Longest day of the year… not long enough

It all goes so fast. Saturday is the first day of summer, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

Where we live, here at the 32nd parallel in Texas, the sun rose at 6:13 a.m. and set at 8:29 p.m. There was close to 16 hours of daylight Saturday. Sunday the day shortens by at least ten seconds, which means little by little the daylight hours will dwindle. Saturday marks the first “official” day of summer — the first day of the astronomical summer — when the sun’s apparent position is at its farthest point north from the equator.

Culturally, though, a lot of people think of Memorial Day and Labor Day as the beginning and end of the summer season. There’s the old saying that you’re not supposed to wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. I wonder if anybody pays attention to that rule anymore. But I suspect the idea that Memorial Day is the beginning of summer is more traditional in places with relatively moderate climates. Around here, the summer heat set in a few weeks ago and is going to be with us well into what most people think of as autumn.

The sun reaches its zenith, local Noontide, just a little earlier in Henderson than it does in El Paso but, according to the clocks, “noon” comes at exactly the same moment in both places. The world has been organized and synchronized for very good reasons, but it’s worth remembering that, only a couple of centuries ago, time was utterly local. Noon here, wherever you happened to be, was never the same as noon farther east or west.

Summer is another of those abstractions. This year, on the calendar, it means the span of time in the Northern Hemisphere between Saturday and Sept. 23. No matter how we think of summer, it is, astronomically speaking, like any other season — a segment of the sun’s annual voyage north and south as seen from Earth. Forget the beach towels and the sunscreen. Celestial summer has nothing to do with us. It may seem like the time of year when we drive to Galveston or other tourists traps, but it is really the season when the sun begins to set a little farther south each day.

Most of us live within these temporal abstractions easily enough. No matter what the clock, the calendar, or the scientists say, the season is whatever our senses and emotions say it is. It may feel like a blazing pre-summer day in March or the cool gray foreshadowing of autumn in September. The calendar wants to apportion just so much summer and no more, but we know better.

At no time does the earth seem more potent and powerful than now. Our yards are a dense verdant carpet, the underbrush thick with wildflowers, the air humid to the point of near-suffocation. The creepy-crawlies are emerging in force. The days even hold nighttime captive — sunset coming later and later, sunrise earlier and earlier. Summertime reinforces my suspicion that “Mother Nature” is more a Wicked Witch than a Fairy Godmother, and the planet itself considers us a pestilence.

If you read much poetry, you’re bound to find the occasional ode to the summer season. Whether it’s Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, or William Shakespeare, there is always this common theme of summer being a time of earthly delights — a time when the air is filled with song, sweet breezes and cuddly sunny days. It is obvious, to me, the great bards and poets never spent a single afternoon peeling themselves off the molten vinyl of an East Texas summer.

But some days are not so bad, especially if you make an effort to get out in it from time to time, to allow yourself to sweat and labor under the heat of the sun. But moderation is the key, as is hydration. Summer is like any other part of life, with prudence and wisdom nearly any nuisance can be endured if not tolerated. As I get older, I find the early mornings and late evening twilight to be magical, irrespective of the season.

Yesterday my family and I walked to the city park, as the late evening sun still danced along the tree tops. The light played and diffused through the branches, dusting the leaves in glitters of gold as they shimmered in the intoxicating breeze. Slow shadows encroached on the playground, calling my attention to the subtle shift from day to not day. I found myself suddenly captivated by the passing of the day, the slow, yet discernible setting of the sun, and the never ending ticking of time. I yearned to hold time in an instant, to suspend and capture the moment. I contemplated what a sublime summer day it is… it was. Within that moment: hearing the joyful sounds of my children play, feeling my wife lean against me while she read a book, and watching the fading light work magic on the sky, everything was perfect… and then it was gone. It all goes so fast.

Saturday was the first day of summer, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year… but never long enough. So soon “now” becomes “then,” too quickly does “is” become “was.”

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