Like many volunteers, I too was captivated by my first WaterFire, and thought, “I want to do that!” In the early years there were fewer wood boats, no guest boats, no field of stars. In 2000, new volunteers did whatever was needed while waiting to be asked to be on a boat. One morning I assisted an electrician (there were very few staff members), I helped to secure pedestrian pads over electrical cords and held ladders, most of the time retrieving tools and supplies from the truck not knowing what they were. He was patient and I was eager to do my part. In the evening I sold merchandise, only T-shirts and sweatshirts at the time. I passed out programs and collected donations.
Once on the boat, one of my earliest memories of that summer was a WaterFire Wedding. Two volunteers were married on the dock, and a staff member officiated. Fire tenders waited in their boats, as the bride arrived in a Thai boat. Wow, what great community I was becoming a part of, and yes, they are still married.
As a day Captain, and evening First Mate I enjoy working with first time volunteers, explaining, assisting, and building relationships, as we construct each piece of art. As First Mate I look forward to working with new fire tenders and guest lighters. Many are seeing WaterFire for the first time. I ask them to stop and turn around, “Look at what you have just done, look at what you have become a part of”.
Over the years, I have been invited to bring WaterFire beyond Providence. Cities have contracted WaterFire to illuminate their waters. In 2010, we were invited to Kansas City, Missouri to light up Brush Creek. We arrived on Thursday to meet the organizers, and get a lay of the land. Early Friday morning, together with folks from Kansas City, we assembled their braziers, and placed them in the paved creek, as curious spectators looked on. Saturday morning we trained local volunteers for the build- in the evening as fire tenders. After a grueling day, and a long exciting evening, Sunday morning, back on the creek. Each brazier had to be released as captains corralled them to the edge. Each was disassembled, parts separated and stacked. That afternoon, the Parks Department collected and stored them for several more years, as a very tired, but proud team left for Providence.
2011 brought us to Singapore to celebrate Global Community Day on the Bedok Reservoir. Our biggest challenge, wood. Clean cut lumber was difficult to work with, but Chris Maino found a way- we were ready for the first international event. Back home, through technology, spectators in Providence witnessed the passing of the flame from the other side of the world. The following year in Rome, WaterFire lit the Tiber River.
On the road again- this time to Sharon, Pennsylvania- populating 13,000 (half the size of West Warwick). It was hoped that our installation would support local artists, revitalize the region and foster community; did it ever! They are now self-sustaining, anxious for another new season.
I look back at all we have celebrated- We have participated in many Earth Day events-we have removed tires, mattresses, skate boards and furniture – one year even a hairdresser’s mannequin head! We have honored teachers, graduates, Veterans and cancer survivors. In 2004, five members from the New England Patriots Super Bowl XXXVII championship team were guest lighters. No, Tom Brady was not there!
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Thousands were relocated, many sent to temporary housing in Middletown. At Barnaby’s invitation, many were brought to the river. All music has been carefully selected, many we have grown to recognize as “WaterFire music”, but that night our guests were treated to some New Orleans Jazz, as together we became a community.
September 11, 2001, as the world watched in horror, many staff members were stranded in Tacoma Washington – part of an art installation. Could WaterFire go on with the next scheduled lighting? Was it possible? Was it safe? Was it appropriate? Yes to all of it, and we gathered at the river for support, to reflect, to hope and to heal.
I look forward to our next fire, the chance to be with our families, our friends, our visitors, our community. The crackling of the wood, the flames, the reflections on the water, and yes, the music. This time as we gather to reflect, to hope, and to heal, let us celebrate the medical teams, the first responders, the grocery workers, the truck drivers, all those whom we have come to better appreciate and rely on. As we peek out from under Crawford Street, let us once again bring light into the darkness, and joy back to our community.
– Pat Moriarty