Aroostook skies never bigger, bluer than around solstice

6 years ago

Years back, the locally renowned combo Schooner Fare robustly sang out,
“Did I hear you say, you’re from the County
through the sky so big and blue
Did I hear you say, you’re from the County
Hey, I’m from the County too!”  

Well, friends, County skies seem never more blue nor bigger than during that unique window of time just prior and following the summer solstice, a four week window of personal opportunity dubbed “Solstice Planet.”  

Abundant life never stands out so fully or seems anchored more deeply than in mid-late June, compelling us to reflect upon who we might become and where we might really stand on “the pale blue dot.”

Upon “Solstice Planet,” everyone and everything seems aglow from within and without.  The light that feeds our souls as early as 3 a.m. and lingers forever toward a northwestern 10 p.m. illuminates the preciousness of our County landscapes as in no other month of the year. Cumulus clouds cascade at noontime with a heightened abandon in tangible, shredded connection to a dreamy vacancy.

Lawrence Berz serves as planetarium director of the Francis Malcolm Science Center in Easton and is instructor of astronomy at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. (Courtesy Mary Perez)

The jolly month of June additionally offers that little subtle “extra” whose jollity should transform the ordinary … into the extraordinary. It fills the lungs with extra air and energy. It poses the ever so fleeting possibility that for “one, brief shining moment,” anything becomes possible. It adds a swiftness to our steps and extra breeziness to our labors and a happy feeling that all still can end well.

Never do we stand so far from winter’s terrible torment. Everyone seems a little more mysterious in action and yet better in practice.

To sum it all up, solstice sunsets dazzle like huge blossoms of orange yellow, fragrancing, and balling up low in the northwest. The northwest looms with superiority and preeminence at this June time as the late sunset and subsequent twilight beckon us toward the impossible dream, just barely over the lost horizon.

What really, astro-physically goes on here? In mid-June, to be precise, on Thursday, June 21 at 6:07 a.m. summer officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere. There, some 23 ½ degrees north of the celestial equator, the sun “which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber” occupies a tiny zone of sky in the constellation Gemini “rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” At no other time does our star so predominate the sky for some 15-16 hours of light “going forth … from the end of heaven and his circuit unto the ends of it, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” From June 7 to July 4, solar light infuses and animates all earthly activity in the Northern Hemisphere. We shed the last hints and harness of winter’s thralldom and emerge with the powers of the summer sun. If ever northern Maine can sustain and justify and special celebration, look no further than the summer solstice season.  

An example beckons … Thursday, June 14, Flag Day, offered little more than ceaseless showers, rather high humidity, and vanquished sunlight in 2018. But one should never dismiss a surprise experience with the solstice season.  For the sharp eye at 5-6 p.m. given a fair vantage toward the north noticed a peculiar green-grey horizontal arc revealing the approach of clearing conditions and high pressure happiness.

Too often such an event unfolds in reverse where peerless blue skies seems foreshortened by the rapidly encroaching appearance of line of clouds soon to turn joy into overcast. Tonight just the opposite occurred.

First an angled crepuscular ray bent out of the overcast. And then the sun itself sheared away a cloud bank showering the landscape with that extraordinary late solstice light illuminating the entire landscape with the sharpest and lengthiest of shadows.

Emboldened, clouds in rouge began to overcome the overcast with orange fire light. And then to capture the covenant with nature’s best, a rainbow arched almost vertically some 20 degrees above the eastern horizon. Just a show of shows as the sky offered an unceasing spectacle of shades of sunshine, turbulent overcast, fire color, and overall sky texture. And to cap the events, both Venus and the bright star Capella ended the last hints of twilight by 10:11 p.m. coyly playing “cat and mouse” in the heaviness of clotted clouds.

The starry and friendly sky also seems dotted with mileposts, starry messengers blossoming in the blue. After sunset, Venus bursts forth without compare low in western skies. And Jupiter reigns similarly low in the southeast. Throughout the summer, both planets will close upon one another vying for beauty and interest.  

Currently, in the predawn skies, both Saturn and Mars look telescopically stunning. The Saturnian ring system captures our imagination, its bright satellite Titan nearby and the breathtaking caramel like yellow girdling its gassy globe. Mars now unmistakably tiger colored sports a disk of dark mysterious markings and polar ices.

The Milky Way, too, weaves its magic spell throughout clear nights in June, awaiting late evening darkness to glorify all creation. Its texture, if dark enough, still amazes, appropriately terrorizes, and leaves us under the law of awe, dispelling the casual night fright that so afflicts our social soul.

But above all, remember, this as Independence Day approaches, we are Americans, where the extra light of liberty motivates our days and nights to fulfill the ancient ambitions. If our forebears brandished the Bible, the plow, and the ax, we too carry our own tool kit to face the future fearlessly. That remarkable realization must arise that we overcame all that winter attempted to extinguish in our better nature, and that our lives come into free command within our own power of thought and deed. The extra light calls for extra action, and action NOW … a total gift bestowed upon our honeymoon with June’s fine upward tune. We stand upon the neck of winter’s wrath and shout aloud to the sky, vault in triumph, arms akimbo, legs a dancin’ … hope aflame with a united state of cryfulness: Summer at last, Summer at last, Thank God Almighty, Summertime at last!

“i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who have died am alive again today,
And this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
Day of life and love and wings and of the gay
Great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being\
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
Now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e e cummings

Lawrence Berz still survives … living the dream, and serving as your bridge to things astronomical from the orbital responsibilities of planetarium director of the Francis Malcolm Science Center and instructor of astronomy at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics. The science center in Easton will feature public programming in the digital star theater in recognition of Easton Field Day, Monday, July 2, and Potato Blossom Festival, Tuesday, July 17. For further details, call 207-488-5451