By Cecilia Farran
As the sunshine days of June would burgeon into a green and growing world, my father, at noon meal, would recite the words of James Russell Lowell, “What is so rare as a day in June if ever come perfect days … .” Seated around that farm table, we would listen with hearts singing in agreement.
Our barn doors faced east and west giving our hilltop farm full view of sunsets and rises. And we fully understood the significance of that rarest of days, June 21, as we watched the Summer Solstice sunset on the longest day of the year.
On either side of that date, high summer on the farm glowed through the seemingly forever days of meadowlark and bee, with the short warm nights lit with the magic of fireflies and the lowing of cattle across the fields dewy fragranced with fresh mown hay.
Decades later, I am still enthralled with this ephemeral time, and enjoy marking its magic. As the days lead up to solstice, I walk each evening into the sunset to mark the lengthening minutes. As the sun swings further to the north each day, I mark its setting point on the horizon.
Then on June 21 (or a shoulder day if rain threatens), I take to the waters of Crusin Slough or Long Lake for a peaceful float with a favorite book from childhood, “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. Sometime alone, sometimes with a few friends, we pass the book from one kayak to the next and read aloud: Chapter 7, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Water Rat and Mole paddle the dreamy backwaters on the short midsummer’s night, and in the mystical predawn they encounter Pan on a small island near the weir, his pipes playing an achingly beautiful dream melody to be heard only by those ready to listen.
But all sunrises and sets no matter what time of year carry a liminal beauty, as ephemeral as a summer flower, and Nancy Maxwell of rural Arena, since the onset of the pandemic, has made it her ritual of peace to almost daily photograph them from her front and backyard. She began on March 21, 2020, a date coincidently marking the Spring Equinox when the travels of earth and sun mark a day and night of equal length.
How blessed is she to be able to merely step into her yard as the Earth turns ever toward the morning, for in truth, it is not the sun that “rises and “sets” but the Earth that turns ever eastward. She stands quietly at the center of it all to enjoy two minutes of heart-warming peace in these stressful times.
But one thing leads to another and she has compiled several printed and bound photo books of colored beauty pairing them with uplifting quotes from authors and poets. At this time, she has over 500 photos in her collection, including the one pictured here.
She has also created a Power Point presentation of the most splendid examples and will share them as the Arena Historians celebrate Summer Solstice on June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Grandma Mary’s Brisbane Hall, 175 Hwy 14. For more information, call (608) 228-0261. All are invited. No charge.
Following the meeting there will be time to step outside and gaze upon the solstice sunset over the River Valley at 8:43 p.m. marking its furthest northwestern point on the horizon.
And if you can’t make it on June 20, know that the solstice that is marked at 4:14 a.m. on June 21 will continue its length of 15 hours and 23 minutes of daylight each day through June 24 while the Earth rests before it begins its journey back along the horizon to its southern-most point to mark the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21.
But whatever you do, enjoy those 15 hours and 23 minutes of sunlight as you daydream through the summer magic of Midsummer night and the rarest of June days.
As a story smith, Cecilia Farran writes for the written and spoken word and performs one-woman shows Beyond the Story. She gains solace and inspiration from her home, Taralir, nestled in a pine forest along the Wisconsin River. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any one interested in joining Cecilia on a midsummer evening float June 21, reading “Wind in the Willows,” text her at (608) 228-0261.