Our first ceremony began at sunrise, where those who braved the early morning watched in reverent silence as dawn broke. The planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury could be seen around the sky and the half moon was bright as we waited for the rays to break over the horizon. It was an awe inspiring sight despite the noise of traffic. The sun rose slowly and then all at once, bursting forth in a blinding mix of golden yellows and burning oranges spreading into the lavender sky. One of the attendees and hosts of the event, Adin Kawate of the First Nations Education and Culture Center, did a traditional Hawaiian chant to greet and encourage the rising sun. As the sun rose it’s path aligned with a large Ginkgo tree on the perimeter of Hilltop Garden. Ginkgo trees are one of the oldest species still living to this day and it was an honor to get to witness the solstice sunrise fall upon it. Together, we picked berries from the Healing Garden and brought them back to the marker tree. We smeared the berries on a stone at the base of the tree and painted a rising Sun on the bark. The horizon was made with blueberries, the sun black raspberries, with the center of the sun was a bruised sour cherry. We concluded the morning by sharing experiences about what the day meant to us and what we hoped it would bring. Soon after the sun rose we departed, intending to come back at noon.
The summer solstice is an important event to cultures around the world. Summer solstice is the shortest night and longest day of the year. Typically falling between June 20th and 22nd, this year it was on the 21st. Globally and across time, there are examples of cultures marking the path of the sun on this important day. In order to bring the same significance and sense of honor to the Healing Garden, we chose to host three summer solstice ceremonies: sunrise, midday, and sunset.
At noon, despite the heat, we left a large container of water sitting in an open area in the grass to gather the powerful solar energies. While this was happening, we headed towards the greenhouses at Hilltop, running into a fellow gardener. After an insightful discussion on facing bigotry around town and gardening as a way to help bring peace to your spirit, we returned to the garden. The water had been charged with the Sun’s rays and, thankful it was not fully warmed, we shared it with plants of our choosing. The plants varied by person and the reasonings were personal- some shared but many not. These moments of quiet contemplation, sweat beading as the noon sun burned, were filled with a content sense of connection to the space we were in. Through this ritual, we invited attendees to begin a relationship with that plant and its energies, to help promote the healing aspect of the garden. We then dispersed, to return once more at sunset.
By sunset our group had grown by one more. We all re-introduced ourselves, and gathered around to pick our own sun markers to take with us, as a way to commemorate the sun in our homes. These sun markers took the form of assorted stones and pinecones that we painted. On pieces of paper, we wrote notes of things we wanted to get rid of and of things we wanted to bring into the coming season. The solstice is known to have the power to burn away negative energies but also the power to charge and drive good things. Fireflies filled the dusk and the air smelled of the herbs in the garden- dill, chamomile, and cilantro were the strongest. Adin had kindly brought a fire pot, a small ceramic vessel used to have a fire safely, so that we could burn our notes to charge and release what we had written. We added branches from the cedar tree we sat under, as cedar is a powerful cleansing plant. At sunset we watched the Sun slowly descend and said goodbye. We burned our notes, mainly in silence, and then sat around the fire to talk about anything that came to mind. The impact of the solstice and life’s struggles and joys in general were topics of discussion.
It was a peaceful evening, and we quietly watched as the sun set in line with an old stump and an archway in the Healing Garden. It felt almost serendipitous with how perfect the alignment was with one of the main paths through the beds. The stump was painted to commemorate the sunset and remember where it fell that night. The day ended with laughter and we parted ways to enjoy the shortest night of the year after spending the longest day together.
After the ceremony two of the people who participated were asked some questions about solstice and what it meant to them.
Tell me about yourself. Name, where you are from, cultural background, and anything of importance.
Adin Kawate: My name is Adin Kawate and I am the Education and Program Assistant at the First Nations Education and Cultural Center. I am originally from Kaua’i, Hawai’i and am a descendent of Japanese and Filipino immigrants who first came to Hawai’I over 100 years ago. I have been fortunate to have had a few teachers/mentors in Kanaka Maoli lifeways and culture and continue to perpetuate the lessons and practices that I have learned in my life. I like to use one of my colleagues' terms to describe my focus as a “settler ally” to Indigenous People throughout the world.
Lehua Aplaca: I'm Lehua M. Aplaca. I was raised on the island of Oʻahu in Hawaiʻi. I am of Kanaka Maoli, Visaya (Filipino), and Caucasian descent. I've lived here on Turtle Island (the Continental U.S.), since August 2000.
What does the summer solstice mean to you?
AK: During the pandemic, I learned about kilo which is the Hawaiian word for making observations of the natural world. I first started with watching and learning about the moon cycles and gradually expanded into watching the sun’s path throughout the year. Summer solstice is the time to mark and celebrate the Northernmost path of the sun (if you are in the Northern Hemisphere). It is a time to celebrate the peak intensity of the sun to energize your efforts during this part of the year or to burn away things that are not helpful to you. It is also a time to align where you are in time and space to ground you going forward.
LA: Summer Solstice is a happy and celebratory time for me. It's the pinnacle of the year. The longest day when we reach our fullest bloom. Because then the wheel of the year turns and we wind down and prepare for a time of rest and recuperation.
What does the summer solstice mean to your culture and/or community?
AK: I actually do not know too much about how and if the summer solstice is celebrated in Japanese or Filipino culture. Over the past few years, being a hula and oli practitioner as well as part of a community that does kilo in Hawai’i and in other places, I now usually do some sort of ceremony for solstice or join others already doing ceremonies for solstice.
LA: To be honest, I haven't researched what the Solstice means for my culture. Due to a number of circumstances, my cultural connection has been disjointed. I'm working on healing that, but I can't answer the question.
How do you typically celebrate it?
AK: Over the past couple of years I have joined in with ceremony online with some of the Hawai’I communities I am a part of. This year was participating with people from IU at the Healing Garden.
LA: I celebrate by trying to go out into nature and commune. Just be there and hear and feel what it would like to share. Express my gratitude for all it has brought and continues to bring to me. Pay attention to any guidance it might offer.
How was celebrating at the Healing Garden different from your typical celebration?
AK: At the Healing Garden, we are still learning about what the solstice is and establishing traditions that connect people with things like the solstice. So it is like starting from the ground level. This summer we made the effort to mark the position of the sun in relation to the Garden during the day of the solstice. This should begin our journey to follow the sun over the course of the year and begin to introduce people to the natural cycles that take place on Earth.
LA: The Healing Garden experience was different in that there were other people around. Usually my observances are solitary. It was such an expanded warm and accepting energy being at the Healing Garden. Another facet was added into my observance having other like-minded people participating as well.
An impactful memory during a celebration for the summer solstice (whenever, not just this year).
AK: This year (not just during solstice) I have felt the exchange between myself and then sun while performing oli (Hawaiian chant) to greet the sun as it rises and to wish it goodbye as it sets. I think to experience that interplay and exchange is a deep and profound experience and deepens my relationship to the universe around me. It is not just that we exist in the universe. We are meant to be in relationship with it.
LA: Of course, my brain went blank when you asked about a Summer Solstice impactful memory. I can't recall one off the top of my head.
A massive thank you for all who participated in honoring the sun on this special day.