“an indefinite, frequently prolonged period”


This morning I am wondering how it got so late. Late in the year (wasn’t it only last week that we were watching 2022 disappear behind some clouds beyond the lake?), late in my life (68!), late in human history? I was drinking my coffee in my bed, listening for the little boys, though they left yesterday to go into Vancouver for the first leg of their journey back to Quebec. This very minute they are flying across the Rockies, from one time zone into another. I was drinking my coffee in bed, thinking about time. Tonight we turn our clocks ahead, whatever that means. Does it change time itself?

Time is what clocks measure. We use time to place events in sequence one after the other, and we use time to compare how long events last… Among philosophers of physics, the most popular short answer to the question “What is physical time?” is that it is not a substance or object but rather a special system of relations among instantaneous events. (From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In the sequence of time I am living within, there are shifts. This year the salmonberry blossoms are at least two weeks late. The earliest I’ve seen them is February 17, though it’s usually more like late February that I notice their cerise flowers along the roads and trails; they’ve been as late as second week of March. The other day on our walk, we couldn’t even find swelling buds on the canes on the trail along the shoulder of Mount Hallowell. The salmonberry blossoms bring the bees and the rufous hummingbirds, though the latter are more reliably linked, here at our place at least, to the emergence of red flowering currant. And these things are very site-specific. Sometimes in talking to friends, I learn that they link the arrival of rufous hummingbirds with other flowers. Friends who live right on the shore of Oyster Bay notice other relationships. But these are ours, imprinted in our memories. And our expectations.

The other day I was outside moving some potted bulbs from the greenhouse to the deck when I heard a tree frog in the salal. I couldn’t see it. I took my older grandson over to the stacks of black plastic pots behind the garden shed, the ones I grow tomatoes in, to see if we could locate a tree frog there. (They like the pots because there are often tiny slugs or woodbugs overwintering there.) No luck. And in the greenhouse itself, I know there are at least two resident frogs, though I haven’t seen them yet this year. In November they were happily tucked in among the kale and the last pepper plants. There’s a small tub of water with corkscrew rushes in it so the frogs won’t dry out.


An online dictionary gives this as one definition of time:

…an indefinite, frequently prolonged period or duration in the future: Time will tell if what we have done here today was right.

What will it tell us though? That we were so uneasy with it that we created the practise of advancing the clock and then reverting to what was considered a standard time? That we couldn’t simply adjust to increasing and decreasing periods of light without tampering with the clock? When my older grandson was with me in the garden, he brought the sundial to me, saying, What’s this? (It is set on a low stump but isn’t fastened into place so it can easily be lifted…) And I explained, sort of. His grandad, who wears a watch (I don’t own one), had to come to put it back into place so that he could show A. how to use the sundial to tell time. If you’ve read Blue Portugal & Other Essays, you’ll know that our sundial has an inscription on it: Grow Old With Me. The Best Is Yet To Come. When it was given to us as a gift, perhaps 35 years ago, the notion of growing old was not foremost in my mind. Getting my children to the school bus on time, making sure the laundry was done, the bread baked, the library books located and returned took precedence. But now that I’m 68, it’s pretty hard to pretend that age is not, as the young say, A Thing. What’s remarkable about the sundial is that it’s accurate enough. Do we need to know time beyond the hour, the minute? Does it matter?

On Thursday, we all went down to the lake so Forrest and I could have a (brief) swim. Last year this family visited in February and we did the same thing. The water was warmer then. Even though we’d had a cold December in 2021, by early February, the days were warmer. On Thursday, the water was icy. We both went in and did a few quick strokes while the others remained on the beach, winter jackets zipped up. As we were standing on the sand afterwards, wrapped in our towels, I remembered that the week before last there was a skimming of ice on the water.

Newton did for time what the Greek geometers did for space, idealized it into an exactly measurable dimension. –Paul Davies, from About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution

How does a lake perceive time? When the ice is on the surface, does the beautiful body of water long for summer or the quiet of fall after all the cabins have been shut up for winter? Is the lake ever lonely for swimmers, does it track the moon’s phases, the nesting cycles of geese and mallards, does it listen for the sound of kingfishers teaching their young to feed themselves?

Time, Kant argues, is also necessary as a form or condition of our intuitions of objects. The idea of time itself cannot be gathered from experience because succession and simultaneity of objects, the phenomena that would indicate the passage of time, would be impossible to represent if we did not already possess the capacity to represent objects in time. (From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Tomorrow I’ll be the one asking John, What time is it really? Our clocks will be changed, the sundial adjusted, and one after another, the blossoms will open, the hummingbirds will arrive, and even though we’ve damaged our planet in ways too terrible to contemplate, maybe we will still enjoy seasons for a few years yet.


6 thoughts on ““an indefinite, frequently prolonged period””

  1. Lovely. I can only add that when we use phrases like “a span of time,” we have really only annotated the original word, which would be “span”. So time is a span. It connects. It is in the process between spin and spun. A crossing, in process. As wide as two hands can reach. Not much different than what we call a “skein of geese,” which is really just a skein. A skein of wool is the same skein. We pass through these doorways. Clock time attempts to make them into metaphor. And tries to straighten them out, but even the Greek myths don’t run straight. Blessings to you.

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