Dog days in Ashland

Dog days in Ashland, warm and languid. Umbrellaed tables at coffee houses and restaurants are filled. The stretch of grass in Lithia Park is dotted with people lazing away the long afternoons. Those benches on the Plaza shaded by the canopy of tall trees are favored, as is the cool side of Main Street, shadowed by midday, a relief from the high summer sun.

And where are the youngsters of Ashland? Spiking temperatures or no, they're out and about. The final weeks of vacation, ever so sweet, are not to be missed by sitting inside. Get out the bike or a hot Razor scooter. Turn on the sprinklers. Run barefoot in the park. Every day it's shorts and light cotton and sneakers untied. Search out swings or a play structure. Stretch out on cool grass and talk softly while watching white clouds pass across brilliantly blue skies. Perfect the art of hanging out.

Already back-to-school ads are cropping up, signaling that the days of summer are on the wane and another school year beckons. Everything will change: hours spent in rooms with desks and tables, filled with posters and books and plastic bins, a large clock on the wall, perhaps a small hamster in a wire cage; all is redolent of paper and crayons and waxed floors and freshly painted hallways. Bells ring. But for now, it's still summer.

More than a few kids can be found at the YMCA's Discovery Camp where they play and swim and crawl about the play structure on the soccer field; or rest on benches below an open outbuilding's roof. A few chase each other across the grass with water guns, their hair damp and spiky, T-shirts hanging loosely, the necks stretched out of shape, their chattering, excited voices filling the warm air.

When asked what's the best thing about summer, it's clear that for the little ones the days are simply a series of adventures, strung together like bright, incandescent bulbs, days that happen to be warmer and ever-so-much longer. Kindergarten and the first grade will begin soon. But no matter. Life is new and life is good.

Sitting on a small chair, camper Sophia Cooper, 4, curly black hair framing her face, said she loves "to drink water in the summer, plus orange juice." As for school starting? She's excited. "I love homework ... and stuff."

Jacob Ellenson, 5, carrying a large squirt gun with his name printed in blue letters on the side, his face damp after a long day, said he enjoys family bike rides. Sierrah Kelly, 5, volunteered in a clear, reedy voice that in summer she loves to pick flowers and "to play when it's a perfect day out."

As for going to Discovery Camp, Willow Keefe, 7, said, "I love it. Plus hanging out with my mom." When school was mentioned, Willow said she was eager to begin reading.

Liam Serean, 6, but "really close to 7," said he liked summer birthdays and was excited about school starting. When asked what he liked best about school, Liam said, grinning, "Recess." Mason Black, 7, said everything about summer was fun. He looked forward to school beginning: "I'm starting to read," he said.

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