Summer’s solstice


By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Today we mark a passing solstice while acknowledging it’s concurrent changing of the seasonal guard. Summer’s solstice delineates the year’s meridian, the sun’s annual high point in our days.

In its original meaning, solstice denoted that crucial moment when the ancients said the “sun stood still.” Which is exactly what it appeared to do, given their understanding of astronomy, and as witnessed from both their worldview and observational perspective.

We science-enlightened moderns have subsequently learned we’re not exactly the center of the universe. Though the subordinate moon may, indeed, whirl around us, the sun does not. We’re merely one of several celestial bodies—that rather pretty blue-green one three lanes out. Gravitationally captured, obliged to endless journeying round the sun, just another member of the planetary gaggle, which may or may not include poor old Pluto. Subservient orbs on a heavenly merry-go-round.

Moreover, another ego-squashing truth was the realization the sun does not actually advance and retreat north and south, creeping to and fro like some hesitant suitor. Again it is us, planet earth, that does the moving—or more accurately, tilts as it spins along on it’s year-long circumnavigational orbit around the sun. Twenty-three-point-five degrees off its vertical axis. Which may not seem like much, but is the reason we have seasons.

Winter, spring, summer and fall all occur because our spinning, revolving planet is canted. You might say we owe winter sledding, spring wildflowers, summer’s sweet corn, and autumn’s colored leaves to the fact our revolving earthly home is a tad cockeyed.

Nowadays summer’s solstice is no big deal. Just an unseen, unsung reckoning point, barely footnoted on our almanacs and calendars. Perhaps our bruised egos sought to forget the loss of formerly-assumed center-of-the-universe status.

Or maybe we should blame those mysterious modern-day overlords and Machiavellian bureaucrats who prevail upon such matters as seasonal beginnings and endings. They decided to scrap the previous arrangement, formulated in 1780 by the Societas Meteorologica Palatina — an early international meteorological organization — who logically arranged the four seasons into temperature-based three-month groups, placing summer’s beginning as June 1.

But I suspect the real reason we’re so oblivious regarding the summer solstice, reflects the fact we no longer reckon our seasons as they did in the Medieval Period. Back then, most European countries based their seasonal divisions on the sun—what’s called solar insolation — employing solstices and equinoxes as seasonal midpoints.

In those enlightened times, the summer solstice — Midsummer, when the sun reached it’s annual zenith — was cause for hearty celebration. On Midsummer’s Eve folks built bonfires and began to party … and by all accounts, it was the celebratory blow-out of the season!

While a few countries still observe Midsummer, we employ the passing solstice only as a reckoning point. Part of our endless fascination with timekeeping — an arbitrary place where we stop one season and start another.

Today, at approximately 1:30 pm EDST locally, spring will end as summer officially begins. Not counting weather, you won’t notice a bit of difference between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The next week or two will also look the same.

But give it a while … say a month … then check. You’ll find the sun rises twenty minutes later and sets ten minutes earlier. Daylight length will have been shortened by half an hour. Two months from today, daylight’s span will be pruned by more than an hour and a half!

So, summer is here, but it’s arrival marks that point when the great clock’s pendulum starts swinging in the opposite direction. The countdown to winter has now begun.

Sorry. I’m not trying to depress you with a doom-and-gloom message. Only to point out that seasons are moving positions amid time’s endless stream. We’ve reached a crest, slipped over the top, and started down the other side.

While it won’t endure forever, summer has only begun. Enjoy! Fill your days with seasonal delights. And remember…no need to partake in moderation!

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