Fireworks and Memories

When my friend Kirk asked if I wanted to go out in a kayak on the Charles River for the fireworks on the 4th, my initial instinct was to say no. More specifically something along the lines of Hell, no. 

It was a reflex. I haven’t celebrated holidays for years. And holidays involving big crowds and late nights are generally something I avoid. If it sounds exhausting I’m usually not up for it.

But instead I said yes. Because, well, why not? I didn’t have the kids that day and I figured I might as well go for it when I no longer had them as an excuse. 

Thanks to inclement weather, the fireworks on the 4th got moved to the 3rd and our leisurely outing became a bit more hectic, with both of us scrambling to get there after work and not having the time we expected to prep. But we had an anchor, we had a couple snacks, and they gave us everything else we’d need when we got there. 

So off we went. Kayaking down the Charles. 

I admit, one of the things that held me back is that I am not a particularly athletic person. I think I did much better than I normally would have done since I’ve had to lug around a certain 2-year-old who’s decided she must be carried everywhere for the last couple months. I did okay. I took plenty of breaks. And WOW it was a long trip. From all the way out in Brighton to the middle of the city. 

A visual aid, if you will.


For those of you who like to be precise about these things, the distance from start to finish is approximately 70 bajillion miles. Very, very windy miles. 

But despite my tired arms, it was delightful. A different way to look at the city. And I was glad I was doing it now, just having passed my 4th anniversary as a Bostonian, when I could look on the city with grateful and loving eyes. 

We arrived pretty early. Not many kayaks were around, but there were sailboats everywhere, terrifying me since they seemed to have no clear idea which direction they were going. We dropped anchor on the opposite side of the lake from the fireworks set up where the sailboats were less plentiful. We chatted and passed the time waiting for the sun to go down. It was lovely. Not too hot, though it was too windy because this is Boston so of course.

windswept selfie
Windswept, on-a-boat, Pru-photobombing selfie

When we were out on our kayak I thought back to all my previous fireworks outings. And there honestly aren’t that many as an adult. Watching the fireworks over Town Lake in Austin with my summer boyfriend (and Allison) when I was 18. Watching the fireworks over Lake Tahoe with my on-again-off-again semi-boyfriend when I was in law school. Watching the fireworks over yet another lake with yet another boyfriend in my mid-20’s. And I’m pretty sure that was it. Which means it’s been nearly a decade. And that my experience of fireworks mostly involved boys and bodies of water and I didn’t have anything particularly memorable. I hadn’t even spent much time remembering those previous firew0rks-watching escapades. Sometimes you have to do something to remember what it’s like, how you’ve done it, how it fits into your history, how it makes you feel. Skipping the 4th for so many years meant I’d forgotten so much of that.

I was deeply happy to be out there, having the freedom to do something I wouldn’t normally do, something that would’ve been nearly unthinkable just a couple years ago. 

I started hatching plans while I was there to stop avoiding these big festivities and just finding a way to do them that works for me. I thought maybe next year I’d get a room at the Liberty or the Sheraton and bring the kids and watch the fireworks from our room together. 

It got dark, we watched the big boats come in and get settled, we got kudos from the State Police and the FBI for our impressive anchor (the cop presence was well done on the water) the Boston Pops began to play, a group claiming to be the Beach Boys sang three entire songs, (though I was unable to see who they were and they sounded suspiciously un-Beach-Boys-like, so I sat there wondering which bastardized re-birth of the Beach Boys this was, the one with Mike Love, or the one with the other guy who I don’t think was actually an original Beach Boy, and of course I regaled Kirk with my vast knowledge of Beach Boys history) and then the show finally started.

I didn’t take pictures.

Because pictures of fireworks do not do them justice. They can’t recreate the sparkles, the sounds, or the smell of the smoke, or the bang that you feel in your bones. I realized how long its been since I’ve seen a fireworks show, or a really good one, and saw kinds of fireworks I’ve never seen. Stars, smiley faces, one that kind of looks like Saturn that gets this amazing circle of sparkles after a ring of color. 

