This is the worst week of the year: the week when every radio announcer and third-rate journalist announces the arrival next week of “the first day of summer.” June 21 is the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer. As in mid-summer, or the mid-point of summer. In other words, the middle of summer. Not the first day, the middle day. How difficult is this?
Apparently, it is quite difficult. Shakespeare notwithstanding (imagine going to see “A First-Day-of-Summer Night’s Dream”), the rest of Western civilization seems content to reproduce this sizeable error whenever possible, in every conceivable medium. It’s not as though in my current state I need to actively search for things to piss me off, but this one falls into my lap each year almost begging to be whacked upside the head, so whack it I shall.
If the weather actually bore out the newscasters’ pronouncements, that would be one thing. But here in northern California summer arrives on its little pollen-speckled feet sometime in early May. The roses and jasmine are then in full bloom, the new fruit has set on apple and plum, and the grasses are just beginning to ripen, turning the hillsides into a rippling tapestry of green and gold.
We know summer has arrived because the weather settles for a time into the familiar pattern of coastal fog in the morning, burning off by noon and returning later in the day. By midsummer or soon after, the coastal fog gives way to the occasional perfectly clear, still, hot day, the kind of day that makes you die of heatstroke in the Central Valley but here on the coast is like a sparkling gift from a well-pleased God.
Walking through the hills the other day, I noticed that the wild iris have finished blooming. The meadows are studded with summer wildflowers, blue-eyed grass and johnny jump-ups amid the dandelion and morning glory. In the hollows, monkeyflower blooms and thimbleberries ripen in tangles of willow and bracken fern. And on the windswept slopes, poison oak grows as a low-lying vine against the rocky outcroppings of the hills.
The air today smells of sweet ripe grass and salt water. Cool marine breezes mix and swirl with warmer air rising from the sun-baked earth, playing a wordless game of tag around Vince and me as we stroll through the neighborhood. Every possible geranium is on show right now, along with pentstemon, foxglove, nasturtium and fuchsia. Yep, I’d say summer here is in full swing.
In a few days I’m off to Boston for the annual International Association for the Study of Dreams conference. On the afternoon of the Summer Solstice I will be giving a talk as part of a panel on dream incubation. I don’t know how I’ll work it in, but it strikes me that when Fate gives you a soapbox you should make suds, so somewhere in there I’m going to mention Midsummer and how we are at that very moment witness to the middle of summer.
It’s a small act, to be sure, against a culture-wide yet relatively insignificant inanity. But the other thing about Summer Solstice is that it is a turning point. After her summertime dip in the yearly tango she does with the sun, the earth slowly rights herself, moving the other way across the dance floor. Because all such extremes are potent or at least potential turning points, I believe that we can use our actions going into the Solstice season to affect change as we come out of it. With that in mind, may we all pay attention to the small moments of influence that present themselves to us in the days to come. And may the Solstice bear gifts of long-awaited change to us all!