Victoria Day on the Island

I tighten the lid on my soft drink. A chilly wind moves through my light denim jacket. It seems too late in May for it to be cold like this, even though it’s nearly ten o’clock at night. I lean back to look at the million tiny stars. I am able to point out the big dipper by myself for the first time. It makes me wish that I could remember the names of some of the other constellations.

My attention is drawn away. I know the fireworks will be starting soon.

“How long?” I lean forward to ask my sister.

She tells me that there’s only about a minute. I sit back.

Little voices begin to call out from a nearby blanket. 10… 9… 8…

The sky lights up at the cry of one. I almost feel as if I should congratulate them on their perfect timing. My sister and I jump up, grabbing each other’s hand, and run toward the cliff before us.

As the orange and silver bombs burst a humongous flock of birds rush at us from every direction. They are nearly blocking out the fireworks.

“Come back. Sit down,” my mother calls.

I move backwards without looking away from the sparkles appearing like speeding constellations.

The birds continue their constant migration over and around us as I feel the damp grass beneath me.

I can’t help thinking of how, for as long as I can remember, we have had the tradition of coming to the island (just an hour ago my mother had told me that she had brought me here when I was only a few days old). Through all those years I’ve never seen the birds making such an up about the fireworks. It’s something different.

I can faintly pick up the tune of music playing on Parliament Hill across the river. Flashes continue to illuminate the sky.

I begin to think of all the other changes happening to the island. Years ago my family would stretch out on our blanket closer to the water, to the right of the trees, path, and totem pole. At first, my only knowledge of others on the island was the tee-pees that have since been taken down. They had about as much cultural significance to most visitors as the bridge. A picture of time gone by and a symbol of change.

I remember in other years having inhabitants of the area hold signs reading “please stay off our sacred land” and patrons of the Victoria Day celebrations being asked to leave. I remember this making me afraid. Why? Thinking back I can’t say for sure.

From the corner of my eye I see the fence. The fence on a spot that once looked bare, excepting a few trees and grass. Several years ago it first appeared surrounding not too large an area. Over the years it grew taller and wider until it was over most of the part of the island most commonly visited.

Since then fewer people have made the short journey here. My family and only one or two others this year. I can only assume that they are feeling cheated out of their rightful place on the island. I wasn’t a very big fan of sharing when I was little but I wished it would happen here.

I think of how I felt when we had arrived earlier this night. We were all reluctant to get out of the car at first, seeing how much the fence had grown. Seeing mostly darkness to its left. We were all afraid.

My mother had pointed out the blue SUV just a few parking spaces to our right. My mother matter-of-factly stated that it must belong to another family of celebrators because the “Indians” did not drive cars.

Only when we saw dancing sparklers belonging to other visitors did we lose this feeling and come out from behind our shield.

It bothers me that she said that. I continue watching the fireworks. I wonder if she was afraid.

The fireworks explode larger and larger on top of each other in the grande finale. I see a small firework shoot from the far side of the fence. They’re not afraid. Neither am I.