Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wanting to be Up and Doing

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice 2010: The Season of Light Nights

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THE Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in the dark selvedge of the river bank. Though it was past ten o'clock at night, the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light from the departed day; and the sullen heats of the torrid afternoon broke up and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool fingers of the short midsummer night. Mole lay stretched on the bank, still panting from the stress of the fierce day that had been cloudless from dawn to late sunset, and waited for his friend to return. He had been on the river with some companions, leaving the Water Rat free to keep a engagement of long standing with Otter; and he had come back to find the house dark and deserted, and no sign of Rat, who was doubtless keeping it up late with his old comrade. It was still too hot to think of staying indoors, so he lay on some cool dock-leaves, and thought over the past day and its doings, and how very good they all had been.The Rat's light footfall was presently heard approaching over the parched grass. `O, the blessed coolness!' he said, and sat down, gazing thoughtfully into the river, silent and pre-occupied.

`You stayed to supper, of course?' said the Mole presently.

`Simply had to,' said the Rat. `They wouldn't hear of my going before. You know how kind they always are. And they made things as jolly for me as ever they could, right up to the moment I left. But I felt a brute all the time, as it was clear to me they were very unhappy, though they tried to hide it. Mole, I'm afraid they're in trouble. Little Portly is missing again; and you know what a lot his father thinks of him, though he never says much about it... He's been missing for some days now, and the Otters have hunted everywhere, high and low, without finding the slightest trace. And they've asked every animal, too, for miles around, and no one knows anything about him... Otter's not the fellow to be nervous about any son of his before it's time. And now he IS nervous. When I left, he came out with me--said he wanted some air, and talked about stretching his legs. But I could see it wasn't that, so I drew him out and pumped him, and got it all from him at last. He was going to spend the night watching by the ford.'

They were silent for a time, both thinking of the same thing--the lonely, heart-sore animal, crouched by the ford, watching and waiting, the long night through--on the chance.

`Well, well,' said the Rat presently, `I suppose we ought to be thinking about turning in.' But he never offered to move.

`Rat,' said the Mole, `I simply can't go and turn in, and go to sleep, and DO nothing, even though there doesn't seem to be anything to be done. We'll get the boat out, and paddle up stream. The moon will be up in an hour or so, and then we will search as well as we can--anyhow, it will be better than going to bed and doing NOTHING.'

`Just what I was thinking myself,' said the Rat. `It's not the sort of night for bed anyhow; and daybreak is not so very far off, and then we may pick up some news of him from early risers as we go along.'

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The descriptions of the seasons and how the animals of the river bank experience them is one of the treasures I found when I came back to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows as an adult. Toad's well intentioned self importance, Badger's firm leadership and Moley's innocent wonder still tickle me but Grahame's prose is downright magical. In the winter Mole and Rat get caught in a snow storm and take refuge in Badger's ancient subterranean home. While staying there they begin to make plans to reform Toad, but it is understood that they can not do anything until summer;

"No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter. All are sleepy -- some actually asleep. All are weather-bound, more or less; and all are resting from arduous days and nights, during which every muscle in them has been severely tested, and every energy kept at full stretch. "

When summer does come the animals find themselves fidgety, restless, "wanting to be up and doing by sunrise, if not before." Turns out, it's not only Ratty, Moley and Badger who find themselves feeling this way during the brief, rushing summer. Here in Portland many of us are feeling the same pull of the season. Cats, rats, birds, teenagers, Portland hipsters and critters of all kinds have been out roaming the late nights and early mornings - and I've been running into them on my own mid summer roamings.

I spent a late night out with friends last night, Summer Solstice night, and found myself amazed at the bustle and business of the night. First it was the cyclists and pedestrians all around the busy night life area of town I was in, and then it was people walking in my park. I walk in this park after dark most weeks of the year and I usually have the place mostly to myself. This last week, though, the place has been practically crawling with people in the midnight hours. They are mostly teenagers, looking for a place to do the things their parents don't want them doing at home (even if it's just hanging out), but there are others like me, walking their dogs in the pleasant but lively dark. Even the cats in my life, who are normally very sedate animals happy to sleep for days at a time, have been active at all hours this week. Mango was downright tweaky last night, coming in and going out and stalking whatever little crawling things were having their own midsummer festival in the lawn and hedges.

I didn't make it up for a ceremonial solstice sunrise this week, but have had a couple sunrise mornings quite unintentionally recently. This time of year it is relatively easy to be "up and doing", as Ratty says, and not even notice that it is 4:30 or 5am and the sun is coming up. One night this month I laid down with every intention to only read one chapter of The Hunger Games. It is an exceptionally intense book and I was very much lost in that world when I gasped, took a deep breath and seemed to surface out of the book-world. I had no idea what time it was but the first thing I noticed in the world of my bedroom was the noise - the dawn chorus in my bedroom was almost deafening. There was a different kind of sound to the morning traffic, as well, like the lightening of the sky had caused it to thin out and allow noise to travel further into my open bedroom window. I got up and stood on my front deck for a while that morning just listening to all that noise. Summer is here and it is a rocking good time.

To learn what Ratty and Moley found on their all night search for little Portly Otter, check out the etext of The Wind in the Willows at University of Virgina's EText Center. Even better, find a copy of the book in print with Ernest H. Shepard's wonderful illustrations.

In the mean time, what is rocking and rolling where you are? What is pulling you out of bed, up and doing by dawn or before? Where do the roving bands of youth go to congregate in your neighborhood? What has the cat dragged in to your house? What does Summer Solstice look like where you are?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, the boy is veritably jumping out of bed hours earlier than usual. And staying up late late late into the night. It's crazy.

I always love this small window of the year when I get to be an "early bird" because the solar energies are so strong. I feel as if I am using them productively though (squeezing a few minutes of yoga and a kefir shake in before work), so that's good.