Today is the longest day of the year. The solstice is here, that day that stretches at both ends. It is that almost imperceptible pause in the pendulum, that moment of stillness we can barely recognize before it begins to swing back in the other direction; that funny feeling you get in your belly when you go fast in a car over certain humps on some back country roads around here. It is a moment of stillness that leads to unavoidable change.
It was almost a perfect June day, warm but not stifling, clear air and brilliant blue skies. It started off pleasantly cool and ended with a brief, almost gentle thunderstorm. If all summer days could be like this, I’d be a happy man. Unfortunately, there are sultry days to come, without doubt, and they test me. I simply can’t handle the combination of heat and humidity like I used to. Jeremy contends that we are spoiled for it by air conditioning, and that may certainly contribute. We didn’t have air conditioning in our house when I grew up and,while I remember being hot, I also remember being outside and playing many hours of the day over the summer. Now, the simple act of being outside on these days brings me to a miserable sweat.
One would think that I would not be celebrating this transition from spring to summer, and I don’t, really, knowing what is ahead. Of course, there are many things I enjoy about summer, or, in some cases, products of summer. The next few weeks will bring the first fresh tomatoes, the real ones that taste like my memories of the table full of them in the summer-house of my grandparents’ farm. Fresh peaches, too, are just around the corner, waiting to drip down chins and draw bees. There will be a time to be by the ocean, too, and fireworks, and gentle evenings in the shade garden, watching fireflies and listening to the chickens’ contentment as they go to bed. There will be days and days when I spend more time barefoot than wearing shoes, and other simple pleasures. And I will enjoy them all and, if I am mindful, I’ll remember to pause and relish them. But the real reason I notice the solstice is that it marks the beginning of summer’s slow exit.
Before you chastise me, I do know that summer is just beginning. Still, starting tomorrow, the pendulum’s swing reverses, and each day will be just a little bit shorter. I won’t notice, of course, but I will know it is happening. The forecast will warn us about hot days and heatwaves, and I will grumble while I haul a hose around to water thirsty plants, wiping my brow on my already sopping sleeve. I’ll take small comfort in popsicles and tall glasses of ice water, wet with their own sweat. I’ll do more laundry than we should have, just the two of us, because of multiple changes of sweat-soaked clothes, and I’ll take more showers and get my hair cut as short as I can. And all the while, I will know that the pendulum is swinging, that summer’s grip, each day, is just a bit more tenuous. I’ll know that eventually, when the days get short enough and the angles of the sun flat enough, goldenrod and asters, those yellow and purple promises of fall, will appear. Sumac by the roadside will be scarlet one day, warm though that day will be. And finally, one day, I’ll wake up and see a clearness of the air and light that will foretell the cool-down to come. I may still sweat that day, but I will know that summer’s strength is fading fast.
And it all starts today, with this pause that most of us didn’t even notice. Happy solstice; happy summer.