This is “FIRST DAY OF SUMMER” and I don’t think it’s celebrated very widely in the South. We don't do much to actively COURT the heat, so to speak or honor the inferno days. We don't even speak well of it, except to say that the sun is good for the crops. And I don’t remember any special parties, except once on this day, I catered a MidSummer Night’s Dream party, all herbs and lace and fairy things, on the date. And to me, it was NOT MidSummer---it was the first day, but Oh, Well.
Several years ago we were in England on this date, and were sadly informed by our tour guide that we would not be able to take the promised trip to Stonehenge, because the roads had been shut down. (He DID mention that if you were a practicing Druid, you would be given admittance, but he could assure neither our safety, our virtue nor a return of the bus to pick us up on the morrow).
We took a LONG and winding way around the site, and as he and the driver (who lived just there, and took one night off to go home to his family) mapped out a little-known route, and we took it. It led us deeper and deeper (in the literal sense---the roadsides grew higher and higher, as we rode through a narrow by-way which had been carved into a miles-of-trench by countless centuries of carts and wagons, with no forethought to modern vehicles, and looking out the windows put you face-to-face with dirt. One turn was hair-pin and hair-raising, as I looked down from my far-back-seat perch, with the almost-archaelogical-dig strata going past the windows on both sides of my three-directions view, and the other vehicle inches from my face as they skillfully negotiated the passage.
When we came back out of that deep road, the fields stretched for miles, and they were absolutely teeming with people, though an entire alien race could have landed in Salisbury plain right then, and would have easily blended right in. It was like the crowds converging on the Superbowl---long lines in the lanes and paths, costumes and characters from Yoda to Spock to Frodo and friends. Everyone seemed to be carrying a cooler or a bedroll or a musical instrument, and a whole flock of bongo players, drums shouldered and keeping up a steady rhythm, passed us as we crept along like an aquarium-on-wheels amongst the walking crowd.
The investment in black fabric alone must have swelled the coffers of quite a few merchants, and the makeup and the music---it was like a specially-arranged performance, and we not only had ringside seats, we moved along, and caught forty more rings of that many-ring circus. We passed through a small village, and apparently no one was looking out as we crossed one of a pair of bridges. When the guide spoke over the microphone: “A pair of Naiads bathing to your right,” the stampede back down the aisle rocked the bus and landed two gentlemen almost in my lap. And indeed, there had been two ladies, beautiful young ones, both absolutely naked, pouring water from the little stream over each other.
I think the guide and I were the only ones who caught a glimpse---everyone else was either running to get a look or dodging elbows and flying feet.
And then, from far, far away---the golden shapes in the sunlight emerged, swimming into view almost through a haze; we took pictures through the windows, as the lime-vested gentlemen waved us to keep going and the foot-dust like the Flight from Egypt filled the air.
I think I’ll remember that most because we didn’t get to stop and get out and look closely; the far remove keeps that mystical, magical place ever as a mirage, a picture in a Baedeker, a cover silhouette on the journal I carried to record the days of my trip. And the mystique has probably grown in the remembering, to even greater size and import than it would have had we stood and looked at it a while, like tourists gazing on a church.
We caught glimpses, we saw outlines, we saw the glow of sun on the spires, and we saw the great procession of those faithful to something older than memory, older than time. That’s an unforgettable impression, and seeing it only through glass left the thought that perhaps it was a mirage or our imaginations, or visible only for a moment, like Brigadoon.