Summer Solstice. Midsummer. The longest day.*
Many people feel a twinge (or more) of sadness on this day, as the year turns and we start to head towards shorter days, and slide inevitably towards winter.
I have mixed feelings. My birthday is the longest day, so it's always something to look forward to. Also, the slowly shortening days do not concern me too much - after all, the evenings are still to get warmer, and there's time enough to sit out in the garden and admire the evening sun through the Stipa. Shorter days but even into September an evening of gardening, or reading a book outside, is possible. And the primarily pagan celebrations at this time of year make the heart pound with excitement - dragons, drums and green men may not necessarily be accurate, but they make a stirring spectacle.
For me, the sadness of this day is signified by the gradual disappearance of the song of the blackbird. A few weeks ago people stopped complaining about the dawn chorus waking them up, but blackbirds sang quietly on. Around now, I notice that their melodies are starting to thin out. Soon, without me realising, I will have heard the last blackbird song of the year. And that is what makes me sad.
And then, one quiet morning in February, I'll hear a sound that makes my heart race a little bit, and makes the day seem just a little bit better. The first blackbird song of the year. If long, dark nights have to come before, then it is worth the melancholy, to hear that first melody.
*Yes, pedants, I know that these may well fall on different days, but I'm talking about feelings, not facts.
Photos from 2014 Chester Midsummer Watch Parade - well worth a look if you're near Chester at Midsummer.