Lange: Summer Solstice

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(Host) The summer solstice is here. For writer, storyteller and commentator Willem Lange, it mingles celebration and regret.

According to the Book of Joshua, the ancient Israelites were busy one
day slaughtering the Amorites, and Joshua, their leader, was concerned
that there wasn’t enough daylight left to complete the job. So he
commanded the sun and moon to stand still – which they did, for a whole
day, the like of which has never been seen before or since.

phenomenon may or may not actually have happened. Many people believe
it did; and I’ve heard various preachers tie themselves into knots
trying to explain it meteorologically, which can’t be done. You either
believe it happened or you don’t.

Here’s one you can take to the
bank, though. Tonight, just before midnight, the sun will appear to
stand still. We won’t see it, of course, because the sun isn’t visible
at this latitude at midnight. But ancient philosophers and stargazers
were well aware of it, 1500 years before Copernicus. They called it
solstice – sun standing still.

You can just imagine them, lining
up sticks or stones to mark the point of sunrise as the sun crept north
or south each year. Then at each end of its advance and retreat, it
seemed to pause for a day or two before starting back in the other
direction. The ancients were no slouches; both solstices were occasions
for parties. The winter one evolved into our Christmas.

summer solstice evening Mother and I were fortunate enough to be in the
tiny fishing village of Å – it’s a one-letter name – north of the Arctic
Circle off the coast of Norway. I’d heard wild tales of bonfires and
orgies in Scandinavia during the midnight sun and was rather looking
forward to it. When we spotted smoke rising from the rocky point just
outside of the village, we headed right over there. But instead of
bearded vikings and ecstatic valkyries leaping around a fire with
drinking horns, we found a few families sitting on the rocks, sipping
coffee and quietly burning their rubbish. I hate it when things like
that happen.

So this evening we’ll sit on the porch, if the
mosquitoes let us, and toast the faint twilight that’ll last all night.
I’ll e-mail solstice greetings to my friend Larry in Kugluktuk, on the
north coast of Canada, where the sun currently circles the sky like a
giant, fiery frisbee. And we’ll each sigh inwardly as we recollect that,
starting tomorrow, the sun will again start leaving us, retreating
toward the Tropic of Capricorn.

This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

(Tag) Willem Lange is a retired re-modeling contractor, writer and
storyteller. You can find more VPR commentaries at VPR-dot-net.


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