Summer Solstice

I wrote this a year ago after a morning volunteering at the center that serves breakfast to low-income and homeless women and children.  The kitchen was being remodeled back then, so we were only offering coffee in paper cups and to-go items like fruit, wrapped cheese, and protein bars.  It was the week of the solstice, and it was hot!

A group of women in hijab wheeled their babies into Wellspring this morning.  They had two large carriages with babies inside, and three small children on tricycles.  There were four women, perhaps two sisters with two grandmas or aunties.  They stood in the center of the room, talking to our receptionist, looking for our social worker.  I tried to engage the oldest boy, holding up a stick of string cheese, asking him if he was happy school was out for summer.  He gave me a pinched mouth stare and turned away toward his mother. It dawned on me then:  it’s Ramadan.

I came around the counter to talk to the women.  “Are you fasting?” I asked.

The youngest one nodded. “Yes.”

“The children too?”

“Yes.”

How hard that must be for them, I thought, now, at the summer solstice when the sun is up at 5 and doesn’t set till nearly 9.  So much easier when Ramadan falls in the winter and they have 18 hours of darkness when they can eat.  “I so admire that,” I told her, but she looked at me blankly and I suspected she didn’t understand much English.  So I returned to my station to pack up a paper bag with cheese and granola bars for the kids.  I gave it to the young woman.  “For later,” I told her, motioning futilely with my hand, as if she could understand American Sign Language.  She looked inside the bag and nodded.  “Thank you,” she said exaggerating the k and the u.

Summer solstice represents abundance:  berries, stone fruit, plums, peaches, apricots.  The home-grown tomatoes aren’t ready yet.  They’re holding back, waiting till all the other luscious produce has arrived, so like a prima donna they can make an entrance before a full crowd at the market.  I think of the scene from The Great Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan floating in light summer dresses, stretched out on couches, sipping mint juleps, and Daisy says something about how she always waits for the longest day of the year, and then she misses it.  Yeah, I get it.  The day itself seems to come and go without note because the long days so often blur together in this valley heat.

This past winter we had nearly twice as much rain as usual, and climate change deniers were pleased that the long drought seemed to disappear not with a whimper but with a big bang.   Now we’re enduring a stretch of triple-digit temps.  What if this becomes the new normal?  Extreme weather—too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, punctuated by monster storms that blow us off the grid—that’s the hallmark of climate change. Extreme crazy wind, rain, and heat—a fitting mirror for the extreme, crazy, wild, and rough words and actions of politicians and fringe media.  Take a deep breath.  It may be a long hot summer.

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