The year’s midday: Afterword

(Part 1: Up the airy mountain)

(Part 2: Down the rushy glen)

The worst part of my solstice ride was getting home. After a tasty lunch at Coffee Grounds in Lodi, I started the return ride, and within fifteen minutes the rain had started, not a downpour but a steady rain that was to persist for the whole climb out of Lodi to Dane, and then along the many ups and downs between there and Waunakee. Combined with the increased mid-afternoon traffic and my tired legs, it made for a not-much-fun hour and a half of riding.

But then in the North Side of Madison the sky began to clear, and when I was hauling my bike up the steps of home there were large patches of blue showing; suggesting that perhaps the neighbourhood solstice bonfire was not going to be washed out after all.

Drumsound rises on the air

its throb, my heart.

A voice inside the beat says

“I know you’re tired, but come.

This is the way.”

-Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

The bonfire is a twice-yearly tradition – at the summer and winter solstices – stretching back several years. Part of the summer solstice celebration is a Procession of the Species, which I didn’t make it back in time to see this year. Here’s a couple of pictures I took at a previous one:

Massasauga rattler costume on bike with trailer, Procession of the Species 2010

Darwin, Procession of the Species 2010

The bonfire is lit at (more or less) the moment of sunset. As that moment approached, I wandered on my very stiff legs over to Olbrich Park; the previous clouds had parted almost entirely, yielding a beautiful limpid twilight over Lake Monona:

Summer Solstice, Near East Side

Down in the park, the drummers were doing their thing, and the fire got started just a couple of minutes after sunset:

Summer Solstice, Near East Side

And as I strolled home, the first fireflies of the year began to flash in the fading light. They were so beautiful that I almost forgot I was going to tell y’all the fruits of my research on troll cat vomit, as promised in Part 1.

Section 39 of Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend, edited by Reimund Kvideland and Henning K. Sehmsdorf (University of Minnesota Press, 1988) is entirely devoted to troll cats, which are witches’ familiars. The notes to 39.3 state:

The gelatinous substance of certain fast-growing fungi (fuligo septica), as well as the white foam left by the spittle-bug, were often associated with … the troll cat.

So there we are then. The citation for that note, in turn, leads to a source-text Norsk sætertradisjon, and at that point I have to call a halt, not being very conversant in any Scandinavian languages. I’m going to take a wild guess that sæter is cognate to seiðr which I vaguely recall as a term for particular kinds of magic from Icelandic sagas; but that’s about as far as that goes, and could well of course be wrong.

In sum, that was how I marked the solstice. Despite the mid-afternoon waterlogging it was a very fine day and ended splendidly. There was only, while I watched the green lights of the fireflies circle and listened to the hum of crickets and cicadas, the slightly melancholy thought that from here on we begin to roll faster and faster down the hill to winter. But then, on the way we will roll through autumn, crunching leaves as we go; so there is that as a consolation.


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Filed under Expeditions, Places of Science

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