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How to Celebrate the Summer Solstice in Appalachia

June 20-22


Looking over the quilt garden at the North Carolina Arboretum.
Looking over the quilt garden at the North Carolina Arboretum, June 2023.


Flush with life


Verdant growth covers the land within the span of weeks. On the longest day of the year, the Sun finally reaches its highest position in the sky overhead. Fertile with solar power, the full energy of the Earth bursts forth in every shade of green.



Linville Gorge from Wiseman's View
Linville Gorge from Wiseman's View, June 2023.


Midsummer Mythology


As brought to life by the Elizabethan play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this holiday marks a celebratory time for people and faery folk alike. Be careful not to engage with faery trickery, however, because these otherworldly beings are more dangerous than they are cute.


For thousands of years, people have congregated at the site of Stonehenge to mark the annual celestial event of the Summer Solstice. Just before dusk, the Sun dips between two pillars of stone in this megalithic calendar. Nobody alive today really knows why ancient people arranged the stones in such a pattern at this location, but their alignment with cross quarter points on the Wheel of the Year suggests an intimate relationship with the surrounding landscape as well as an unsurpassed excellence of arts and crafts. Many Pagans also refer to Midsummer by the Anglo-Saxon name, Litha, while the Druids refer to it as Alban Hefin.


Indigenous people once gathered at Serpent Mound on the northern foothills of Appalachia for similar religious reasons, woven together by the changing seasons and natural cycles of growth and decay.



Serpent Mound in Ohio.
Serpent Mound in Ohio.


Pagan Traditions


Before all the lush greenery begins to tire out in the hottest months ahead, Midsummer is ideal for harvesting fresh herbs and cuttings of plants. As with many other holidays, lighting a bonfire symbolizes the Sun at its maximum potential. Fireworks, fairs, concerts, and other gatherings also mark this festive point of the calendar, buzzing with life in all its forms.



Snapdragons, catnip, bee balm, and dahlias in Mallow Rose Cottage Garden, June 2023.
Snapdragons, catnip, bee balm, and dahlias in Mallow Rose Cottage Garden, June 2023.


Appalachian Summer


As the mountain laurel, rhododendron, and azalea blossoms reach their peak at the top of the mountains, spring has officially transitioned into summer. Thunderstorms crash into the highlands, dumping rain into the ever-darkening woodlands. Fireflies flash over fields and forests, synchronously communicating through flickers of light. Depending on the year and location, cicadas also start to emerge en masse from their long slumber underground. Shorter and more raucous days lie ahead.



Dahlias, sunflower, and witch-hazel in Mallow Rose Cottage Garden, June 2023.
Dahlias, sunflower, and witch-hazel in Mallow Rose Cottage Garden, June 2023.


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