It was amazing. It was incredible. It made me smile. I remembered that when I see fireworks that sometimes I just can’t help gasping or saying “Oooooo” out loud without meaning to.

It was something you really should do, especially if you delight in the fact that the water wasn’t crowded and you didn’t have to deal with the masses of people one normally does at these events. 

The other bonus: you don’t have to wander through the busy streets and subway tunnels.

Well, you usually don’t.

About 15 minutes post-show, when we’d pulled up our anchor, got our lights ready, picked up our paddles and began our long trek back to Brighton, my inner monologue went something like this:

Brighton is SO FAR. I know I’ve had like 4 hours of rest, but that 70 bajillion miles is really going to take some effort. 

Didn’t we row into the wind on the way here? How are we rowing into the wind AGAIN on the way back? And wow, they must be getting a great fireworks show over in Newton or wherever that is. Because those are some bright lights flashing off the clouds. 

My arms are already getting crampy. This is going to be sooooooo loooooooong.

We haven’t even hit the first bridge yet. And my recollection is there are many many many bridges. So many bridges. Seriously, Newton, kudos on the fireworks. I mean, that is definitely fireworks. So much light, so regular, it’s definitely fireworks.

Still, at least we have a pretty clear route ahead. I finally see other kayaks and canoes. They’re all ahead of us since they didn’t go all the way to the opposite end of the river like we did, but they’re out here, too. And many of them are probably wusses like me. We’re in it together. Even if they’re all in front of us. The water is so choppy, thanks to all those big boats with motors getting out of here. I keep getting splashed. It’s making it even harder to row. Ow, my arms. Maybe I should rest for a minute.

So many people still on that bridge and on the streets. 

Do I hear screaming? I definitely hear screaming. Lots of people screaming. WHY ARE PEOPLE SCREAMING? I didn’t hear gunshots, I didn’t hear a bomb, what is happening? Why are they screaming?

Oh. Oh crap. Oh oh oh oh crap. That wasn’t fireworks. It’s lightning. And they are screaming because they just got hit with rain. Rain that sounds like it’ll be here any second. Rain that sounds like it will be really really hard.

And here it is.

I yell for Kirk to get out the rain jackets, but it’s too late. By the time he passes me one we’re already soaked through. It is that rain that comes down so hard it hurts. 

And if you’re lucky enough to have only experienced that kind of rain while on dry land, let me explain how it works when you’re in a little kayak on a big river. First it hurts. Then you realize you cannot see. You literally cannot see. All I could see was our boat occasionally and sometimes a glimpse of just how big the waves were right next to us. 

We tried to paddle and for a minute or two we went nowhere. And I thought, While it’s a really good thing we read all the safety information before we got on the kayak I’m really feeling underprepared for the current crisis. We finally got a slightly less horrific patch of rain and started to paddle to shore. Only to realize that shore on the Cambridge side nearest us wasn’t exactly somewhere we could dock. But then I spied a boathouse and we paddled over as quickly as we could. 

Luckily for us, it was the MIT Boathouse and it was full of kids partying. Kids who were playing around in the rain and who were fortunately not drunk enough to respond to my calls for help and to assist us in getting the kayak out of the water.

We were drenched, to put it lightly. We called the kayak place and were told to wait it out.

And then the MIT grown-ups in charge of the place said that they were closing up and that even though the rain was letting up they couldn’t let us back out on the water due to the lightning. 

Not-so-windswept, very-wet selfie.
Not-so-windswept, very-wet selfie.

So we said goodbye to our kayak, walked our wet, wet selves a couple blocks in to Cambridge where the roads weren’t blocked off, and uber’d it over to Brighton where Kirk’s car was and to give the kayak rental place our tale of woe. Some people had actually made it back, most of them spry looking guys in their 20’s. A few, like us, had abandoned ship. 

It was a crazy, beautiful, wet, terrifying adventure. And it’s nice to know that you’ve set yourself a new record. That is, by far, my most memorable 4th of July. 


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