So it's the solstice; I wish I'd thought to take my camera out with me on my already-late-at-7.45am walk in the abundance of the Devon lanes here (this is an old photo). I could soliloquise at length on the flora and the many many young birds of so many different species (I did remember my binoculars), and the sheer joy of having all this to walk in, but there is always Work Undone.
Right now, the longest day, the sun appears to stand still in the sky for three days (as it does, too, on the shortest day). It's time to breathe, pause, reflect, before moving on (all downhill towards winter now, my dad would always say in his most deliberately gloomy voice. Must be time for my annual bath.) In the northern hemisphere, the earth is at its greatest inclination towards the sun at this time. The sun appears to rise at its most northeasterly position of the year, and sets at its most northwesterly.
All around the country, people will have gathered at dawn at one or other of our ancient and sacred megalithic (I guess that's tautology) monuments, many of which were constructed to predict solstices, among other things, to celebrate the sun's rising.
Each solstice, one of the earth's turning points, I like to look back at the last winter solstice, and the previous summer's. This time, I also look back two years, when I thought my life was about to change utterly and that I'd be living solo in France from then on.
And then today I keep on looking back at the ones I can remember, mainly of course because they were significant.
Forty-something years ago, in my teens, I hitchhiked (unbeknown to my parents, who were probably told I was staying with friends, I can't remember) to Stonehenge for the summer solstice. I got a lift from Steve Hillage of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth's 'Gong' fame; Gong, very much a voice for the counterculture and we hippies with our anti-Establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-consumer and peace-and-love values, must have been playing at the free festival that Stonehenge was then, though I didn't really know who Hillage was at the time.
In those days, before English Heretics got their hands on the site, fenced it, floodlit it and charged entry, we used to camp up in nearby beech trees around small fires, a loose tribe of people with guitars, poetry, and stars in their eyes, awaiting dawn at around 4am, before we trekked to the stones to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone of the monument, in an act of celebration at least 5000 years old. This year, apparently 25,000 people attended – very glad I'm not there any more! – and because of the recent terror attacks, there was a strong armed-police presence.
A few years later, I was married on the summer solstice. We were both young adventurers, romantics, restless; he was Italian and exotic. We were both dropouts from university career-prospects (with my particular speciality, the Grail legends and the Mabinogi in their original languages, I couldn't imagine what I'd do other than work in, say, the archives of the British Library – I had no desire to teach). We made a living with our hands, and travelled abroad in the winters in our old campervan, including later with our young daughter, to follow the surf down the Atlantic seaboards of France, Vizcaya, Galicia.
We were young. The marriage couldn't last. Our daughter is well grown up, and he is now dead.
When, decades later, I first met TM, we walked the ancient trackway known as The Ridgeway from the Goring Gap in Oxfordshire to Avebury stone circle (to my mind a more significant site than Stonehenge) over 3 days, with a tent, too many heavy home-made loaves and litres and litres of water as we didn't know whether there'd be standpipes (there are), and far too many pairs of socks on TM's part (in my view).
Things got ditched as we went, and we filled up instead on the experience – the red kites, the various ancient sites we walked through, the burgeoning crop circles. The grasses, the copses of beech, the wide blue sky, the White Horse (or perhaps Dragon) of Uffington. (In my book Bardo I have a prose poem sequence that is about this walk.)
At the end, we found our car had been impounded, so a magical time was rather coloured by having to catch a bus to Swindon and pay a very hefty fee.
However, the walk remains as something very special in our memories.
And then more recently, seven years into my relationship with TM (they say that every cell in your body has been renewed in seven years – of course one might look to a different life! - one is a different person, a little, perhaps), came the upheaval that might have led to our separation and my living in France two solstices ago.
We've come through a lot, and come through strong. (The world, of course, is a different matter.)
So here's my solstice poem. With wishes to all you lovely people for an abundance of good things this summer, and a peaceful heart.
Summer Solstice 2017
After we’d come through the troubles and their repercussions –
small troubles, not like Syria, Grenfell Tower, London, Manchester,
deluded Heads of State, pesticides, genocides, fracking and the travails
of our over-burdened earth, but our troubles – after we’d come through
together we planted a rose in the summer courtyard with its freight
of birds and memories.
Perhaps there’s always a distance between lovers;
sometimes charged with despair, sometimes necessary. So then heaping
and tamping the good Devon earth, bedding it in with good water –
this brief gesture is a long moment of convergence, precious intimacy
against the dark.
The sun’s standstill. This morning, red
globe spilling fire to reinstate what the dark had swallowed, we see
that she, the rose, has offered to day, bee and us alike
one perfect rich bloom. Here in this fragrant dawn, birdsong
the only interruption, yesterday's news of that Imam standing firm
to prevent his own from the natural urge to avenge, it’s easy
suddenly to believe in hope, in the earth continuing to turn,
in a triumph, a takeover, of love.
© Roselle Angwin 21.06.2017