nasturtiums party hearty
The Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer or Litha, marks the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Since ancient times, people have gathered to celebrate the summer and honor the Sun. The days are warm, the flowers are blooming, and light reigns. Summer Solstice has also long been associated with fairies, those strange wee folk who play tricks and give gifts, according to their moods. (Think of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.) Therefore a good way to celebrate the Summer Solstice is to make a fairy house. Construct a tiny house out of anything you want — paper, twigs, leaves, cardboard, even plastic. Decorate it, furnish it, and hang it in a tree or hide it in a bush in your yard. Put an offering of tiny cookies or seeds in the house. See if the fairies gather. If they do, will you let me know?
settle down to work
open the book of wisdom
inside your own head
I go to Cornwall in England and sit on a rugged crag overlooking the wild sea, and I think I hear the mermaids calling me. I go to Cornwall to walk on Bodmin Moor, an even wilder place where ancient magic still lies thick, floating in the air like pixie dust. I stand in the shadow of the Cheese Wring and I touch the Men-an-Tol for good luck and long life. I poke in the gorse bushes and find the jawbone of a long-dead sheep, gleaming yellowy-white against the olive drab thorns of gorse. The sheep doesn't need it anymore so I take it with me when I go home to America. I go through customs with the sheep's jawbone wrapped securely in my middle-aged underwear, because perhaps it is illegal to transport animal bones and I don't want some officious customs agent taking it away from me. I go home to my studio where I clean and scrape and polish the jawbone until it is purely white, no yellow left, and then I paint it with deep blue spirals and make it into an object of holy mystery. I go to my altar and give the jawbone a place of honor between a rock shaped like a breast complete with nipple, and a hawk's feather I found in my herb garden. I go there to meditate when I feel that life is just too much to understand, and the now-holy jawbone comforts me with its message of art after death.
In 1958 I was in third grade. On Wednesday afternoons our class had “Science Time.” At least, the boys had science time. They gathered on one side of the room to learn about things like chemistry – you could see smoke and smell their experimental concoctions from the other side of the room. Or they learned about astronomy and built scale models of the solar system and drew pictures of little green men with big heads. One day they even had an astronaut come and talk to them about space.
Meanwhile on the other side of the classroom we girls had “Junior Home Ec” where we practiced sewing aprons and learned how to make chocolate chip cookies in a child’s “Betty Crocker” oven – which was pink, of course. We were taught not by a real teacher, but a teacher’s helper, usually a mother of one of the girls.
I don’t think it was exactly forbidden for the girls to join the boys for Science Time, but it was definitely not encouraged. It was just accepted as the way it was – “Girls over here,” they called, and we went.
I was puzzled that our teacher, Mrs. Scribner, taught Science Time, even though Mrs. Scribner was a woman. How had she learned enough science to teach it to the boys? Maybe she learned in secret, I thought. Or maybe she went to a special science school for girls. I thought about asking her if she would teach me too, in secret, so no one else would know that I was curious about science even though I was a girl. I didn’t want anyone to know, but not because I was afraid people would think I was weird or unfeminine. No, I was afraid of looking stupid — I had already accepted that science would be too hard for me. After all, I was a girl. So I kept my mouth shut and made a crookedly-stitched apron that I forgot to hem, and gave it to my mother.
This memory, which even today makes me furious, is one of the reasons I am so inordinately proud of my daughter – who is a scientist.