“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights,
before the dark hour of reason grows.”
– John Betjeman, Summoned by Bells
The wooden screen door bangs behind her as she steps out and calls, “Come on kids—it’s getting dark—time to come in and get ready for bed!”
“Oh, Mom…just five more minutes…please…?”
While reminiscing with a friend who spent summers growing up in southern Wisconsin like I did, we 60-somethings had a startling revelation about our childhood memories: they’re wrong!
We are both avid skywatchers, following the sun’s arcing path throughout the year, noting where Ol’ Sol rises and sets in relation to landmarks on the horizon, along with what times he does so. We’re keenly aware of the lengths of the days and nights, the phases of the moon and the positions of the planets and constellations in the night sky. We’re tuned into the light and rhythms of Mother Nature and celebrate the Equinoxes and Solstices that mark off the quadrants of the year.
So when my friend and I shared our fond, pre-teen recollections of playing outside in the light all summer long until well past 9 p.m., even beyond the dog days of August, we were befuddled by our adult realization of that impossibility. It seems our memories play tricks on us when we recall what we cherish as an innocent, carefree time in our lives. Or perhaps, our concept of time was different when we were young? I know it’s speeding by faster than ever now.
“Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.”
– William Wordsworth, “To a Butterfly”
Why are those memories impossible? Because even during these longest days, the sun sets before 9 p.m. in southern Wisconsin. Twilight lengthens not long after during these evenings leading up to Summer Solstice, which heralds the longest day length of the year. In 2012, that occurs on June 20 at 6:09 p.m. CDT. The very next day, the amount of light begins its incremental, daily shortening until the Autumnal Equinox in September when day and night are of equal duration. Thus, it’s already getting dark before 9 p.m. by the end of July, not to mention during August. Our mothers were declaring the end of our outdoors playtime a lot earlier than we remember. Ah, well…I guess we’ll just have to pretend we grew up at a higher latitude where is stays light much longer–a mere four degrees further north and we’d gain over half an hour!
“And I leave the children the long, long days
to be merry in in a thousand ways, and the Night,
and the trail of the Milky Way to wonder at….”
– Williston Fish, “A Last Will,” 1898
Here in word-pictures are some more timely observations I’ve recorded in my memory as we segue from spring into summer:
Picture a Change of Season
Evidence of last year’s flowers—nicotiana, alyssum, petunias, moss roses and morning glories appear—each as a germinated volunteer.
Fireflies twinkle on the evening breeze while crickets’ songs herald a new season is underway to anyone who stops long enough to hear.
Speckled juveniles flap and beg for worms winged in by their mother robins on constant patrol, thankful for shower-softened soil.
The dee-dee-dee of the chickadees announces their intention to pluck sunflower seeds from the squirrel-proof feeder that eases their dinner-hunting toil.
Wren parents relay race, working overtime to snag bugs and grubs for hungry mouths of chirping babes in the house above the garden gate.
Hummingbirds in aerial display, zoom from feeder to flower at a frantic pace because their energy demands can’t wait.
A squirrel tiptoes along the planter wall, unflustered by my watchful eye, and avails himself at the birdbath of a thirst-quenching drink.
Children freed from the bonds of school have begun their frolic and fun, building memories of whiling away long summer days soon to be gone in a blink.
The biomass, pregnant with Spring, bursts forth now with hurried growth, anxious to propagate and bear fruit as Summer is birthed by the New Moon.
Now wing through the days with the hummingbirds and dance away evenings among the fireflies, for faster than the speed of diminishing light, Autumn will be here far too soon…
Happy Summer Solstice!
“There is a garden in every childhood,
an enchanted place where colors are brighter,
the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”
– Elizabeth Lawrence