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Why fireworks make you happy

It's the Fourth of July weekend. For my family that means, weather permitting, a trip down to the bend in the Missouri River after sunset on Monday to watch the fireworks display on the Fort Pierre shore.

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It's the Fourth of July weekend. For my family that means, weather permitting, a trip down to the bend in the Missouri River after sunset on Monday to watch the fireworks display on the Fort Pierre shore.

It's a great way to cap off the Independence Day celebration, and we've been doing it for years. We missed it one year (2011) when flooding kept us off the river and another year when the water pump went out on my boat and we couldn't track down a replacement for weeks and weeks. Most years, though, we set out as the sun is going down and join dozens of other families whose boats are anchored off the Fort Pierre shore for the big show.

(This would be the place for me to insert a passage about the fact that I never get my anchor to hold, but that's an old story. Besides, it's going to work this year.)

Fort Pierre is a fireworks crazy community. For several days before the Fourth of July, the crack of firecrackers and the sparkling trails of rockets and Roman candles can be heard and seen all over town, day and night. On the evening of the Fourth, as we bob on the river waiting for the big show, the sky is filled with smaller displays of fireworks, all along the western horizon. A newcomer might think that's the official display, until the rodeo ends and the real show begins.

It's a great display, year after year. I suppose other communities, especially river communities, do something like this, but I've not had experience with any place except Fort Pierre for the big-time fireworks display. This is the one I know, and it's a tradition for generations of families.

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There's just something about floating in the darkness, head back to watch starbursts light the night sky as the echo of the exploding fireworks booms back from the far river bluffs. Sometimes, when the delicate pinpoints of light rain down like twinkling confetti, it seems as if they'll fall right into your boat, adding just a touch of danger to the experience. You know they won't. They're well away from the boat. But the perspective of the sudden burst of light in the dark night messes with your senses a bit, and if you're me, you fight the urge to speed away to safety.

I may be vague about why fireworks make people happy, but let me take you to an expert. A chemistry professor named John Conkling authored the book, "Chemistry of Pyrotechnics: Basic Principles and Theory,'' published in 1985. No, I didn't read the book. I found this information in a Los Angeles Times piece.

Conkling says fireworks are valuable even if they aren't practical. And whose mother hasn't shaken her head as she watched her child light off a string of Black Cats or Gorillas and said, "What use are those infernal things, anyway? Bam and there's nothing but bits of paper. You might as well take the money and burn it.''

In the article I found online, Conkling is quoted as saying, "Fireworks make people happy. There's something about watching the night sky explode in color and sparks and noise that I think gets really deep in the human soul.'' Well, that's more elegant than me saying there's just something about it, but you can see I have scientific, expert back-up.

He also said researchers are working toward fireworks that burst into lime green, violet and hot pink, as well as fireworks that form words and messages. The future is exploding.

Through all of this happy talk of starbursts and loud blasts, it should be remembered that the holiday we celebrate is about declaring our independence as a new nation back in 1776. Some people took a bold step and created the United States. It took a lot of struggle, and it continues to take work. But here we are, 240 years later.

One reason we are still here is because of men and women past and present who stepped forward to defend the country. Amid the flashes and noise, we shouldn't forget them.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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