Summer solstice observed at Times Square, Stonehenge, in D.C.

Today is the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, “the start of astronomical summer in Earth’s northern hemisphere,” according to the Capital Weather Gang:

At 5:04 UTC (1:04 a.m. EDT) on June 21, the sun can be seen straight overhead along the Tropic of Cancer, while the North Pole reaches its maximum annual tilt toward the sun. As the planet rotates on its axis, areas within the Arctic Circle see the sun circle through the sky for 24 hours.

Of course, in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere we don’t see the sun up for 24 hours, but there’s still plenty of daylight to enjoy. Most places in the continental U.S. see the sun above the horizon for 14 to 16 hours on the summer solstice – the exact amount depends on your latitude . . .

Why can’t we say that the sun is at its highest point in the sky everywhere north of the equator? The reason is that in the tropics (locations within 23.5º latitude of the equator), the midday sun can appear toward either the northern or southern horizon depending on the time of year (see graphic). Along the equator, the noontime sun is at its highest point – zenith – on the equinoxes, while on the solstices, the sun actually takes its lowest path in the sky.

Justin Greiser

In New York City, Times Square was closed for yoga in observance of the solstice:

One of the busiest crossroads in the world is coming to a standstill as yoga enthusiasts take over Manhattan’s Times Square to celebrate the longest day of the year.

The “Mind over Madness” event on Friday includes free yoga classes all day. Fifteen thousand people registered to roll out their yoga mats and join in.

President of Times Square Alliance and co-founder of the event Tim Tompkins says part of its appeal is finding stillness and calm in the middle of the city rush.

Associated Press

At England’s Stonehenge, some 20,000 people had gathered:

The cloud cover Friday morning prevented bright sunshine at dawn of the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere but a joyous spirit prevailed.

The solstice has typically drawn a wide and varied crowd to the mysterious set of standing stones whose purpose remains unclear.

The ancient stone circle on the Salisbury Plain about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of London, was built in three phases between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C.

Associated Press

In Washington, meanwhile, politics continued as usual:

The House voted down the Farm Bill this week, an ominous sign that, with the arrival of the solstice, we face a long summer of partisan gridlock, dysfunction, sniping, grousing and that most dreaded of political behaviors, kvetching. The Farm Bill is supposed to be a lay-up. But most Democrats voted against it, because it cut the food stamps program, and a quarter of the Republicans voted against it, because they hate government spending. This could mean, according to our story today, all kinds of problems in the agricultural sector, including a rise in milk prices. I am sure I speak for all Americans across this vast land when I say that there will be riots in the streets if this drives up the price of a latte.

Joel Achenbach

Pagan writer Starhawk explains the significance of the holiday for people of her faith and for everyone else:

For Pagans, the Summer Solstice is one of the major milestones of the year. My own group, Reclaiming, will celebrate in rituals all over the U.S., Canada, and around the world — including our Australian groups for whom this is the Winter Solstice. In San Francisco, we’ll meet on the beach, deck a God/dess figure of branches with the early summer blossoms, and set it on fire as an offering, to take our wishes, our hopes and our dreams into the otherworld where they can become seeds of change. Solstice is one of our most poignant rituals, for as we watch the bright-colored blossoms burn to ash, we remember that life is brief and so must be deeply cherished in every moment. . .

Our way of life that depends on the profligate squandering of resources, natural and human, has reached its own peak. If we face the necessity of change, we can use the immense resources we still have to create a graceful transition to a new technology and economy. Or we can continue to cling to the old ways until we crash into devastation. Ecological necessity is not a brand, not an identity choice, not a government/ corporate/ UFO/ Illuminati conspiracy, not a media fad of the moment. It’s real. The heat is on. The floods, the droughts, the hurricanes are here. The fires are already burning. . .

Let this Solstice be a time to instead embrace change. As the sun sets at last on the longest day, take some time to consider how everything must eventually reach its peak, and transform. The sun’s decline triggers the grain to set seed, the apples to swell, the squash and tomatoes and corn to ripen. We must be willing to let go of the blossom and in order to harvest the fruit. When we stop clutching our fears and our limiting assumptions, we can open our hands and receive inspiration and hope.

Starhawk

For the forecast for Washington’s first weekend of summer, continue reading here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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