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 colder temperatures. Today, 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 9 hours and 8 or 9 minutes. Brrr! And, turn on the light!
I remember as a child overhearing my mother remark to other grownups early in July that summer was “basically over” once the 4th of July had come. “What, are you nuts?” I thought at the time. The 4th of July 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 here before, really does seem to speed up as you get older. We’ve hardly stowed the bunting from the July 4th 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 truth:
It was about that time that I came upon nature’s dirty little secret. It was that beginning on the twenty-first 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 from 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.
By rights, today, the summer solstice, should be a dazzling sun-drenched day. At the moment, thanks to emissaries from Hurricane Bill down south, it is wet and foggy. 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 a break in the weather this afternoon. “Partly cloudy” is what I am reading, though I prefer to describe it as “partly sunny.” And besides, the days ahead will shorten so gradually and gracefully that no one will notice for months that the days are actually getting shorter. Right?
UPDATE: As I had hoped, partly, even mostly, sunny!