Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ticktock, ticktock

For better or worse, this is going to be one of those random-thought posts, in this case about time.

I've always been fascinated with time — not in a Stephen Hawking, black-hole kind of way, but more in the way that we mark it. It all seems so arbitrary, yet so important to our daily lives.

Yesterday I was reminded of the passage of time not by the hands of a clock or the pages of a calendar, but by the appearance of purple loosestrife. Though considered an invasive weed, I've always found it beautiful. But its appearance, usually in August here in Rhode Island, makes me a bit melancholy.

It signals that the summer is nearing an end, often at about the same time that I realize the summer has begun. It always triggers that where-has-the-time-gone feeling that makes me just a bit sad. Not sad because I've mismanaged or wasted my time, but sad because I realize how quickly it all goes by.

Fall is my favorite season, yet fall often makes me think of aging, or even dying. Think about the overused metaphors we read and hear: people are usually either in the spring of their lives, or their autumn. Autumn, in this context, is generally not considered a good thing, even though autumn in nature offers us some of the finest weather and the most spectacular scenery. I hope it will be so, too, in my life metaphorically.

As I noticed the purple loosestrife yesterday on a riverbank near our house, I was reminded of that late September, ten years ago, when I decided to spend a week in a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, all by myself. Now this cabin had propane-generated electricity, but was pretty primitive compared with what I'm used to. My friends and coworkers thought, in a word, that I was "crazy" to spend my hard-earned vacation time there.

But there was something appealing to me about the idea of a week of solitude, if not entirely off the grid, certainly off the clock. I was determined to not look at a clock the entire week. But at the last minute, I did pack a wristwatch, and that concession to habit should have told me right then and there that my experiment was destined to fail.

So there I sat, all alone in my cabin that could have easily accommodated six people, with my stack of good books and some good food and wine, hoping to enjoy my time in the absence of it as we normally experience it. The sunrise would be my alarm clock, darkness my cue to call it a day. I would just go with the natural rhythms of my body and nature, not forcing anything like I am so often forced to do.

I made it only two days before I peeked at that watch I brought along. I don't know why it was so important to me, but I just HAD to know what time it was.

Throughout my life I've periodically kept journals, and one of my entries, many years ago, read: Would we live our lives any differently if we knew precisely how much time we had?

What do you think?


  1. When I go camping, I need to have some way to judge what time it is. Like you, I just need to know. I don't know why.

  2. The question posed in the last sentence of this blog is interesting. I ask it of myself on a regular basis. It keeps me balanced.

  3. It's weird, isn't it, Badass?

    And MaryAnne, after I posted this I worried that the answer to my question was perhaps so obvious that maybe it was a ridiculous question. But I'm not so sure the answer is that obvious. Like you say, it's a good one for anyone to ask of themselves.