“Solstice Means Stillness”

A decade ago, I promised myself I’d spend summer solstice in the brightest part of the world. It wasn’t so much a bucket-list thing—not sure I have one of those—but more of a calling. At the time, I’d been visiting one of the darker places on the planet, Denmark in December.  I’d  since craved light in its most potent form.

When a writing residency lured me to Iceland during the 2016 summer solstice, I relished not only time to create, but to fulfill that calling. Neither Iceland nor Denmark are part of the Arctic Circle, where light and dark would be most extreme, but I’m calling it “close enough”. My monthlong trip allowed me to soak up the brightest light I’ve known.

Solstice has been celebrated since antiquity–once in winter, and once in summer. By the time these pivotal days roll around, we’re all ready for a change. After a long winter, we celebrate the sun. And when the time comes, we honor its absence. Darkness can be a refuge.

Solstice actually means “sun standing still”.

solstice (n.) Look up solstice at Dictionary.commid-13c., from Old French solstice (13c.), from Latin solstitium “point at which the sun seems to stand still,” especially the summer solstice, from sol “sun” (see sol) + past participle stem of sistere “to come to a stop, make stand still” (see assist (v.)). In early use, Englished as sunstead (late Old English sunstede).

Anyone who paid attention in middle school science class knows the sun doesn’t really stand still. It’s always in motion, along with the rest of the Milky Way. Nevertheless, solstice–the seemingly still point–is a fleeting and cherished moment in time.

It happened on June 20th at 10:34 p.m.  I suppose I could’ve planned something ceremonial to mark the occasion. Instead, I stood on backyard patio in Reykjavík in my sock feet,  watching the sky. Was that moment any more magical than any other I’d experienced in Iceland? I’d be hard pressed to say so, but can attest to the power of the light.

At that moment–and throughout the trip–I was relieved to find stillness, a quiet place in my life after a relentlessly long era of motion. Travel doesn’t always facilitate a sense of stillness; this trip was different.

It helped that I was stationed primarily in two towns. The residency itself took place at Gullkistan Center for Creativity in the Golden Circle region of Iceland. We residents took regular day trips, mixing up our creative time with some all-important exploration. Afterward, I had the option to either travel further into northern Iceland or return to Reykjavík to continue to work on my writing. I chose the latter.

Why? Certainly I missed the chance to walk a glacier or chase a waterfall. I was wildly curious about the Westfjords region and the northern capital of Akureyi. Yet I’d bargained hard with my employer for these few weeks off, and had spent years (!) rearranging my life so that I could escape for this precious time, ostensibly to write.  I owed it to myself  to focus.

In Reykjavík, I stayed at the guesthouse of another residency program, where I was able to connect with others hard at work on their creative projects. I was lucky to have a long-lost friend in Reykjavík who works as an illustrator. Not only was she an ideal local guide, but her successes propelled my own efforts. Along the way, I relished the company of fellow creators, learning immensely from even the most informal and seemingly trivial exchanges.

Many who I met on my journey were advanced in their work. Me? Given the demands of my day job (which is also a blessing, in its own way) I continue to check the box on residency and grant applications that reads: emerging writer.

Forever and always emerging: Aren’t we all, somehow or another?  Tendrils of green poke from the earth and climb toward the sky. A butterfly cracks open its chrysalis and takes flight. The sun peeks from behind the clouds and glints. To emerge is to come forth from a place obscured. In this way, I’m happy to be emerging.

And I’m thankful for the rare moments of stillness that help me do just that.

About Amy Bess Cook

Amy Bess Cook been a working writer for fifteen years. A veteran of the publishing business, she has left her mark on everything from picture book manuscripts to travel guides. Her essays have been published in Vela, Entropy, and Misadventures. In summer 2017, she launches Sirsee, an arts journal celebrating the agricultural harvest season.