Aroostook Skies: Solstice City

17 years ago

In ancient days, St. Augustine once penned his eternal vision, the “City of God.” This heavenly realm would embody the spiritual perfection so deeply absent from the Roman world of his own day poised on the brink of invasion and destruction. Augustine’s vision remains a classic of ancient faith and literature. Which leads me to our own current cultural climate. In an American perhaps poised on the brink of soul-shaking events, what vision affords us in the relative calm of the County to remain courageously active and positively positioned?
    I offer Star City the following for approval: Solstice City. That remarkable realm here and now, rather than in the flight of visionary fiction. The two week window between June 7 and July 5 where the light commands our attention. Not within any other seasonal window does the luminous presence of sunlight so infuse our landscape with the best, brightest and most beautiful. Thousands of radiant dandelions glory under an ethereal blueness of cumulous cotton. Night radiate an inky darkness laden with Dippers and Dragon skyward.
In particular, spectacular Venus remains in command of western skies for over two hours past sunset throughout the nights in solstice city. Telescopically or perhaps with keen-eyed binocular eyes, our “sister” planet swells to an unmistakable crescent shape while her distance from Earth decreases dramatically. Impressively, night-by-night, watch her trek across the stars of Gemini the Twins, Cancer the Crab, and Leo the Lion ending the month with an eye-catching, neck-swivelling pairing with fainter planet Saturn on the evenings of June 29, June 30, and July 1. Along with the bright star Regulus, all three sky sights slowly descend toward the western horizon throughout July. These mechanical motions offer food for inner thought about our true place in space. Like Galileo of old, you too can whisper inwardly, “she moves!”
Southeastern skies herald the arrival of a king: giant Jupiter blazes in all of his golden creamy adornments. He sits enthroned near the head of Scorpius the Scorpion inviting obeisance to his radiant reflected sunlight. Binoculars and dining room telescopes reveal four pinpoints of light surrounding him in retinue: the Galilean satellites Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Thirty years ago the Voyager spacecraft left our pale blue dot of a planet bound for giant Jove!
High overhead, the Big Dipper reminds us that milk products pour forth from more than Houlton Farms Dairy. Gaze eastward to the soft radiant band of the Milky Way, its current forking from Cynus the Swan to Sagittarius the Archer. Seek a clear, dark familiar location and just gaze.
The glory of the summer season occurred on Thursday, June 21 at 2:06 p.m. EDT. At this unique point in time and space, referred to as the summer solstice, our star, the Sun, reaches its highest ascent in the daytime sky. This is the longest day of the year. Celebration and gladness radiate from human hearts for the countless blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In ancient days, villagers would set on fire huge wheels soaked in tar and covered in straw, rolling them down hills to sink in nearby water. Stone circles, medicine wheels, would convey to Native Americans the arrival of the solstice and other celestial events. Midsummer festivals would focus on game playing as dancers pranced in contests of skill.
Legends and myths abounded honoring the longest day of the year. Ancient King David announced the Sun as “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” Bohemians would toss wreaths across fires towards sweethearts and Swedes would and still erect a majstang or decorated pole for solstice celebration. The promises of summer link together with twilight hopes.
Find your own ways to honor and celebrate the summer solstice season with your own midsummer activities, consider a pool party with some tasty sun snacks or S’mores nearby. Construct a sundial or decorate a tree or prepare a wreath or just spend an afternoon with word play, thinking of words that contain the word “sun”. Or go to the library searching for a wonderful children’s book, “The Summer Solstice” by Ellen Jackson.
Mr. “B” salutes Solstice City from the Malcolm Science Center in Easton, your place in space. Join him and Science Educator Vaughn Martin for a special Open House, Friday, July 6 from 1-3 p.m. For further information and inspiration, please call (207) 488-5451.