Solstice Diaries



Last night I hit a deer, a fawn actually. Just a ragged thing still with its spots, it could’ve been born that day. Its mother stood on the side of the road. I saw her first and only the fawn when it was too late, my own new child in the backseat. I was immediately seized with the guilt that I shouldn’t be there and the deer should, that I was in the wrong place throttling a car through the woods. The next day at the farm where I work the lettuces were missing their hearts, the best, sweetest part eaten by deer. It is getting to be summer when things like this happen.

The solstice itself is mundane. Every December and June we have the shortest day with the longest night or the longest day bathed in light. On the first winter’s day our shadow looms, a lonesome outline imprinted over frozen ground. On the summer solstice we cast less of ourselves on the earth, which is teeming with green life. Does the waning and waxing of the days somehow govern human temperament or are we more fickle, flitting between the dark and light faster than the earth’s slow tilt and pull from the sun?

Searching through old journals, like a meteorologist’s log, I looked for the noting of many solstices amidst my own human concerns and the agricultural ones on the farm where I worked: summers lost in a frenzied blur of sunlight and bounty and winters disappeared into whitewashed hibernation. What is this burning desire day after day to note the passing of a mouse or a stranger shoveling scrambled eggs into their mouth? Why record anything at all? In wanting to redeem this compulsion to record and its accumulation year after year, why not proclaim, The solstice is a day of import! Each winter and summer passed only once, like a car charging irrevocably through a dark wood, and then was gone.



It’s 9 A.M. and already the heat of the laundromat is punishing. I put in two large loads of dirt-mummified clothing, pants that could stand up and walk on their own. Outside in the hot sun, a bearded man is on his cellphone looking speculatively at the innards of the laundromat or at me on the shaggy pleather couch.



The most alien of Christmas seasons. Snowless and sunny. Every night a clear view of the moon.



Today is the summer solstice and the sun is strong. I dart in and out of the pond like the frog on its shoulder of grass and mud.



A little mouse stretches one arm out of the grating on the steel trap. He presses his sandy-colored snout out of the grate too. I am listening to the radio in the kitchen when I notice these centimeters of struggle. I pour boiling water over my coffee grounds. Now there is this mouse to drown. The cat is sitting on the oriental rug looking forlornly at the winter outside. Good, he hasn’t noticed. I put my snow boots on and carry the box outside. The mouse stops moving. I can hear the stream where we drown them. I open the lid. The mouse looks up at the white sky, my shape. His eyes are entirely black. There is another crescent-shaped mouse, dead with fur sticking to his body in brown patches. I wish I could say I drowned him, but instead I put the box down in the snow for the mouse to steal his freedom. The mouse sniffs at the air wildly, standing on his hind legs. I dump the box upside down. Poop, fur, and little skeletal bits fall into the snow. The mouse still won’t run away. I make the box into an open V. The mouse is in the snow half-running sideways, delirious seeming. Who knows how long he’s been in this box. The mouse runs to the base of a tree, curling in on himself. Perhaps he’s trying to drink the snow.



I slept outside last night beneath a pink moon. It disturbed me so I couldn’t sleep with all those frogs out there. I kept rolling naked and bug-bitten thinking how we are the same as a bear or a field mouse.

Things to save from summer:

dry raspberry leaves
dry nettles
rose hips (fall)
canned tomatoes
pickles: spicy or regular or beet
crab apple jelly



Went to my cousin’s solstice party. Her friend arranged a big circle in the snow, all of it illuminated by candles in ice votives, with a half-moon drawn inside. The coming of the light! And there was a bonfire and pots of soup on the stove inside.

Went to another solstice party the night before. Met a Canadian writer, an Italian scholar, a shaman, and a very smart eight-year-old boy in a blazer. Ate baked ziti and fresh pineapple.



Stayed out 7:30-9:30, then went to the bar.

Farm Day:

harvest radishes, arugula, kale, chard, lettuce, pea shoots, garlic scapes
weed tomato greenhouses
fix the fence
weed onions, too much rain not enough sun. after a month in the ground they’ve thickened from the diameter of string to that of yarn, slow growing

At the bar people were losing their off-track bets. Nightline was on TV.



I went to a museum today. My favorite room was one of printed portfolios made by artists in les Nabis, a group of young Parisians who named themselves “the prophets.” Maurice Denis’s portfolio was simply titled “L’Amour” and was all about his wife. Most of the images were impossibly pale, angelic, with whispery outlines so that viewing them all together felt like standing in the center of a blooming flower, each image a blushing petal shone through with sun or else burying oneself in tulle skirts. It is good to see beautiful things with everything outside dead. To fill up on colors and patterns, let it whirl around you and retreat into the imagination.

I know it is not good to be going out now (because of Covid) but I was so hungry I went to a diner and it felt more dreamlike than anything. Teenage waitresses and weird people inside. A couple in ratty pajamas. A man alone with the paper spread before him, two pieces of bacon and a glass of white wine. The table closest to mine consisted of a man who was both bald and longhaired, a woman with her foot stretched across the booth into the seat next to him, and an old lady next to her. They were drinking beer at lunch and none of them could finish their eggs. The older woman kept nodding out. The younger woman seemed like she was on drugs. They were staying at the nearby motel. I could hear the bald guy say “if everything is copacetic” before stepping out the emergency exit for a smoke. Sometimes a restaurant is like a bizarre tableaux and you know in some sense none of this is real. Out in the parking lot with the scent of corned beef still on my upper lip, I guess it was real. Here are all their cars under today’s weak sun. I want January to be cloaked in all-white winter or some strange, foreign spring on an island apart.



Instead of working today we go strawberry picking. An organic pick-your-own with peace signs painted and nailed to wooden posts and little kids in hats and their mothers with strawberries smashed against their arms and legs by small fists. It is quick picking. I pick $60 worth into a big box and wish I could keep going and shoving berries into my mouth. Driving home, the car smells like berries.


Ellyn Gaydos’s first book, Pig Years (Knopf 2022), came out in June. She works on a vegetable farm in New York.