Friday, January 4, 2013

On Time

When asked what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama answered -

“Man.  Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”

In the morning's snow there were small tracks, some, the bold steps of the predator, some the almost openly meek meanderings of a creature not yet aware it was prey.  There are the sure steps of deer, another set of small fairy-like paw prints that simply end, perhaps with a shadow and a mouth set in the "O" of pain that bespoke owl.

If you look closely enough you will see the narrative variants of the cessation of life, a tuft of rabbit fur, blood speckled snow.  Further on, a scattering of feathers, the type designed for speed, intermingled with the downy innocence of plumage which had been designed for failed hiding, lying in a tiny crater of snow.

It seemed like only yesterday, summer was blazing.  Now I walk on back to the house, darkness approaching before even dinner, a family dog, there at the door, the movement of his tail, a tick against the time he waited for me.  

We've set our clocks back, we've stop saving our daylight. We'll stop saving time. My day here, late evening, lies under a blanket of night that began to thicken and bunch up about six, where just for a moment, light hovered in an orb over the pond, a UFO of brightness, that with a blink, vanished up into the heavens, leaving just black exhaust in its wake.

It comes back, in the early mornings, when the light creeps in too early, when I still want to sleep, bringing with it the alarm of things to do.  Food to be prepped for family, dog to be walked, laundry to be done, phone calls to be made, doctors to talk to.
Summer was here, and now it is gone. Time passing much too quickly.  On the wall, an anniversary clock of Mom and Dad's ticks, the evening light only illuminating its face, so it appears to hang suspended in space. A ticking clock, holding in its hidden depths the regimented chaos of this world I've inherited, its ordered cadence, the sound that moves me onward at a dizzying speed into a future still unperceived.

Two hundred years ago, the days had their own slow cycle, full and round, curved as a woman's breast. No one could have imagined today's electronic dislocation, when on advent of the Industrial age, time was taken from us and slaved to a time clock. Time suddenly belonged to someone else. Time changed from that of a fellow worker to a disciplinarian, a nun's whack on the back of the hand, doctrinal and unyielding.

Off in the distance, I see a log train,  stopped, yet with that sense of imminent departure that trains just seem to posses.  People no longer traveled much by train, we went in cars, faster and faster, as roads got longer and days got shorter, driving to the market for our dinner, instead of walking the land in search of game. The game itself has moved further inward, as had we.


In the dimming light I look through some photos. A lifetime in those photos, many of the people in them already gone. The photos lay there on the table now, expended laughter and corporeal touch; the spent ghosts of voluptuous movements and temporal hearts, captured in a moment of time. Pictures of my Mom and Dad. Pictures of my brother and I as youngsters, out with our pup tent behind the house. We'd sometimes "camp" out overnight, laying between the speaker sound  of crickets, long after the lights in the house had gone dark.  We'd  trace the the stars with the beam of our flashlight, not as a point in space, but a point in time, the pinnacle of childhood where morning and night and summer are one, the sleight of hand of fate and blood that would later shape us both, so far distant as to not be conceived.

Years, later, another tent, taking Dad to a duck Camp in Arkansas. My Dad was in his 70's, yet he took to the event like a young lad, a gun swinging by his side as we worked our way out into the woods. Walking through measures of wild land that remain as unchanged as it had been 200 years ago. Wilderness as he remembered it, tangled brush and clear sky, tremendous soarings of oak and ash, which knew no axe but the occasional hunter.

We were out all day, heading in, not by any clock, but by the rhythmic cadence of breath and the measure of bone and muscle. The dog was reluctant to come in, one more, one more!, he seemed to speak to us. But our stomachs signaled dinner and with a whistle we called him in, panting and trembling with the excitement of the day, up the bank, to unraised voice and gentle hand, seeking his pack.

Back to the camp we settled to clean our birds and prepare our supper, hot coals lighting our work. Dad said grace to the communion of a small glass of whiskey and water, giving thanks for slightly burnt roast meat, a can of beans and some bread that once actually resembled bread, mushed flat in my pack and tasting of the outdoors. It was the best meal we all could remember eating in a long time, tasting of our labor and tinged with the smoke of our wildness.

The dog settled into sleep by the dying fire, as in the darkness we prepared our bedding, underneath an ancient sky.  As the world would slowly down, stars beginning to spin their stories in space, we talked. We  talked of the world and its beauty, its love and its sin, where the words are our history, not others peoples words which are not their history but only the empty gaps of their days. My father told tales of hunting as a boy in Montana,as we lay quiet as a children, listening to bedtime stories that knew no age limit, looking up at the quiet belly of canvas, hearing not a clock, but only the measured breath of content as sleep brushed up the remaining crumbs of the day.

When was the last time you spent a day like that? With no clock, no schedule, just time with those that mean the most to you? Now, too often, we rush and we scurry and we do not take the time to stop and think of the times we gave up, the times spent rushing after something we didn't really want or something demanded of us, wasted minutes, wasted days.
Until suddenly, years have passed and the second hand poises in mid second as the phone rings. A call in the late hours of the night, as you ponder time, the number that of your family out far away. With a call at that time of the night, the moment comes to a complete stop. And in that instant all you register is the sound of breath and heartbeat, the tone of the phone held away from your ear, outside, the rush of the wind, and the bark of your dog, awoken in another room. One bark, short and syncopated. Then a couple more. Then nothing. Simply the sound of your heart beating as as you get the news and go to call your brother.

It rings, you don't expect him to answer, he never picks up, not being a slave to either phone or computer when not at work  But this time he does.


You talk as if you always did, as if nothing has changed but as you listen to him, you hear something else. The proverbial clock in your pocket,  and it's still ticking, slower, with a sound you never noticed before. Then with the moonlight reflecting off a tear that's forming, when you least expect it, when the sound of emptiness is all you expect, you hear the bark again. Faint but insistent. The quiet sound of one who watches over you from a long distance. And you breathe in deep as that sound fills the world with bright articulate tone, dreaming of life slowed down, time ticking in your pocket. Time you both still have.

You can not take time back, like conjured memory. But you can look around and listen carefully to the slow precious ticks of what you have left. Take it and hold on to it, saving it til it's full and dense and strong, like a house around you. A structure that will shelter you and your heart, strengthened with mortar and wood, steel and love. For no matter what the change of clocks may bring, the stolen minutes of warmth, the hours of distance, the chime of mortality, you'll still have it, for you've saved it for just this day. Time measured out and savored, not as a future memory, but as now.

9 comments:

  1. Heart-breakingly poignant. We're still praying for your brother & the family.

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  2. Simply amazing, you have a talent for bringing memories to life.

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  3. Dang dust... gets in your eyes...

    I getting off the computer and spend some time with my gals...

    Dann in Ohio

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  4. So beautiful. And so sorry to hear the latest news on your brother. Cherish the time there is now, may it be happy and loving - these times will last an eternity.

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  5. Praying. For you and your Family.

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  6. Rev. Paul - your prayers mean a lot.

    doublebhomestead - thank you for your kind words, they're good memories.

    Dann - yes, that what we all need to do.

    AussieAlaska - thank you.

    naturegirl - we're enjoying every minute, that's all we can do, but hope and pray.

    Keads - thank you Kelly

    True Texan - bless you

    Cathy - thank you as well, all these kind words, thoughts, prayers support us all.

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I started this blog for family that lives far away. Now that they are gone, it continues on to share those memories.

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