Because I can, I am starting a sentence with because. Some might grimace at my syntaxical audacity, but there you go, I’ve done it. Because it’s June. It’s the longest day of the year, and I’m giving you – and myself – licence to do what we want. Go light a big bonfire on a hill like they do in the west of Ireland, where (as in other countries) the pagan festival of midsummer that was tacked onto the feast day of Saint John the Baptist seems to be making a comeback. Go for a walk, a picnic, a cycle, or just stay up late; it won’t feel late, because it’s June and our bodies, like the light-filled days around us, are brighter and more energetic.
Tonight, if it’s a fine evening (and the forecast is promising), you might decide to sit vigil. If you do, you’ll witness three twilights: civil, nautical, and astronomical. I’ve been learning about them in an almanac that S. gave me at the start of the year. Civil twilight is that time between sunset and the moment that the sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon. In other words, if it’s a fine evening in Edinburgh, it will still be quite bright at civil twilight, which is, let’s say, about 10.15pm. Nautical twilight is when the sun sinks lower below the horizon, anything down to 12 degrees, when the sailors and fishermen need to light up on up on deck. And finally, the astronomical twilight occurs at 18 degrees below the horizon, when there is still a light in the sky, but the brighter stars can be seen. And tonight, in many places in the higher reaches of Ireland and Scotland, we won’t lose astronomical twilight – the sky will glow the night through. Because it’s June. Isn’t is great? If I wasn’t such a sleepy head I’d get a flask and a blanket and sit out on Portobello beach all night. Because it’s June.
Do you know the song from the musical ‘Carousel’? It’s a quintessentially thigh-slapping, foot-tapping, rollicking, upbeat number – one of the great standards of musical theatre. It’s also a fine candidate for an earworm! If you know it, you’ll have it in your head all day: “June is bustin’ out all over / All over the meadow and the hill! / Buds are bustin’ outa bushes / And the rompin’ river pushes / Ev’ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill! / June is bustin’ out all over / The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense, / That the young Virginia creepers / Have been huggin’ the bejeepers / Outa all the mornin’ glories on the fence! / Because it’s June…” Yup, (I’ll be saying howdy next) we’ve made it to the summer equinox and June is busting its guts and spilling its glory into these long luscious days that, every year, I firmly believe will never end. I hum the song as I walk around Arthur’s Seat drawing from all I see to unsuccessfully rewrite lyrics: nettles snuggled up with docken leaves; profusions of elderflower; waterfalls of ivy falling down stone walls; purple and white foxgloves enlivening the tired looking cow parsley; palest of pink rosehip flowers and white blooms on the brambles; golden globes of clover speckled with perky buttercups; bees supping on borage; dog daisies dotted through ferns. On the cherry trees hang pea-sized green fruit, that the birds will get before we ever do, and down in North Yorkshire Y. tells me she’s begun to harvest her strawberries. It’s beautiful, and all changing by the day, now it’s June.
Pardon my current obsession with John McGahern, but I’m developing a huge word-crush on him. Through the words of a character, Jamsie*, he distils the essence of life into the most philosophical yet simple lines: “The year’ll start to fly soon. In a few days the lent will be in and before you’ll find it’ll be Patrick’s Day – everything will have started to grow. It’s all going to be very interesting.” The lesson, I think, is to take joy in the days we are in and in the days approaching. In some ways, we know how they’ll unfold; the year has a certain rhythm. Nonetheless, despite nature’s predictability, small things will appear and catch our eye if we observe, watch closely. Todraw on that simple but profound phrase: it’s all very interesting and it’s all going to be very interesting. Enjoy watching these summer days unfold and may you bathe in the soft twilights of the June nights around us.
*That They May Face the Rising Sun, John McGahern