Solstice

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:00pm
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Today the summer solstice and the full moon coincide, the headlines declare, an event that has not occurred since 1948. Or 1967. Or 1986. 

It is one of those black holes of Man v. Nature into which I too easily and too often tumble. 

It is like the calendar, an attempt by man to define cycles of the turning of the earth on its axis as it moves around the sun. The history of trying to measure time in the western world is one largely of church politics, precision-honed but still modified by leap days and even a leap second added “occasionally” or “every now and then.” 

None of it really works, there is no certain structure by which days fit into months fit into years on a predictable path into infinity. Once I thought 13 months of 28 days each would ease the situation, but, of course, not only is the lunar calendar maddeningly incomprehensible (hence lunacy), it would still be an imprecise solution. And then there is that unlucky number issue.

Wars have been fought over less.

The solstice comes this evening, some 111⁄2 hours after the full of the moon. The headline convergence is valid in roughly half of the world, a quarter of it with the “summer” qualification.

And so we leave the purest days of summer, which are not even, technically, summer. We have been June-struck, moving through this block of time that gives truth to the words of James Russell Lowell:

And what is so rare a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days

It is a near-annual nod to the late Capt. John R. Lewis, who could recite a great chunk of the poem. There is text somewhere in hard copy, my first “Prelude” column, a snapshot in time, when Ken Cadow, the founder of the Depot, nodded at Capt. Lewis, who was weighing dark cherries against a halva bar, and said, “Can you get him to do it?”

“It” was recite the poem, and, of course, he complied, much to our delight. The view out the open door was across the Meadow Hill Swamp, the shad faded but the multiflora in bloom, the grass tall enough to run before the wind.

So, it is with this time conundrum still on my mind that I go to the dump/landfill/transfer station not bothering to check if it is open on Monday; it is summer it must be. There is a lull in the traffic on the road — perhaps not everyone is as certain of the season as I — and I am able to stop and take a picture of the view of access to the facility, an approach to the extraordinarily beautiful bit of land on the edge of the ocean.

Once upon a time it was just an empty space where trash was dumped, occasionally burned, then pushed back into the wetlands to the north.

We thought the state-mandated clean-up of that was trouble enough. Then we went to a landfill, which never seemed anything other than dangerous, putting our trash into the ground through which our water ran. That it would eventually spill out of the low bank above the beach should not have been a surprise, although that first broken car to emerge was quite astonishing.

When they first talked of a transfer station one of the exploratory committee members said it was time for us to “join the rest of the world and send our trash somewhere else.” It was during that time when garbage disposal became a global issue, when an infamous barge of trash roamed the east coast, homeless, a story going from screaming headlines to updates to “that’s still out there?!” 

It seemed yet another bizarre solution, especially for an island already importing the bulk of what would leave as trash. 

A theme of sustainability ties these pieces into a whole.

At the dump, the spot at the near end of West Beach Road with the glorious views, the place where huge discarded fuel tanks were turned to public art installed over the closed landfill, it is still slow enough in late morning to stop and talk. I run into a cousin, the older son of Capt. Lewis. He is a retired mariner and I think the world of him for — and in spite of — his eccentricities, among them parking far from the door of the supermarket on the mainland with what I consider an odd explanation: “I’m a deep water man!” He readily acknowledges his wife is a very patient woman.

There is a boat in the New Harbor, he tells me, one about which I’ve seen blurbs online, but the take of a mariner/conservationist is different. I knew the vessel is a replica of a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, with a name I will not attempt to replicate, and that the crew navigates by the stars and the motions of the waves as they circle the globe.

I had been thinking “celestial navigation” but it is so much more — or less — this traveling without even a sextant to guide them across the vast oceans. He talks of the necessity of sustainability, even more dramatic in some of the imperiled islands of the Pacific, and of the decision not to allow these basic and nearly forgotten skills to slip away. A polar opposite, the fast ferry from Montauk, enters the New Harbor as we speak.

My paper recyclables including — oh my gosh, I really did it! — years and years of old tax books go into the bin, a bag of trash into the compactor and, there being no one waiting behind me, I walk over to look at children cut from rusting metal, dancing at the dump. 

Lowell nailed it: 

Now is the high tide of the year.

And whatever of life hath ebbed away

Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer

Into every bare inlet and creek and bay