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Lange: Summer Solstice

06/20/12 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) The summer solstice is here. For writer, storyteller and commentator Willem Lange, it mingles celebration and regret.

(Lange) According to the Book of Joshua, the ancient Israelites were busy one day slaughtering the Amorites, and Joshua, their leader, was concerned that there wasn't enough daylight left to complete the job. So he commanded the sun and moon to stand still - which they did, for a whole day, the like of which has never been seen before or since.

That phenomenon may or may not actually have happened. Many people believe it did; and I've heard various preachers tie themselves into knots trying to explain it meteorologically, which can't be done. You either believe it happened or you don't.

Here's one you can take to the bank, though. Tonight, just before midnight, the sun will appear to stand still. We won't see it, of course, because the sun isn't visible at this latitude at midnight. But ancient philosophers and stargazers were well aware of it, 1500 years before Copernicus. They called it solstice - sun standing still.

You can just imagine them, lining up sticks or stones to mark the point of sunrise as the sun crept north or south each year. Then at each end of its advance and retreat, it seemed to pause for a day or two before starting back in the other direction. The ancients were no slouches; both solstices were occasions for parties. The winter one evolved into our Christmas.

One summer solstice evening Mother and I were fortunate enough to be in the tiny fishing village of Å - it's a one-letter name - north of the Arctic Circle off the coast of Norway. I'd heard wild tales of bonfires and orgies in Scandinavia during the midnight sun and was rather looking forward to it. When we spotted smoke rising from the rocky point just outside of the village, we headed right over there. But instead of bearded vikings and ecstatic valkyries leaping around a fire with drinking horns, we found a few families sitting on the rocks, sipping coffee and quietly burning their rubbish. I hate it when things like that happen.

So this evening we'll sit on the porch, if the mosquitoes let us, and toast the faint twilight that'll last all night. I'll e-mail solstice greetings to my friend Larry in Kugluktuk, on the north coast of Canada, where the sun currently circles the sky like a giant, fiery frisbee. And we'll each sigh inwardly as we recollect that, starting tomorrow, the sun will again start leaving us, retreating toward the Tropic of Capricorn.

This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

(Tag) Willem Lange is a retired re-modeling contractor, writer and storyteller. You can find more VPR commentaries at VPR-dot-net.

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