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JULY FIREWORKS AND JULY SKIING

I left the hilltop military base shortly after my relief arrived at 2000 hours. I warily drove out the gate and down the hill, while hearing continuous explosions, both near and far. A rocket whizzed by overhead. My car window was down, and the smell of cordite and gunpowder was prominent. Smoke covered the nearby city. I turned a corner and slammed on the brakes after hearing “Pop Pop Pop” and seeing sparks in front of a house to my right. I looked at my watch and saw I still had time to make a scheduled link-up with senior military officers at a secure location below the hill. I hit the accelerator and hurriedly continued my descent.

Kabul? Baghdad? Mogadishu?

No.

Honolulu, Hawaii, on New Years Eve—Dec. 31, 1999. I was driving from Pacific Command at Camp Smith down to Pearl Harbor. The secure facility was an officers’ club on the Naval Base, a fine place to welcome in the Year 2000. The city was indeed covered with smoke. Hawaii’s large Asian population annually shoots off countless tons of fireworks to welcome in the New Year. It’s a cultural thing. While Hawaii is a very blue state, its natives honor Chinese traditions while tolerating—if not celebrating—incredible annual public and private pyrotechnical displays unrivaled even by red states like Texas or Tennessee.

I was on a special assignment in Hawaii as a reserve USMC lieutenant colonel as part of a widespread mobilization in anticipation of Y2K trouble. There was international concern about the consequences of computers crashing everywhere because early programmers didn’t foresee possible issues with software and hardware as we flipped from one century to another.

Hawaii was one of the last time zones to enter the new millennium. When I reported for duty 12 hours earlier, I braced for all kinds of crises. But everything went smoothly. There was a message about a cash register malfunction in New Jersey, but that was about it.

I flashed back to that memorable millennial New Year’s Eve on July 4th when I went for a walk at dusk in a nice blue Portland (Oregon) neighborhood. Numerous yards featured sparklers, whiz-bangs, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and more. But it was family fun, not Antifa agitation. Ah, the aroma of cordite in the evening. It smells like … Hawaii!

The next day, July 5, featured temps of almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A good day to head for the hills. Or the mountains—as in Mt. Hood.

Dr. Beth and I had earlier visited the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center just over the border in Washington State, fascinated to revive memories of that volcano blowing its top in 1980—one of the most dramatic acts of nature to ever strike our continent. Mt. Hood also remains an active stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, but it seemed peaceful, so we took a chance on a visit. What really called to us was the Timberline Ski Area which was well up the mountain—supposedly America’s only year-round ski operation. Surely it would be less than 100 degrees up there. And if we didn’t actually ski, we might see some good skiers in action.

Maybe inspiration for a summer ski column?

The upper lodge was an impressive edifice that some might recognize from The Shining. Younger readers can google that classic Jack Nicholson horror movie. As well as Mt. St. Helens. It’s all so “1980.”

The drive up was free, in contrast to what it costs to drive up Mt. Washington. It was wonderfully warm, and the snow was slushy. Skiers wore shorts and tee shirts. The slopes beckoned, but I hadn’t skied in a long time—not since a Plymouth State Alumni event at Cannon Mountain, where the challenge was ice, not slush. I watched skiers take the chairlift to its highest point. Was the snow better up there? I wouldn’t find out. I didn’t bring skis and during these inflationary times, I couldn’t afford to rent.

The 11,245-foot summit seemed so close. I wondered what it was like at the top of active stratovolcano. But a hike up was not going to happen—not with me wearing Adidas running shoes. Maybe another time.

I took one last, long, extended look all around. The imposing peak. The incredible views. The beautiful lodge. The smiling 5th of July skiers. And I reminded myself of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful country. America’s 250th birthday, our “semi quincentennial,” is now less than two years away.

It’s never too early to start planning and stocking up on fireworks—as they apparently do in Hawaii, Oregon, and elsewhere. How about New Hampshire putting on the biggest July 4th fireworks display ever in 2026? Light up Mt. Washington! That July snow in Tuckerman’s Ravine could memorably reflect those remarkable pyrotechnical colors for an especially Glorious 4th. Hopely we’ll have clear, liberating skies—as in 1776.

“Live free or die!”

Sports Quiz

What Laconia woman won two skiing silver medals at the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics in 1960? (Answer follows)

Born Today

That is to say, sports standouts born on July 18 include two-time American Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Tenley Albright (1935) and star MLB catcher and manager Joe Torre (1940).

Sports Quote

“Skiing is the next best thing to having wings,” – Oprah Winfrey

Sports Quiz Answer Penny Pitou.

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State Representative Mike Moffett was a Sports Management Professor for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He co-authored the award-winning “Fahim Speaks: Between Two Worlds: A Hollywood Actor’s Journey as a U.S. Marine Translator through Afghanistan” which is available on Amazon.com. His e-mail address is mimoffett@comcast.net

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