Last year, for the first time, I marked the astronomical event we celebrate today. Here I go again: Where I live on Long Island Sound, something noteworthy is scheduled to happen today at about 6:34 post meridiem. 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, five minutes, and 40 seconds (more or less) 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 those lights!
Today is special in other ways, too. Tonight’s “Strawberry Moon” — a sign, according to some American Injuns, to start gathering fruit — is the first full moon to fall on the summer solstice since 1967. It won’t happen again until June 21, 2062. I cannot promise I’ll be reporting on that festival.
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 recalled 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.
And who’s to say he wasn’t?
For now, however, I am pleased to report that God’s in his heaven even if all isn’t quite right with the world. Browning would approve of the day: sunny skies, calm, glass-like waters on the Sound at low tide this morning. We’ve had a spate of perfect days — warm, but not sultry, with just enough rain to keep the greens green and the roses braying brightly. There is, I think, an unavoidable melancholy about all apogees, just as every nadir contains a seed of hope.
Well, maybe not every nadir, wherein the Hopkinsesque melancholy — it is, after all, Margaret she mourns for — finds its deepest source. Such eschatological musings put the hurly-burly of our present confusions in perspective. Trump, Clinton, Sanders, and all the rest: what a grubby pantomime their show seems sub specie temporis not to say aeternitatis. How small and almost comical they seem. But perhaps the deeper wisdom is directive to joy such days as these broadcast. They do not last forever, which is why we should embrace and celebrate them now.