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The Best Day of Summer: A Solstice Diary

June 21, 2010

Summer solstice garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Both the winter and summer solstices have long felt special to me – marking, as they do, the tilt of my part of earth away from or toward the sun. And the summer solstice, in addition to being the longest day of the year, often seems to me like the best day of the year. Because I am attuned to an academic calendar, June is a time of relaxation, coming after the rigors of final grading and before the anxieties of preparing next fall’s courses. In addition, late June is often a time of extraordinary weather in Maine – sunny days with blue skies, relatively low humidity, temperatures around 80F and mild breezes. My way of celebrating the solstice is taking time to connect with the natural world.  Some years I have packed up my tent and driven the 3 hours out to Maine’s Acadia National Park to spend the solstice camping and hiking by the ocean. I spent one magical summer solstice in Kotzebue, Alaska, reveling in the midnight sun above the arctic circle. This year, I decided to spend the day at home, as much as possible outside in that perfect Maine summer weather.

Sunrise colors (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) I awoke this morning at first light. Because we are in the eastern part of our time zone, on this longest day of the year, even with the effects of daylight savings time, that was about 4 a.m. By 4:30, I was up and out on the deck to watch the sun rise. This year’s sunrise featured subtle colors rather than a technicolor display of rose and gold; and I was surprised by how far north the sun rose – so much so that I couldn’t see it through the opening in the trees northeast of the deck. By 6 a.m., I was out for my morning walk, enjoying the sounds, sights, and scents of this quiet, early morning time.

The grass is cut (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Once I had showered and dressed, I took a morning tour of the garden, and then had a leisurely breakfast out on the deck. At mid-morning, I put on my gardening clothes for a couple of hours work. This was a productive two hours: I finally got the soaker hose laid out in the bedroom border (where my access had been restricted by nesting robins), planted a pot of culinary sage that came with last week’s CSA share, cut back spent foliage in the back garden, fixed the edging by the blue and yellow border (which was disrupted when the septic tank had to be uncovered in the fall), and cut the grass that was planted in the back after the new septic system was installed and has recently grown very long.

At mid-day, with the garden now in full sun and temperatures in the mid-eighties, I decided it was time for a break. I put away my gardening tools, cleaned myself up, and had lunch out on the deck. I spent the middle of the afternoon putting in some time at my desk.

Wild strawberries ready to be picked (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) By 4:30, at least parts of the back garden were once again in the shade, and I worked on reinstalling the section of paver and gravel walkway on top of the septic tank. Then I fixed and ate dinner and took some time to pick wild strawberries from the back slope and the side of the driveway.

Now a deliciously relaxed evening stretches out before me. I’ll sit on the deck and read until the light grows too dim to see the print. Then, I’ll lie back in my chaise and watch the stars come out, marking the end of the longest – and best – day of summer.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2010 8:11 pm

    Perhaps it’s the pessimist in me. I prefer the Winter Solstice…knowing the days from that point forward will get longer. I almost feel a little sadness knowing that from now until December 21st our days will be shrinking. However, that sadness goes away as soon as I remind myself that tomato season will soon be upon us!

    Glad that nesting birds disrupt other gardeners. We’re still waiting for our Flycatchers to hatch. Crossing my fingers…hatching should be in the next 24 hours. Then in a few weeks, perhaps we can reclaim our front door!

    • Jean permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:02 am

      Clare, I love the winter solstice, too — but for different reasons. I love those long velvety, starlit winter nights and the glow of moonlight on snow. But that’s a subject for another post, six months from now! One of the things I love most about living in New England is that the four seasons are so distinct, with something to love about each of them. Here in Maine, I would say that the summer solstice marks neither the beginning of summer nor mid-summer, but the transition from early summer (which begins about Memorial Day) to high summer. Suddenly, I can sleep with all the windows open in the house (my local TV meteorologist kindly warns me when it will be a bit too nippy overnight to keep them all open), and I finally took the down comforter off my bed and replaced it with summer bed linens. Although the days do start getting shorter now, they are so long (much more than 16 hours of light if you include the twilight at each end) that I don’t really notice the shorter days until mid-August. And there is compensation here in August — that’s when the tomatoes finally ripen!

