The Two Faces of the Summer Solstice

[Summer Sunrise over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge. Photo source: Google Search]

A short time ago a friend posted this on Facebook:

Hooray! Only 59 Days Until The Summer Solstice!

Most of us know that the Solstice marks the first day of summer.  It’s a moment when the sun rays are directly overhead at 23.5° N. Lat.  Where I live, this will occur at 11:54 am (EDT) on June 21.

[Diagram of the relative position of the sun (R) and the earth (L). Source: Google Search]

People think of BBQ’s, swimming, hiking and kayaking over seventy foot waterfalls.  Kites will fill the air at beaches.  Pyrotechnics are being prepared for the 4th of July.  Pom-Pom girls are practicing the baton tosses in their backyards while toddlers splash in small plastic pools under the watchful eye of parents, sitting in camp chairs, sipping bottles of Coors Lite.  Cans of Deep Woods Off are flying off the shelves at Target.  Tubes of SPF 65 lotion are in every picnic basket.  Big drinks with little umbrellas are served at pool-side.  The quarterbacks of the Fall flirt with the cheerleader/lifeguards of the Summer.  Sandcastles, surfing, hang-gliding, rodeos, NASCAR races, deer-tick bites and human pyramid water-skiing are the activities on any given day south of Manitoba.  (Actually, most of these events happen in Canada as well, but no-one goes up there this time of year to see for themselves.)

[This is how I spent my summer days at the lake. Source: Google Search]

And, in sunny England, the Druids are allowed among the Sacred Stones of Stonehenge to welcome the arrival of the SUN.

[Druids at Stonehenge on June 21st. Source: Google Search]

The Glory Days!  The Endless Summer.  Autumn is months away.  The Farness.  The Freedom.  The Freshness…it’s the eternal now moment everyone wants to be in and stay in.

And, best of all…it’s the longest days of the year!

[Allow me to muddy the waters a bit here.  The longest day?  No, of course not.  The length of the ‘day’ is and will remain twenty-four hours.  Can’t change that.  First day of Summer?  That depends on how you think of summer.  There are really two “summers”.  One is the Meteorological Summer, which traditionally is from June 1 to August 31.  This is when the thermal load begins to build in the Northern Hemisphere.  Hence, one can go swimming on June 7 because it’ll likely be warm enough and you are willing to hold your breath for twenty-three minutes underwater to escape the black flies.  But this post is mostly concerned with Astronomical Summer as described in the diagram above.  None of this seasonal stuff would happen if the earth was not tilted 23.5 degrees off the vertical plane in our relationship with the sun.  The planet Mercury has no tilt and therefore no seasons.  If you lived on Mercury, SPF would be your least problem.  The daytime temperature is approximately 800 degrees Fahrenheit.  Hot enough to melt your nail polish.  Hot enough to even…well, you wouldn’t have an arm to apply anything on.  It’s very difficult to rub SPF on a gelatinous mass of bubbling protoplasm.  But in the few seconds you perhaps survived, you’d need an SPF of 2,500.  I haven’t seen anything like that at Walgreens lately.  And, forget about a beach book.  The temperature is twice that of the burning point of paper.  You’d need a Kindle for sure.]

Back to earth.

And, there’s the catch.  Just when you’ve reached the peak (the Summer Solstice) you have to begin thinking about going down.

After June 21, the days begin to get shorter.

You may say that after reading this that I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’m the eternal optimist.  After all, in a mere six months, the days will start to get longer!

And then you have the Holidays to look forward to.

 

My Friend Tim

[Left to right: Jo, Anna, Tim at the White Lion Inn on our last night in Dorset]

It was August of 1984.  I was about to begin a year in Dorset, England, when I first met Tim Ovenden.  He was destined to be my house-mate in Wimborne Minster (actually a burb of Wimborne, Colehill).  He was a hard working right-out-of-University rookie teacher.  We both taught in the same school and we both taught Geography in the Humanities Department.  We did not socialize much because I’d rather do my paper work in the school and not take it home.  Tim took everything home.  He was energetic, enthusiastic and a very fine teacher.

