My Catalan childhood was rich in ritual, mostly Catholic but enlivened by tinges of paganism. Those tinges were especially evident at the summer solstice, known to me at the time only as Saint John\’s Eve.
We spent the long summers at my grandparents\’ farm, and on this night I was allowed to stay up until well after dark, when the fogueres de Sant Joan, the Saint John\’s bonfires, were lit. There were also fireworks, made all the more exciting by my great-aunt, who used to scream helplessly after every bang. How, in those tinder-dry summers, the entire Mediterranean coast did not go up in flames was surely due to the intervention of Saint John himself.
Saint John\’s Eve had its own special dessert, the coca de Sant Joan, a large rectangular pancake-like bread coated with marzipan and studded with pine nuts and candied fruit. But the best part was the foguera, and staying up in the dark to watch my mother and father hold hands and jump over the flames. I wonder now if they knew that they were enacting an ancient fertility ritual? After much cautioning by the assembled grandparents, aunts, uncles and older cousins I was allowed to jump over some embers, then given a slice of coca, a sip of wine, and sent to bed.
Over the coming weeks, the New England landscape will change from the tender greens and barely-there yellows, pinks and violets of spring to the bolder shades of echinacea and black-eyed susans, the rusty pinks of sedums. It is the time of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, sunflowers and zucchini.
I, like the lettuces, tend to go into a decline. I can almost feel the earth\’s axis shift away from the sun, and my vitality ebbs a little every day, keeping pace with the light.
Tonight I did not light a fire, but I did go out to the edge of the field and watch the sun set in the red sky. The deep Vermont greens all around me didn\’t look at all like the muted olive tones of my childhood landscapes. Of all those relatives who cautioned me not to fall into the foguera, few are still alive, much less able to leap laughing over the flames. And if that espadrille-shod, coca-stuffed, watched-over child still exists, she is hidden deep inside me.
But the sun is still the same.