Thursday, July 7, 2011
Getting away from the booms
I am not convinced that average American citizens, particularly those with xy chromosomes, have enough common sense to be trusted with fireworks. Supposedly the Prefrontal Cortex area of the brain, which controls judgment, impulse control, management of aggression, self regulation, and social skills has a blossoming period around the age of 12, followed by a period of pruning through adolescence. By adulthood, the Prefrontal Cortex is up and running.
Then what explains this behavior that we see on July 4th? In our neighborhood, the celebration started several days before the anniversary of our nation's independence, with an increasing crescendo of booms coming from all directions, far and near, some, too near.
I recognize as I write that I am operating out of the limbic system in my brain (source of sex, rage, fear and emotions). Neighbors who are normally responsible and considerate invested hundreds of dollars in devices (many illegal) that explode like mortars, send projectiles of hot embers flying and leave debris all over the street, our yards and our roofs. Yes, they are magical. But the magic wears thin when the show goes on too long. The Humane Society sends warnings to pet owners. People with PTSD are left to cope the best they can. Reports of casualties were printed in the newspaper before Monday even arrived. Our friend down the street set her junipers on fire while igniting a legal firework with her young daughters watching. In Washington state, many fireworks are legal. Illegal fireworks are readily available from the reservations, and the city ordinance restricting all of them to the 4th is ignored.
I take all this personally because our dog, Winnie, interprets every boom as a gunshot aimed at her. Starting on noon on Friday, (after the first explosion) until the temporary quiet next morning, she lay under the bed, glassy eyed and panting. No amount of coaxing, commanding or comforting changed her mind. She was too afraid to go outside to pee, and she went almost 48 hours without eating. When the fireworks all happen on one day, we can cope. This year, the fireworks season was five days long. (Oops, just heard some more. Make that six days.)
This year we did what seemed to be the only logical solution: we went camping. We chose a site in the national forest at the foot of Mt. Baker, alongside the rushing and thus noisy Nooksack River, which was overflowing with the spring snow melt from the mountain.
So, now, returning to the topic of brain function, I will increase my experience of happiness 25% by expressing gratitude. The effect of the fireworks on Winnie prompted us to go camping, but the fireworks were mostly forgotten once we arrived in the old growth forest. We parked our (new A-frame popup) camper right next to a gi-normous Douglas fir, and within sight of the milky colored river. We were treated to a colorful display of wildflowers along the paths and along the riverbanks. We met other campers who were giving their dogs a respite from the booms. Our friends joined us and we hiked, ate, talked, ate, built fires, slept late, took pictures, and totally enjoyed ourselves. When we drove up as far as we could on Mt. Baker, we laughed and cheered as the dogs played maddog in the snow. Fireworks were forgotten in the majesty of the mountain peaks.
Thank you, fellow Americans, for a memorable 4th of July afterall.