But we shared few pints in the local pubs.

A few weeks ago, my wife, Mariam and I left Tim’s house in Gillingham, Dorset.  They had an apartment above their garage…and it was ours to use…gratis…a supreme gesture.

A few personal items:

Tim adores his wife Jo.  They have a blended family two sons (George and Thomas) and their daughter Anna who is a talented ballerina.  Tim swipes the towel over his shoulder when he cooks, which is often.  He bakes veggies and cheese.  He listens to Motown on the radio while he holds court in the kitchen.

[Part of the Stour Way Footpath]

Tim is in his 50’s and is more fit than I was in my 30’s.  He golfs, does pilates and walks.  Something I wish I could do again without foot pain.

I’m awed  by Tim’s vigor for life.  His sense of political rightness.  (He was anti-Brexit).  His kindness, his intelligence, love of family and his friendship.

Thank you Tim and Jo and Anna for your hospitality, friendship and remembering me after so many years.  Not to mention wine o’clock.

We’ll be back.

[Photos are mine]

Journey’s End

Pick a window…any window.  There’s nothing to see, only white.  We entered a fog bank.  Fog as thick as whole milk.  We’re sailing due west, nearing Long Island.

Visibility from our deck window is about ten feet.

The end of our three-month journey is about to end.  Nothing left, except to get through customs and get a taxi and get to our hotel.

Written on board the Queen Mary 2 at 7 pm on April 20.

 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

–Jacques Yves Cousteau

Travelling shouldn’t be just a tour, it should be a tale.

–Amit Kalantri

True wealth is…Places you go…People you meet…stories you tell.  Thank you for traveling to see us.  For being such wonderful people we meet…and for sharing and being in our stories.  Our paths will cross again soon.

–Tim Ovendon

 

[All photos are mine.]

 

In The Land of Pooh, The Badger, King Arthur and Beyond: The Excursionist XIII Finale

magic (n) A mysterious quality of enchantment.

 

England is a land of mystery, magic and myth.  It is a land of legends of kings and villains of all sorts.

Consider this quote:

As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!

This line is from The Wind in the Willows by A.A. Milne.  It’s from the chapter titled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  To me, that chapter is one of the most beautifully written prose I’ve ever read.

[A country church in South Dorset]

Over the years I’ve walked dozens of footpaths.  At first in Thomas Hardy country in south Dorset, a place he called Wessex.  I’ve sneezed and sweated through fields of ragweed, cleaned my boots of the mud and manure, and sat in a remote hay shed to keep dry in the driving rain.  I feel as though I’ve been through the 100 Acre Wood of Pooh.  I believe I’ve seen Badger and Mole alongside a river.  I stood over the cliffs of Tintagel, Cornwall and gazed down at the cave where Merlin was born.  Watching the moonlight from the Glastonbury Tor, I sipped a bit of wine and listened for Arthur’s faint heartbeat.  I walked naked into the English Channel and nearly froze.

[St. Michael’s Tower atop the Glastonbury Tor]

I loved every moment when I was able to do these things.  Now, my back and feet are making walking painful, but the most pain is that I am unable to do what I most love about this country…walking.

And that makes me sad.  To be prevented from doing what you most love is an exquisite torture.

It’s time to begin sorting our belongings and start packing.

While we were here, since mid-February, I sat in pubs and listened to folk songs. One local pub, The Buffalo welcomed us with such warmth.  Thank you Kate, Amy, Massimo and Jenny. Whenever I would bring home a copy of The Guardian, there were bold headlines about the chaos and confusion over Brexit.  It fills the evening news on ITV.  So there was the experience of the old and traditional pub society and the quiet of the countryside contrasted with marches in London to demand another vote and to remain in the EU.

[A pub in St. Ives]

It’s a time of turmoil here…and we are leaving in the middle of it all.

