Whenever I hear the windchimes echoing through the blooms and blossoms and growing things in my backyard, I am often reminded of a haiku by Edo-era poet Matsuo Bashō.
The temple bell stops.
But the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
Imaginary bells aside, tomorrow is the summer solstice, or midsummer, the longest day of the year. I remember the first time I ever heard the term midsummer; it was referenced in The Witches and the Grinnygog, a program on Nickelodeon’s eerie Third Eye anthology series in the early 80s. In the six-part series, an ancient English church is moved to a new site, and a strange statue, the Grinnygog – is found to be missing. It is unwittingly recovered by a woman who, not realizing its importance, gives it to her elderly father as a pseudo garden gnome for his rockery. Shortly thereafter, three eccentric old women appear in the town, peculiar things happen, and a quartet of young friends slowly uncover the mystery of their arrival and what it heralds. It dips into pre-Christian traditions, folklore, time slips, and ghosts, and it takes place leading up to, and during Midsummer.
I barely recall watching The Witches and the Grinnygog, only certain scenes and snippets and…impressions, really… remain in my memory. Luckily, some generous souls have uploaded it to YouTube; they’re a perfectly dreadful quality, but I’ve convinced myself that the fuzzy grain only adds to its strange charm. I have been rewatching it this week, and one sequence struck me intensely: after a shared moment of magic, one of the characters declares, “the day will come that you say you dreamed it.” Quite so! That’s exactly how I’ve felt all these years about the experience of having watched it. Even after reading it and reacquainting myself with it after receiving a copy of the book as a gift over a decade ago! (Yes, it’s based on a book!)
In rewatching it, I was instantly bewitched all over again. The location is lovely, the music is perfect (you can hear the theme here, and how I wish I could find the lyrics to that song! Something about “four us was born” and “fly, besoms, fly!”) and I think all of the actors are wonderful. Is it perfect? Well, probably not. To my older, and hopefully wiser and a bit more worldly eye, there are some things that are troublesome or that feel a little problematic to me. It would be interesting to hear a critical analysis from someone who could do such a thing justice, but I don’t think that’s me.
Mr. Alabaster, for example, is a neat character and he stole every scene he was in, but I wonder if he might fit into the “magical black man” trope/archetype, and if so, that does make me feel a little uncomfortable. Was he there solely to help the white people? Well, I’m not sure. On one hand, I’m fairly certain he was there to reclaim an artifact that belonged in his country. His motivations didn’t really seem to be about helping anyone but rather sticking to his own agenda, one which seemed perfectly reasonable. But then there was all the witch doctor stuff, and they really just seemed to play up his “otherness.” I don’t know. Maybe I am overthinking it. But I also think it’s important to examine this stuff, even the stuff we really love. Nothing should be unimpeachable.
Aside from these thoughts, which obviously didn’t come up the first time I saw it, I mean I was only seven years old in 1983. But the thing that I actually remembered most about it? Like, if you had asked me a few years ago (or maybe even mere seconds after I watched it) what it was all about, I would have said “FLOWERS!” without even thinking. As I’m viewing it again I can see how The Witches and the Grinnygog was formative to many of my obsessions and interests: witchcraft, hauntings, eerie mysteries; reading, writing, and collecting; but most of all…flowers. The flowers that grow around and surround the grinnygog when it is placed in the garden, the ridiculously magnificent floral hat that is magically conjured forth from the laundromat washing machine, and of course the spectacular emergence of blooms and blossoms on houses and street corners which sprung forth mysteriously overnight in honor of the Midsummer festival.
I’ve longed for a lawn and garden space filled with flowers for as long as I can remember. Or rather, now I can say with clarity and certainty–ever since I first saw The Witches and the Grinnygog. I gasped aloud so many times watching this story play out over the course of the past week, thinking, “oh, THIS is the reason I am the way that I am!” So much of me today, who I am, what I love and aspire toward, how I dream and what I dream of, started in the details of this odd little gem of a show. I am so happy I finished the final episode a few scant minutes before midnight on Midsummer Eve, and I plan to spend my day tomorrow, however I spend it, exuding, inhaling, and surrounding myself with the tender, powerful sentiments intoned in the chant begun by Mrs. Bendybones in the scene below.
“Goodness is goodness…peace is peace…and blessings is forever.”
Goodness and peace and blessings, and all the wild magics of a beauteous explosion of flowers to you on this extraordinary Midsummer’s Day, friends.