Today marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day. Although being a person with no fixed religious beliefs, I can, however, understand and identify with the 'spirit' of the wild - the power of the sun, the moon, the weather, the seasons - and have almost adopted the longest and shortest days as a sacred time. Maybe it's my Wessex roots bubbling to the surface, even after a 120-year absence (my Great Grandfather left the Vale of Pewsey at the end of the 19th Century and headed to London). I've been to visit that part of Wiltshire many times and it does exert a hold on me. It just feels special.
It was a medieval custom to collect flowers on the longest day, which was considered to bestow upon them additional healing properties, thus apothecaries would make special efforts to gather such herbs on this very day, including (so the historical record states) St John's Wort, Chamomile, geraniums, Thyme, and Penny-royal. This year the St.John's Wort is hardly in flower and both Chamomile and Penny-royal are rare indeed. Another reason these plants were sought after is that they released fragrant aromas when thrown on bonfires, a common practice during midsummer festivals at the time. This was believed to eradicate bad luck and negative energy. I can almost smell that scent, released into the warm, smoky air as the light fades on a downland hillside.
I may not be burning wild flowers later this evening, but I do like to sit out in the back garden as the light starts to bleed away on June 21st and celebrate the fact that it is still light at 10pm, the Swifts are screaming overhead and that another summer has come my way. It is all too easy to take such things for granted.