In this series on the summer solstice, which will run every Friday through June 21, Nina MacLaughlin wonders what summer’s made of.
Max Pechstein, Summer in Nidden. 1919-1920
It was early June, Saturday, midmorning on the Red Line. I was moving through tunnels beneath Cambridge when a teenager approached and asked if I wanted to take part in a memory project. Take an index card and a pen and write down a memory, any memory at all, and get one from a stranger in return. I took a card, a pen, and wrote. I handed it to her, and before we reached the next stop she returned and handed me a memory that belonged to another person on the subway car. It was written on an index card folded in half:
On the last night of summer camp, my best friends and I snuck out of our cabins and slept on the tennis courts so we could stargaze and spoon with each other all night. I saw 6 shooting stars that night.
Such is summer. Unroofed, under stars, away from parents, away from rules, pressing against friends, laughing, urgent whispers—did you hear that?—quiet, quiet, earth as bed and sky as blanket. The stars sweep across the sky in silence, heaven’s hemispheric map-makers, time-tellers, their positions revealing where in the year we are.
Where in the year are we? We don’t need to track the stars to know. Here in the northern hemisphere, each evening’s longer light alerts us. Right now the year is skipping toward the opening of the heated season. Which, for some, begins tomorrow, June 1. Where you define the start of the summer depends on whether you align yourself with the meteorological calendar, which is used by climatologists and meteorologists, or the astronomical calendar. If you stand with the scientists, June 1 starts summer (and September 1 starts fall, December 1, winter, and March 1, spring). If you base your seasonal switches on the earth’s tilt and changing relationship to the sun, the solstice opens the season, this year on June 21, when, in the northern hemisphere, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, and light lasts longer than any day of the year.