I'm usually not very good about holidays. But today, to celebrate the Solstice, I walked uphill to watch the sunset -- alone with the spirits and birds.
It was an unbearably melancholy way to celebrate the longest day of the year, full of light and life. But it's also fitting. For me, Solstice is a melancholy time. I think this is because I have an uneasy relationship with spring. Spring is a time of life, creation; I like creation, yet I prefer summer's solitude.
As a capstone to spring, Solstice is a beautiful holiday. As the start of summer, it's depressing. As much as I love summer, the longest day of the year is at the start of the season. Everything I like about it starts as great as it's ever going to get, and only slides downhill from there. This gives summer a sense of innate urgency that no other season really has.
It is perhaps not coincidence that, on the Pacific Crest Trail, Solstice marks the metaphorical and literal high point of the trip. In an average year, that's when hikers reach the High Sierra -- the highest point on the trail, the most gorgeous terrain, and the greatest challenges (including Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S., which is just a short detour away). By the time you finish the High Sierra, you've conquered both extremes -- the desert and the mountains. In a sense, everything after that is merely mileage toward the border.
My hike fell apart not long after Solstice ... which was particularly cruel, because I survived the 700 miles of hot, grueling trail that cause 90% of thru-hiker dropouts. (It was my intention to keep going to the end. Injury and finances put an end to that.) In hindsight, I wonder how much of this Solstice's melancholy is a response to that unfinished goal.
Half an hour after sunset, the dusk is calm and vibrant. I am outside in short sleeves, admiring the sky, listening to the crickets. I think nights are my favorite part of summer. I like nights in general, but I can't connect with them when I am wearing 16 layers of clothing and trying not to focus on how miserable the cold is making me.
A summertime hike under the full moon is about the most awesome hike there is. And lying down and staring at the stars on a warm summer night is the most beautiful connection you will ever make, to anything, ever.