The notion of a picnic breakfast to celebrate the summer solstice was born on a bitter, stormy winter solstice night. On that chilly December evening, Susie Tompkins Buell, the cofounder of Esprit (now a political activist, organic gardener and amateur triathlete), and her husband, Mark, had gathered some friends at their seaside house north of San Francisco, and we decided to go down to the beach to take advantage of an unusually low tide.
As we trudged across the wet sand toward the distant waves at the edge of the Western world, the wind howling in our ears, the seascape transformed by the powerful pull of a new moon, Susie had the idea of repeating the experience on the summer solstice. The panorama would be just as miraculous but the weather gentler. Later, as we warmed ourselves by the fire back at the Buell homestead, we checked the tide book and discovered that the summer solstice, June 21, would in fact coincide with an exceptionally low tide. A ritual had been initiated.
Six months later, we were back on the same beach, this time for a picnic breakfast to commemorate the first day of summer--and the year's earliest sunrise, at 5:48. Susie and Mark and their sleepy grandchildren Willa and Gardner led the way. The sun was rising softly out on the clam patch as a great blue heron watched a flock of prehistoric-looking pelicans dive for sardines. The children climbed over slippery rocks and scoured the tide pools for starfish and urchins, laughing as buried clams sent up squirts of water. Garlands of seaweed were strewn all around us like streamers from last night's party.