I vaguely recall, but could be corrected). Preparation visibly begins in mid-June with the appearance of wood-to-be-burned in the town park. This is no small fire that a sports fan could leap over. The most enthused Tar Heel fan could not clear its flames. This is a serious bonfire.
Bonfires are the focus of agrarian European celebrations of Midsummer, or the longest day of the year. This is within two weeks of our Independence Day. Yes, I know that our national holiday is held on the Fourth of July to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is not purposely aligned with old European holidays. Still, I do find it thought-provoking that our celebrations are still fire-oriented (fireworks, barbecues, and bonfires).
On July 1, 1776, John Adams himself suggested that we would celebrate our independence with fire:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
This year, I prepared for our celebration with an afternoon of errands on the second day of July: collecting vegetables, strawberries and a bouquet of flowers at Riverland Farm, selecting a variety of Victory beers (for our Victory in Independence), picking up Mole Hollow light blue candles and a large bag of jasmine rice, as well as chicken breast and the makings for marinades (teriyaki and tandoori).
On July 3rd, we welcomed friends and family to our home for grilled chicken and other delectable dishes. After supper, we headed down to the expertly-lit bonfire.
Strawberry memories for me are under blue, blue skies with billowy clouds. Chamomile flowers and hay underfoot. Berries like gems under dark green leaves. Late June is the time for strawberry picking in the Pioneer Valley. When my girls were small, Nan and I took them picking at the end of every school year. I still see Meghan and Chella dancing in the rows, and Chella’s little feet landing in the tray of berries we had picked. The laughter of grandmother and mother/aunt. Those little blond heads and round bellies.
Back home to boil and boil and boil pots of water. The needlessly anxious moments of measuring, stirring, pouring, sealing. The ping! sound of jam jars. Stashing away summer sweetness for Christmas gifts.
Magic for 2009, well, as we all know, these holidays are times of great magic, and I am handed a few choices. Traditional wisdom holds that a small piece of coal from the Bonfire protects against being kidnapped by the Good People if sewn into your clothes.
Alternatively, storing the coal in your home will protect you from lightning strikes. Given the storminess of this summer, I opted for fire protection. Ed and I walked down to the site of the bonfire in the morning of July 4. Heat still pulsed from the center. I scooped up some remnants that were cool to the touch. We wandered around town, headed into the Montague Book Mill for coffee and book-browsing before heading back home. I placed my coal on the shelf by the woodstove.
I guess that still leaves me vulnerable to the Good People.