We’ve been in school now for two weeks, but by the stars it’s still summer. And what I know by now, having lived a few summers myself, us this: the last days of summer are the best ones. The skies are still blue and far away, but the swelter and broil and sweat of the dog days are gone. By the time my third hour begins, the morning mist has burned away. I was wise enough to get a seat at the very back of the classroom, just below the windows. And now the sunlight filters through and I feel the warmth on my shoulders as my nervous and insecure French teacher who seems a world away mutters on in a language I don’t understand and have no intention of learning.
The hickory floorboards of this room were laid just after the Great War and they have been worn soft by decades of traffic and sweeping. And as the sun starts to bake them they release a hint of the scent of the trees from which they came. I rise, pretending that I need to sharpen my pencil, but as I stand I see through the window what I had really been looking for. Johnny has parked his Honda 90 on the west lot. There it is, red and shining in the sun. I smile. We’ll be on it in an hour while the rest of this sleepy and compliant student body is sitting in that smelly and overcrowded cafeteria, eating food that they would never choose if they had a choice.
The bell rings and I race down the back stairway, sling my books into my locker and slip out of the building through the woodshop. Only Mr. Fischer is there, sitting at his desk in the corner, eating his bag lunch. I don’t have to worry about him. He’s told me before that he’d be on the river too, if he had the choice.
As I pass through the hedgerow, I see that Johnny is already on the bike. And in a moment we are on the road and into the blue and gold and it is full summer again. The wind in our faces wakes up all those parts of us that the school conspires to put to sleep. But these hours are stolen. We know that we are getting away with something. We know our idea is a better one. We feel like escaped criminals.
The thing we know that others don’t and the thing that has opened up life for us is this: the world is not what the teachers are telling us it is. They are laboring now in confinement, but by the stars it is still summer.
We turn the last curve in the road and see that the swimming hole is just as it was before. Just as we knew it would be. The trees are still in full foliage and the green river is sun-dappled beneath them. But the water is cooler now, and as we dive in, we shiver with life.