The day is hot. Hot, and I’m exhausted and sluggish and full of effort from the heat. So sluggish I say, lets drive to the river. All summer long I’ve insisted on walking or biking, even carrying inner tubes and life vests and water and food and shoes and towels and pulling dogs on leashes. Now I give it all up and drive. I think the swim hole will be crowded but it’s not. School has started and really we only have an hour or less before the sun goes. I remember last year, how we swam on into September too, how we went to the river after school for weeks, how we picked berries with our feet in the water, explored up and down stream as if it were summer still, staying until the last fading light chased us home.
We were always the only ones. Everyone else had moved on to football or volleyball or dance classes – homework and tutors. We or I really, opt out of all that. I say we’ll do sports in winter and spring; homework is after dinner, maybe. I want to be outside and to ease into everything else.
Today when we get to the river’s edge the water is flat and dark and shaded, the air cool. But the sun shines on the opposite bank so I wade over while my son climbs up the leaning alder tree with the rope swing. He doesn’t want to jump or swing so much as see fish. “Steelhead” he shouts as one leaps into the air then lands with a loud splash. Then there is another and another. He thinks he might want to swim with the fish even though it is shady and cool.
The dog follows me into the sun. She plunges clumsily into the water, snapping at falling leaves, chasing them down the river. The water is cool but not cold, shallower than it has been all summer and barely reaches my knees. I dunk my face but the desire to swim has dissipated until my son falls off the log and then decides to jump in, clothes and all. “I’m wet anyways” he says. So I go too. I dive beneath the water as if it was still August and we had all the time in the world to warm up and dry off.
When I get to the small beach on the far side, the rocks are warm and the sand hot against my bare feet. It feels good, more than good, it’s as if some burden is taken away, though I can’t figure what. My son swims from the other side and joins me in the sun. We watch leaves drift through the air and laugh at the dog chasing them. Then we pick blackberries from the bushes, the dog too. She delicately pulls berries from the bottom vines. And as if all of a sudden, the sun is gone and we are cold. Our shorts and shirts wet. We have no towels. The dog is full of sand. So we cross the river and climb up the bank to the trail and car. I turn on the heat and we drive home.
I drop my son at the school the next day. It’s a tiny school compound and we pass the high school boys just before the elementary door where they play hacky sack before classes.
“ Just think” I say to my son, “that will be you someday, hanging with your friends before the high school bell rings”. He pulls his backpack on and opens the door “ Yep!” he says. “Less than three years” then jumps out, slams the door and runs off.
“No” I say out loud to no one. “That’s absurd!” But then I realize he’s right. The new season, the next year, the time to move ahead has arrived. Too soon, I think. Too soon. I’m not ready yet, not ready to say goodbye to summer, to let go the golden days of growing.