The meadow is the essence of summer. Sun-drenched, delicate grasses swaying gently in a light breeze; spindly bobbing buttercups; squat purple clover and pale pink ragged robin with their windmill-shaped petals. Swallows are lightning acrobats, diving low over the meadow to eat their fill of insects. Butterflies and bees meander from flower to flower. A procession of three male pheasants clucks through the grass, their bright plumage just visible among the vegetation. A brook, glutted after days of rain, gurgles in the background. The surrounding forest wears its summer plumage with abandon, oak and ash and pine lush with leaf and entwined with the hedonism of rhododendrons in luminous pink flower.
Solstice is one of my favourite words. I find the sound of it soothing and mysterious. It conjures magic and anticipation. Literally, its meaning is simple: ‘the standing still of the sun’. And this idea too, I find evocative – a tipping point, when all in the heavens is unmoving, before the next phase in the cycle begins. Solstice marks both the longest day, at midsummer and the longest night, in the dark of December. The midsummer solstice signifies both plenty – the longest day when the sun is at the height of its power – but also heralds the lean winter to come.
If you pay quiet attention, you can already sense the loss in the air. It isn’t quite tangible, but from this day, the daylight will become shorter as the summer inevitably ends. And yet this is a paradox, since it is following the solstice that summer for us in the UK really begins. The hottest months are still to come, the summer holidays, the season of being outdoors. Summer solstice is a celebration of all those carefree events that happen when there is an abundance of light. The transition to shortening days is a reminder that everything moves in a cycle, but for now, we should celebrate what we have and enjoy the things that are bearing fruit for us.
Here, the slow spring has finally blossomed into summer. The days have been humid, flowers are blooming and you can hear the song of the summer birds. While I would always choose the delights of autumn and winter over those of summer, my soul responds to the season’s energies almost despite itself. I feel lighter and more open. I want to be outside in the long days and evenings. My body craves the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season. I like to feel the heat on my skin. I want to go down to the sea and plunge in to the cool water. Perhaps the reason summer is my least favourite season is because I’m much more comfortable turning inwards to the succour of darkness and solitude, but we all need a pause from introversion to replenish the lightness of our being.
Summer solstice is a time for empowerment. As the crops are ripening in the fields and the fruits on the trees, so the creative projects we germinated and nurtured in spring begin to bloom. If we chose our projects wisely and invested the time, energy and resources they needed during the growing season, we should now be feeling pleased with what is emerging. Midsummer is the time for success and material wellbeing and is a good time to put energy into making outward success happen. But at the personal level, it is about renewing your energy and healing. The long days and warmth should make us feel more vital. They should also make us more outward looking. Creatively, we could use this lighter aspect to be looser, more experimental, liberating ourselves from looking inward in the way we would in the darker seasons. To be most effective creatively, we need to attend both to our physical health, by taking advantage of fresh produce and opportunities to be active, but also our mental health, by absorbing light, warmth and the rejuvenating effect of green spaces.
How can you empower yourself around the solstice to renew your creativity? How can you build up and store the season’s energy to get you through the winter to come? It’s traditional on the summer solstice to stay awake all night, holding vigil until dawn comes and we can greet the sun, particularly at those ancient sites that are aligned to it at this time of year. Why not devise a vigil that uses the images and energies of midsummer to help boost your creativity for the remaining year? You don’t need to hold vigil on the solstice itself for this to have a benefit to you – any time around midsummer will do and it will be more practical to choose a time when you don’t have commitments the next day.
You could spend the darkest hours of the night meditating on your creative work this past year and which aspects of your creative energies need to be replenished. Lighting a fire or a candle can remind you that creativity, like the sun, is cyclical and will come and go. Do you fly through your creative projects when your energy is high without really noticing it and become despondent when it seems to ebb, or do you recognise and accept that you have your own cycles of creative energy? Greeting the dawn, in whichever way makes sense to you, represents the return of creativity, whenever it comes. At noon, when the sun is at its strongest, you could consider how best to recognise, use and harvest your creativity when it is at its peak. Then, at sunset, as the sun wanes, think about how you can accept the ebbs in creative energy and use what you have harvested to get you through the barren periods.
This solstice, the forest is my creative vigil. I have come here to replenish my energy, take in the sun through long walks and revel in the flower-studded meadows. At dawn, I notice the moon still bright through the trees and the cacophony of birdsong in the silence. Our longer walks take place in the morning, before the sun peaks, so noon is spent bathing in the dappled heat on the tree-shaded deck, losing myself in art magazines and an absorbing book. Sunset is for bat-hunting, listening to the guttural sound of pipistrelles on the bat detector as they flit through the trees around the cabin. Just like summer, this is a fleeting point in the year that I can hold onto to get me through the winter. Knowing that when it’s over, it won’t be too long before I come again, to feel that same sigh of relief as my spirit relaxes. Already, I want to paint again and invent new stories.
But there is death too in the forest, reminding us that the sun has reached its zenith and can now only wane until the winter solstice. A thrush, taking its dying breaths on our veranda, seemingly untouched, but fading each minute, until we lay it to rest with a prayer under a bower of rhododendron, returning it to the forest. Three tiny moles, only feet apart on the woodland path, their soft pink noses upturned in death. The bee that strayed too close to the hot tub and ended its life in a bubbling dance of legs and wings. Death, reminding me that I need to seize the energy the forest has given me. I must use this energy, not waste it, when I return home, because it, like the season, is all too fleeting.