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If You Burn It, They Will Come

Sparkling Undulation of WaterFire Draws Throngs to Providence, RI


WaterFire Providence

WaterFire in Providence is an event during which 80 bonfires are lit along the city's rivers.

© 2010 Kim Knox Beckius
Updated: 5/19/2014, Dateline: 7/6/2000

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My intense, hypnotic fixation on the bright light, the fragrant scent, the heat, the shimmering reflection of the fire in front of me was suddenly interrupted by the muttered words of an anonymous voice penetrating the indistinct cacophony of the throngs that strolled by behind me:

"If you burn it, they will come."

And suddenly, the sheer hilarity of the situation washed over me. I was getting all emotional about a few bonfires. Well, 42 bonfires to be exact.

That was in 1997--the first time I saw WaterFire, the art installation by sculptor Barnaby Evans that has become Providence's calling card. So, when I returned to Rhode Island's capital city in May of 2000 to see the expanded attraction--97 fires casting their gaze-monopolizing glow along the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers--I was certain I'd not be swept up by the mystique.

That was, until Bruce offered to go and buy me a WaterFire program. I opened it to find this anonymous quote from the WaterFire guest book:

"Thank you, thank you for so much beauty. I listened to the violin echoing under the bridge and if it had been my last experience on earth it would have been perfect. Thank you."

Hmm. So maybe it wasn't so odd to get a little mushy over some fires. I turned to Bruce and softly asked, "If I get all misty-eyed when they light the fires, are you going to laugh at me?"

"Yes," he said.

So, there we were among the impossible to quantify crowd with our traveling companions, About.com's former Casino Gambling Guide Bill Burton and his wife, Sandy, anticipating the start of this beyond-words event at the end of a long day of hunting for Mr. Potato Head (read about that adventure here). I'd tried to describe WaterFire to Bill and Sandy but found myself at a loss to come up with much more than, "They light a bunch of fires on the river and it's really cool—you'll see."

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