Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On Country Time

One of the things everyone loves so much about country life is that you can move at the pace of the seasons, waking at dawn, moving slowly and mindfully to your garden and hand-weeding it, watering it gently, greeting the trees and the birds as the morning brightens, moving through your day with slow, gentle actions -- and get four days behind in six hours!!! I don’t know where this Slow Life is located (though many are looking -- there are even websites devoted to it), but it’s not in my county. I have tried to move at a sane pace; I have even cut out many events and tasks from my schedule so that my life is simpler (or at least, complex in different ways)… but time is definitely speeding up.

It’s not just the extended daylight savings time that makes the hours melt and shift in decidedly unchronological ways. There is a rubberband effect that is disconcerting: when I read news on the internet (since I’ve dropped the paper and most magazines, in an effort to be frugal and avoid tons of recycling), an hour can vanish in two sips of coffee, but when hauling away yard debris, or other heavy lifting, time stretches and slows so that I can see the barcodes on the seconds! (You didn’t know they are barcoding Time now? It’s a new DARPA project, in order to track who’s using what time; costs about $45 per nanosecond - apparently the cause of a large chunk of their billion-dollar budget, but since that’s all secret, we can’t know for sure).

As I learn to adjust to “country time” (loosely translated: you never stop working), I ponder the relationship between time and money. The old saying, “Time is Money” seemed a muddled comparison, since one is printed and the other -- as yet -- is not controlled by any government agency. Except that both vanish, melt, mutate the moment my back is turned. You’ve all had the experience of breaking a $20 and having it turn into three singles in your wallet, right? And as I get older, it is harder to hang on to either Time or Money. In fact, I’m suspicious that the terms “hour” and “minute” have been devalued as part of this recession -- an hour definitely isn’t going as far as it used to!!

So there seems to be a quantum connection between the two - one of those “non-local causalities” that tie time/money together over long distances. Is it a coincidence that as time shrinks like a mohair sweater in a dryer, there are now whole websites on frugality advising us how to live more simply? And is it evidence of this see-saw connection that the one thing they don’t grapple well with is Time? Most of their frugal steps need much more time and often result in generally re-shaping our lives to move to a different rhythm (which used to be called “hand to mouth“ but they have fancier names for it now). I discovered that is exactly the point for many people, and they seem to think you get more time - or at least a better quality -- like Haggen Das or Mercedes Time.

But to me it exemplifies that “conservation of energy” principle in physics -- if I save money, I spend time. Some kind of energy gets spent in either case. For example, after having purchased one gutterspout deflector drainboard of non-descript brown plastic and been staggered at the $9.00 price tag (yes -- almost $10 for basically a narrowed dish drainer), I employed Creative Frugality for the rest: meat trays from the large family packs (a year’s worth of pork, but what the hell); the toilet tank lid from the recently deceased toilet; two halves of a cracked bucket, sawn into shape. This gives me the illusion of saving money, even though it almost certainly ends up costing more when I factor in my time and trips to the emergency room. (Me + sharp objects = ouch)

Other “money-saving” examples: looking for $5 worth of ‘shrooms in the National Forest and needing a $40 chiropractic adjustment; going rock hunting for “free” garden walls and needing a $40 chiropractic adjustment; gathering and chopping wood that eats into my work time… and ends up with me needing a $40 chiropractic adjustment. Actually pretty much anything I’ve been doing for the house seems to end up with my dialing the new chiropractor. I wonder if new houses should come with a coupon book for a local chiropractic and massage services…

But I digress… and I only have about an “hour” to spend this morning on this blog (and I think at the going rate, that‘s about 20 minutes). Time, which had slowed to the pace of a passive aggressive teenager when I was waiting to close on this house, has now snapped back to its usual pace, slightly under the record speed set by Lance Bicycler in France… in fact, don’t you sometimes wonder if the increasing number of races they keep organizing are having a quantum effect on everyone‘s time? When the Olympics were the only annual race held in Greece, life was much, much slower -- coincidence? Perhaps not. I think we need to carefully consider the possible “pollution” of time by all these race fanatics, and maybe regulate their frequency and location - keep them away from busy workers, perhaps locate them near senior centers, which have lots of unused Time (although the logistics of keeping runners from plowing into senior shufflers might turn the whole race into an obstacle course). That way, people like me and Thoreau who are trying to live simply (ie: waste hours pondering the Universe and then annoying others with our “findings”) can get on with watching the minutes unfold like a new seedling, holding its cotyledons to the raw energy of the sun -- and finding a weed has outpaced it to the soil’s nutrients and it’s SOL for another season. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi and everyone else who pauses for a second to catch their breath.

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