Date:  06/14/09

On this episode of Ecotopia we celebrate the summer solstice,  the official beginning of summer, which happens on June 21, at 1:45 a.m. Greenwich Time  (or in the Sacramento Valley the Foothills and Beyond, on the 20th,  10:45 pm).

This is the third of our seasonal shows, which we launched just six months ago with winter solstice and continued with the spring equinox. In this program we bring you mix of factual information about the solstice, summer solstice traditions  from around the globe, a couple of do-it-yourself ideas for solstice celebrations, and lots of summery music.
What is the Summer Solstice?

From Wikipedia: A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is most inclined toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun’s apparent position in the sky to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme. The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the apparent movement of the Sun’s path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction.
The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some cultures they are considered to start or separate the seasons while in others they fall in the middle. The English expressions “midwinter” (winter solstice) and “midsummer” (summer solstice) may derive from a tradition according to which there were only two seasons: winter and summer.

Frank Asch

If sunlight fell like snowflakes,

gleaming yellow and so bright, we could build a sunman,

we could have a sunball fight,

we could watch the sunflakes

drifting in the sky.

We could go sleighing

in the middle of July

through sundrifts and sunbanks,

we could ride a sunmobile,

and we could touch sunflakes—

I wonder how they’d feel.

The Oven Bird
Robert Frost

There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,

Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.

He says that leaves are old and that for flowers

Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.

He says the early petal-fall is past

When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers

On sunny days a moment overcast;

And comes that other fall we name the fall.

He says the highway dust is over all.

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Cultural Traditions
from Religious Tolerance dot org

People around the world have observed spiritual and religious seasonal days of celebration during the month of June. Most have been religious holy days which are linked in some way to the summer solstice. […]

In pre-historic times, summer was a joyous time of the year for those Aboriginal people who lived in the northern latitudes. The snow had disappeared; the ground had thawed out; warm temperatures had returned; flowers were blooming; leaves had returned to the deciduous trees. Some herbs could be harvested, for medicinal and other uses. Food was easier to find. The crops had already been planted and would be harvested in the months to come. Although many months of warm/hot weather remained before the fall, they noticed that the days were beginning to shorten, so that the return of the cold season was inevitable.

The first (or only) full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives.  This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the “grand [sexual] union” of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltaine. Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, “newly wed couples were fed dishes and beverages that featured honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon.”

Most societies in the northern hemisphere, ancient and modern, have celebrated a festival on or close to Midsummer:

* Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin (“Light of the Shore”). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; “Light of the Earth”) and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; “Light of the Water”). “This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year…”  The days following Alban Heruin form the waning part of the year because the days become shorter.

* In Ancient China the summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.

*In Ancient GaulThe Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.

*In Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. “It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames…” It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire’s power, “…maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.” Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun’s energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.

*In Ancient Rome the festival of Vestalia lasted from JUN-7 to JUN-15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.

*In Christian countries the feast day of St. John the Baptist was set as JUN-24. It “is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint.”  Curiously, the feast is held on the alleged date of his birth. Other Christian saints’ days are observed on the anniversary of their death. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that St. John was “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb…[thus his] birth…should be signalized as a day of triumph.”  His feast day is offset a few days after the summer solstice, just as Christmas is fixed a few days after the winter solstice.  “Just as John was the forerunner to Jesus, midsummer forecasts the eventual arrival of” the winter solstice circa DEC-21.

*The Essenes were a Jewish religious group active in Palestine during the 1st century CE. It was one of about 24 Jewish groups in the country — the only one that used a solar calendar. Other Jewish groups at the time included the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, followers of John, and followers of Yeshua (Jesus). Archaeologists have found that the largest room of the ruins at Qumran (location of the Dead Sea Scrolls) appears to be a sun temple. The room had been considered a dining room by earlier investigators, in spite of the presence of two altars at its eastern end. At the time of the summer solstice, the rays of the setting sun shine at 286 degrees along the building’s longitudinal axis, and illuminate the eastern wall. The room is oriented at exactly the same angle as the Egyptian shrines dedicated to the sun. Two ancient authorities — the historian Josephus and the philosopher Filon of Alexandria — had written that the Essenes were sun worshipers. Until recently, their opinion had been rejected by modern historians.

