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The summer solstice tilt

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I am writing to you today at midmorning of June 21, the summer solstice, or as it is sometimes referred to, midsummer.

According to John Wheeler, meteorologist, if you could stand somewhere on the Tropic of Cancer today at high noon, your shadow would be exactly beneath you and exactly as big around as you are. But if you stand outside at high noon today in Detroit Lakes, Minn., where I am, you would not see your shadow at all, because it would be raining on you. Any dry spot beneath you, if there were one, would be exactly as big around as you are.

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The earth's axis stays tilted as the earth revolves around the sun and on this date, the tilt has the north pole and northern hemisphere slanting toward the sun to the maximum degree (23° 26') which happens at exactly 5:16 p.m. That makes June 21 the longest day of the year (usually) in terms of daylight. Today there will be 15 hours and 53 minutes from sunrise until sunset. But 15 hours and 53 minutes of daylight are not the same as 15 hours and 53 minutes of sunshine. It appears at this moment, with raindrops falling on my roof and from the forecast, that there will be zero hours and zero minutes of sunshine today.

Driving down a lake road on a beautiful, sunny June 21 a few years ago with my son-in-law, Stevie Wonder, I cheerfully pointed out that we were experiencing the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

"Don't mention that to me," he said. "I don't want to hear about it. It just means that, starting tomorrow, we're sliding down the cold slippery slope toward winter and the shortest day of the year." I couldn't believe my ears. So I asked, "Does that mean that while you're gloomy at the summer solstice, you're cheerful about the winter solstice on December 21 because the days start getting longer on December 22 as we rocket toward summer?"

He paused for a second or two before he answered. But his logic had painted him into a corner, and he had to answer yes. And he finally did answer yes, but it sounded more like a whine than an expression of cheer. Suddenly he was remembering the last week of December, all of January and February, most of March and too much of April. Happiness can be most elusive, especially if you tie it to the weather.

Rather than plunging into moody gloom, the summer solstice should be considered an occasion for a celebration, as it is in most of Europe and elsewhere as well, where the celebrations have pagan and religious origins. In Austria they have a parade of ships up and down the Danube River. In Brazil they celebrate with special folk costumes, corn dishes, other foods and dances around the maypole. In Bulgaria, the event is called John the Baptist Day and legend is that, "when the sun rises on the day of solstice, it winks and plays." Many cultures celebrate with fireworks and bonfires. In Ireland the fires are on hilltops and the bigger the fire, the more it means good luck and good harvest. An added feature in Norway is that the girls put petals of flowers under their pillows to generate dreams of future husbands. In Seattle, there is a parade of painted naked bicyclists. Go figure. In almost all places where the solstice is celebrated, between June 21 and 25, there is feasting, songs and dancing.

Just do it. The human machine is more delicate than a sturdy watch that "takes a licking and keeps on ticking," it's a sensitive spirit that "needs some singing to keep on winging," so celebrate midsummer, even if it's a rainy day or a few days late.

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