Tonight is Midsummer’s Night. The midpoint of the year, the longest day when summer reigns supreme and the countryside is lush and fecund. The hedgerows are full of singing birds, heavy with overhanging elderflower heads and honesuckle. Tiny nuts are growing on the hazel and the rowan has exchanged its pink confetti for little green berries that are already turning red.
There are dog roses peeping out of the undergrowth and hemlock umbels stand proud and defiant in the back field. In the short moments between downpours there is heat of such glorious intensity that I strip off my outer layer and sight deeply, inhaling the delicious scent of lavendar, sage, elderflower and mint.
The farmers are making the most of the weather and I can hear tractors in all directions; cutting, mowing, baling and collecting hay and grass for silage. The surrounding fields are a patchwork of glossy green, striped or faded yellow. My own grass is in need of attention but the bees aren’t complaining about the plentiful supply of clover, buttercups and hyssop on the lawn.
Last year I spent Midsummer’s Night sitting on a beach in Estepona, Andalucia, watching effigies burn in the many little bonfires dotted about the sand, and fire lanterns being launched across the sea, whilst sipping beer. The year before, I celebrated in Glastonbury, listening to music beneath the stars on Pilton Farm.
This year we’re spending Midsummer’s Night at home and tonight we shall light the bonfire in the back field, a mound of old hedge cuttings; limbs and smaller branches that have dried for over a year. My daughters and I will watch the wood crisp and burn, the flames dancing against the darkening evening. A fitting fire ritual in celebration of Litha, the Summer Solstice, of Summer reaching her peak and gratitude for the long days of sunlight.
It is said that as the Oak King beat the Holly King at Yule, the Holly King takes back his reign at Litha. An Irish custom is to ‘tell it to the stone’, carry a pebble in your pocket as you circle the fire and chant your wish, once you have circled three times cast your stone into the fire.
At Midsummer, magic abounds; it feels as if a veil has been lifted, as if all the spirits of the natural world are celebrating with us. Perhaps if we turn our gaze slowly and deliberately we might catch a glimpse of tiny gossamer wings, or small furred beings as they move with purpose amongst the long grass in procession, to and fro from the hedge into the fields beyond and passages unseen below ground.