In this complex essay, White is from the start sensitized to the idea of change, wondering how the vacation lake in Maine and its environs will differ from what he remembers experiencing as a child, when his family visited in the years before World War I:
I wondered how time would have marred this unique, this holy spot—the coves and streams, the hills that the sun set behind, the camps and the paths behind the camps...
He even tries to anticipate what the changes will be, in order to brace himself for them. Yet at the same time, he yearns to believe that
the years were a mirage and there had been no years.
He will, of course, find this is not true and that time has passed.
At first, he notes only small differences: one is that the dirt road that was used by horse-drawn vehicles is now tarred—or as we would say, paved—and second, the girls in the restaurant now go to the movies and so have learned to wash their hair.
A more profound third change is arriving by car. When he came as child, the family travelled by train, and a horse-drawn wagon met them to transport the family with its trunks to the house by the lake. Arriving by car is a more significant change because it lacks all the celebratory fanfare of a train arrival. Cars "sneak" up to a destination quietly; people use "bags," and there is "no fuss, no loud wonderful fuss about trunks." Further, his stay with his son is only a week, not the whole long month of August, as it was in his childhood.
But by far the biggest change, however, is that of his consciousness. As a child, he could live unreflectively and simply in the present moment. As an adult, he is acutely aware of the passage of time (much as he would like to erase that awareness) and of the fact that being the father, not the child, he is that much closer to the grave.