Twenty-two days from now, the University of Montana campus will spring back to life, shaking off a summer hibernation that leaves it a ghost town for four months each year.

Over the next few weeks, Missoula’s population will swell by 15,000 students, a number larger than all but a handful of Montana cities. The energy already hangs in the air, a great anticipation that comes around once a year.

Welcome to the 2014-15 academic year. No Congress necessary.

The return of students to college marks an untimely end to summer. It’s not official, of course, given how the autumnal equinox – the true end of summer – won’t occur until Sept. 22 at 8:29 p.m.

Until then, Missoula is still alive with vibrancy. The surfers are still on the water and Sir Paul McCartney is coming to town, followed by ZZ Top and Jeff Beck. In all its summertime glory, the River City Roots Fest is just around the corner, and the Missoula Osprey baseball club has yet to hang up its cleats for the season.

No, don’t chime the bells on summer just yet. Don’t blow out the sprinkler system. Don’t gas up the chainsaw for firewood or stop buying ice cream. Keep the fans handy and sweaters packed away.

But it doesn’t hurt to prepare, just like the bears do, or maybe the frogs digging under the mud. I think my cats already sense what’s coming. They’ve been through this before.

Last Thursday, UM did its own digging. It broke ground on its new softball stadium and prepared to welcome the women who will become Montana’s first NCAA-level softball team to campus.

There, under the blistering summer sun, UM President Royce Engstrom clutched a neon-green softball in his hand. It’s not everyday you see a giddy university president, but on this day Engstrom was in high spirits, eager for the new school year to get underway.

“It’s always fun,” he said. “I do look forward to it.”

He wasn’t the only one. UM athletic director Kent Haslam was in equally high spirits. The Grizzly football team hits the practice field this Tuesday, and while it’s still summer, that’s a sure sign of fall.

After all, on the second to the last day of August – 27 days from now – the Griz will kick off the season against the University of Wyoming Cowboys. And when college football rolls around, the cold Hellgate winds aren’t far behind.

Think of it this way, the snow will be flying before we know it. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to find those sweaters after all. The morning chill that comes with the retreating sun isn’t far away.

I’m depressing myself, so I’ll stop now, though I am looking forward to college and football and 15,000 new city residents.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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