It's that time again, the summer solstice, longest day of the year and official invitation to the natural, animal, and perhaps even pagan instincts we all keep in check in our public lives. It was a long winter and a soggy spring, and so it wouldn't be warrantless to greet the official turning of the season with an extra rush of celebration. Portland will get 15 hours, 26 minutes, and 43 seconds of sun on June 21. We deserve every moment.
For those of you who don't know, the term solstice is derived from the Latin, meaning "sun standing still." That is a fabrication — the sun does not do this — but such a preposterous claim proves the powers of imagination and metaphor were potent even way back then. In other words, everyone has always known the sun is powerful stuff. So why resist? The summer solstice is a day of fertility, a time when people have agreed to put aside the rigors and rituals of the intellectual mind and step fully into their bodies, exploring the world around them with renewed vitality.
So to prepare for the solstice itself, I did exactly that. Though I can get a fair amount of sunshine through the windows of my corner of the Phoenix office, it wasn't nearly enough to stoke my summer fire. So I left the desk and courted the coming solstice my own way, setting out to find the ten most vibrant, symbolic, and interesting splashes of yellow in all greater Portland.
This was no search that Google could handle. Just as the language of paganism cannot be contained in any steeple, church, or monastery, summer can only be properly experienced outdoors. It must be uncovered in the very fabric of the world itself. How thrilling.
But it wasn't as easy as it looked. Portland is a city of brick, a material with no real perch in the pagan universe. It's also a city built on water, an element that is very pagan, but in this case necessitated the construction of a small village of houses for seamen on the East End, a people surely too modest to paint their homes the color of the sun. It's also a city with much food and greenery, and though both are superb, they're useless in this particular quest.
It took long hours, much bicycle grease, and pools of tanning lotion, but I ultimately found the ten best summer yellows in Portland. They may not be irrefutable evidence that our fair city is a teeming paganist den, but neither do they prove the contrary. In either case, they're beautiful, and symbolize city life brilliantly.
(Before we begin, here's a list of yellows that don't count: taxis, school buses, traffic lights, municipal or "safety yellows" such as divider strips or the clearance overhangs of parking garages. Cranes. With a couple exceptions, I tried to avoid most yellow signs — the color's magic is compromised if it's being used to sell something, and in general, restricted the search to the outdoors and publicly visible. In other words, if your favorite restaurant has a flamboyantly golden expressionist painting hanging in the bathroom next to the paper-towel dispenser, maybe you just keep that one for yourself.)