Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Summer solstice is reason enough for celebration
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   06/23/2000)

I'm writing this on the longest day of the year, when the earth gives back the sun's energy in a profusion of colors, flavors and patterns. Summer solstice is our lot.

Not because we're closest to the sun this time of year, but because of our orientation toward that cosmic inferno. It's all a matter of degrees. Those revealed on a thermometer ultimately depend on the number of degrees off-plumb Earth tilts her blushing face toward ole Sol. A couple degrees more tilt and all life would be kissed away. A couple degrees less and the only earthly inhabitants would be sand and stones covered in hoarfrost. Thank God or luck for whatever cataclysm knocked the earth off plumb a billion years ago. Whether miracle or random occurrence, we're blessed to be here to ponder it.

Just think. Our local star 93 million miles away--exploding constantly in a state of controlled fury we call nuclear fusion--produces enough energy to bake a million Earths. Fortunately, most of that energy streams right on past, to disperse in the cold vast vacuum of outer space. Cold, because only things can be heated, and space is composed of nothing. (Or is it? Lately, cosmologists have reached the startling conclusion that minute particles and waves will arise spontaneously--given enough of nothing--but that's a column for another day).

Here and now a friendlier miracle pertains--one more readily apprehended, if not comprehended. Culture after culture in pre-Christian times paid homage to the sun. The ancients knew all life depended on daily brilliance in the sky. Mother Earth still pays homage to that mystery, even if we humans mostly don't.

You see her tributes in waves of black-eyed susans, mimicking the sun with yellow petals that emanate like rays from a perfectly round center. Bright trumpet lilies shout a presence from the ditches. And butterfly weed, a brighter gold-vermilion yet, glows like neon at noon.

Soon creek banks and pastures will radiate the colors from farther down the spectrum--purple crowned thistle, ironweed and mauve queen-o'-the-meadow will be on display. Already blue spangles of chicory talk back to the sky, while in the fields and roadside stands a feast accrues. Watermelon and squash, okra and corn, sun-ripened tomatoes and corn arrive on trucks and from local fields, sweetening our cuisine with flavor fresh and evocative as peas plucked from the vine and stripped out of a pod with your thumb. Have you ever sampled such? O.K., it's too late this year. Taste the tang and grit of blackberries then.

For a thousand such sensations summer is a perennial candidate for best season of the year. As a child I reveled in the high summer time. Splashing in a creek, filling a bucket with berries or biting into a fat ruby tomato from a vine as the sun shone down... these were givens.

Nowadays a mid-morning run down a country lane is something to savor, even if it means returning home glazed in sweat like varnish. It makes for soothing sleep at night, often to the tune of raindrops from ebbing storms. A chorus of birdsong likely as not will wake you in the morning. Cardinals, doves, owls, bluebirds, chickadees and herons are regular guests.

Still, there's something a little worrisome about summer solstice. Just like its opposite number, winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, it threatens to rob the world of some essential balance.

There comes a day when it all gets to be too much. Verdant trees block the hills from view. Ragweed and thistles, willows and jewelweed choke the creek banks in my yard. Fence lines, power poles and garden borders are lined in high growth. So I break out the weed-eater and declare war on hordes of solar powered flora.

Spare the jewelweed to attract hummingbirds. Preserve a select thistle here, a cluster of daisies there, a bit of clover, Queen Anne's lace or butterfly weed. Something must be saved to give back to the sun--a taste of its own sweet brilliance.