The Solstice is the longest day of the year; there is always a gathering at Stonehenge, which may hearken back to the gatherings held by the pagans, the Druids, in the dawn of time when it was built. Of course, for all of it, we won't really know how or why it was built until we "cross over" and can look up the builders.
It's a time of celebration, of enjoying the daylight, and marks as well the abundance of the Earth.
I especially like the Solstices and Equinoxes because of an interest in the simple agrarian life (admittedly now romanticized), the illustrations in the Farmers' Almanac, that sort of thing.
But for me, this year, the brilliance of the Longest Day of the Year was dimmed, diminished, by a profound sadness.
I have learned that June 18, 2008, my most cherished idol passed away. The world, the country, her family and I - lost Tasha Tudor . The link takes you to a site about her and her family; I venture to say that the instant you see ANY of her delicate little watercolor illustrations you'll say "Oh, sure, I know those pictures!" She's best known as an illustrator of children's books, but how miniscule to the whole is that description.
Ms Tudor lived as though it was the 19th century. She lived in a beautiful old-fashioned home built for her by her son (who used techniques and tools of the 19th century). She had gardens unlike any others, filled with all the flowers and herbs you can imagine; she dried all the herbs and cooked with them. She kept animals -goats, chickens, sheep...which provided models for her art as well as milk and eggs and yarn. She spun and knitted, wove, cooked in a huge stone hearth, and served elegant teas. She loved costumes and dressing up, and I imagine the world has been kept on its axis by the fact that her home was a haven for imagination, curiosity, creativity, and color, and music, and laughter. (She never shrank from things like killing animals for food, and was perfectly pragmatic about the way things are.)
She dressed in a soft and beautiful way: long hems, soft flowered cottons, homespun aprons. Her long hair was always covered with a kerchief, but soft tendrils escaped and framed her face.
She was a beauty as a girl - but to my thinking, as an older woman her beauty was enhanced a thousandfold. I saw a picture of her wearing a small shawl, just over her shoulders - and found a way to knit the same shawl (it's the very simple garter-stitch shawl); I have since made dozens of them and wear them all the time. I have one on the needles even as we speak, requested by one of my young colleagues at the Museum.
NOTE: the pattern, probably known by you all anyway, is: CO 3 / K2, YO, K to end. Keep going until you're done. I make them most often from Lion's Homespun, usually using three skeins. My Lovely Daughter makes them too, sometimes using four skeins - hers are really big and cozy. Tasha's were very small, just to cover her narrow shoulders, although her outdoor winter wear was usually a large shawl or sturdy cape.
She had sheep, and carded and spun from both sheep and goat; she wove beautifully, knitted perfectly -- there was no end to her handwork.
In a word - in my heart, Tasha Tudor was the epitome of Beauty, Grace, Skill - and gentility and courtesy. She was and remains my greatest inspiration for life. She was 92, I suppose I knew this day would come.
You know -- even as I write, I feel a little less sad. The legacy of her beautiful books belongs to me. Oh - and if you're not familiar with her, if you don't know her as well as I do, I beseech you to do this: go to the library. If you love children's books, look up the ones she's written and illustrated. But beyond that, look for her books on heritage gardening, on heritage crafts, her recipe book (she called them "receipts", the 19th century word). She will brighten your days and delight you, and I can say that with perfect confidence. Paging through ANY of her books invariably calms and soothes and comforts me.
Lastly, some other happy recollections. She made dolls - incredible, beautiful dolls who enjoyed a rich and wondrous life. Two of her dolls had a wedding which was featured on the cover of Life magazine, with attendants (both human and doll). She recently donated a collection of exquisite early 19th-century clothing to Williamsburg. And her love for Corgis was legendary. They accompanied her everywhere and appeared often in her books.
She had four children, and I cannot imagine a sweeter atmosphere to have been born into. They won't be reading this, of course, but I hope they realize the sincere sympathy flowing their direction, not just from here but from countless hearts around the world.