Eleven p.m. on June 20. Science says the Solstice is happening just now, the longest day of the year is ending, the shortest night is begun, the sun is moving into the part of the sky called Cancer.
It´s Midsummer Night, a time when the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin and the future can be divined using potato peels and still water and a correct repetition of rhymes. The Catholic calendar says this is the Feast of St. John, the patron of the
Templar Knights, and therefore also the pueblo fiesta in Terradillos de
Templarios, our neighbors three kilometers east.
In Moratinos this year, St. John´s Day meant a long, long stretch of daylight for working in. Up on the roof of the church tower the steeple-jacks shored-up the timbers, dropping adobe and terra-cotta onto the street and plaza below. A cloud of swallows whirled around them as they worked. Farmers toiled in their vegetable gardens. Pilgrims toiled down the trail. Thunderheads stacked up on the horizon, then blew on by. The grain waved gold, the sunflowers green in between, and soon -- God willing -- their thousands of bright yellow faces will open to the sky.
In the morning we walked in the woods outside Ledigos. We gathered butterfly lavender, local wildflowers that might propagate here in our garden. We drove to Leon, we had the car serviced, we looked at the staggering array of things for sale at the big department store, and for lunch we ate the strange Spanish take on Chinese food. We drove home down the strangely deserted autovia.
And at 10:45, as the sun finally set and the Solstice approached, I gathered up two dogs, a candle, and a glass jar. I drove through the sleeping town, past the albergue and hostal where the pilgrims were by then snoring, up the Camino past the cemetery, where the sleepers make no sound. I crossed the concrete bridge at the Rio Templarios, and stopped at the little grove called Villa Oreja.
It´s there, alongside the road, we keep a small labyrinth of stones. And yes, I confess, at the change of each season, every Solstice and Equinox, I go there with a dog or two and a candle. In the dark I walk the labyrinth, and I make a prayer.
I pray for everyone who walks past that place, and everyone who walks that labyrinth. I pray for Moratinos, and Terradillos, and my family and my friends, and for whatever is coming down the road toward us in the next three months.
I leave the candle out there, burning in the middle of the maze. (I am sure my neighbors think I am mad, but not in any harmful way.)
Tonight at 11 p.m. there still were scraps of light along the western horizon, a hot little spot of red where the sun had been. Rain sprinkled, but when I looked straight up from the center of the labyrinth, stars shone down on me.
Supposedly the spirits of Templar Knights pass by that place on St. John´s Eve, but I have never seen or heard them. Only hawks calling in the dark, or maybe an owl. Sometimes the breeze makes the trees roar overhead, and one of the dogs growls at something in the underbrush. Sometimes it gets creepy out there.
But not in summertime. The night is soft in June. Glorious, soft, and bright with the last scraps of sun -- the very peak of the year.