Perhaps here on the Minnesota prairie we're a bit too far south to fully appreciate the summer solstice. Yet I know that, a half year from now, many of my friends will gather around bonfires of broken banalities, offering hugs of good fortune and good health, warmed by the faith that from that magical moment forward their days will bestow measurably more light.
An old friend back east, a Swede by birth, perhaps still hosts a midsummer celebration that makes our annual Moonstone Farm winter rituals near Montevideo seem tame by comparison.
Wine flowed, as did the more traditional schnapps. My friend Asa's husband, an amateur chef with incredible talent, laid out a great table of fine fare surrounding fancy bowls of traditional pickled herring. Toasts were made. The more celebratory style of classical music murmured across their Cambridge patio in the afternoon before yielding to more modern and lively tunes as the day wore on. Music that might prompt Asa, donning a floral wreath upon her hair, to grasp the hand of a dear friend and dance and swing as if a magical Maypole stood between them.
What fun times. And apparently Asa's grand summer celebrations were docile compared to earlier times. Back in the agrarian ages, perhaps as early as the 1500s, midsummer celebrations in Sweden ushered in the season of fertility. Many disguised themselves as "green men" clad in ferns. Houses and farm tools were decorated with foliage, and Maypoles were raised tall to be danced around from midmorning until the sunsettish "midnight sun" quieted all but the young.
English author Carole Carlton, writer of the "Mrs. Darley" series of Pagan novels, explains: "The festival of the Summer Solstice speaks of love and light, of freedom and generosity of spirit. It is a beautiful time of year where vibrant flowers whisper to us with scented breath, forests and woodlands hang heavy in the summer's heat and our souls become enchanted with midsummer magic."
Our friends from Sweden aren't alone in their celebrations of the summer solstice, for many countries near and within the Arctic arc love to celebrate the sun on this longest day of the year. This never-ending light, this night of the "midnight sun."
Yet I find it strange is that there is no mention of the impending darkness. No countdown on shaded skies.
Have I become too indoctrinated in Minnesota-isms? Have I bought into finding clouds of doom as a means of tempering such shouts of joy? I mean, where in all this celebration of lingering summer light is the reality that our days will now become increasingly shorter and shorter? Where is the mention of this precious daylight yielding to an increasing darkness ... so much darkness that, come mid-December, we're yearning to pile dried and weathered wood for late-night bonfires and make shivering toasts of goodwill to celebrate the coming of light?
It's almost as if we're living a yin-yang bounce back and forth involving our dear Sol and these seasons of light and darkness.
As an artist completely dependent on natural light, I say, what's wrong with that? Parties all around. Asa's celebratory midsummer flings in the inner ring of Boston's suburbs and our Moonstone vigils seeking light are both joyous expressions of our inner paganisms.
Yet what surprises me most now that I've lived in Minnesota for nearly half my life, the longest I've ever lived in one place, is that our seeming need to seek balance in life, which neither overdoes nor overwhelms, isn't celebrated.
I mean, twice a year we are just like folks on the equator, enjoying just as much light as we have darkness, a perfect solar balance. Yet we drive to work as if each is just another ho-hum day.
Doesn't an equinox at least call for a toast?
John G. White, of Ortonville, Minn., is a photographer.