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
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
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
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
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