Every summer - the month of June, specifically - brings a high, soft gloom of fog to Santa Barbara. It is a cool gray buffer between us and the sun, known as "June Gloom". It is a meteorological reality here. It paints a diffuse vellum softness over the city for an entire month.
It arrives, without fail, because the nearby Santa Ynez Valley is already arid and hot. The hills that were so recently green and lush after spring rains, have dried to a high gold. They are punctuated with large, leaning oaks crowned with dense green-black leaves.
The early summer inland heat causes a phenomenon that pulls an eiderdown of fog from the surface of the Pacific, to huddle over this portion of the California coastline until July.
There are days that the sun does not appear at all in Santa Barbara. There are days that are cool and gray until sunset, when just a thin stripe of sky at the horizon reveals a fiery orange sun slipping into the blue ink of the sea. Some days, the fog kinda lifts at about noon, with lingering tufts that cling to the edges of the sky.
It is in the official season of "Gloom" that we celebrate the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Parade. By Summer Solstice, we are a like city of pagans who have survived another long, dull winter, deprived of the light, warmth, color, celebrations - the very staff of life - music, dance, and motion. We want friends, food and wine, laughter and comedy and flowers and noise and we want it in very great amounts. It's a contagious state of being.
That is why you will find thousands of Santa Barbarans and visitors lining State Street waiting anxiously for the opulent show.
For many weeks and months, designers and artists and costumers have dedicated themselves, through talent and some sorcery, to creating this event.
And today, on Summer Solstice, everyone is ready - the actors and the audience - the players and the spectators - the beholders and the beheld.
What is one, without the other?
I am eager, too, for the event. I always arrive early, at the crossroads of State and Cota Streets. I watch the pageant unfold. Costumed revelers begin to gather. They come from every direction - an Elvis, a teapot, a dragon....
drummers and dancers, wizards and gypsies....they fill the morning with their color, their energy, their enthusiasm.
I like to watch grids and networks of drummers who lasso us with long, loud, rhythmic tattoos; beautiful ladies, who, with a practiced step and a shy downward glance, capture the audience; I like the artists who put finishing touches on their exotic imaginary kingdoms and invite us to imagine it, too....and finally, we are ready. Ready to dispel the fog, ready to draw down the sun, ready, so ready for summer.
We all feel the pull of young summer - the growing season - a time of lightness and play and heat - from the oldest among us to the very young.
We are ready to usher the season by entering a dreamworld that will last but one afternoon.
And I especially love the kids. They are not perfect at anything, yet.
But they already know - they are everything.
They wield their creativity with abandon, and certainty, and pride.
They step in to the make-believe world with authority, and allow us to peek in, too.
This year, I met Charlie and Lily, who, at the last moment, made a spontaneous and joyful creative move - they decided that morning to join the parade.
It is never too late to join the Summer Solstice Parade.
Charlie and Lily found a box, and got out their crayons. They cut and colored, glittered and glammed up the cardboard box. They drew hearts on it, and wrote their names, and made it into a magical conveyance. Then, they filled it with candy. Charlie put on bright clothing and stickers, Lily donned a princess dress; mom painted their faces. They brought all of their magic with them to State Street.
The arc of balloons and the first floats began to move northward along State Street. Slowly, the gray fog began to lift.
There were dancers followed by boys on unicycles, and a pretty girl on tall stilts....
There was a movable Alice's Wonderland, complete with flamingos and a Red Queen....
flags and banners, laughter and clapping and drums and drums and dancing.
Sunlight splashed in the street, rippling rainbows flung out from sequins and colored glass.
There were imaginary animals, lyrical blue cellophane waves, feathers, tambourines, flowers,
and music that ricocheted from the white adobe walls along State Street.
And then, there they were....Charlie and Lily, in the middle of the parade, the middle of the day, the middle of the celebration.
They didn't need any special preparation or planning, just a moment's notice of joy....they were ready.
They reminded me you don't need a plan, or a costume or a routine - just that moment of incipient joy.
After all, it is never too late to join the parade.