Badlands Solstice

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee.
– Emily Dickinson

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Badlands sky. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

I wrote the first post of this blog on the Winter Solstice, the longest night. Yesterday was the longest day, the summer solstice. Throughout time, humans have marked the solstices and the equinoxes with special rites. They have built monuments precisely aligned with the rising or setting solstice suns. They have gathered in places that are sacred to watch the first or the last rays of the sun on these tipping points in the year.

The summer solstice is a culmination. Though the fullness of summer is still a few weeks away, the solstice marks the time of year when everything reaches toward the sun – every growing thing, every living thing. It is a bittersweet day, for it means that tomorrow the sun’s light recedes from us a bit every day, imperceptibly at first, until darkness comes earlier and we begin to approach the autumnal equinox, when everything has borne fruit and must dig in for winter.

When you live in a rural place where you can see the sun and how it moves throughout the year, this cyclical routine of the sun seeps into your bones, just as the lunar cycle does. We don’t even notice it, usually, because it’s so much a part of us.

A sacred place in southern Saskatchewan is the Big Muddy Badlands, also known as the Big Muddy Valley, or more simply, just the Big Muddy. This is a place of spectacular beauty, of exhilarating history. The Big Muddy was the Wild West. Outlaws, cattle rustling, horse thieving, rum running, it all happened there. Sitting Bull rode through it. Countless horses and cattle have grazed its grasses. Before all of this, the aboriginal peoples considered it a holy place, judging by the amount of effigies found there. Thousands of tipi rings stand in silent testimony of lives lived there for thousands of years.

The Big Muddy will be referred to again and again in this blog, I’m sure. It is a place of mystery and magic and legends and lore. It is one of my favourite places on earth, perhaps second only to the Gap country, its nearest neighbour to the east.

I travelled with good friends to the Big Muddy the evening of the solstice to watch the sun set at its late hour. No monuments are needed to mark the sacred solstice in the Big Muddy. The landscape itself is the most perfect venue imaginable for such a rite. The Big Muddy is a place of light and shadow, of constant contrasts. It is the only place I wanted to be to watch the sun set on the Longest Day.

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Badland buttes. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Grass, Sky, Song. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Clouds over a coulee. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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By the shores of Big Muddy Lake. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Badlands flora. Kristin Catherwood. June 21. 2014.

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Solstice shadows. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Big Muddy Lake. Krisitn Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Hole in the Wall. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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The last light of the sun. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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