Summer Solstice morning
I have not slept. I have spent the night tending the fire, gazing into the dancing flames and the embers that glow red amid the grey ash that coats them. It may be summer but the night has been chilly and my body aches with it, and with the enforced stillness. I’d like to feed the fire now, coax it into new life, but the purpose of the night was to keep the fire barely alive till the first sunlight breaks over the tree-clad horizon. I have fed the fire one stick at a time, keeping the balance between it remaining alight and the spark being extinguished for lack of fuel. On a normal day I would have banked the fire with slabs of turf hacked from the grass-clad slopes below my cave but this is part of my ritual, this meticulous slow tending to the spirit of the hearth.
Inside my cave, my cooking fire has burned low too, but I know I can rekindle that quickly and easily. My stomach growls and I think of hot tea and cakes made from the last of the autumn’s chestnuts, cooked on a flat stone in the margins of the hearth.
This is not about fire; this is not about light. And yet both are fundamental to this morning. If morning ever comes, that is, for the sky is midnight blue, speckled with stars and frayed with wisps of clouds that blur their twinkling.
But I can hear birds beginning to stir, to emit the first notes of their songs to greet the daylight with, and when I look again I can see that the stars are going out, one by one. The midnight blue has become greyish, and as I gaze into the blackness below the ledge where my cave opens out into a half moon of soft sand, I can see that the forest beyond is no longer a sea of darkness. I can see that there are trees as diffuse light strikes the leaves and branches, and very far off the line of night is vanishing as the first rays of sun pierce the sky. It will not be long, but my legs are cramping and I struggle to my feet, stamping and waving my arms to restore the blood flow to my body.
Like red eyes, the embers glow more brightly as the morning brings a stiff breeze that scatters the ashes and whips the last of the dying fire into one final bloom of flames. I stand very still, hearing the soft crackle, and I wait. The golden burst of sun-rays is sudden; it always takes me by surprise how swift it comes, this morning. As the light touches the forest and then reaches my little dwelling, I take my flask and I hold it up to the rising sun. Mead, from last year or the year before, sweet and strong. I drink deeply, gulping and letting it pour into me. Half for me, then I upend the flask so that the rest floods the fire. There is a hiss and a smell of honey, and the fire is out.
This day is the longest day and will need no ritual fire. The furnace of the sun is at its peak now and we shall need no more reminders of its power until the harvest comes.
I turn, wobbling slightly as the mead has gone to my head, and go inside to brew tea and brown sweet cakes before going about my day’s work, while outside the mountain I live on is warmed by the midsummer sun and the creatures I share the land with start their day.