  2. June 21, 2010 11:29 pm

    Jean – what a wonderful idea, celebrating the summer solstice with a day in the garden! Breakfast on the deck, working in the garden, from sunrise to sunset – thanks for sharing -Shyrlene

  3. June 21, 2010 11:46 pm

    Now that sounds like a perfect day! I wish it was nice enough to sit outside on our deck today. Hopefully it won’t be too far off.
    I love the idea of camping on summer solstice, that really sounded fun.
    Enjoy your evening!

  4. lostlandscape permalink
    June 22, 2010 1:31 am

    Ah, a perfect day in the garden! Since you’re so far north the effects of the longest day are really striking. My southern location, combined with the hillock to the east, means summer mornings are shaded until 6 or so in the morning, but how I love how the light lingers late into the evening (which for us is only a little after 8). Still I’ve noticed similar things about the light this time time of year, about how the mornings arrive pink and not the burning flame colors of the cooler seasons.

    • Jean permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:16 am

      Shyrlene, Catherine, and James, It was a perfect day!

      Shyrlene, I ended up with the perfect mix of relaxation and productivity here. I actually made progress on several garden chores that had been nagging at me — getting the last of the soaker hoses in place for the summer, getting that embarrassingly long grass in the back cut, and finally starting to reinstall those pavers on the walkway that I took apart last November.

      Catherine, I hope you get some good summer weather soon. I considered this perfect solstice compensation for last year, when the solstice came in the middle of about 6 weeks of unremitting rain and I was spending as little time as possible outdoors.

      James, I had forgotten how much shorter the summer days are in southern California (and how much longer in winter :-)). When I lived in southern California (40 years ago), I loved being able to stand outside in 70F weather and look at snow on the mountains, swimming in the outdoor heated pool year-round, and being able to stop at a road-side stand and get fresh cut flowers in any month of the year — but I missed the distinct seasons of my New England upbringing.

  5. June 22, 2010 3:24 am

    Dear Jean, How idyllic this all sounds. Oh, those lazy, hazy days of summer no longer overshadowed by the pressures of academe! Pottering in the garden, gathering wild strawberries, time for reflection and to read, leisurely lunches – could anyone ask for more? This seems, to me, to have been a perfect Midsummer Day.

    • Jean permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:20 am

      Edith, My life here often is idyllic. When you cross the border into Maine, there are road signs boasting the state’s current tourist promotion slogan: “Maine – The Way Life Should Be.” So I consider it my civic responsibility to try to live out the idyll that the slogan promises :-). This is my dream of what retirement will be like — a perfect balance of relaxation and productivity.

  6. June 22, 2010 4:47 am

    Hello from the opposite solstice Jean 🙂 I’ve just happily marked the shortest day of the year off the calendar in my Southern Hemisphere garden and look forward to those long summery evenings you so evocatively describe!

  7. June 22, 2010 8:26 am

    Beautiful account of a lovely day!

    I love the sunrise as well. Everything is so fresh in the morning…the sky, the plants, the animals…everything is waking up to the promise of a new day, busy with their morning tasks. Your photo of the morning sky is really pretty!

  8. June 22, 2010 9:10 am

    Soooo envious. A day at home full of gardening and simply enjoying your property. I’m going to borrow from your playbook and schedule a day off to do the same … choosing the first day of summer sounds good to me, but this year I may just pick Friday.

    • Jean permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:36 am

      Heidi, I don’t have a good sense of your latitude, so I don’t know how much longer your days will get as you move toward the summer solstice. Here, since we are just a little shy of the 45th parallel, we get just a little more than 8 hours from sunrise to sunset at the winter solstice and just a little less than 16 hours at the summer solstice. (Although, since the twilights also get longer and longer as you move further away from the equator, our hours of light are actually longer.)

