March 11, 2018

I feel a bit of a temporal displacement this morning while finishing my coffee after breakfast. While I neither support nor oppose the daylight savings adjustments to the clocks, for some external reason, I feel like I am an hour late. The cause, of course, seems obvious as to why I feel like I am doing things later than I normally do this morning, but upon closer inspection, I am not. It is simply a self-induced (though culturally supported) delusion.


I woke up this morning within a few minutes of when I would normally wake up on a Sunday, and I am writing this email and blog at about the same time as I always do. The sun rose precisely when it was supposed to, the crescendo of birds singing outside our bedroom window began the same time as it did yesterday, and our dogs asked for breakfast the same time that they always do, regardless of what the clock reports.  It is not the world that has changed, but simply my perception of the world has been temporarily altered by an artificial external construct.


Our ancestors didn’t need clocks or calendars to tell them when to sow or harvest. They simply observed the world around them, which kept them reliably informed about the seasons. When I look outside today, I see the sun rise high in the southeastern, nearly eastern sky. Just a few months ago, it barely climbed out of the south, even at midday. The deep blue sky, a hue that to me is much different than a mid-winter sky, informs me that the sun’s rays are striking the atmosphere at a different angle at midday than just a month or two ago. That means that the days will be longer and warmer. 


A few days ago, I heard some sandhill cranes flying in from their cross-continental journey. There soulful calls heralded the coming of spring. To me, it means that the first peas of the season need to be planted. To the maple trees, it means that their swollen buds will now demand more sap to nourish the leaves that will convert sunlight to glucose in a few months. If we were still making maple syrup, the sap would be running right now, and we would need to collect it twice a day. To the bees, it reminds them to begin to clean out their hives, removing the waste that accumulates in the royal chamber throughout the winter when the hive seals itself up. Some of the workers will look for pollen in the heat of the day on the trees that are preparing to bloom. The trees will nourish the bees until the dandelions bloom in a few weeks. The entire system scaffolds itself, each component supported by the one below, and supporting the one above. 


I have seen the deer begin to separate from their winter herds, scavenging the grains in the fields that were either missed or eating the tender grasses that are starting to push through the thawing ground. Soon the mamas will find a place to give birth, and a new generation of deer will arrive to celebrate the arrival of spring. Seeing the deer tells me that it is time to prepare the fields for onions, and it is time to plant cabbages, kohlrabi, and broccoli. All of this happens without clocks and calendars.


Even if all clocks and calendars disappeared tomorrow, nothing would change. It would all happen as it should. Even though it is cyclical, it is timeless. Our western view of time has us believing that time is quantifiable and finite. Therefore, it seems possible to be short on time, or it’s possible to have too much of it. We can find ourselves early or late. All of that is a delusion, of course. Time is not finite and therefore cannot be wasted. Opportunities can be wasted, but not time. We are faced with options, challenges, and opportunities every day, but we can neither collect nor lose time. Time simply remains a wispy fog that we can never capture in a bottle to be released and used later.


When I was a child, my family would vacation in the mountains. Mountains were holy to me, and I have always loved visiting them. To me, they were holy because they existed, in part, in the clouds.  It is not uncommon in the mountains to either drive or hike into a cloud. Sometimes, I would take a bottle or balloon, thinking that I could capture a bit of the cloud and bring it home with me. I was always disappointed, however, as a tiny cloudlet never emerged from my bottle when I would ceremoniously release it when we returned home. I could not capture nor quantify that which made mountains holy to me. Time cannot be bottled either. Everything has a season. Opportunities present themselves to us when they are supposed to present themselves, but they will do so independently of clocks and calendars. Clocks and calendars cannot capture time.


When I free myself of that idea, I realize that I am not running behind today. I am not late, and I did not lose an hour of time last night. I simply agreed to share a delusion with a few hundred million people.  Physicists have known for over a century that there is nothing absolute about time. Nature and the Universe have long known the truth of time since the beginning and simply have ignored the folly of humans on days like this.  

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