Today is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the first official day of summer and the longest day (and shortest night) of the year. It's also the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Calling today the "first" day of summer seems odd to us here in the south, and I suspect anywhere else that has been experiancing extreme draught and 100 degree weather over the last month. There is something about that amount of heat that simotaniously slows the world down and hightens expectations of adventure.
So today is the solstice, the day the North Pole is tilted toward the sun. The term solstice comes from the Latin words for "sun" (sol) and "standing still" or "stoppage" (stice). On this our longest day of the year, the sun appears as if it were standing still in the sky. One of the biggest destinations for the summer solstice is Stonehenge in England; today it is the place for New Agers such as neo-druids, neo-pagans, neo-christians and Wiccans to gather, along with college-age revelers, wholesome families, romantic couples, and shoestring backpackers. And it's the only day of the year the park service offers free parking, free admission, and the opportunity to stay at the monument overnight.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
By Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA