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Happy Solstice

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Winters are usually comfortable here.  We have some ten hours of sunlight on our shortest day.  This year, this solstice/Christmas week, the temperatures are even rising into the 60s, but that’s not necessary for a lovely winter day. P1000680

One of the treats of the depth of winter, for me, is the way the low southern sun shines through the bushes while I am at my desk in the morning.  I have sometimes been caught off guard looking up, thinking I’m seeing flowers on a plant, the way the white spots are distributed.  It’s a delightful trick of the morning light.

May the lovely blooms you imagine this winter flower for you in 2016.

Plenty to Celebrate

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Today is Juneteenth.  It’s a day to celebrate the end of slavery. I’d almost forgotten about it, which shows how removed I am from the news while on vacation.  If I had been paying attention I would have heard it is being given special attention in Charleston, South Carolina, as a response to the killing of members of an African American church that happened there a few days ago.

Juneteenth honors the day when a ship arriving in Galveston, Texas, brought the news that the Civil War was over and the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln two years earlier was now the law everywhere.  It’s not as widely celebrated as it should be.

Two days from now, June 21, is both World Humanist Day and the solstice.  Apparently the Humanists, after disagreeing about the day, settled on the solstice because (in the northern hemisphere) this is the day with the most light – an allusion to the enlightened mind that Humanists are trying to encourage in all of us.

The solstice, in contrast, is a day which has been honored since people figured out the cycle of the sun.

I think we should celebrate them all: the end of slavery as a legal institution in the U.S., the opportunity to think for ourselves, free of dogma, and the old, old cycle of the earth’s movement around the sun.

Not a Sunrise!

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This evening a little after five p.m. I looked up and saw an unusual amount of color in the eastern sky.  This is the direction in which I usually photograph sunrises. sunset eastWe had a neighbor in Maine who lived on a point and could measure a sunset by how far around the circle of her view there was color.  Tonight’s was nearly a 360.   There was color both north and south.

sunset northsunset south

 

 

 

 

 

It was as if the sun had decided to make a big splash because it had such a short work day.  Which is utter nonsense, of course.  But it was beautiful, and seemed a good omen for the new season of moving slowly into more light.   Here is the main show, a little bit south of west, seen over our roof.P1000323

 

Summer Solstice and a Celebration

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Today is a Lowellesque June day.  It’s nice of the clouds and other natural forces to let the sun come through boldly on this longest day (in the Northern Hemisphere).  Here the day is 15 ½ hours long, sunrise to sunset.

 Trees in Sunlight


Trees in Sunlight

The solstice has gradually become more the “other New Year” for me than September.  This is partly because I now live in a place where school starts in August and other things rev up at different times.  It is also partly because I have no one returning to school―except myself, to help some elementary school students with their reading.

June Wildflowers

June Wildflowers

When I return from vacation in mid-July I am at once involved in planning, in sorting submissions for Sin Fronteras Journal, and in a thickening schedule of other activities.  So I spend June days walking on the rocky beach and wondering whether there are things I should do differently this time around.  The place where ocean touches land is said to be an edge where things can arise from the depths, perhaps displacing the set of thoughts, plans, ideas, that lead one into the same old patterns.starting off

This June day is also a great day for a party.  Deer Isle and Sedgwick celebrated the 75th anniversary of our “great green bridge” this morning by closing it for an hour, so people could walk across it.  Led by a bagpipe and drums and including a mandolin orchestra, a great crowd walked across, while a sailboat circled below and a small plane flew overhead.  A perfect June day.walkers

“Great green bridge” was our family’s name for this bridge, copied from a children’s book called “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge” which is about the George Washington Bridge connecting New York City and New Jersey.  Does anyone else remember that book?  It had, appropriately enough, a grey cover.sailboat

Musings on the solstice

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It has been cloudy the past two mornings, making the start of the day seem even later than it is.  As the solstice approached I began thinking about what the next quarter of the year would bring.  I like winter as a time to clean things out and make more order to my domestic world.  It is also a nice season outdoors here.  I may be ready for spring in February, but not now:

Thank the heavens
winter follows solstice.
How could we turn
to blooming
in the blink of a day?

I’m not sure “the heavens” are really the source of our season of winter, but having turned my mind to them, I reflect on this question:

Where’s Ison?  Did it melt
like Icarus” wings?  With no comet
will our days be calmer?

Christmas and New Year’s will be over too soon.  I wish everyone a happy winter (or summer for my few readers in Australia) season.

Celebrate World Humanist Day

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World Humanist Day is indeed an international holiday.  Various groups celebrated a Humanist Day at different times until the International Humanist and Ethical Union (to which many established groups such as the American Humanist Association belong) settled it on June 21.  Most years, this is the summer solstice; in 2012 the solstice arrives late on June 20,thanks to the leap year correction.

The IHEU notes the solstice connection, but doesn’t say why the date was chosen.  Their website suggests a picnic on that day, which suggests that the organization has a northern hemisphere bias: people in Australia or South Africa might find that suggestion inappropriate due to weather and the early dark.

The idea “humanism” has been around at least since Auguste Comte (1798-1857) wrote about a “religion of humanity”, but in America, at least, the term was not in wide use until the 20th Century.  Before that most people could not imagine ethics apart from a creed or commandments to support it.  Arguments over doctrine were intense; hence the term “freethinker” was in wide use.  Freethinkers, however, had a range of ethical stances.

The IHEU defines humanism in this way:

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

Until well into the 20th Century popular ideas of ethics were drawn largely from the Bible and were focused on the individual.  Some things were agreed upon (e.g. killing is wrong, you should help your neighbor) while others (slavery and women’s rights) were matters of great debate.

Robert Ingersoll was one of many we would now call humanists.  He gave a lecture entitled “Liberty of Man, Woman and Child,” which expresses his view on personhood.  And his “creed,” as he said in slightly different language on several occasions, was:

Happiness is the only good.  The place to be happy is here, the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so.

With a view of the bay from my window, I think I’ll skip the picnic.  I will enjoy the long day, relish the early morning return of the light, and get on with the business of seeking to make the world a happier place through writing.

[Robert Ingersoll plays an important role in the life of John Emerson Roberts.  See Books page.]