By Ann Weber
Dear New Neighbors,
Welcome! We are the longtime residents, your oldest neighbors. Although we’ve seen each other around, we haven’t introduced ourselves before. We keep somewhat to ourselves, and our little dwellings are easy to miss. (We prefer earth tones and DIY home maintenance.) At some point, we should chat, share local history and swap gardening tips. But I write you now to ask: What are you planning for the Fourth of July?
It’s hard for some of us to grasp your Independence Day traditions. We don’t get the day off, for example. By nature, we’re more interdependent than independent. We would rather just adapt, live and let live. But, at last, we must tell you that the Fourth of July is a real problem: Your fireworks are killing us.
We understand how fireworks can delight you. The blasts are breathtaking, the colors dazzling. “Oh!” The boom and crack! “Ahh!” The sparks light up the night sky. You planned these “surprises,” so, for you, it’s thrilling. But we, caught unawares outside in the dark are stricken by the flash, crash, terror and flight. The blasts are deafening, relentless. Small creatures dart, abandon nests, hurtle over cliffs, plunge into water. Deer leap into roadways and are struck. Roosting birds take flight en masse, slamming into walls, trees and each other. One New Year’s Eve, not long ago, after a fireworks “attack” in an Arkansas town, thousands of Redwing Blackbirds fell dead to the ground.
Even the animals that trust you are terrified. Horses rear and bolt. Cats run for cover and hide. Dogs are more frightened of fireworks than gunshots, traffic or thunderstorms, and more go missing and enter shelters over Fourth of July than any other time. You console wailing toddlers and shivering pets. But we are frantic and disconsolate. Imagine our desperation: smoke, eruption, confusion, violence. This is not a thrill; it’s a catastrophe.
And that’s just the beginning. For long afterward, our landscape is bleak and hostile. Cinders and corrosives poison the soil, plants and water. Our dens are scorched and crushed. Our living and breeding cycles have been shattered. Survivors are sickened and alone. Nor are you immune! Your air and water are fouled. Shards and particles litter your gardens.
We don’t want to spoil your party. But we plead for your help. Can you devise more neighborly forms of celebration? Limit fireworks to only a few holidays. Learn more about our habits and habitats, and stage the entertainment farther from where we take shelter. Dusk is frequently our dinner hour, so schedule fireworks to begin only after dark. Well before festivities begin, cover birdbaths and feeders to discourage birds from drawing near. Stage the event in wide-open spaces to give animals more pathways to escape.
Be mindful, too, of your own safety. By taking special care with your families and pets, you will become more sensitive to our needs as well. We are all living creatures, and surprisingly alike. So when the party’s over, clean up the debris, litter and toxic residue. Over time, encourage making fireworks part of community-wide events, instead of many scattered backyard blasts.
Such thoughtful practices will prove friendlier to all of your neighbors. We think our abiding presence is a part of what you like about living here. Thank you for considering us with compassion.
Wishing you a safe and happy Fourth, we are
Ann Weber, Ph.D., is a volunteer for Appalachian Wild, a 501(c)(3) whose mission is to save injured and orphaned native wildlife, support home-based rehabilitators and provide conservation education. If you have found an animal, please visit AppalachianWild.org.