The Best Day of Summer: A Solstice Diary
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.
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.
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.
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.