“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Thursday marks the summer solstice, or midsummer, the longest day of the year for those living north of the equator, and the official start to the astronomical summer. The word solstice comes from the Latin solstitium and means sun standing still. Our earth orbits around the sun on a tilted axis, probably because the giant green marble we call home collided with some other massive space object billions of years ago. Today the movement of the sun’s path, at least from our perspective, seems to halt.
The solstice has been honored for millennia across cultures with feasting, bonfires, the shedding of clothes, the raising of toasts and the dancing of bodies deep into the night. It is a time to celebrate renewal, birth, bounty, warmth and light, a time to rejoice and revel.
Leo is my zodiac sign. Though I hold more to astronomy than astrology, I cannot deny the leonine pull the sun has on me. I imagine in a past life I welcomed the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge, roaring my approval, flowers in my hair, tears in my eyes, bare feet wiggling in the grass.
My Granny Skinner told me that the dog days of summer happened because dogs went rabid in the heat. But the term dog days actually arises from Sirius, the Dog Star and the brightest star in our sky. When he ascends to bark in the east, those of us below know summer has truly arrived. And thus I am resurrected, falling gratefully under summer’s magical spell.
If winter is a long walk of despair, summer is particularly wonderful in the South. Though I rise early most days, light is already peeking around the corner of the tree line, and it’s warm enough to drink my coffee on the porch. I meditate with eyes open. The sunrise happens slowly, then all at once. Purples fade into pinks, which melt into yellows that streak across the sky, each sunrise a Pollock masterpiece. The birds supply the soundtrack, bats zip by in the rising light, deer and turkeys wander across the hillside looking for breakfast.
Sunsets are just as magical. If sunrise happens gently, sunset seems to occur in a quick flash of brilliant red. Dusk is infinite, then gone in a blink, burning my eyes for staring too long. Often, the light is obscured by a summer storm, lightning like nails pounded into the earth by Thor, reverberations of thunder shaking the window panes. Even better, the after, where ribbons of fog hang on the trees in the valley like garland and the clean smell of honeysuckle and ozone permeates the air.
If we stay long enough, we witness the heavenly constellations blink on one at a time, mirrored by the shifting constellations of the fireflies in the clover field below.
I sip wine, ponder the inscrutable nature of life. Izzie swings in the hammock, occasionally punctuating the silence with a joke. David walks around with a hammer, looking for nails in the deck that need pounding down, occasionally staring out past the tree line and smiling. Midsummer is both a season and a state of mind. And that state of mind is relaxed bliss.
Are we allowed to be this happy?
Though midsummer days are endless, they still seem too short and over too quickly. We must soak it all up now while coats and socks are stowed in the basements of our minds. The ripe tomatoes eaten off the vine, a little dirt the only seasoning. Baseball games and 6th inning beer. Skin that smells of sunscreen and bug spray. Church camps and canoeing trips, hikes in the gorge followed by tacos, always tacos. Long walks on the lane, dreading the stretches where we must walk beneath the unrelenting sun rather than in the cool shade of the trees. Zinnias in every color of the rainbow. Boats at the beach, pontoons at the lake. Lingering dinners al fresco, corn on the grill and a watermelon for dessert. Sun tea and damp pool towels fighting for every inch of railing space. Tents pitched in the backyard. Cars as hot as an oven, steering wheels like a griddle. Windows down, music up. Fireworks and sandy toes and heads that smell of chlorine instead of shampoo.
Solstice means standing still, but that is an illusion. Change is our only absolute. In truth, the solstice signifies that the sun is now reversing its direction, resulting in days that will now get a bit shorter as we move toward fall. Let it be a reminder to soak up every moment of this glorious season.