Late-evening chirr-up of invisible amphibians; that first cricket-chorus fathoms deep in field grass; fire-fly sparklers like stars falling up–and the sheen of summer perspiration cooling on browned skin after dark. This past Tuesday was the summer solstice–the longest day of the year. Daylight wins the battle everywhere, the sun comes home to roost at the various cairns (Stone Henge, etc.), and everyone celebrates the arrival of summer.
Unless you are from New York.
In today’s NYT, there is an article about the “mourning” which takes place after the solstice, as everyone prepares–not for summer–but for the encroaching winter. How odd, I thought. I do not think I’ve ever counted the days of summer in such a way: X more days and then the curtain falls.
Rather, I always recall summer through a series of moving pictures. Not quite silent films, they are backed by a soundtrack, mainly of orchestral insects. The somewhat unusual thing about these short clips is that I have never personally experienced them–and yet, they stand in my mind like standards to which all summers must aspire. An oar-boat with peeling blue milk-paint, drifting lazily in placid waters (for instance) complete with dozing inhabitant, sundress, cushion, discarded book, empty lemonade glass. A sailing yacht piloted by a retired diplomat-turned-Hemingway and his many-toed cat. Or perhaps a field of wind-swept wildflowers, as glimpsed through a kitchen window in an old farmhouse with a leaky tap. In other words, I tend to view summer as a series of vignettes spread out over mental white-space as ready-made writing prompts…. And I wonder if this is a universal state of mind, or rather the peculiarities of the writer’s perspective.
For one thing, understanding the season in this way means that writing begun in summer lasts all through the coming months… And the warmth, light and scent of summer comes with it, a little nest egg of pleasant remembrance cozened into the writing mind for those long dark nights. But to be honest, this trick works both ways. It is often in the stifling heat of summer that I write stories about winter–and so bring refreshing frost into the Thermopolis. We are seasonal creatures, and we are temperamental, too. The word, after all, originates from Latin and meant, circa 15th century, a combination of hot and cold, etc.–if you don’t have access to the OED, Etymology Online has a useful definition. Since our likes and dislikes are thus subject to massive fluctuation (we complain about the heat in summer and the cold in winter), I find I can best appreciate the seasons out of season. The summer solstice is not cause for mourning; I can carry that long day about with me for many moons, savoring it at intervals and at distances that make it sweeter still.
And the solstice means something else to me, too. I have to admit in honesty that I am, in fact, a “winter.” Why shouldn’t I be? All of my dearest hobbies–writing fiction, painting, mental work–are very amenable to long dark evenings, cozy fireplaces and steaming mugs of cheer. Here in the brighter half of the year, I feel residual guilt for indulging in long hours locked in the study…and I neglect my novels and my research in favor of chasing those fireflies and generating that summer sheen. This, I think, is healthy enough behavior–especially when, with minor mental acrobatics, I can convince myself it is research: the collection of more images, later to be explored; the gathering in of a summer harvest, to be brought out as feast in late December. Here, here! to the summer solstice–and many fond regards to the practice of writing, which keeps all seasons new to the writer, and to the reader, too.