I arrive in Gassin to watch the sky bid farewell to the sun but I can’t stop anywhere.
Why the whole world decided to go today to that hilltop village and clog its streets I don’t know, but I need a plan B.
So I drive away and down the sharply inclined road with its hairpin turns. I find a remote spot at the edge of the road, by a clearing among cork oaks, and park the car waiting for nightfall. This is my salute to the end of a season and the beginning of another; a way to mark a time and another time.
Severe downpours the last two days have knocked power out in random places; blind lamp posts meander in the disappearing daylight, barely visible against the darkening clouds.
I expected a solstice sunset funeral in pomp and glorious colors, or subtle and fragile hues, but this is not to be.
Heavy clouds sit over Saint-Tropez, creeping up through vineyards. They follow streams, pile up into crevasses, scale up the mountain while, across the way from where I stand, another cloud formation is spilling over and down the hills of La Croix-Valmer snuffing lights as it goes.
Oppressive silence holds me still.
Then I hear them.
Thousands of collected tears and sighs cover oak leaves and slide softly on mossy branches and onto outcrops jutting under a lumpy carpet of fallen leaves.
A little pigtailed sprite tugs at my skirt to get my attention.
“We do what we can to bring all the sadness and worries to rest with the sun when he dies,” she says gravely. “We collect armfuls and let them tumble down from the top of trees before the sun goes down for his long night.”
Her pigtails are a mess. Pieces of leaves and grass are snagged in stray curls here and there.
Darkness is gaining ground but she is getting brighter.
I can feel a tingle of cold moisture on my face, like a dusting.
“Echoes of tears it is. You are caught with us in the Gathering. Can you see it? … Can you see all of us?” She asks with a bit of hope in her voice.
I look but I can only sense presence… and something else but I don’t have a word for it. My eyes are useless.
Murky gray cotton muffles and flattens contours and reliefs.
Light is scarce. Dark masses loom, advancing toward me. The long night begins.
Unease starts to grip my heart, aiming to settle in my belly.
“What you feel are the old fears of long ago,” she says in a hush, “fear of darkness is fear of the unknown, the unseen, the unspoken, and the un-everything with no name… People are fearful creatures.”
We are. What we don’t understand we fear and despise; what we despise we destroy.
“It is so,” she says solemnly, answering my thoughts…
Not too far off a yellow caution light blinks through ashen flannel fog.
I think I hear the sound of time as it passes and I stand still with a little disheveled sprite by my side.
“It’s a lot of grief to carry around at one time. …You wouldn’t think sighs would be that heavy…” She continues shaking her head in quasi-disbelief.
But then she brightens up in a sweet vanilla glow as she adds: “But it’s a good thing really, because after we harvest them all in one place, they sink to the earth and stop floating around tripping dreams and good ideas as they fly and curl about!”
I smile thinking about sweet pink and lavender sunrise-dreams and good ideas doing double loops and swan dives…
“What happens now?” I ask, reaching for contact. A hand, hair, a feel of skin, anything that says we are–she and I–of the same dream.
She looks up, tucks herself against my hand and like a child disappointed in the ignorance of grown-ups, she lays it out for me:
“Sometimes it takes the sun all three longest nights to burn up the sorrow and hurt we collect. They can only burn in the dark. After three shortest days a gigazillion of dust motes carry what’s left to the woods and forests. Rain and snow trap it; then the trees take your pain and shame, break everything down to stardust, and breathe in and out, cleaning the air and your souls too… When you see a really old tree, you know he has done a lot of cleaning!” she says nodding her head for emphasis.
She stops and scratches the ground with her foot. She has something else to tell me.
Her sweet sing-song voice fills me with longing for other little voices that used to fill my days with giggles.
“Three days after his longest night, the sun starts to stretch the light a little at a time, just so, because people need cold and darkness to keep each other warm, think new dreams and tell stories–”she pauses.
I suppose we did once upon a time, before we found so many different ways to keep busy, to forget that we die alone…
“When little children stare into fire they see us dance, they see magic and dragons. When grownups stare in a fire for warmth they often remember good things and stories of long ago hiding in their heart, stuck to forgotten dreams and pictures.” She looks up, reads my face, makes sure I follow.
My feet are cold and my shoulders tight. I am beginning to shiver.
Night engulfs us all at once. An orange glow bounces off the clouds. Silence breaks with the hum of traffic on D559 below me.
Her eyes probe mine as she tells me, “Good dreams never die you know, but they need a story to be remembered and a soul to house them for a while. If enough people become home to the same dream, magic happens… Don’t forget.”
That’s when I feel her move away. I think I see her glide into the shadows of an oak and blink to clear my focus but she is gone.
Stories… We have always used stories to make our way out of darkness.