We are truly are thankful for the hospitality of our hosts, Tim and Jo Ovenden.  We have shared their lives for three months and have grown even more fond of them than we were before.  Their son, Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful young man, always ready for a conversation.  Daughter Anna and her often-present friend Felicity are talented dancers (ballet).  They are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard as I type this.  Their giggles brighten our days.

[Jo, Thomas and Tim with Anna in their arms]

[Anna, left, and Felicity]

Regrets?  Always.  I’ll never get over my deflated mood every time we drove past a Public Footpath.  So many missed opportunities.  I’ve walked many paths over the many visits to England but the sheer number of those untrodden by me would fill a lifetime of roaming pleasures.

[My own personalized OS Map]

Who has that long a lifetime?  I certainly wish I did.

But one cannot sail forever on an endless sea because no sea is really endless.  There must be a port somewhere.  Our time in this country can now be counted in days (I’m writing this on Wednesday and we leave for Southampton on Saturday).  Soon it will be a matter of mere hours.

In the end, I guess it’s time to go home.

When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

–Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Glastonbury Tor Blog: The Excursionist XII

[The Tor at the start of our climb. St. Michael’s Tower crowns the hill]

Glastonbury is an ancient town nestled on a broad plain near the Mendip Hills in the county of Somerset.  It comes with a reputation, like that guy that sat in the last seat of your school bus.  You can shop for anything in Glastonbury, but you probably won’t find it.  What you can find is esoteric bookstores, more than one crystal shop and places where you can purchase a Druid-style cape (purple).

I love the town.

On my first visit, back in 1984, when I was an exchange teacher in Dorset, I found myself wandering the High Street.  After climbing the stairs to the second floor of an antique shop, I saw something I really wanted.  It was the part of the jaw bone of St. Basil.  There was even a Bishop’s seal on the glass box indicating its authenticity.  Best of all, it was reasonably priced at £50.  I didn’t buy it and I regret that to this day.

Now, I’m here with Mariam on our second visit.  We dined at the George & Pilgrim Hotel which dates back to about 1452.  It has three ghosts (according to some).  I never saw anything except a fantastic Steak and Ale Pie.

[The well-worn floor of the George & Pilgrim Hotel]

But our real goal that day was to climb the famous Tor.

The Tor has a ton of lore and myth that connects it with the figure of King Arthur.  Did the man ever exist?  Some say yes and some claim he was a combination of several of war-lords in the Saxon days.

[Nearing St. Michael’s Tower]

Whatever.  I love mythology and I love the Arthurian legends.  And, it was the Tor that made it all so real and believable.  According to legend, Glastonbury was the mythical Avalon.  This is where Arthur was taken after he was wounded in his final battle against his own son.  He is said to be buried, alongside his wife (?) Guinevere.  He is awaiting the call to bring his army, once again, to save Britain.

[Mariam contemplates the landscape]

[Parliament is voting as I write this on the Brexit…is Arthur stirring in his grave?).

I stood in the doorway of St. Michael’s Tower and looked out over the countryside.  I thought of the history that is so ancient, it’s sobering.  For more than 1,000 years people who climbed the Tor, worked the fields, herded the sheep, drank the ale, sipped wine, smoked old pipes with old tobacco, kissed in the churchyard, held firm to a quartz crystal, loved someone, lost someone and eventually died were all within my field of vision.

If you are a cynic, that’s okay.  But, if you read history, study myths and let your mind travel, you won’t be the same after a visit to Glastonbury.

[Me. Thinking about ancient times and myths]

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Circus: The Excursionist XI

Really great adventures always start with a sign taped to a window of a shop or to a wooden pole along the curb.  At least that’s how I found out about the circus.  We’re not talking about Barnum & Bailey here or even the Big Apple Circus that visits Lincoln Center every winter.  No, this is a small one-ring affair, very European, very English and very entertaining.

