Where I live on Long Island Sound, something noteworthy is scheduled to happen today at about 12:30 post meridian. The sun will reach its northernmost point of the year, pause briefly, and then begin the (at first) slow movement to the south, bringing with it shorter days and (eventually) colder temperatures.
Today, for the summer solstice (‘solstitium’, Latin for ‘sun-stopping’) in these parts, we’ll have 15 hours and five minutes of daylight. By the time the winter solstice rolls around near Christmas, we’ll be down to nine hours and eight or nine minutes. Brrr! And, turn on the light!
We celebrated the solstice last night by attending a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream out of doors on the banks of Five Mile River right off the Sound. It is a delightful spot. Rain threatened but ran off after a few perfunctory drops. About 100 people had assembled to picnic before the show and were scattered in vaguely ‘socially distanced’ clumps along the gentle hill before a makeshift stage. We had to put up up with an announcement from management acknowledging that we were plopped down in the middle of some sacred Indian burial ground or something, but it didn’t matter. Nor did it matter that the performance was almost laughably poor. It was midsummer eve; it was Shakespeare; everyone was determined to be delighted and was.
I remember as a child overhearing my mother remark to other grownups early in July that summer was ‘basically over’ once July 4 had come. ‘What, are you nuts?’ I thought at the time.
July 4 might not be the very start of summer but think about how many glorious days and weeks lay ahead. So many you could hardly count them. Now that I am at least as old — in truth, a good deal older — than my mother had been when sharing that observation, I have a visceral appreciation of her point. Time, as I’ve had occasion to point out before, really does seem to speed up as you get older. We’ve hardly stowed the bunting from the July 4 festivities before people are talking about Labor Day and back-to-school sales. What happened to the intervening dispensation?
In a charming essay about growing up at the rural fastness of Great Elm in Sharon, Connecticut, Bill Buckley recalls his discovery of the awful secret:
‘It was about that time that I came upon nature’s dirty little secrete. It was that beginning on the 21st day of June, the days grew shorter! All through the spring we has had the sensual pleasure of the elongating day, coinciding with the approach of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer paradise. My knowledge of nature and nature’s lore has never been very formal, and so…I came to the conclusion form the evidence of my senses that in late July it was actually getting dark when it was only 8:30! I wondered momentarily whether we were witnessing some sign of divine displeasure.’
As is only proper, today, the summer solstice, promises to a dazzling sun-drenched day, at least through early afternoon. I am slotted to have a leisurely lunch with an old friend I have not seen since we began our nationwide obeisance to the Chinese virus, so I am grateful for that. The weather report (to which for some reason I pay much more attention these days than I ever did in the past) is hinting at thunderstorms late in day. Maybe grumpy Zeus, who left us alone last night, will be back today λαβρότατον χέει ὕδωρ. For the moment, though, Zeus is snoozing, the sun is shining, and we can all rejoice that the days ahead will shorten so gradually and gracefully that no one will notice for months that the days are actually getting shorter. Right?