At the beginning of summer, for us not-retired people who make our livings in this one season or not at all, life speeds up and up and up with each passing week, and we run as fast as we can to keep pace. Grass needs to be mowed almost every day, the calendar overflows with commitments, and daily life piles on additional demands. Fourth of July arrives: summer’s peak, we think — and then as it retreats in our mental rearview mirrors we congratulate ourselves for a few minutes on having survived, but summer has only now truly begun. We forgot. Resolutely now, clearer-eyed, we soldier on (some days like automatons, wondering how long we can last).
Then one fine morning we seem to find our stride. August comes, with hot, dry weather. The grass barely needs mowing any more, and while gardens must be watered twice daily, the expenditure of time there is much less, and we pause and think gratefully of the nearness of September. Already for many in other states, for college and university students, school is beginning. A quiet Sunday in Northport gives the illusion that summer crowds have thinned, and in the evening we drive hopefully to another village for dinner.
Crowds thinned? Not at all! Finding our familiar old gathering spot still filled to the rafters with strangers and ear-shattering noise, we walk to the grocery store to provision a picnic and there receive another shock, one that would have flattened Rip Van Winkle. What has happened to the little store we remember? It is now a giant, in area and in height, and feels like an emporium in some glamorous, distant, enormous city! We are overwhelmed! Dazed, we wander around and manage to find a deli sandwich and Greek salad to share, plus a cold drink — and then we flee!
Surely there will be a quiet spot somewhere outdoors? Something familiar?
We seek out a certain bend in the river where we used to pull off the road to leave our vehicle and submerge our younger bodies in cold, flowing water. Now, however, we find a paved bicycle path and a parking lot with one way “Enter only” and another “Exit only” and the earth all beaten bare by the riverside and yet no picnic table or seating of any kind and “No parking at any time” beside the river. Farther downstream at another spot we used to pull off the road, logs have been dragged into place to prevent anyone’s driving in.
Where is our world of forty years ago? Where are the quiet places?
Finally we find another old pull-off place, this one still accessible, and though it is just off the main road and hardly hidden from traffic we are grateful to be able to park beside the river at last. Passenger side door open, we picnic in our car (not having brought chairs or a blanket) and reminisce. Days with children playing by the side of the river. Float trips and rowing trips in rubber raft, canoe, kayak. Upstream walks, wading against the current, with visiting friends. Leeches. A raccoon washing its dinner in the reeds. Hundreds of silent salmon around and beneath our boat in the fall.
Another car comes along and pulls off the road in front of us, and a man gets out and walks down to the water. He slips out of his sandals and wades in. He turns and waves to his wife to join him. She leaves her sandals next to his, gathers her summer dress up in one hand, and they wade knee-deep, first downstream, then up, against the current. They are from Ohio, I note from the license plate on their car, so it is probably their first time in this river. Watching them, we seem to be watching a movie of our own past.