@OUTDOORMUMSUK SPECIAL: outdoor storying adventures to enjoy this summer solstice...
It feels like we've only just finished celebrating the arrival of spring, and somehow midsummer is almost upon us!
Lia Leendertz shares with us in her 2021 almanac that the Romany name for the month of June is enchantingly ' Lilaieskero' which means 'month of the summer' - describing this beautifully as the 'time to travel down lanes draped with dog roses and punctured by foxgloves'. Gorgeous.
Marking the beginning of the astronomical summer (meteorological summer started on the 1st June) and the longest day of the year, June the 21st is Litha - our Summer Solstice. The name Litha is found in Bede's The Reckoning of Time (De Temporum Ratione, 8th century), and, according to Bede means "gentle or navigable" because the weather is calm and the breezes are gentle. The word “solstice” comes from Latin solstitium - from sol (sun) and stitium (meaning still or stopped).
This Sunday 20th, we will celebrate the sun at its greatest strength, as well as to mark the point at which the wheel of the year turns. It feels hard right now to embrace the beginning of the decline in light that this signals and the movement towards autumn. So instead, I'm going to focus on celebrating the sun and its connection with life, influence, strength, energy, clarity and inspiration this year!
My first story for you is an old Estonian folktale from Freinrich Robert Faehlmann's collection - containing, as many of you will recognise, echoes of another tale from ancient Greece...
Below is the tale of "Dawn and Dusk" - a spellbinding story about how young celestial lovers meet to kiss on the Summer Solstice.
The myth of Dusk & Dawn: 'Koit ja Hämarik', first published in 1840.
Do you know the light source in the home of the Old Man of the Sky? Do you know to whom the hands that greet the sun when it comes down from the sky and sends it to sleep belong to? Do you know the hands which wake up the sun and relight it again, before it sets up for another trek across the sky? The Old Man of the Sky has two trustworthy helpers, who have been gifted with eternal youth. It is they who are responsible for the sun each day.
In the beginning, when the sun had finished its very first journey across the sky, the Old Man said to Dusk: “Into your care, my girl, I will give the setting sun. You have to douse the light every night, so it will not harm anybody on its way to slumber.”The next morning, when the sun needed to start its next journey across the vast expanse of the blue sky, The Old Man said to Dawn: “Your job, my boy, will be to relight the sun every morning and prepare it to its daily travels.”
And so it was, both of the immortal souls did what they were asked and the sun was up in the sky every day, not missing any days, even when it barely peeked out across the horizon during the long dark of the winter. On days like these, it finished its journey sooner and got enough time to sleep, because the morning time came later on. When the spring came, the sun woke up nature with its warm rays and knew it had to work more than it had been used to. And when the summer came, when the sun did not go to sleep at all, Dusk gave the Sun straight to Dawn, who re-lit its dimmed glow again.
This, of course, was the time of summer solstice, when the world was filled with flowers and song, light and joy. It was - and still is - the time when both helpers of The Old Man look into each other’s eyes for the longest of times. As Dusk handed over the Sun to Dawn, their hands touched in soft caress and their lips met in the briefest of the kisses.
But The Old Man never slept and he noticed what happened in the brief glimpse of the night. He gathered both of them during the next day. He smiled to both his helpers and said: “Dear ones, I am happy with your work and it is my deepest of wishes that you will be happy together. You two should marry and continue doing your jobs as man and wife.” Both of them answered him in unison: “Oh please, Old Man, do not ruin our joy. Let us be young and in love forever as bride and groom, as our love will stay fresh and young forever.” The Old Man smiled at them again and blessed their decision and agreed to let them continue as they wanted.
And ever since then, there is a time in the year, four short weeks, when Dawn meets Dusk under the dying light of the day. She sets the dimming sun into the hands of Dawn and their hands meet with a soft touch and their lips meet in a sweet kiss. Dusk’s cheeks are red and the sky reflects her joy and excitement to us all, by glowing reddish until Dawn relights the Sun again and the yellow glow will greet the sky dome again.
And this was the story of the two eternal lovers, Dusk and Dawn, who can only meet for a short time in summer, only to be parted again.”
* * *
Midsummer's Eve in Estonia is a truly magical time. Everyone stays up until dawn, young lovers wander through the forest looking for a lucky fern flower said to bloom only on this night. If you are lucky enough to spot a glowworm, you can expect a great fortune. Young women who are keen to see into their future are advised to collect nine different types of flowers and place them under a pillow for the night, so they can dream about their future spouse! For the adventurous, there is the opportunity to jump over a bonfire or swing as high as possible on the village swing in hopes of achieving prosperity! Its a time for singing, dancing and storytelling - as it certainly is in my house as well.
I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I did, and will share it as much as possible this Summer Solstice - at the very least, it's a great excuse to steal a kiss!
Outdoor storying opportunities...
There are so many trees and plants that are looking glorious in the summer sunshine. This is the perfect opportunity to spend some time identifying them and remembering them by connecting it all to stories! Click here to visit my Fairytrails page, and see below for some extra special flowers and trees to seek out this summer. You might also like to see if you can track down some of these wildflowers, or visit one of my favourite websites Woodland Classroom to learn about identifying trees in summer!
