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If it's Tuesday, it must be summer

Summer is just about here. The summer solstice will arrive in Southern Oregon at 10:46 p.m. Saturday, June 20. That should bring the year's longest stretch of daylight to Father's Day.

For the optimists in the crowd, this is a good thing. Lots of sunlight, not much darkness. For the pessimists, they get to whine about the fact that the amount of light starts diminishing right after the solstice until we end up in September with equal amounts of day and night. And then there's the winter solstice, where the darkness takes over. Oh well.

Meanwhile back in the land of sunshine, I was invited by two different groups to speak about the summer solstice and what it means.

The sun had been up for a few hours practicing for its big day by the time I arrived at the Rotary Club of Ashland Lithia Springs Tuesday for the group's 7 a.m. meeting. I was to be the guest speaker, a privilege I have been granted for many years. In the past I have been asked to talk about the origins of other seasonal celebrations, such as Thanksgiving.

This is a special group of people. Yes, they're all professionals — business owners, Realtors, educators, lawyers and accountants. And yes, they're very committed to improving the lives of others with the organization's many volunteer hours, grants and scholarships. One of the scholarship recipients, a graduating eighth-grader, was there with her brother and parents.

What makes this group particularly special is the members manage to sing together at 7 in the morning. And this they do with great glee — perhaps the origin of the phrase "glee club." Back in the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote "Sumer is icumen in. Lhude sing cuccu!" (Summer is a-comin' in, Loudly sing, Cuckoo!) Had he been at the Rotary meeting, he, too, would have sung loudly to herald the coming of summer.

I always enjoy spending time with these good-natured, generous folks. Even their sense of humor is firing on all cylinders at 7 o'clock. For my troubles, they gave me a lovely T-shirt many sizes too large for me or anyone I know. I'll wear it proudly. At home.

That night I drove up to Lake of the Woods as I have done for many years as the guest speaker for a Resources and People Camp. I have memories of delightful nights at the camp sharing the wonders of the night sky with the high school students, graduates, college students and other educators.

In previous years we have assembled on the shores of the lake, arriving by van and canoe, on a pier — which slowly sank as the evening wore on — and inside the big meeting room. But most nights we have gathered around the campfire. It may nearly be summer on the calendar, but up in the woods it's still very cold.

The campers spend an intensive week learning from field professionals about the science of observing, protecting and enhancing our natural resources. It's a fabulous program run by very dedicated people. This year 60 students came from Cedarville, Sisters, Bend, La Pine, Lakeview, Central Point, Spokane, Wash., Portland, Gold Hill, Talent and Fresno, Calif.

They have lots of training, and instruction as well as an opportunity to learn how to put together a resume should they want to contact any of the program's 27 sponsors, contributors and partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Forensics Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and national forests.

The campers also have a lot of fun. They get to meet other kids with similar interests and do camp things like canoeing and singing silly songs. So I got to hear another "glee club." And I got another T-shirt. This one fits and I'll wear it outside.

Like the Rotary folks that morning sitting around tables in the Ashland Community Center, the campers sitting around the campfire were attentive, appreciative and curious.

Some of the nuts and bolts of getting to know your way around the night sky can seem a bit arcane. Most of us have little or no schooling in things astronomical but have been exposed to the stunning and complex images from the Hubble Space Telescope. My task is to fill in the blanks however I can so that the sky itself can do the rest.

After all, the ancients knew as much as we do about the summer solstice, perhaps even more. They, too, sat around tables and campfires and pondered their place in the universe. A perfect way to welcome the coming of summer.