Monday, July 2, 2007

Counting the Days

"Hate the sin and not the sinner," they say. I think it's in the Bible somewhere.

So perhaps, even in this day and age, it's safe to say in public, on cyberspace, that I HATE the 4th of July/Independence Day--without being accused of treason or terrorism.

Well, not exactly "hate." "Dread" describes the last few days of June. "Loathe" and "resent" come into play beginning the 1st of July. In Kansas, fireworks can legally be set off from the 1st through the 4th, I believe--or at least those setting them off believe this is the case.

The situation has only gotten worse since the City of Lawrence banned fireworks within city limits. Since I live in the county, right on the city limits, my neighbors' friends all convene at my neighbors' homes to discharge their noisy devices. Very convenient for all--close to town, not much driving, my neighbors get the "fun" without the expense.

But on my side of the fence, it is not a fun time.

To people comfortably ensconced in air conditioned homes, watching the news or violent movies on TV, the pops and booms are background noise at worst. But I work outside, my entire being attuned to the sounds of my environment. The random, sudden explosions--something I'm not desensitized to from watching TV or movies--startle me every time, especially the larger ones. Adrenaline surges through my body each time from the triggering of the involuntary flight-or-fight response.

Fight dominates, since I have work to be done. This is the root, perhaps, of my hatred of this occasion. I become increasingly irritable with myself, the dogs, the piece of baling twine that catches on something, the screw that won't come loose. I don't like the way I feel; my amorphous anger borders on irrational at moments. It IS irrational--it's chemically induced. I am irrational. But there's nothing I can do about it, except damage control: trying not to take it out on people, animals or objects in destructive ways. I gravitate towards big, physical, "destructive" activities like cleaning up debris or mowing the lawn (extra good because the ear protectors and "happy purr" of the engine mute the suddenness of the explosions).

Toss is terrified of thunder, and extremely gun-shy, Luna only to a slightly lesser extent. These are very common traits in Border Collies. My dogs are actually better than some; though cowering and not terribly "with it", they love herding sheep enought that they WILL work in a thunderstorm if required to. Otherwise, Toss is plastered to the floor under the basement stairs, and won't respond to any summons unless she intuits that working sheep will be involved. Luna is a little more casual about sudden sharp noises.

Fireworks are even worse than thunder. To the dogs, there is no rhyme nor reason to them, unlike the thunderstorm which they can sense coming for hours before I'm aware of its presence. I don't know how to tell them that it's the first of July, and it will all be over in 4 days, and no one (at least on the farm) will be hurt. After all, I can't even convince my own body of that, not enough to halt the secretions of adrenaline.

Luna's preference is to plaster herself to ME. It's like the thunder-and-lightening equation. After each "boom" I subconsciously count the seconds before Luna appears at my ankles, panting heavily, looking frightened and frantic. Getting underfoot, tripping me, disturbing the work I'm doing. Adrenaline surging through my own body, triggering instinctive reactions, I am ill-equipped to be the comforting haven she expects. I try to respond evenly, but as both Luna's and my own stress levels rachet up with each volley of firecrackers, a vicious cycle ensues: the more she clings, the more aggravated I become by the clinging; the more tense I get, the more clingy she gets as she begins to respond to my stress as well as to the fireworks. Eventually I have to shut her in her kennel, to protect her from my irrational wrath at her slightest infraction.

The sheep are affected, too. It's not as plain as with the dogs, but they become jumpy and nervous. It's not a good time to do any significant work with them.

In past summers when I've milked my sheep, it's been quite graphic: A sharp dip in production beginning July 1, and leveling out after the 4th. With hot weather generally setting in this time of year, production never rebounded to pre-July levels. It's just a "done deal" that early July is the time I shift to a once-a-day milking schedule.

My preferred way of spending the 4th is to visit my Old Order River Brethren friends in Jamesport, Missouri. The "plain" people--Amish, OORB, German Baptist, Mennonite--who make up a large part of the rural population in the Jamesport area do not observe holidays. The 4th is special only because those who work at jobs outside their spiritual communities have the day off to spend at home. Thus visits from friends and faraway family are more likely. I fall easily into the pleasant routine of their days, fixing meals, cleaning up after meals, chatting about recipes and sheep (they raise Gulf Coast Natives, a rare American breed) and gardening. No crowds at the lake, no sunburn, no whining, no fireworks.

I am always welcome there. It is quiet when night falls and the children are in bed. The drone of early cicadas, perhaps; a chirping of crickets; a restless rooster; one of the Great Pyranees sheep dogs (huge deep-voiced guardians, not herders like my Border Collies) announcing their territory to all coyotes. You can hear fireworks very faintly, very far away, as if in another world. But I can't take the dogs, not just because of that family's dogs, but because Toss likes travelling only slightly more than she likes fireworks. It doesn't seem quite fair to leave the dogs home alone in such a stressful time, but sometimes I rationalize that it's better than staying home with them, and being grouchy and irritable.

This year, unless fencing and weeding miracles occur in the next few days, I'll stay home. Perhaps it will be a good day to skirt February's fleeces in the basement, where it's cool and remote from the upper regions?

"This too shall pass." We'll endure the "outside world's" insanity for a few more days, muddle through somehow. Then we'll celebrate July 5th--freedom from gunpowder!


Piedmont Pelican said...

My Independence Day tradition is as follows:

If I can (which is usually) I shed child care responsibilities and go alone to the Festival for the Eno. This is a three-day music and arts faire -- all proceeds dedicated to buying land on the Eno River. At one time, the Eno was a mostly urban river threatened with extinction from a proposed city reservoir. Now, it's a several tens of thousands acre state park that cuts through north Durham and loops into Orange county. It provides respite and a significant wildlife corridor for wild things in the region (

The festival is three performance stages, non-stop great and diverse music from 10am to sunset. It's a reward for acclimating to summer temperatures as it's invariably reallyreally hot on the 4th. That somewhat keeps tourists at bay :).

On the fourth and the fourth only -- at some point during the day -- there's a big, disorderly dragon parade that snakes it's way through the entire festival grounds. It's started by some organized persons who inhabit the paper mache head. But then constructed by whoever happens to decide to join in, some with instruments, some with costumes especially constructed, all with enthusiasm. It's why I always go to the festival on the 4th, no matter what the entertainment bill. No fireworks. None whatsoever.

Next year, board those pups in a fireworks-free city and come for a visit?

Catlady said...

We had fireworks the other night at the trailer - Bear reacted in much the same manner - not "fear" exactly, but definitely, "I'll just stay inside until those annoying flashy noisy things are done, thank you very much".

Personally - I'm siding with the borders....