Happy summer solstice! As our earth spins on its axis, on this day in the Northern Hemisphere its pole tilts at its maximum toward the sun, on the longest day and shortest night (in the Southern Hemisphere, summer solstice occurs in December – our winter solstice). In this extraordinary time of global coronavirus pandemic, you can even watch the sunrise at Stonehenge online – the place where, thousands of years ago, people placed stones to perfectly align, marking the beginning of summer. Traditions celebrated worldwide include building bonfires, and celebrating with great feasts the fertility of the Earth and its inhabitants.
Here we prepare for our own, planting vegetables and enjoying the luxury of tending the garden more, due to most of society being shut down. Gratitude is a major part of observing this important holiday, for us. As is taking the time to learn, and reach out more to the community.
Acknowledging that health care workers, and other essential workers, do not have that luxury, I know they’ve been at great risk during the COVID crisis. Poorer folk may not have anywhere to shelter in place, or must live with multiple roommates – all situations that increasingly risk personal health.
Amidst this unprecedented situation, communities everywhere – not just Black and people of color and LGBTQ, those disproportionately affected – are taking to the streets and governments and media in historic numbers to protest racism and police brutality. These historic convulsions, which echo other violent incidents in both the recent and distant past, are bringing together allies in numbers not seen for generations. When white college kids and grandmothers unite with young activists organizing Black Lives Matter rallies, this momentous occasion must not be squandered. Action in the streets coupled with phone calls/letters/petitions, and voter action at election time, is at its most powerful.
With so much information circulating throughout social and news media, all of us have greater opportunities to learn. Juneteenth is a holiday I never learned about in school, never learned about the Tulsa Massacre or that neither Independence Day nor even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made every American free. (That there are still so many prevented from voting is an issue that must be remedied as a larger part of the current protest movement. And, the New York Times’ 1619 Project has put forth a curriculum that schools everywhere can adapt, to address rewriting history in a fairer way.)
With so many organizations, private businesses large and small, speaking out on our current situation, another fact comes to light: that nature is not equally accessible, or equally safe, for all people. Black Birders’ Week was a wonderful response that garnered much support. How could it be, that this resource that usually costs nothing and provides such joy and solace – especially when we aren’t going out in society – cannot be shared by everyone? Camille Dungy’s gorgeous Black Nature reaches back through four centuries to examine poetry through the eyes of African American poets: “There has always been promise and survival in the natural world.” Lauret Savoy, author of the powerful Trace and other books on science and nature, writes, “Our lives take place. Who are we in this place called the United States?”
Who are we? How can we help better care for one another? This is something others teach me more about every day, and every day I discover I still have much to learn! As we pass through this date – one marking this historic year by a “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse – maybe that’s something to think about no matter where we live, whether watching the skies or looking at a patch of soil rich with blossoms like blue stars.