Meanwhile, here are a few little things you might like to try to spot and enjoy this month...
If you enjoy foraging, then you'll know all about wild strawberries! Click here for tips on what to pick this season (sensibly and sustainably, of course!) People all around the world have recognised the strawberry plant as a potent little herb for centuries. North American First Nation tribes used strawberries as medicine, particularly as a women’s medicine used to clear toxins and support fertility. In Asia, the Yellow Emperor used the leaves of the strawberry plant in a tea to counteract the effects of aging. The Romans used Strawberries to lift the spirits and relieve bad breath, and in Europe the strawberry has traditionally been thought of as a fertility-inducing and love-producing fruit favoured by goddesses like Venus, Aphrodite and Freyja. (Modern day top tip: it was said the fruit of strawberry, when shared with another, would produce love - it's actually part of the rose family so no wonder, eh!) In Bavaria, strawberries are also hung in baskets on the horns of cattle to encourage the local nature spirits to ensure healthy calves and lots of milk!
A story for you...
This Cherokee tale is about how, when the first man and the first woman quarrel, the sun reunites them with a very special gift.
I love thistles and they are stunning at the moment. Representing overcoming adversity and
difficult situations, the thistle is a symbol of resilience. In Celtic regions, they also represent devotion, bravery, determination, and strength. There are lots of different types to discover and identify - and, excitingly, you can eat and enjoy every part of a true thistle (although make sure you know what you are doing first!)
A story for you...
At one time, Scotland was part of the Kingdom of Norway and in 1263 King Alexander III tried to buy back the Western Isles and Kintyre. Angry about this, the Norse King set off in the late summer of 1263 with a large fleet of long ships, intent on conquering the Scots. Legend has it that at some point during the invasion the Norsemen tried to surprise the sleeping Scots and, in order to move stealthily under the cover of darkness, they took off their shoes. Unfortunately for them, they crept barefoot across an area of ground covered in thistles. One of the Norsemen stood on one and shrieked out in pain, thus alerting the Scots who then defeated them all at the Battle of Largs, and saved Scotland from invasion. The important role that the thistle had played was recognised and so was chosen as Scotland’s national emblem.
A truly beautiful plant but one that can easily kill (it messes with the heart!) It's not really known where the plant got its folk name, but we think it can be traced all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon period. It’s thought the ‘glove’ part of the name is due to the flowers resembling little gloves. One theory about the fox bit is that it is said folk believed foxes wore the flowers on their paws to hunt silently!
Best not to touch this one, and instead admire it from afar - it's a good way to remind children that plants are to be respected as well as admired! Definitely 'no picking or licking', as they say at all good forest schools! I love that some people say that the reason foxgloves bob and sway even when there is no wind, is because the plant it bowing to the fairy folk as they pass by. Perhaps we should be bowing to the foxglove as well!
A poem for you...
The Foxglove Fairy
“Foxglove, Foxglove, What do you see?” The cool green woodland, The fat velvet bee; Hey, Mr Bumble, I’ve honey here for thee!
“Foxglove, Foxglove, What see you now?” The soft summer moonlight On bracken, grass, and bough; And all the fairies dancing As only they know how.
- Cecily Baker
Chances are, with all this summer sunshine, you'll be heading down to the river at some point. Why not try identifying Alder? Click here to visit the Woodland Trust page to make this easier. It's an incredible tree - it loves water and doesn't even rot when it's waterlogged - instead it just gets stronger! We identify it in winter by its little catkins that look like cones, but in summer it has wonderful racquet-shaped leaves with serrated edges.
A story for you...
Click here to watch Sheila Kinninmonth tell a tale about the Alder tree and what happens when the little sprite that lives near the tree (and well) is angered!
Latvian legend has it that every year on the summer solstice a mystical fern flower blooms. Containing powerful magic, the flower is said to bind young couples who spend the solstice night seeking it! Why not have a go at identifying the different type of ferns we have growing in the UK? You never know, some of these might even contain that same kind of magic! Click here for some help identifying ferns. Our favourite is the brilliantly named 'Hart's Tongue' fern which is actually an ancient-woodland-indicator plant. If you spot it while you're out exploring, it could be a sign you're standing in a rare and special habitat!
Quintessentially connected to summer, quite a few of us have been heading to the seaside with the weather being so warm. So how about a selkie story to finish with?
A story for you...
Click here to listen to the History and Folklore podcast about selkies and enjoy Dawn Nelson's storytelling!
Celebrating the solstice...
The June solstice occurs on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at 11:32 P.M - Father's Day - so lots of you will already have been celebrating all day! Other ways you can mark the solstice include stuffing your face with strawberries (this month's moon is actually known as the 'Strawberry Moon' because, of course, it's all about the strawberry harvest at this time of year!), having your own fire festival in the back garden, heading out for a night walk to hunt for those magical ferns flowers, and finishing it all off by cleansing yourself in the morning dew!
A very happy solstice to you all!