Search for:

A Booming Tradition

It is 6 AM on the 4th of July, 1975. On the 48th parallel, North latitude, the sun has been up for nearly an hour, but in the San Juan Island town of Friday Harbor, Washington, there are few signs of human activity. The streets are deserted, no ferry will arrive for two hours, and the tiny marina is silent. In the rickety, World War II era dormitory complex of the Friday Harbor Laboratories, which is held together by the trails of the burrowing ants and the fervent prohibitions against stray sparks from the wood-burning stoves, the students are following through on their plan to honor the holiday by sleeping late. The horn that summons the marine-biologists-in-training to breakfast will sound at nine instead of the usual 6:45.

At the stroke of 6, all plans for a morning of uninterrupted quiet are exploded.


The blast rattles the ant colonies in the dormitory and reverberates across the harbor. Throughout the dorm, heads pop out of sleeping bags and blankets. “What the [insert favorite delete-able expletive here] was that?!?” Some of them peer around anxiously, listening for the sirens of emergency vehicles, or tuning radios in an effort to hear what sort of dire calamity has just been visited on their über-peaceful corner of America.

Nothing. No one seems to care except the rudely-awakened labbies. The silence following the explosion is as deafening as the explosion itself.

It is much later in the day when one of the lab’s veterans explains the mystery; a man familiar with the ways of the place, with Friday Harbor as a town of fishermen and farmers, of salmon canners and quarriers of sand and gravel. One of the quarrymen (he said), probably the owner, decided one year, no one could say how long ago, that he was going to be the first to announce to his neighbors the dawning of the American Independence Day. Fireworks he didn’t have, but he did have the dynamite he used to blast the hills on his land into the piles of sand he shipped away on trucks and barges. So he rigged a keg of the stuff at the bottom of one of his pits, and, at 6 AM on the Fourth of July, he set it off. Evidently, he could show his face at the town’s one tavern thereafter without getting it ripped off, so he did the same thing next year. And the year after that. And so on. It became a tradition …

It is 6 AM on the 4th of July, 2007. The sun has been up for nearly an hour, but in the town of Friday Harbor, there are few signs of human activity. The student who, in 1975, bolted out of a sleeping bag desperate to know who was bombing whom, and why, lies in a bed in one of the apartments on the Laboratory grounds that has appeared since 1975 (the ant-infested firetrap of a dormitory is no more; the horn that once summoned everyone to meals is silent) and awaits the stroke of the hour …




Hey, waitaminute …


Who the hell are all these other guys lighting off dynamite? Haven’t they heard of not gilding the lily?

Oh well. Friday Harbor’s a tourist town now. The sand and gravel quarry is still there, but the fishermen are gone (along with most of the fish), so are the canneries and the farmers. The marina that was once so tiny now stretches halfway to Seattle. There are yachts tied up to the docks that would have filled the entire harbor in 1975. The fireworks display tonight will rival anybody’s anywhere, and right up close and personal too. I hope these people are impressed.

I wish to return to a time when one blast was enough.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. Loved the story!!! I felt like I was right there! It is 97 degrees on this side of the mtns today and toooooooo very hot for anything. Enjoy the ocean breeze while we swelter!!

  2. There does seem to be an abundance of fireworks this year. Perhaps it is the holiday falling mid week that causes the celebrating to continue for a full week! It is my favorite holiday for I say “Happy Birthday” to all and none of us have aged! 🙂

  3. Great post, OC. I’m noticing that the little ‘weather girl’ on the front of the blog is registering 55 degrees. Must be mighty chilly for CB after Las Vegas!

  4. Oh such fun. My younger dog Daisy has a hard time with any kind of loud fireworks. Of course they were going off all over the place and the only way to keep her quiet was to hold her in my lap. Then we had more noise and excitement when some one decided to drive their suv into the grass (or mud) area behind the firehouse which is behind our building. Such fun hearing those wheels spinning. Wonder if the FD knows yet!

  5. If it were me, I would assume my head has gone hollow and the kaboom is only one but echoing forevvvvverrrrrr…….

    tell Quilly I loved the pictures of the flowers….

  6. Caryl — the 4th was a picture perfect day, and I have pictures to prove it!

    Pauline — why is it that we light Roman candles to celebrate America’s birth?

    TLP — the whole day was dynamite.

    Jackie — the mornings and evenings are a bit nippy, but mostly the weather is perfect.

    Jill — somebody always has to act foolish. I’m glad it wasn’t my turn.

    Lori — thank you. I loved experimenting with my camera and taking them.

    Polona — there is comort in traditions — even the explosive ones.

  7. What a GREAT story! I DO think it should have stayed only the one KaBOOOM though…. *sigh* … so much for progress.

  8. Quilly and O.C……I feel like a “peeping Tom”…like reading your letters over your shoulder. I’m missing you folks so much that I have to butt in now and then with my two cents worth. Will you forgive me if I “sneaky” in (it runs in the family now) with some comments?

    Quilly, I loved the “Sisters” stories and pictures…really loved reading about your family. Thank you for the laughs.

    You are working beautifully in tandum, already. Happy holidays dearest people!!!……..Judy

  9. Melli — and the blasts continued throughout the day. Some folks don’t know that good things are best savored in moderation.

    J.D. — you are always welcome here. I hope you enjoy the “Together At Last” post as much.

Comments are closed.