The Altar of the Sun

This past Sunday, June the 21, marked the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of the year and Southern Hemisphere’s shortest. On this day, the earth reaches an important apex in our annual journey around the sun. The earth is tilted 23.4°, and on Sunday the north pole faced the sun directly, creating the earliest sunrise and latest sunset of the year.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Matt Davis Trail // Photo by Hipcamper, Amalie Zinsser

I spent the solstice on Mount Tamalpais, a place that has always been sacred to me as I grew up on its slopes. I set my intentions for the year while imagining the earth passing this through this place and time. As the clock hit 9:39 am, I knew the days would start getting shorter until the Winter Solstice arrives on December 21. But today was the longest day of the year.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park // Photos by Hipcamp Staff, Julian Bialowas

As I greeted other hikers with “Happy Solstice” and was received with confused expressions, it dawned on me—no one had any idea what I was talking about.

This is quite symbolic of the endemic I feel plagues our American society today—a severe lack of connection to nature. Now had it been the Super Bowl, there would have been no confusion.

Traditionally, the solstice has been of huge importance to the indigenous peoples of North America and around the world. In the mountains and prairie regions of North America, the solstice represented the central ritual to indigenous life, a multi-day festival centered around a sacred celebration known as the Sun Dance.

As Edward Curtis, one of the earliest ethnologists for indigenous people in North America phrased it: “It is often said of certain tribes that they are sun-worshippers. To call them sun-worshippers is, I believe, in most instances about as nearly right as it would be to call all Christian people cross-worshippers. In other words, the sun is but the symbol of power.”

The sun is a symbol in a much greater system of beliefs that encompasses the entire interconnected system of the natural and spiritual universe, often known as the Great Mystery.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park // Photos by Hipcamp Staff, Julian Bialowas

While I am by no means an expert and have not received any formal training on these topics, I do intuitively know that this reverence for nature is a huge missing element in our modern civilization.

Today, we often pit “man vs. nature,” framing nature as something we must conquer, cultivate, scale, defeat, and domesticate. The dangerous assumption in this mindset is that man is separate from nature, which couldn’t be farther from the case – we’re actually an integral part. In forgetting our interconnection with nature, we’ve created a value system that supports prioritizing convenience and profit over the survival of other species, ignoring the fact that by killing 90% of our ocean’s predators in a few decades, polluting our water tables, or bathing our oceans in oil, we are really killing parts of ourselves.

If this is really true, why aren’t more people freaking out, you might wonder? Well, the unfortunate truth is that these self-inflicted wounds are not distributedly evenly. When we allow corporations to grow huge monocrops to maximize profit, these unnatural ecosystems require poisonous chemicals to ward off bugs. Where do these toxic wastes go? Certainly not Marin, the Upper East Side or Pacific Heights. No, they get dumped in the small farming towns that no has heard of and that no one will visit, in the sun-baked center of California where people are impoverished and cancer rates are off the charts.

Thus, social equality and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Everyone wants clean food, water, and air. This shouldn’t be a luxury afforded to the wealthy. Our generation’s environmentalist are just as concerned with incinerators and chemical plants as they are wilderness areas and glaciers.

I was raised Catholic. And while there is so much about my community that I love, the truth is that nature is my religion. It’s where I go to learn, to heal, to grow.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park // Photo by Hipcamp Staff, Julian Bialowas

There’s an old blessing, allegedly Apache that goes something like this:

May the sun bring you new energy by day,

May the moon softly restore you by night,

May the rain wash away your worries,

May the breeze blow new strength into your being,

May you walk through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.

It is this deep appreciation for indigenous peoples’ connection with nature and a recognition for the dire need to help bring this into today’s world that lies at Hipcamp’s core. Our mission is to get more people outside and connect them with nature. We want to help people remember that we are all natives on this planet—an integral part of nature, not a thing apart.

Mendocino Magic // Photo by Hipcamper, Lisse Lundin

The Domes, Oz Farm // Photo by Hipcamp Staff, Julian Bialowas

Newbird Cabin, Oz Farm // Photo by Michaela Ravasio

Words by Alyssa Ravasio

Alyssa is the founder and CEO of Hipcamp. She has a degree from UCLA in Digital Democracy and her deepest passion is helping shape how the internet impacts our humanity and our planet.

Title credit to Willie Nelson, by way of @annaehrgott

Title image by Hipcamper, Cody Reneau
Hipcamp Staff

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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