Last year the city of Los Alamos did not celebrate the Fourth of July.
Half the town was empty of residents due to the Las Conchas Fire which still burned nearby on the slopes of the Jemez Mountains. It was, however, no longer a threat to the town.
My family and I, having just returned from our one-week evacuation stint in Albuquerque, met with a friend outside of the local pizza joint and watched the mountains burn while indulging in dark humor. My grandsons played in the parking lot, and, for some reason we were all quite happy.
Well, you can't remain sad forever without going crazy.
This year, Los Alamos was spared the worst of the Southwest fires and did celebrate the Glorious Fourth, but without fireworks.
We resumed the tradition of the family picnic at Overlook Park. This involves buying a ton of food and hanging out together in a large field flanked by food stands and inflated bouncy structures. Families do this either through genuine feelings of kinship or a begrudging sense of familial obligation. Or both.
After we'd positioned the folding chairs in some rough approximation of a circle, my daughter took me aside and pointed to where the superintendent of schools was strolling across the field. "Remember to watch your mouth," she cautioned me. I have a tendency to think of swear words as just...well, words. I'm half deaf, too, so whatever I say tends to get yelled out rather than spoken. It's just one of the many ways I have of embarrassing my daughter.
My son-in-law's family arrived, lugging numerous folding chairs, a canopy and several ice chests and looking rather disgruntled.
My middle grandson and his cousin, ages eleven and twelve respectively, soon took off, merging with a cluster of school friends, including girls. Both of them, a it turns out, are quite the ladies' men.
My youngest grandson, age seven, darted hither and yon, clearly loving the open space, the food booths, the people and the holiday atmosphere. He is the one who loves -- openly and unconditionally -- every single member of his extended family. Because of this and because he is cute and charmingly eccentric, his affection is amply reciprocated.
My oldest grandson, age 14, hung out with the adults consuming cookies and complaining repeatedly that all his friends were on vacation.
My daughter's father (aka my ex-husband) who was here on a brief visit, amused himself by purchasing various beverages including a mango latte.
At some point, the high school band proceeded to play a medley of patriotic songs.
Then the clouds moved in...
...a huge cumulus siege engine, dark and menacing. Like a great celestial cannon, it began firing what felt like cannon ball- sized raindrops that were almost, but not quite, hailstones. Everyone began scurrying about packing up the food, taking down the canopy, collapsing the folding chairs, etc.
Then the heavens opened and we were all instantly drenched in pounding rain.
I grabbed my youngest grandson, along with two bags of uneaten food and a chair and dashed off to find the car. Our route to safety took longer than it should have because I can never , for the life of me, remember where we parked.
Wet to the skin, we climbed into the van where my daughter had already taken shelter. The rest of the family followed eventually.
Once we were all settled, my daughter turned to her father seated next to me in the car, all soggy and shivering. "Welcome to the monsoon season," she said.
By now the storm was moving off. That's the way it goes in the Southwest -- brief, violent thunderstorms that begin sometime in the afternoon or evening. This time, at least, the lightning didn't come close.
I stared out the window, happily taking in the myriad puddles, dripping foliage and scampering people in rain-saturated clothing.
"This," I thought but didn't say, "is the best thing that's happened all day."
Not to mention that what's left of our forests have been spared for another year. Definitely, the main cause for rejoicing.