SPOONER — Summer days are days created by God for kids to enjoy. No homework, no tests, no getting up and rushing to catch the bus each morning. Kids can enjoy freedom. And that is what being a kid is really all about, isn’t it? Freedom to just, well, be a kid!
I remember fondly the lazy days of summer, when a sack lunch and a fishing pole combined to make a great day down at the old dock. I close my eyes and think back, and even today I can almost feel the warmth of the summer sun on my face. I can smell the water, taste the fresh air and hear the choppy rhythm as waves break on the shore.
I remember how moving the old wooden boats pulled up on the shore would produce the sight of frogs hiding under them. To a little boy, a frog can be a great friend. Occasionally snakes could be found under the boats, which was also fun. And on a really good day a turtle might swim close to the dock, his little head popping out of the water, giving him away.
Seeing the bobber on the old fishing pole dip, dip, dip and then suddenly disappear beneath the surface of the water was a thrill, even if the fish on the other end of the line was a tiny sunny. And on those rare occasions when a big sunfish, a bass or even a good-sized northern pike might hit, it was pure excitement.
I still recall one early morning just after sunrise when a huge sturgeon swam past the end of the dock, and it was like I’d seen a shark. Sadly, I don’t think sturgeons exist in that lake anymore, but that one monster fish sure made a lasting memory.
Nature was a constant companion to a little kid on the fishing dock. Early in the morning ducks would swim by, mother in the lead, with maybe 10 or 12 little ones swimming single file behind. Mom would nervously cackle if she thought you were too close, herding her little ones and swimming to a safer distance.
Every now and then some huge fish would splash to the surface in the bulrushes down the shore and my imagination would race thinking of how big it was and the fight it would put up on my fishing line.
This time of year was always great for observing sleek whitetail does carefully coming to the lakeshore, followed by tiny spotted fawns.
Loons would swim past and dive searching for fish, sometimes rising close enough to clearly see their bright red eyes. Then they would dive again and magically surface a hundred yards away.
I was lucky enough to observe beavers chewing on small trees and otters playing in the sometimes glassy water. Red foxes and raccoons were common sights, as were eagles soaring overhead. Once, I recall a big black bear even wandered by, leaving tracks that, to a 7- or 8-year-old, looked monstrous in the mud.
Ahh, great memories of summer days on the dock with thoughts of classrooms and math tests a million miles away.
Summertime was a time to play with my dog, exploring the backyard and going on long walks in the woods. Kids and dogs don’t have a whole lot of time to explore during school days, but during summer the days are endless and the adventures are many.
Baseball was another summertime joy, when all the kids in the neighborhood — back then a “neighborhood” consisted of about five square miles — would get together, pick sides and play ball.
For hours and hours we would play baseball in the back of an old farmer’s field, dodging cornstalks and cow pies. Even the dog got to play, because he was a fantastic shortstop, hardly ever missing a sharply hit ball, and never dropping a pop-up.
When it got dark, and only then, the game would stop when Mom called us in for dinner. Our mom had an old farmer’s cow bell, and in my mind I can still hear it ringing out, clanking as the final hints of daylight disappeared.
Oh, well, we couldn’t see to bat anyway, and tomorrow was another day. There was always tomorrow … that wonderful dream of endless adventures and memory-making days called tomorrow.
Well, all our tomorrows came and went. Summers and school days rushed by in an ever-increasing blur, and then the incredible and unthinkable happened.
We grew up.
Suddenly we started paying attention in class, because our grades depended on it. And in class, there was no more tracing our hands to make turkeys or playing with paste and glitter. Homework, though despised, had to be done. We had lives to plan out, and good grades promised better opportunities.
Summer days were suddenly taken up by summer jobs. And trips to the dock, the treehouse, and the swing set became infrequent.
Nobody ever got together to play baseball or kick the can — it was a game we loved, but kids today may not have ever heard of.
We got “busy.” Even the old dog who had been such a friend slowed down, and then one day he failed to meet me when I got home from school. In many ways, I think that was the day when childhood ended. No more summer days.
Enjoy them, kids. Your summers are now, and they begin when that final school bell rings and classes are dismissed. Don’t let a summer day pass you by, because you will never get it back, not ever.
To a grown-up summer is great, but it is different. Summer means activity in our area. Each weekend is filled with events in almost any community you care to spend time in. For locals and visitors alike, there is no shortage of great things to do. But it simply isn’t as great as when you were a kid, hoping to catch a monster pumpkinseed or largemouth bass.
The golden days are beginning soon. Warm, sunny afternoons at the lake. Little League baseball games. County fairs. The sweet taste of ripe watermelon. Discovering a hidden treasure at a flea market.
But there are times I would give anything to be back looking for frogs under wooden boats and listening to the waves on the beach. One more walk in the woods with my dog would be priceless. I still miss him.
So embrace summer days, kids. Enjoy them and the freedom they offer. They are simply priceless. And have a great, happy summer.
Thornley is sports editor of the Spooner Advocate.