Reflections on the Summer Solstice: A writer’s perspective


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.

Don’t forget Winona–Minnesota

“Route 66 in Arizona: Don’t Forget Winona!”

My geography is perhaps not the best…But I do know the difference between Arizona and Minnesota, having lived in both places. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Route 66, and so until I dug up the first half of that line, I assumed it was talking about the island city. Apparently, Winona AZ is just a gas station and trading post–you can read more about it in the Arizona Daily Sun. Our Winona is a bit bigger than that–and greener, too, I would guess.

I have been back in the US for about three days, and I was never so happy to see my own bed. Traveling is dear to me–but a month of traveling (to four countries) was perhaps a bit much at one crack. It certainly seems to have played havoc with my immune system: fatigue, multiplied by canned air on an eight-hour flight–next to a man with croup–equals viral catastrophe. I have emerged victorious, but the battle was not without its critical moments, some of which involved eating strange frozen foods because they could be prepared within the ten-foot radius I traveled over 72 hours. And speaking of frozen food… Exactly how does one measure the portion size for pizza rolls? Pizza in a mini-egg-roll is not really food, I’ve decided. When you eat a pizza, you have a slice. What do you do with a bowl full of faux-sausage-sauce nuggets? (Besides, perhaps, pitching them out a window). Well I’ll tell you what I did. I am pretty sure I just ate all of them. Kind of sickening, in retrospect, but even a foodie gets foggy under the influence of plague. I was not, however, alone in my trials. Our two cats, Bartholomew and Oliver, have become very attached since my return. I mean this literally. Bart is managing to make it very difficult to type just this moment, as he is lying across the desktop and attempting to use one of my hands as a pillow. There is just not enough love in the world–they’ll tell you so. They tell me–and Mark–all the time.

 But now that I have returned and am no longer near death, I am suffering from the second of the summer plagues: what to do with my time. Heaven knows I am not used to whole mornings without six different engagements. My only refuge is to begin working on next semester’s courses, and revising my novel. I suppose compiling research notes and writing a paper will help fill up the time for the future. Thank  goodness for Andrea and our screen-play; I might accidentally end up with an afternoon free and–who knows? I fear inciting some sort of existential crisis–after all, Amazon Women do not have free time. It is against the natural order of things, and I wouldn’t want to tip the delicate balance.

In the meantime, I do at least intend to make my time as full of enjoyable things as possible. We might not be on Route 66, but Winona, MN has a lake, a river, bike trails, an old-fashioned drive-in, numerous ice-cream parlors of various stripes and free kayak rental for residents (not to mention the ongoing Shakespeare Festival). It might not be Paris, but its home!