It is early morning; you go outside and reach for your paper. The morning sky is still full of stars, or you have let the sun glide into the sky before making coffee and starting your day. Chances are, the time is past 6:51 and, if that be the case, then summer is here. By the time you read my column, I will have been to the beach in the early dawn to welcome the day and take a photo or two of the rising sun.
Today is the Summer Solstice; the day the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator. The word solstice is taken from the Latin word solstitium, with sol meaning sun, and stitum meaning to stop. The sun is overhead in the Tropic of Cancer, and this is a day of celebration.
My solstice stories have taken me on so many adventures. On the farm we set candles adrift across the pond, and I always chose a fairy princess (or prince) to drop rose petals (for the fairies, of course!). I etched the names of these folks onto the glass of the back door with a small glass-cutting pen. All the names were lost in the fire, but the stories remain. Everyone auditioned to be the fairy princess; some sang songs or wore elaborate costumes and one young man brought a green Jello mold. I had to choose him that year to lead the way! When my boys were in high school they worked at Bob Evans, but they always had to leave before clean up on the night of the Solstice so they would not miss the celebration.
In Scotland I once spent the Solstice looking for seals dancing in caves on the coast line. According to Scottish folklore, on the Solstice the seals come up out of the water, shed their skins and sing in the caves. Folklore says if you steal the skin, you can keep the seal, but it is not recommended. However, looking for seals in caves on the coast is quite an interesting opportunity if you ever get the chance. These stories were collected and told by Duncan Williamson, a Scots traveler, storyteller, singer and writer.
Duncan was born in a tent in Argyllshire, Scotland, in 1928 to a mother who was a traveling basket maker and tinsmith. By age 14 he left school to be apprenticed to a stonemason and a dryston dyker (stone wall builder). He soon became a traveler himself, picking up work as a freshwater pearl fisherman or berry picker. These folks were called “summer walkers.” He continued to travel his whole life learning stories and songs from the sea and from the land.
I met Duncan at the Netherbow Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland, one autumn. It was a rainy evening, and he sang, “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.” I cried my eyes out, and later he thanked me for crying.
Duncan was the finest storyteller I have ever met. One time he said, “When you tell a story or sing a song, the person you heard it from is standing behind you.” His stories and songs are archived in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.
Another time I spent the Solstice in New Mexico at a conference. On the evening of the Solstice the women gathered on the highest hill. We were asked to share a short story while holding a staff and letting the summer breeze toss our hair. Each woman celebrated the gift of life as we told our tales into the wind.
The past few years I have spent the Solstice here on Ocracoke Island. I do not believe I will be looking for seals, but I will be celebrating at a beach bonfire tonight with friends and family as we sing, tell stories and dance our way into summer. We will also look for the Summer Triangle in the night sky as the waning crescent moon will hide away ’til early dawn giving us a perfect night sky.
Now, in case you are not in Scotland or Ocracoke, there are other ways to celebrate this day … light a bonfire, go fishing, plant seeds or trees, sit outside and watch the fireflies, put the tent up in your backyard, read into the night with the windows open and tell your own stories. You could always cut firewood for the upcoming winter (I am just kidding on that one!).
Happy Solstice to all of our readers … may you enjoy each moment.
LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories.