Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer Solstice

I wake up a few minutes before my alarm. Today is Solstice and I want to see the sunrise. I reach over and peer under the window shade; the sky outside is grey with clouds. For a few seconds I consider skipping the Neopagan thing. Decades ago I used to be able to wake up without an alarm clock. Now I roll over and try to get a little more sleep. My attempts to get more sleep would be more successful if I went to bed earlier. My alarm goes off and I rise.

In the eighties, in Corvallis, I used to watch the sun rising when I ate breakfast. In the nineties, at Arcosanti, the rising sun shone through the eastern wall of my bedroom, which was all glass. In the years between and right now, I've fallen out of sync with the rising and setting sun -- our Eugene house points to the south. I stumble around in the pre-dawn light and get dressed. A glance through the kitchen window confirms the clouds are all over and the chance of watching the actual moment of sunrise is slim; which is too bad, because I'd like to see the shadows of the sunrise streaming from a point on the northeastern horizon.

Outside, the temperature is about sixty, and it's not raining. I feed the cat and walk up the hill. I sing to myself: "Darkness is rising / even if this is the brightest dawn / nobody can hold / back the dark," and laugh.

I'm heading for the College Hill reservoir. It's a concrete bunker a few blocks uphill, set halfway into the hill's crown. The flat roof is accessible to the public -- a rectangular collection of dark grey concrete slabs with dirty white caulk at the seams. Along the roof's edge, three foot high concrete pylons support a metal rail and hurricane fence. Within the last six months, very tall, green-painted iron fencing has been placed around a small house on the top and a door along the north side.

As I walk there, I pass by very nice houses with manicured lawns. Runoff water from a sprinkler system runs down a driveway and into the sewer. I pass by the eastern buttress of the reservoir, leave the sidewalk, and take a side path skirting the northern edge. The combination of early morning light and gravel scrunching under my feet brings back a Sonoran memory of walking up the hill to Arcosanti in the mornings.

At last I'm walking up the concrete stairs to the top -- a dark grey concrete exercise in planar geometry. Someone has left behind a plastic six-pack net, so I pick it up. No one else is present. I'm a lone point on a plane bound by a fence. I walk to the eastern end of the slabs. I'm in the middle of a city, but the only city sound I'm aware of is the sound of a train pulling into the station two miles away. Occasional crows, sparrows, robins and other birds call to one another from the trees to the north and south of the reservoir. It's too early for the scrub jays.

When I reach the eastern side, I remember a few things I should have remembered earlier. One, there are some tall pines and maples growing between me and the eastern horizon, so even on a clear morning watching the sunrise would be difficult. Second, one of the houses has a really bright halogen porch light. I step back from the edge and amuse myself by moving my head so that the halogen light appears to rise over the tip of one of the concrete fence pylons. Finally, there's the east hills of Eugene. I'm pretty sure that the calculation for a 5:30 AM solstice sunrise I'd gotten from the US Naval Observatory did not include residential hills with porch and street lights twinkling on them in it.

Then I make a new discovery. On the street below a beat-up, white pickup truck appears. A woman in sweat-attire jumps out, slams the door, and jogs to several porches with a bundle of newspapers. The truck pulls forward, stops, and the driver jumps out with another bundle and slams the door before jogging to other houses. The pickup's hazard lights tick on and off. The passenger catches up to the truck, jumps into it, slams the door, and revs the whining starter engine. And then I know: It's them; the people who've been waking me up at five-something in the morning for the last two years -- I'd recognize that door slamming and engine whine anywhere. And all these years I thought it was an unknown neighbor. Blame is much more fun the less generalized it is.

At five-thirty I wonder if the sun is above the horizon. At least three sets of crows begin a raucous good morning to each other, which reminds me of battlefields and cheery Childe Ballads. I wonder if the crows know the time of sunrise without a clock or chart. Rosy-fingered dawn is beginning to make her dactyl appearance. Sort of. There are two layers of clouds above me -- a low layer of thick puffy clouds that looks close enough to touch, and a wispier, much higher layer. In the northeast, but not on the horizon, an opening in the clouds is like a window looking out on an archipelago of salmon-edged grey islands in a pastel sea.

I walk around and look for a vantage point that will reveal anything else about this sunrise, but there isn't. I sit down, pull out my Book of Art and pen box. When I open the box, three of my glyphs are on top of the pens: Circle, Healer, and Dream Eye. Well, I had been thinking of new good habits to start with the Solstice, and I am the only one here on the enclosed top of the reservoir -- so the accidental oracle seems appropriate.

I jot down a few notes and then rise. It's nearly six and I haven’t seen the sun yet. I linger, unsure if I want to stay a little longer, or if I want to go find some tea and possibly some chocolate. The shifting clouds have closed the northeastern window to a crack, which the sun limns in golden red. The clouds are longer now, less puffy and more stretched -- like long low hills. One looks just a bit like a sleeve with an open hand extending past it, and I'm reminded of the Ace cards in the Rider-Waite tarot decks with their hands appearing out of clouds. Then the sun appears in the cloudy hand and I see a gigantic Egyptian hieroglyph for "offering." đ“‚ž  It's strange and wonderful -- surely in three thousand years of ancient Egyptian history someone must have seen a similar sight of a cloud arm offering forth a sun (or a moon) -- and reinforces my belief that the cosmos gives us little signs if we pay attention.

I notice an abandoned bottle of water, mostly empty, leaning against the eastern fence, so I pick it up. Above me, there's a deep blue hole in the pink-tipped clouds.

I leave the reservoir. We need tea, and I'm entertaining a purchase of chocolate. I walk downhill, toward the store. When I pause to admire blooms, I notice more runoff water from a different manicured lawn.

The mini-mall parking lot is empty and the irrigation system hisses as it sprays Oregon grape and other native plants. I wonder why people don't water in the evening, when the water will evaporate less than it will during the day.

The white concrete plaza in front of the stores is quiet. The café, ice cream and tea shops have their outdoor furniture bundled together with security wire and locks. Weak sunlight brightens shines on concrete, glass and steel. There is a strange lack of people going through the supermarket's doors, and I wonder where all the early Saturday morning coffee drinkers are. Classical music from the supermarket becomes more audible as I approach, but the double glass doors do not slide open. The lights are on, but the store won't open for another forty minutes.

No chocolate (or tea) for me. I head home.

Back on our front porch, I sit with the cat and give her an extra long lap session. I think and write and clean the house. And this is what I come up with: Every day is a new gift, don't waste it. There's always little things you can do to clean up your act. Take the time and space to dream new ways and let the unneeded go.

I'm sure there's more -- but now, I'm going to write.
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