The Old Swimmin’ Hole

James Whitcomb Riley

Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! whare the crick so still and deep

Looked like a baby-river that was laying half asleep,

And the gurgle of the worter round the drift jest below

Sounded like the laugh of something we onc’t ust to know

Before we could remember anything but the eyes

Of the angels lookin’ out as we left Paradise;

But the merry days of youth is beyond our controle,

And it’s hard to part ferever with the old swimmin’-hole.

Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! In the happy days of yore,

When I ust to lean above it on the old sickamore,

Oh! it showed me a face in its warm sunny tide

That gazed back at me so gay and glorified,

It made me love myself, as I leaped to caress

My shadder smilin’ up at me with sich tenderness.

But them days is past and gone, and old Time’s tuck his toll

From the old man come back to the old swimmin’-hole.

Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! In the long, lazy days

When the humdrum of school made so many run-a-ways,

How plesant was the jurney down the old dusty lane,

Whare the tracks of our bare feet was all printed so plane

You could tell by the dent of the heel and the sole

They was lots o’ fun on hands at the old swimmin’-hole.

But the lost joys is past! Let your tears in sorrow roll

Like the rain that ust to dapple up the old swimmin’-hole.

Thare the bullrushes growed, and the cattails so tall,

And the sunshine and shadder fell over it all;

And it mottled the worter with amber and gold

Tel the glad lilies rocked in the ripples that rolled;

And the snake-feeder’s four gauzy wings fluttered by

Like the ghost of a daisy dropped out of the sky,

Or a wownded apple-blossom in the breeze’s controle

As it cut acrost some orchard to’rds the old swimmin’-hole.

Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! When I last saw the place,

The scenes was all changed, like the change in my face;

The bridge of the railroad now crosses the spot

Whare the old divin’-log lays sunk and fergot.

And I stray down the banks whare the trees ust to be—

But never again will theyr shade shelter me!

And I wish in my sorrow I could strip to the soul,

And dive off in my grave like the old swimmin’-hole.


from Religious Tolerance dot org

Our description of cultural traditions surrounding the solstice would not be complete without a discussion of Stonehenge in England: Historically, the summer solstice has been a time   for divination and healing rituals. Divining rods and wands are traditionally cut at this time.

From prehistoric Europe many remains of ancient stone structures can be found throughout Europe. Some date back many millennia BCE. Many appear to have religious/astronomical purposes; others are burial tombs. These structures were built before writing was developed. One can only speculate on the significance of the summer solstice to the builders. Perhaps the most famous of these structures is Stonehenge, a megalith monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. It was built in three stages, between circa 3000 and 1500 BCE. “The circular bank and ditch, double circle of ‘bluestones’ (spotted dolerite), and circle of sarsen stones (some with white lintels), are concentric, and the main axis is aligned on the midsummer sunrise–an orientation that was probably for ritual rather than scientific purposes.   Four “station stones” within the monument form a rectangle whose shorter side also points in the direction of the midsummer sunrise.

The celebration of the solstice at Stonhenge has continued from the Druids’ time to our own. In recent years, partying at Stonhenge has gotten a bit on the wild side, and  to a recent news article in the Guardian, police, are trrying to:

allay growing concern that a “zero tolerance” approach during the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge could lead to serious trouble.

Officers maintained they would police the ancient site in a fair and sensitive manner and played down comparisons to the tense build-up to last month’s G20 protests and to notorious clashes of the past such as the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, when police stopped a convoy of new age travellers who were hoping to get near the henge for the solstice.

