Illustration by Jack Unruh

There was a time when August stretched out forever, the end of it somewhere beyond the horizon of childhood's favorite season.

It was a magnificent mud hole.

It was an inland sea, as much like any other mud hole as a ditch is to the Erie Canal. It was hip deep on a small boy, 40 feet long, and spanned the entire dirt road that linked the blacktop of the Roy Webb Road to the creeks, forests, and fields behind our house in Calhoun County, Alabama.

I spent a whole summer contemplating that mud hole. I waded in it, threw rocks at it, caught snakes in it, threw rocks at snakes in it, and, as the hot days crawled by, studied the entire life cycle of frogs. I built a great vessel and sailed across it (well, mostly I just sank into the muck while trying to balance on an old sheet of plywood) and forever ruined the resale value of my G.I. Joe. There may be nothing more forlorn in this world than a G.I. Joe with no pants and one plastic shoe.

My brothers thought I was wasting time, and—not for the first time—wondered if perhaps we had different daddies. But time was different then, as I have said before. Time came in big buckets. It was not only summer, in a time before jobs locked us in chains and girls robbed us of our sense, but it was August, the most endless month of those forever summers, and August just never ran out.

It stewed and simmered in that nearly liquid air, and lasted.

It should have flown, for when it ended came that hateful season of shoes. And school, where the air always smelled like floor polish and chalk dust and the second-grade teacher was rumored to have cooked and eaten at least two boys, that we knew of.

But it didn't fly. It lolled.

I caught a million fish, and survived a million red wasps, doctored with a truckload of wet snuff, one daub at a time. I hit a million home runs, till the baseball, socked so many times it was only round in a metaphorical sense, finally vanished into a blackberry bush rumored to be inhabited by a 4-foot-long eastern diamondback. We just waited him out. There was time.

So how did it all change?

When did the summers grow short, truncated? When did the endless month of August become not even a month at all but a jumping-off place for the season to come? They sell Halloween candy in the drugstore, in summer.

The children start school now in August. They say it has to do with air-conditioning, but I know sadism when I see it. I think a bunch of people who were not allowed to stomp in a mud hole when they were young—who were never allowed to hold translucent tadpoles in their hands and watch their hearts move—decided to make sure that no child would ever have the necessary time to contemplate a grand mud hole ever again.

Well, I hope they're satisfied. People ask all the time, what's wrong with kids today? I have long held that they have been brain-mushed by too much screen time, but as summer races past me now I think it is something else. I think they do not know how sweet it is to feel the mud mush between their toes.