The summer night is like a perfection of thought. -Wallace Stevens
Here in the Pacific Northwest today marks the first night of summer and the longest day of the year. (In other places the solstice may be tomorrow.) Today the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, arriving at its northern destination in the Tropic of Cancer, before heading back toward the equator to celebrate the autumnal equinox. (Elsewhere I’ve posted a helpful diagram if you want a refresher on the astronomy.)
Why is it called a solstice? Early astronomers observed that the sun appears to slow down and, briefly, stop as it reaches the northern or southernmost points of its journey along the ecliptic, before turning around and heading in the other direction. Hence the word solstice is a compound of two Latin words: sol for sun, and stit, from sistere, which means to stop or be stationary.
The turnaround happens at 10:04 pm this evening, June 20th, PST. When the time comes, I’ll be gazing out over the Pacific Ocean, where there will no doubt be an afterglow of sunlight lingering in the Oregon coast’s cloudy nightsky.