open country

I always have a plan for the summer solstice but very rarely carry it out. I still wanted to mark it in some way, even if barely perceptible. I bought a strawberry cheesecake and squirty cream, it just seemed the right thing to do.

Then the night brought a gentle surprise that meant nothing to anyone but me – Jayjay came to visit. As David ate his fish supper, I took our tousled bearded collie for a walk. What I noticed as soon as we walked along the pavement was that no cars were going up and down the A7 in Selkirk.

We crossed the road and took the steps down to a short remnant of the older road and from there to Dunsdale Haugh. A section of wasteland has been fenced off so wild flowers grow tall but they are like Monet’s small dabs of colour as I focus on the background – the soft greys of the restored Ettrick and Yarrow mill building and the tall, dark, brick chimney.

We turn left where the electrical sub-station hums deeply while people in their houses watch television, put the kettle on, trawl the net, dry their hair. A line of birches separates the path from the electrical strum, it is dark and shaded here but we quickly emerge from this tunnel. As we do, a bat flits out from the tree line flying out in a curve back to the trees’ protection.

Before we reach the riverside, we walk through tall ox-eye daisies. Their flower heads are like the sun, knapweeds and stitchwort are tangled with long grasses, their heads bent, heavy with seeds. Then I am standing on mown grass beside a small woodland. Every second a bat flies out of the dark canopies, very close to my face, turning because I am too big to eat.

They are silent as Jayjay’s hair is silent while he bounds about along grass banks and through the trees. Carrion crows’ cackling drawl fills the still air and above, the light night is almost like looking at a moonstone. Oystercatchers’ peep-peep excitedly through the moist air above the Ettrick Water.

The summer solstice is used synonymously with the term midsummer. This year the summer solstice occurred on June 21 at 17.16 hours. The solstice occurs when the Earth is at its maximum tilt towards the sun.

The time of year between planting and harvesting crops was a traditional time to marry. During Beltaine, people believed that there was a grand sexual union between the god and goddess. So as not to upset this coupling of deities, people choose to marry in the following month. For a month after the wedding couples, were fed honey treats to help with fertility and love. The surviving vestige of this tradition is the word honeymoon.

Celtic tribes across Europe lit bonfires as part of their celebrations, for several reasons. Couples would jump through the flames, the belief being that the crops would grow as high as they could jump. They also believed that the fire’s light would encourage the potency of the sun that it might shine all through the growing season.

Even in Judaism there is evidence that some communities still worshipped the sun. The Essenes (the group who produced the Qumran Scrolls) unusually used a solar calendar. Archaeologists consider a room in their settlement to be a sun temple because the summer solstice sun would hit the east wall in the same way as it would do in an Egyptian temple.

Now, more than two weeks since the summer solstice moment, I think we may be better placed to worship the clouds. I have looked at the soft banks of Riskinhope Burn where the sand martins make their tunnel nests. I think some of them may have collapsed with the periodic rise in water levels, mainly due to over night rain.