Once upon a time I saw a small circus just outside of Bruges, Belgium.  It should go without saying that I fell in love with the trapeze artist…a dark and beautiful being that floated, back and forth, over my head.  If you’re interested in the consequences that can come of having your heart stolen by a woman flying in the air fifty feet above you, then find a copy of the classic movie Wings of Desire.  You’ll get the point.

But I digress.

The Jay Miller Circus doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.  A small traveling circus that winds its way through rural England.

After entering the Big Top from the bright day, I found myself greeted by forms that were indistinct to me…my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness.  But I did notice a bright red jacket.  After we were shown to our chairs…set up in the grass. (Someone had scattered a bucket or two of sawdust on the green field to remind you that you were at a circus)

I went back to the red jacket.  “May I take your picture outside?  I’m going to write a blog about all this and you’re very colorful (and pretty, I thought).

Here is Charlotte:

[Thank you, Charlotte]

A 5:00 PM, the lights went down.  And, as the cotton candy continued to be devoured by the many children, the Ring Master appeared.

[The Irish Ring Master. Total disclosure: this was taken half-way through the show, after the fog machine had been on for twenty minutes.]

What followed was a truly unique display of roller-skaters, jugglers, a state-of-the-art laser show, fire-eating women, ball rolling, magic and a woman who was spun in air above my head from a clamp attached to her hair!

Here are some of the visuals I took:

[Sand art projected onto a screen. It read Life Is A Circus]

[The finale]

So, it was over.  I quite enjoyed the talent (the hula-hoop woman was sensational) and the effort, but my mind always drifted from the action, to the life beyond the show.  During the intermission, I went outside to get some fresh air.  I looked over at all the RV’s that housed the cast and crew.  What were their lives like after the Big Top came down?  Were any of them married?  Lovers?  Were they happy on the road?  Did they sleep well at night after they failed in an attempt at something?

The woman, early in the show, sat atop a very tall unicycle.  She put a little hat on.  She put a saucer on her toes and flipped it to her hat. She repeated this with a cup, then again, and again until there were four cups & saucers on her head.  She failed three times to get a small cube of ‘sugar’ into the last cup.  Finally the assistant handed her the sugar and she simply placed it in the top cup…without flipping it off her toe.  I wonder if she relives her mistakes at night.  Did she fret over her inability to finish her act successfully?  I wonder about these things.

I hope she will sleep well tonight.

Words From A Footpath: The Excursionist X

[Older footpath signs]

It must be my age.  It could be my imagination.  It certainly is something I don’t fully understand.  But, the truth is I think that the English Public Footpaths sometimes call my name.

There is a legend among the Northwest Indigenous People that when you hear an owl call your name…you will soon pass on into the next world (read death).  I think that when I pass a Public Footpath sign, a similar thing happens, except that instead of passing on…I will be walking.

That is one of the charms about Britain.  Public footpaths are literally everywhere.  You can walk across yards, fields, etc…the public have rights here that don’t exist in the USA.

I’ve blogged about such things in the past, but, hey, get a good subject and you can blog it from here to Friday.

[Newer sign posts]

Sometimes I have a guide-book to help me locate interesting routes.  And, at other times, I just wing it and strike off, hoping to find the next marker, hoping to not get off on a wrong path.  But, are any paths really wrong?  Following my instinct I find such places like this:

[On a Dorset walk a few years ago]

Or this:

[A walk in Yorkshire last year]

There are a few rules a walker must obey.  It’s all common sense:

–Keep your dog on a lead

–Close the gates behind you

–Don’t litter

And, to help you through one field to the next, there are a variety of stiles.

[A wooden step stile]

[An old over-the-wall step stile]

[A kissing gate. You can figure it out]

So, what’s the big deal?  Well, for me, this little portion of England is a walker’s paradise.  And sometimes that all I need.

Many times, it’s what I really need.

[All photos are mine. Some have been used in other posts or on Instagram. But, hey, if you follow me you already know that]