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There’s Magic in the Air

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate reason and high ideals

There are places that seem to be magic. Who knows what forces might be at work? Perhaps magnetic fields? Certainly I’m not claiming any science here. Yet over history, places like England’s Stonehenge have drawn human creatures ­hither, often for sacred rites.
    Another of those forces seems to me to rise along the Mississippi River between Fort de Chartres and Fort Kaskaskia, the first capital of Illinois. Nearby in the cliffs of the river, humans sheltered as long ago as 10,000 years at the Modoc Rock Shelter.
    You can feel the vibrations there. At least I did when I visited with Irwin Peithmann, the local archaeologist who discovered those long-ago people’s telltale leavings.
    Places on the calendar can have that same kind of resonance. Right now, we’re in one of those times: the solstice days leading up to the Fourth of July.
    Can you feel the magic of the solstice? Indoor lives buffer us from the sense of the sun, but it still pulls on us. That force is one of the reasons people choose to spend their lives out of doors, often, here in Chesapeake Country, on the water.
    Our calendars, including Stonehenge, mark the solstice as the first day of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere. Chesapeake Country artist and naturalist John Taylor goes contrary to tradition, calling the summer solstice the first day of Chesapeake autumn, as it’s the pivot point for shortening daylight hours.
    As you’ll read in The Bay Gardener this week, plants grow by the length of daylight hours, and knowledge of their affinity for light helps gardeners to success.
    Solstice is universal language that we’ve Americanized in very special ways.
    I’m not thinking just of fiscal years, which as in Maryland often end on June 30.
    Our magic day of the season is the Fourth of July. Though we could be celebrating the Second of July, when the Continental Congress voted for independence, as you’ll read in Chesapeake Curiosities this week.
    What we’re celebrating — with fireworks, parades, concerts, picnics, barbecues and naturalization ceremonies — is our Declaration of Independence. Written over June of 1776 by five authors —Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, John Adams and Robert R. Livingston — it was presented to the Continental Congress on July 1, debated, revised and adopted July 4.
    War had already broken out, and George Washington had been commissioned commander in chief of the armies fighting for independence from Great Britain. So fervor was high.  
    Consider America’s political passions this summer 240 years later, and you’ll get a sense of those roiling times. Back then, however, the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, including four Marylanders, were deadly serious, were willing to kill and to be killed, for their cause.
    One of the wonders of that time is that these men and their compatriots could summon the cool force of reason to think — newly for their age — in terms of moral ideals. They could not only think great thoughts but also express their claim in words that set the standard for political wisdom.
    That’s a feat worth celebrating. Worth emulating in these unsettled times of ours.
    If you’re feeling that reason and higher ideals are scarce in today’s political debate, you might need a reminder of what they sound like.
    How long has it been since you’ve read the Declaration of Independence?
    Refresh your memory (below) and enjoy your Fourth!

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com