I push on down the trail, navigating a cluster of indifferent geese and turning off of South Lakeshore Drive, now making my way along the highway by the golf course. Later today, there is a pool party, the period at the end of the sentence of our summer.
Kids from our church will be there for one last splash, one final barbaric yawp across the rooftops of Haywood County. Then they will feast on some pizza, before trudging home to confront the solemn reality of setting alarm clocks, packing their new bookbags, and laying out clothes for tomorrow.
We live a few miles out of town, which means our kids will have to get on the bus well before 7 a.m. That is going to feel, especially on the first day of school, like the dawn of creation, as they stand waiting for the bus by a row of mailboxes at the top of our drive, sunrise barely a rumor in the dark and purplish sky. At least it is just for half a day, and they are armored in new clothes and new shoes, stiff and unfamiliar.
Everything is strange. Well, most things. Our daughter is a rising sophomore in high school, so she has had a year to learn the terrain and adapt to these lofty new heights. She is breathing more comfortably now, but change is the whole of the law for young people. One of her best friends is changing schools, so that is something to deal with. There is the flux of friendship. Some alliances seem stronger, others weaker. Her studies will become a bit more daunting, the prospect of college a bit more real. Who knows what to expect? What is more unpredictable than high school?
Stranger still is the new world our son is facing, now that he is entering that cave of despair known as middle school. He is leaving a wonderful, very warm and cozy elementary school where not only his teachers, but every single employee, knew him by name, and now he is off to a sprawling metropolis of brick and mortar, kids spilling out and around every crevice like a thriving colony of ants. The atmosphere of the school is just not the same. This one is not only much bigger, it is more industrial, more “institutional,” perhaps a function not only of the relative size of the school, but of the ages of the children.
In other words, our kids are growing up too fast and there is nothing we can do about it. I run faster, turning at the Welcome Center, just about ready to climb one more rise by Shackford Hall and then on to the home stretch along the Rose Walk. The sun reasserts itself, bearing down hard now through a broken patch of clouds, and the sweat forms small streams along my face, neck, back, arms, and torso. Summer is back for one last bow, a curtain call.
The lake shimmers, reflecting the sky. Two paddle boarders square off and say something to each other, I cannot hear what. A swan drifts contentedly about 20 yards away, undisturbed. Everything I see seems exactly where and how it should be, placed there by the hand of God. There is no more beautiful place anywhere to run — or walk, or meditate, or whatever else you want to do — than Lake Junaluska. After cresting the hill, I relax a little and settle into the kind of groove that runners prattle on about, the endorphins kicking in and infusing my body and spirit with the illusion that I could go on like this forever, that I could hold on to this moment and this feeling and just keep running from now on in an endless, changeless summer.
The finish line comes into view — the front of Stuart Auditorium, where I like to begin my runs — and I glide by in one more short burst. Just like that, it is over. School is here. The future is knocking. Nothing left to do now for us mere mortals than to open the door and find out what is on the other side.