Surely we all recall that magical day, after the Grinch stole Christmas, when all the Whos down in Whoville came out without presents, stockings, trees or even roast beast to gather in their town center and sing. They were celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, and once he realized that, the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. Remember that?
Well, Lynn and I won’t be gathering anywhere near the town center, and we won’t be singing, but all the Whos in Gunnison County appear to be celebrating the Fourth of July without most of the trimmings.
In any other year, this would be the kick-off to the hearty meat of a Gunnison Country summer. June is always kind of iffy, visitor-wise, but by the Fourth we are in full swing, filled to the gills with visitors and a big bang to welcome them. This is, in any other year, followed by a week of Cattlemen’s Days festivities, and that’s when you know summer has arrived.
This year a grinch named Corona has come, swiping the parades and the pancake breakfasts, the balloons, the bouncy castles, the water fights and the food courts. But as near as I can tell, all our visitors are still here, still ready to celebrate a Gunnison Country Fourth of July. In spirit.
Traffic has been crazy, virus be damned. It seems like any person who would come for a “normal” Fourth is here. Lynn gave some small thought yesterday to attending an arts fair in an old mining town now repurposed as a summer mecca for cabin owners where the residents can’t seem to agree whether they are in Tin Cup or Tincup.
I’m not sure how they were having an arts fair in the first place — perhaps with papal dispensation from the county, or perhaps they were just going rogue, but either way her rural carrier came back to the Almont post office and assured her she did not want to go to Tincup/Cup: people everywhere, ATVs in abundance. Law enforcement wrote three tickets as he went about his route.
Lynn skipped the arts fair, although she did, for whatever reason, think going to City Market midday three days before the major summer holiday would be a good plan. She was wrong.
So the people are here, but they won’t be going to the traditional pancake breakfast hosted as a fund-raiser by the Crested Butte Fire Protection District. You could buy a “kit” of pancake fixings for four, plus two t-shirts to share among your foursome, to support your volunteer firefighters, but no mingling on the streets of Crested Butte before the parade.
And no parade, either.
This parade is a thing of wonder. Crested Butte is a town of 1,500, possibly 2,000 souls, but on July 4 their main street swells by thousands, easily five or six thousands, people lined up to watch annual traditions like Pete Dunda and his accordion, the guy standing on his horse in nothing but a patriotic thong, and the crew from the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, who used to go commando under their skunk cabbage skirts but now usually default to shorts.
The Holy Order of Qaplá used to be in this parade. Bob would put on an alien mask and drive the rest of us in the back of my truck as we wore alien headgear (which looked a lot like the Whos’ antennae, come to think of it) and tossed treasures from the Rhode Island Novelty Company, especially glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls with alien faces, as we shouted “Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated!”
Then there was the water fight. Fresh off their pancake feast, the firefighters and their big trucks would be waiting near Coal Creek. If you were Pete Dunda and his accordion, you turned off a block early; if you were the Holy Order, you went in with squirt guns drawn. Or squirt cannons: this was no place for wimps.
The City of Gunnison gave up trying to compete with this many years ago, after a sad little parade with five floats and not many more attendees. Besides, there’s the big Cattlemen’s Day parade a week or two later. So Gunnison, which gets up very early for the hot air balloon festival, started focusing on an afternoon of fun leading up to the Rotary Club’s firework display (although I think the city took over responsibility a few years ago) after dark.
In an effort to drum up business for Main Street, the chamber usually hosts family fun activities like bouncy castles and face painting downtown in the early afternoon. Shortly before the dinner hour everything shifts over to Jorgensen Park, a luxurious green space at the eastern edge of town. A food court, a beer garden and a concert keep people entertained until dark, when the main attraction — fireworks — gets underway.
Except this year. The only one of all of these traditional events set to take place, thunderstorms permitting, are the fireworks. Even those are hardly traditional: instead of welcoming all manner of folk to Jorgensen and Legion Parks, the city is going to set its sprinklers out from 7 to 9 p.m. to discourage congregants. Watch from home, is this year’s suggestion.
There are some variations on themes. I think both Crested Butte and Gunnison have encouraged businesses to decorate windows that you can walk past. (Gilly made a giant American flag out of leftover t-shirts, and I would tell you where you could go online to vote for her spectacular effort, but all I can find from the chamber is “sorry, not available.” If you can find the Pat’s Facebook page, there’s a link there that might work better.)
Gunnison’s hosting a chalk art competition. There was the pick-up-and-make-your-own pancake breakfast. A concert is going to roll through the streets of Gunnison this evening on the back of a flatbed. There will be aerial fireworks (but no Rotary ducks on the ground). But not really the Fourth as all us Whos know it.
For Lynn and me, this won’t really be much different. Since I’ve given up parade participation, I’ve frequently worked on the Fourth. Gilly has taken that over the last few years, so I eschew all the crowds and stay home. Lynn usually still works on the Fourth, although she’s going to work on the Fifth instead this year.
There is plenty to do around the house today, and this evening will be the traditional fun-filled “deal with an anxious dog who hates fireworks.” We may or may not be able to see any of the display over the tops of cottonwoods, but that was true in town too, where a large evergreen blocked our view.
But we might grill hamburgers. That seems Fourth of Julyish, right?
Because it’s not about the trappings and trimmings, as the Whos already knew and the Grinch learned, and Corona might find out, it’s the spirit behind the holiday that matters.
Happy Fourth, everyone.