Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Longest Day

I don't know if I'll ever pass another summer solstice without recalling fondly the one I spent in Normandy, France. We were "cinq femmes en voiture": my sister, my poet-mentor-friend, her student-friend visiting Paris from Barbados, my sister's flute teacher-friend, and me. I had started off this France thing three years prior when I rented at 6 rue de Montigny, a little apartment in the heart of Aix-en-Provence, for the month of July in 1988. This was a graduation gift to myself, a reward--you bet--for not only surviving but thriving, to the point of a very functional and native-sounding fluency, my immersion French classes at Wellesley. My sister visited me for the final week of that month, a visit which culminated, to my horror, in her loud and public pronouncement: "I hate France!" She had only a smattering of high school French, and I'm sure that fact contributed plenty to her bad time. But something happened just the same, something must've gotten under her skin, because when offered two years later the prospect of a work exchange --six months in Paris, with apartment and company car and yes you can even bring your Himalayan house cat--she madly dove into Berlitz courses to meet the language requirement, and voila! Of course I would visit her there. Of course I would introduce her to my poet-friend who was beginning her first-annual (as it would turn out) teaching gig as a distinguished American poet in residence at the Sorbonne: they could help each other out. Be Americans together in Paris. Find their way. And of course, given the fact of the car, there had to be excursions to destinations that were complicated if not impossible to reach by train.
We made several that June, it was a cold June, and I walked Paris until I thought my feet would fall off, but of that entire trip which was rich with adventures, nothing compares to our jaunt to Normandy, destination le Mont Saint Michel.

It looked like Oz rising up out of the flat of the surrounding land--farms, plains, fields--a sort of mystical, magical kingdom.

Little did I know how much so.

I knew nothing about Druids prior to this visit, but walking in the very paths of their footfalls, I felt them: an old presence, a long root, a wisdom. How? I had no relationship to the Druids. Then again, the mysterious had shown itself before we'd even gotten near the top of the mount, before we looked out, with nameless others gathered there, on what seemed like an endless sunset. We were so high. The sun, beneath us. And as it slipped over the edge of the Earth, I swear we followed it. In fact, in my memory of this, it was never dark. There was just the waning day, the drops of rain as we, as if in pilgrimage, trod the ancient, narrow, winding road up. Rain: we must have wondered if there would even be a sunset. And then there were rainbows. Double rainbows, with nothing between us--nothing to obstruct even a speck of their perfect arcs. I would like to say I have a picture to show of--well, any of this. I don't. This was long before I was taking such pictures. These two I have chosen because they share a kinship in spirit--in the case of the "clan" of elms, with the long root, the wisdom, the community of the Druids, and in the case of "sacred spiral" with our circular climb up and, in reverse, down from le Mont. As if a photograph could have come close anyway to capturing even a morsel of the magic and majesty of this experience anywhere near as vividly, as brilliantly as my mind has preserved it, has recollected it year after year. We stood at the top of the World, or so it seemed. The Druids as good as murmured in our ears. There were no horses outrunning an incoming tide, but there might as well have been.

I have seen many beauties in this lifetime, but I have known no magnificence quite like this one, the collective experience of that solstice, that longest day which unfolded like a prayer or a chant then hung, suspended for all time it would seem, at its climax.

Each year I think that one of these years I will find a way to top that solstice on Mont St. Michel, June 21, 1991. And tonight, as I write that, I wonder why, exactly. Why would I want to? Why would I even try? Some acts aren't ever meant to be followed. They assume a category all their own, an incontestable place, deserving of every bit of the aura of reverence that collects, like particles of mist, around them. It is just like that, this long-ago solstice. I carry it as I would a mist that has soaked my garment. And happily so.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yes kathryn, you caught it so well.... love K

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it can never be repeated. Can you send an email to Sally? She may enjoy reading this! Luv ya, sis.

7:20 PM  

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