At a meeting […] between police, English Heritage, druids and others who attend the event, fears were expressed that trouble could be provoked if the police at the site in Wiltshire clamped down heavily on offences such as possession of cannabis and being drunk and disorderly.

There were also worries that the new police tactics, which include using an unmanned drone that will fly above the stones, and the reintroduction of police horses, could spoil one of the great English celebrations. […]

Brian Viziondanz, for the group Infinite Possibility, which supports peaceful protest, said he took the police reassurances with a pinch of salt and added: “There’s a shroud coming down on our freedom. There is more and more control over our lives. It’s a monster coming into our society.”

Dozens videos are available free on YouTube showing the summer solstice at Stonehenge and elsewhere. See:

Native American summer observations, this from Religious Tolerance dot org:

–The Natchez tribe in the southern U.S. “worshiped the sun and believed that their ruler was descended from him. Every summer they held a first fruits ceremony.” Nobody was allowed to harvest the corn until after the feast.

— Males in the Hopi tribe dressed up as Kachinas – the dancing spirits of rain and fertility who were messengers between humanity and the Gods. At Midsummer, the Kachinas were believed to leave the villages to spend the next six months in the mountains, where they were believed to visit the dead underground and hold ceremonies on their behalf.

Native Americans have created countless stone structures linked to equinoxes and solstices. Many are still standing. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day discoverer. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and other markers around the edge of the bowl “At the summer solstice, the sun rose at the southern peak of the east ridge and set at a notch at the southern end of the west ridge.” The winter solstice and the equinoxes were similarly marked. 5

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel west of Sheridan, WY is perhaps the most famous of the 40 or more similar “wheels” on the high plains area of the Rocky Mountains. Mostly are located in Canada. At Bighorn, the center of a small cairn, that is external to the main wheel, lines up with the center of the wheel and the sun rising at the summer equinox. Another similar sighting cairn provides a sighting for three dawn-rising stars: Aldebaran, Rigel and Sirius. A third cairn lines up with fourth star: Fomalhaut. The term “medicine wheel” was coined by Europeans; it was a term used to describe anything native that white people didn’t understand.

William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Carol Frost
“All Summer Long”
The dogs eat hoof slivers and lie under the porch.

A strand of human hair hangs strangely from a fruit tree

like a cry in the throat. The sky is clay for the child who is past

being tired, who wanders in waist-deep

grasses. Gnats rise in a vapor,

in a long mounting whine around her forehead and ears.

The sun is an indistinct moon. Frail sticks

of grass poke her ankles,

and a wet froth of spiders touches her legs

like wet fingers. The musk and smell

of air are as hot as the savory

terrible exhales from a tired horse.

The parents are sleeping all afternoon,

and no one explains the long uneasy afternoons.

She hears their combined breathing and swallowing

salivas, and sees their sides rising and falling

like the sides of horses in the hot pasture.

At evening a breeze dries and crumbles

the sky and the clouds float like undershirts

and cotton dresses on a clothesline. Horses

rock to their feet and race or graze.

Parents open their shutters and call

the lonely, happy child home.

The child who hates silences talks and talks

of cicadas and the manes of horses.

cruel, cruel summer
D. A. Powell

either the postagestamp-bright inflorescence of wild mustard

or the drab tassel of prairie smoke, waving its dirty garments

either the low breeze through the cracked window

or houseflies and drawn blinds to spare us the calid sun

one day commands the next to lie down, to scatter:      we’re done

with allegiance, devotion, the malicious idea of what’s eternal

picture the terrain sunk, return of the inland sea, your spectacle

your metaphor, the scope of this twiggy dominion pulled under

crest and crest, wave and cloud, the thunder blast and burst of swells

this is the sum of us:      brief sneezeweed, brief yellow blaze put out

so little, your departure, one plunk upon the earth’s surface,

one drop to bind the dust, a little mud, a field of mud

the swale gradually submerged, gradually forgotten

and that is all that is to be borne of your empirical trope:

first, a congregated light, the brilliance of a meadowland in bloom

and then the image must fail, as we must fail, as we

graceless creatures that we are, unmake and befoul our beds

don’t tell me deluge.      don’t tell me heat, too damned much heat.