      Kimberly, I have always loved the early morning hours. When I was a child, one of my favorite rites of summer was getting my mother’s permission in the evening to “go out to play before breakfast” the next morning. There were no other children out to play with at those early morning hours, but I was perfectly happy to wander around outside by myself, listening to the birds sing and smelling the flowers.

      Joene, Do it! It is so easy for us to get caught up in all our responsibilities to other people and forget to take care of ourselves. I think when I was married, I was always waiting for my husband to do little things to pamper me; when I started living alone, I had to learn how to pamper myself. And now I am a master at it! LOL.

  9. June 22, 2010 1:20 pm

    It sounds like you had a most productive, enjoyable day in your garden. Happy summer! I went outside briefly, but with temps headed into the mid 90s and humidity nearly as high, my gardening day was much less fun! I do love sitting out in the evenings, listening to all the creature sounds and watching the stars!

  10. June 22, 2010 3:58 pm

    It’s hard to imagine a more soul-enriching day! I understand why it’s a day you love. Here it was 97 degrees on the Summer Solstice – but I did enjoy a morning walk at 5:45 when it was still in the 70s and spent a little time in the garden before dark.

  11. June 22, 2010 4:04 pm

    It all sounds great to me! I can’t work in the heat either, but I do like to garden early in the am and at dusk.


    • Jean permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:44 am

      Deb, Ginny, and Eileen, I have almost no tolerance for heat. My feeling is that the cold is easier to deal with because you can always put on more warm clothes, but there are limits to how much you can take off! We do occasionally get days in the nineties here, and you wouldn’t believe how much people complain and moan about it. Honestly, the official definition of a “heat wave” is 90F three days in a row. (Ginny and Deb, I can hear you laughing.)

  12. June 22, 2010 4:42 pm

    What a lovely day you had. I celebrated the Summer Solstice with a day in the garden as well. You may enjoy reading my post:
    Your last paragraph was my favorite. 🙂

  13. June 23, 2010 5:09 am

    What wonderful summer soltices you have had, some of our best have been spent with friends feasting in the garden. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  14. June 23, 2010 6:41 am

    Jean – I haven’t much computer time this week, and I can’t read your post until next week. But I’ve had a look at your pictures and everything looks beautiful!

  15. June 23, 2010 7:44 am

    Sounds like you had a perfect day to welcome summer.

  16. June 23, 2010 11:34 am

    Count me out for the early mornings, but watching the stars come out, oh yes!!

    • Jean permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:57 am

      Carolyn, I did enjoy reading your post; thanks for including the link.

      Shadow, Thanks for visiting. I love the idea of a solstice dinner with friends out in the garden — something to consider for next year. This year, my CSA farmers had their monthly pot luck supper a couple days after the solstice, outside with a bonfire and musical instruments. I lovely way to celebrate summer.

      Diane, LOL. When you do get a chance to read this post, you’ll see that I did not spend any time on the solstice at my computer reading blogs. Enjoy your summer in the garden; the computer and the blogs will still be there later!

      Heather, Yes, it was perfect. So nice that the weather cooperated with my plans for a solstice idyll.

      Diana, I’ve been a morning person at least since I was 2 and my parents decided to position my crib under an east-facing window when we moved to a new flat. I can remember standing up in that crib watching the sun rise over the neighbors’ back garden. I must confess that I didn’t do as well with watching the stars come out as with watching the sunrise. It got a little chilly out on the deck after the sun went down, so I went inside to get an afghan to throw over myself. Well, once I was reclined in that chaise longue with the afghan over me, I promptly fell asleep!

  17. June 23, 2010 11:35 am

    PS I imagine, from this reader’s point of view, that this post is one of the ones where you share our delight in your garden writing!

  18. June 24, 2010 1:55 pm

    Ah, I’m always sad to see the solstice pass in summer, but always glad to see it pass in winter! I think the equator sounds nice, with the days evened out from winter to summer. But 4 am sun and summer and 4 pm darkness in winter are my lot in life.

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