View Summer Ceremony

View Summer Ceremony

by Fern Marshall


In my old flat, I used to peer longingly at the small corner of sky visible over the rooftops. Now I live on the third floor in a corner flat full of windows and light. On bonfire night the skyline fills with fireworks, sparkling explosions of color, bangs and whistles and screams of joy. With this view, I don’t feel penned in like I used to. Every day, working from home, I go to the window to remind myself that there is a whole world out there away from the computer screen. I breathe deep and watch as pigeons and magpies loop past, a flock of tiny birds cluster around the weathervane on top of the church, and bright green leaves rustle in the tree below. All day long city buses rumble past, sirens scream, and planes steadily make their way across the sky. Their consistency is oddly comforting. The clouds bring me never-ending joy: streaks of neon pink at sunset, a hint of lemon yellow on the horizon, bruised violet as a winter storm builds. I delight when the moon appears, whether it is huge and silver as a prop formed from papier-mâché and tinfoil or faint and barely there. My husband and I come up with our own names for the stages of the moon—apple slice moon, mostly moon, fingernail moon, banana moon, hidden moon, misty moon. Even on the coldest, wettest night, I am soothed as I watch pale branches swaying in a sudden gust of wind, rain falling softly in the glow of the street lamps, the red-amber-green of the traffic lights endlessly looping. On the best days, the sky is clear and blue and the sun shines through the windows, enticing me outside. I watch people in the park at the end of the street, walking and cycling and running with fluffy dogs and tiny children and everything feels a little bit more hopeful. 


We drive a few hours south on increasingly narrow roads to a tiny hamlet full of swooping swallows and oppressive nights. There are verges full of rosebay willowherb, rolling fields beyond, and clear blue skies overhead. We scramble over stone stiles and along rough tracks full of long grasses that tickle our bare legs. There are delicate nodding harebells and clumps of yarrow tinged pink, and it is two days away from the summer solstice, two days away from the longest day of the year. We stride up a nearby hill to watch the sun disappear from our vantage point in a shorn hay field, the stubble prickly against my legs, shoulders warm and tinged pink and a small glass of golden whiskey in my hand, then we run back down the hill in the cooling night air. We eat cheese and crackers for dinner every night, lemon curd on toast for breakfast, drink from sweating ice filled glasses in the afternoon. We drive and explore, air conditioning turned up high, thighs rubbing under a dress worn with sneakers because I wasn’t expecting it to be this hot, the kind of hot where I don’t care what I look like as long as I have as little material touching my skin as possible, hair pulled up and away from my neck. We scramble down a shaded slope covered in soft bright grass to a coppery river in a tiny valley, balancing on slippery rocks below a tiny stone bridge and a bower of green leaves, hidden from the heat and from passing cars as our feet dangle in the cool rushing water. These are the memories that last through the coldest, wettest winter days, reminding me that summer will return. 


Beyond the thin pane of glass, the cold winter night lies in wait. But here, now, there are candles with golden flames and cacao that lies thick and rough on my tongue. The rim of my cup is coated with wet pink rose petals. This is a soft, intimate space. We sit cross legged on large cushions on the floor, surrounded by blankets, crystals, feathers, and candlelight. Most important of all, we surround ourselves with sounds. Sounds that lift us from this ground floor city flat right up into the heavens above, sounds that transport us to the stars and back, in and out and around and through until we are merely blurs of movement and light, released from the everyday for an hour or two. In this small space the air vibrates with noise, thudding drums blending with the song of the delicate chimes swinging from my hand. I shake a rain stick, tentative at first but growing with confidence, giving myself permission to be loud, to make noise and take up space in the sound waves. We close our eyes and sing wordless songs that come from somewhere deep inside, my voice small at first but increasing in volume as I am absorbed into the flow, expanding beyond my inhibitions. Bronze singing bowls vibrate and hum in our palms. This is a space to escape into, to be held in. I let go, allow the cacao to warm and heal, forehead, jaw and shoulders starting to release tension. The beat of the drum is soft but insistent and there is a message to be heard if I listen carefully. Even after work on a grey, humdrum Tuesday night, magic can be found.


Featured in our February 2022 issue, "Escape"