Only it was June. A lone swimmer oared his way leisurely along, his arm upraised. A breeze arose and the water’s surface, cracking into a million shards of blue, coral and lemon, became an Impressionist painting: Monet’s water lilies, without the lilies.
It was the longest day of the year and the wooden dock on which I lay felt smooth. Its planks, gone silver with age, drank in the sun’s warmth.
An hour before sunrise, I had risen to look for a window I could lie down in front of to catch the Early Show put on by birds, who swoop so close to our house they seem like aircraft, cleared one by one for flight. So fast do they pass I can detect neither species nor color even, only glimpsing in a flash the fuselage of an underbelly, the landing gear of two tucked-up feet.
By 8am I had I stepped out on my sidewalk, across which an ant lumbered as ants always lumber, bearing their burden of crumbs or fallen comrades.
Just nine weeks before that day it had snowed, the day before Easter or not.Six weeks later, tornadoes skipped and whirled and set devastatingly down across the region.
I remember all this.
I remember too an evening in that hard winter just past, when four deer came over the deep snow to nibble any roots they could find. The papers all said they were starving and they certainly seemed to be in sore need, the way they came so close to people’s homes, their antlers held aloft like complicated branching torches.
Was this truly just four months before the luxurious long cat-stretch of the summer solstice?
It seemed from there an eternity.
But Time plays tricks on us all.
As I lay on that longest-day dock, the breeze stretched a new canvas over the frame of lake and did another impression of 19th century painting: a Van Gogh this time, I thought.
On how many a summer solstices have we stretched out on docks, or sands, or sun-warmed stoops, thinking each time that June would last forever? Too many to count?
In her wonderful novel The Maytrees, author Annie Dillard has this to say:
“Old people were not incredulous at having once been young but at being young for so many decades running.”
I smile every time I remember that passage. I smile for its truth.
For we are all young who draw breath Really all the living are young, as any bird or ant can tell you.
My thoughts ran this way on that year’s longest day with, as I told myself, many such days before me.
But in truth there is but one longest day and after that, they get shorter and shorter still.
Give me not the summer solstice therefore. Give me instead the spring solstice now approaching, when, for a lovely billowing incandescent bubble of a moment, Day and Night meet as equals and kiss, the day fully as long as the night, after many months being so much shorter.
I study the tables. One day this week in my part of the world, the sun sets at 7:07 and rises at 7:04 the next morning. At that day’s end, it sets at 7:08, and rises the next day at 7:03.
Then finally comes the day, when it both rises and sets at 7:05, Day and Night again stand as equals and we feel ourselves lightly if briefly held, inside that lovely wobbling bubble of a moment.
It’s almost upon us now. Run outside and get ready for the Return!