Summer Job
Richard Hoffman

“The trouble with intellectuals,” Manny, my boss,

once told me, “is that they don’t know nothing

till they can explain it to themselves.   A guy like that,”

he said, “he gets to middle age—and by the way,

he gets there late; he’s trying to be a boy until

he’s forty, forty-five, and then you give him five

more years until that craziness peters out, and now

he’s almost fifty—a guy like that at last explains

to himself that life is made of time, that time

is what it’s all about.   Aha! he says.   And then

he either blows his brains out, gets religion,

or settles down to some major-league depression.

Make yourself useful.   Hand me that three-eights

torque wrench—no, you moron, the other one.”

Summer Fun and Facts for Kids

For the Do-It-Yourself part of our summer solstice program, we draw on the website of  Ellen Jackson, author of a children’s book, Summer Solstice.  She writes:

From ancient times to the present, people have found many ways to express their thankfulness for the sun’s gift of warmth and light. THE SUMMER SOLSTICE depicts the mysterious rites of the Egyptians, the tales of fairies and selkies, the modern parades and baseball games–all part of the fun and folklore of this happy time.

She gives some FACTS ABOUT SUMMER for the younger set, including that:

• Animals teach their young how to find food in the summer. Wolves teach their pups to hunt, and female brown bats carry their babies with them to show them how to catch insects.

• Summer is the best time to look for fireflies. In South America, fireflies signal each other with red or green lights. In North America, fieflies signal with yellow lights.

• Snails are active in the summer, but if it gets too hot or too dry for them, they enter a period of inactivity known as estivation. They find a safe place—such as a tree trunk or the underside of a leaf and they stop moving and stay in their shell.

• The month of June may have been named for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. For this reason, June was thought to be a good month for weddings.

• The six hottest weeks of summer–the second half of July and all of August–are called the dog days because Sirius, the Dog Star, can be seen overhead in the sky.

• In North America, the middle of August is a good time to see shooting stars.

Author Ellen Jackson also offers  a summer game for the youngest kids; It’s called Leo The Lion (K-3), Leo being the sun sign for people born in the months of July and August. Here is a lion game you can play:

A player is selected to be Leo. Leo gets down on all fours in his 10-foot square “cage” (drawn with chalk). The other children jump in and out of the cage or run through it. They try to avoid being tagged by Leo. If Leo touches one of the children, that child takes Leo’s place.

Here from  Ellen Jackson is a SUMMER TREAT FOR YOUR DOG

You will need:

1 weiner, diced
1 can chicken broth
can opener


Pour broth into ice cube containers. Add a piece or two of diced weiner. Freeze. Dogs love this one!

And finally from Ellen Jackson, a summer joke

How do farm animals like the hot summer weather?
A sheep says, “Bah!”
A pig says, “I’m bacon!

Playlist for Ecotopia #37: SummerSolstice

1. Summertime, Summertime (Single Version) 2:01    The Jamies   Pop Music: The Golden Era 1951-1975

2. Girls In Their Summer Clothes (Live Version)           5:19    Bruce Springsteen    Girls In Their Summer Clothes

3. Summertime        3:01    Billie Holiday   Remember Lady Day (Gone for 50 Years)

4. In The Summertime        3:42    Mungo Jerry   In The Summertime – Greatest Hits

5. Lean In      5:15    MaMuse   All The Way

6. A Summer Song  2:39    Chad & Jeremy    A Summer Song      Folk

7. Summertime Blues         2:01    Eddie Cochran   The Best Of Eddie Cochran

8. A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress         3:55    Richard Shindell   Blue Divide

9. Glorious     5:19    MaMuse    All The Way  Folk

10. Weave Me the Sunshine         4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary