Today is the solstice and the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, the solstice also corresponds with a full moon, a phenomenon known as a “strawberry moon,” which, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, hasn’t occurred since 1948.
I’m not an astronomer, but I welcome the solstice with a sense of awe and gratitude.
Awe at the transformation of the landscape — was it only seven weeks ago that the first leaves appeared on the trees? Now it’s hard to even imagine a world that’s not deeply, fully greened with foliage. Plants and flowers in the garden seem to be competing to see who can grow fastest and most spectacularly. Bunnies appear in our backyard in the evening. Insects are everywhere, industrious and persistent, and we throw the windows open to minimize the distinction between outside and in.
And gratitude for running and friends and the health that enables me to continue plodding along the roads and trails, revisiting memories of summers long ago.
I felt especially grateful on Sunday morning sharing a modest run with old friends Joe and Terry on the Battle Road Trail in Lincoln. Feeling good, I managed to run more than 10 miles for the first time since March, and better yet, I wasn’t wrecked at the end. It was a perfect morning for running: the trees that overhung the trail provided just the right canopy under a cloudless blue sky. It was 70 degrees at the start, with a slight breeze that kept us cool and comfortable the entire way. We took our time, and didn’t push the pace.
Because I didn’t want to tempt fate and extend the run, we approached but did venture into Great Meadows. That meant we didn’t traverse the hard dirt path that circles the wetlands. That loop includes a little over a mile of exposed running, a stretch with hardly any shade that can get very hot as the sun beats down on a summer day. Although we decided to skip the loop to keep the run a bit shorter (and cooler), thinking about what we were missing led Terry to wax nostalgic about his high school days, and the brutally hot and humid runs through the cornfields of Wisconsin that were a staple of his summer training.
For me, long runs in the summer were inextricably linked with the sweet smell of manure from the dairy farms of Hadley, Hatfield, and Sunderland. Whether I headed North or South from our house on Northampton Road, I would soon find myself running past cow pastures, or, on longer runs along the Connecticut River past fields of tobacco and asparagus. I have pungent memories of running along the side of Route 47 for mile upon mile, past tractors and grange halls, and tiny developments of low ranch houses, the sun beating down and the road disappearing off into the distance.
I said these were long runs, but I don’t remember really operating with the concept of a weekly long run. All runs were long runs, and some just ended up being longer than others, not because of some training theory or schedule, but because of some ambition to try a new route, or reach a new destination a little farther out of town. And in those days before Google maps and GPS, you never really knew how far you had run anyway. Sometimes after running a new route I would convince my mom to drive that same route with me, and then I’d know what her odometer said. But mostly, distance was estimated based on time spent running, and that’s the way it was.
I miss a lot of things about those runs. I miss the smells, I miss the quiet, and I miss the relative emptiness of the landscape. Maybe most of all I miss the feeling that every run was an adventure, and the freedom that I felt heading out the door and wondering where I was going to go that day. Nowadays, it’s hard to recapture the wonder and possibility of those days, but I still experience moments every now and then that are like faint echoes of those feelings.
And so, on this unusual solstice, I’ll take a moment to praise those long, hot, empty, endless roads of my youth, roads that still shimmer on the first day of summer, and still wait patiently to take me pretty much anywhere I’d want to go.