Monday, February 04, 2008

How we measure time

In the German film class I am taking this quarter, we have spent a little bit of time talking about how the passage of time is depicted in early film. This, of course, was one of those things that was suddenly possible in film, where it had not been in stage plays. Sure, drama could indicate that time had passed, once playwrights threw out that whole Aristotelian unity notion, but what film could do, and what drama had not been able to, was show the viewer that time was passing at something other than a natural pace. Our real-life perception of time is fairly malleable. It all depends how we look at it. Groundhog Day is just past, and although Punxatawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, Buckeye Chuck anticipates an early spring. Of course, as Carol at May Dreams Gardens points out, an early spring for us in Zone 5 would come in March, or around 6 weeks from now. Still, one of those predictions makes the process feel shorter somehow. Today is Mardi Gras, the end of epiphany, meaning tomorrow is the start of the spring season of Lent. I'm not Catholic, but Easter is one of the more pagan Catholic holidays, and it's nice to be able to start the countdown so early this year. Of course, the end of football season is a landmark too - one that places us in the gray nether-time before spring training begins. (Don't talk to me about the NBA. Bunch of thyroid cases being refereed by guys who wouldn't know traveling if it was announced on the JumboTron.) My mother called over the weekend to ask about coming to visit for the Munchkin's first birthday. It completely caught me off-guard. On the one hand, it only seems like a few days since he was a teeny little guy looking up at me from his sling - the fact that he's almost mobile is astonishing. On the other hand, the idea that, only a year ago, we had not met him yet, is equally unbelievable to me. OBs and people who have been pregnant measure a pregnancy in weeks. Just about everyone else measures in months. Pregnant women themselves measure by milestones - finding out, hearing the heartbeat, feeling the first kick, seeing their belly-buttons vanish, feeling the baby drop down. Given how much a crap-shoot it is to even determine a due date, it seems to me that these sorts of milestones make a lot more sense in measuring that time. When you're gardening, a lot of the instructions on seed packets tell you to "plant after last danger of frost," or "start indoors n days before last frost, then transplant outdoors after danger of frost has passed." Being a geek, I tend to have to hunt around online to find out when that tends to be in Ohio, and then count backward. Best I can tell, the best gardeners don't do this. Like expectant mothers, they look at the other milestones in the garden and use them to gauge how warm the ground is, how ready the weather. Watching for these natural signals (today's word of the day: "phenology") can tell you that the best time to attack the crab grass in your lawn is just as the forsythia are starting to flower, or that peas are best planted when the daffodils bloom. As I start preparing for the baseball draft, perusing seed catalogs, and watching my son struggle to crawl, I shall try to keep in mind that, regardless of any structure we try to impose on time, it has its own ideas. Maybe it's best to just roll with it, and let those without clocks and calendars tell us how to proceed.

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