Since the first time we were around to see lightning streak across the night sky, there was a fascination and reverence for the powerful force behind it. The discovery of fire (when it set the forest ablaze) provided us with a whole new range of opportunities. As we learned how to harness this amazing force of Nature by staying warm during freezing conditions and cooking food, the whole survival thing seemed a whole lot more realistic. When we’d gotten the home situation under control, we began using fire to perform actual work for us in machines forged of metal from the super-heated minerals we’d learned to mine. And with all this extra time we were saving, we found ways to make our own version of lightning in the form of fireworks! Ok, maybe that’s a bit simplistic, but we all love a good show don't we?
It is said Chinese Alchemists discovered gun powder. Wei Boyang (around 142AD for history buffs) is credited with writing about it but I doubt he’s the one who actually invented it. Apparently these Alchemists were searching for some kind of immortality elixir and came up with gun powder. Do you find this a bit ironic? Sulfur and charcoal were commonly available, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate ) forms naturally in cow manure so… It was inevitable those things mixed with fire in a town lab somewhere… Wei just happened to be literate enough to document it – or still alive.
No, I’m supposing that the first person to discover how gunpowder works did so unintentionally. Like a random bolt of lightning, the three elements listed above happened to get combined and got close to the fire. You see where this is going. The unintended effects would likely have produced disastrous results for that unfortunate person, and probably to the building they happened to be in! But the second person (who came upon the smoking ruins) figured out they were onto something and subsequently began the development of how to harness that power to a more intentional effect.
This brilliant development took over 500 years to really start taking shape. Try proposing that time frame at your next investment capital meeting! Well, uh, our projections indicate we could see returns by the next millennium… I know folks who get impatient when they can’t get a phone call to go through… It wasn’t until around 700 AD (T’ang Dynasty) when actual fireworks displays were being put on. The Chinese privately enjoyed this secret entertainment aspect of fire for another 400 years until word got out to Rome, and Europe (and others), and then a whole new big mess of ways to destroy things came about. But that’s another story.
Even in our day of modern science, a bolt of lightning illuminating the night sky still produces a timeless thrill and awe. Hence our ongoing attraction to pyrotechnics and all things involving fire. This industry has grown tremendously since Chinese Alchemy, and we now endeavor to emulate Nature’s process at our beckoning. We can call the lightning to perform for us in ways Wei Boyang never dreamt of! Modern fireworks have reached a whole new level of control and entertainment value. Now we can shape those explosions into recognizable forms (Hey, isn’t that Queen Elizabeth?). We coordinate those explosions to an amplified synchronized soundtrack.
The fireworks in South Lake Tahoe are listed among the Top 10 displays to be seen anywhere on the planet. Yep, we get top nod from those that rate these kinds of shows, and it’s a privilege to be here to see them. This leads to another topic worth touching on.
July 4 is an important day for all Americans to reflect upon what it means to live here in this country. It wasn’t always the Land of the Free you know… Our privilege extends far beyond being on beautiful Lake Tahoe, on a beach, with our friends and family, a drink in our hand, something from the BBQ to chew on, fireworks in the sky, oohs and ahhs… Think about the value of these experiences. Think about the wisdom of those gone before us to have created this place - that allows us to have these experiences in the first place.
That is only one layer of the onion that brings a sense of pride to those have immersed themselves in a true feeling of independence. We have come a long way from the time the Declaration was signed by our Founding Fathers – whom I’ll wager were a lot smarter than some that are running the show now… Take a moment to think about what it means for you to be an American. We are very privileged in so many ways, and need to appreciate the hard line taken to make America an independent place. What do you suppose they intended for our world? The fireworks are a symbol of the battles fought to allow you to be where you are right now.
Things like this expand the value of your Life. Every moment is precious. It is worth it to be here. It is good to be on a beautiful lake, with your friends and family. Take it all in, the crystalline blue of Lake Tahoe, the solid rock mountains, the clean air surrounding you… It is good to be an American. Be proud of it, and act in a way that others can be proud with you. The past has brought you here, to celebrate it all with a dazzling fireworks display! Enjoy… everything!