How fast the time flies

I remember the longest hour that ever existed. It was in Mr. Johnson’s math class — geometry, I think. I remember having the time to notice every single thing about that hour — the droning buzz of chainsaws from the nearby hill being logged, the way the sunlight was golden on the fading azaleas in the interstices of the school, the hum of the overhead projector with the thick black pen markings disappearing into scroll-like rolls, the drone of his voice explaining arcane mathematical phenomenon I did not then and have not now mastered, the coldness of the computer room behind the math room with all the proud ’80s era Macintosh computers sitting under dust covers (it was the mid-90s). There was no whirling of time, no speeding by of concepts or ideas, no blurring together of moments. Every single long second, all (60 x 60 x 1) of them had my complete and full attention, without the distraction of, you know, things of interest. I’m not sure why that was the longest hour of my life, but I do believe it was.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a phenomenon I had been warned about. Time is clearly speeding up. This makes sense, from one point of view. If you consider each hour as a percentage of your time alive and aware, as you grow older it becomes a smaller and smaller percentage. Perhaps that 16 year old me in that corner-classroom was the optimum point between awareness of time and watch-ownership, and percentage of life an hour represented. In truth, I’ve heard that time stretches out when you are confronted with novelty, because your brain has to explicitly save more of it. For example, you’re unlikely to remember every minute of your commute home tonight. Your brain doesn’t need to save that information: it’s just like yesterday’s version and likely very similar to tomorrow’s. So why bother? The first time you scuba dive, however, every single sensation and view you experience is unlike all others you’ve experienced and your brain saves far more of the information. It’s why a new road you’ve never driven that takes 20 minutes is so much longer than your 20 minute commute, or at least feels that way.

Into my fourth decade, I encounter fewer and fewer novelties in my daily living. My brain relies on the tropes, stereotypes and previous experiences. Whole days, I have no doubt, go by without creating a single memory that will endure past the year. No wonder time seems faster, when I remember less of it.

All this is an extremely long lead in to a statement I never thought I’d say in my entire life in New England. But here it is. Where did the winter go? See, I’m totally used to summer flying by in a flurry of sunscreen and “just keep driving” fantasies as I head on Northward roads towards a climate controlled office. Spring is inevitably fleeting. Fall has the enduring quality, but still slips through my fingers like ribbon on a birthday present being opened with eager hands. The five minutes of Christmas when I deeply breathe of the scent of balsam and stare at twinkling lights persists, but the remainder of the month is gone. However, I can usually rely on January, February and March to provide me with the unchanging interminability of misery that is winter. Ah, winter! The one time of the year that you aren’t pressed on all sides by missed opportunities! Winter! The season when you go to work thinking that at least you’re not missing out on anything fun. Winter, that usually returns three or four times after you dare to hope it’s left for good! Winter, when it is what it is and you can’t complain but you do anyway.

This year, through phenomenon unknowable, winter went really fast. I can’t blame the kids — this is Grey’s 4th winter and Thane’s 2nd. I had a mix of old job, time off and new job (which the novelty of the latter should’ve slowed time down, according to my above hypothesis). It wasn’t a supremely easy winter. I shoveled a fair amount of snow. Granted, Spring did come a bit early and it was one of the warmest Springs on record. I’m sure that plays a role. But in previous winters I remember dramatically complaining that my marrow had frozen and there was insufficient heat in the fast-fleeting summer to melt it before the dreaded chill arrived again. This winter, my marrow was barely refrigerated.

With such a scientifically minded readership, I’m sure none of you will go thinking I’m jinxing Spring by talking about it – as though it’s a no-hitter. I, personally, am often bemused by just how superstitious I really am. But it’s almost May. I’m headed to FRANCE next weekend, for reals. It’s a matter of weeks until our first camping trip of the year. The leaves on the tree out my kitchen window are in full spring color and bloom, fast approaching full size! Could even the most powerful of jinxes bring winter back now? I think not.

So here it is, spring. And here comes summer, hazy, turgid and fleeting as it is. May I find enough novelty, enough observation and enough patience to make many memories that endure for colder winters ahead.

Father and brother
Father and brother


Grandfather and grandson
Grandfather and grandson

Sometimes the symbolism hits you over the head


I was lying in the summer-warmed water of a small New Hampshire lake. The sun was gently warm on my upturned face. Pines surrounded the lake with taller peaks framing the tableau. The air was full of the sound of happy children playing — the yells and shouts and laughter. My ears were stopped by the water, where it was blessedly blissfully quiet. I noticed I was far more buoyant than normal, with my nursing-large breasts and Tevas dragging the rest of me towards the surface. And for that glinting moment in the sun, I just WAS and it was good.

Later that afternoon — after a long leisurely tent-nap — I noticed my watch had stopped keeping time on that swim.

Every once in a while, the symbolism just comes down and smacks you.

We had a fantastic three-day weekend camping. We spent two nights at White Lake State Park, this time. The water was the best. When I was playing with my sons in the water, I had the rare sensation of being completely engaged. I was entirely present in the play, and not thinking ahead or behind or calculating or listening to something else or wishing that I was anywhere but where I was. I threw my laughing children into the air and caught them as they splashed in the water. I watched them discover what they could do in this unusual medium — sand squishing between small toes and eyes squinting against bright sun. I watched my husband, strong and lithe, play with the boys who look so much like him.

The camping parts were great too. We made a vast improvement by putting Thane to sleep in his car seat inside the tent. He was far more comfortable AND we had more room for important things like stomp rockets, rope for practicing making knots and marshmallows. My husband delighted in knot tying (really delighted — he was nearly illuminated with the joy of learning this new skill — and our tarp only took about 4 hours to get up!) Grey poked things with sticks and stayed up too late and ate his bodyweight in marshmallows and made his brother laugh. Thane? Well, Thane probably got the short end of the deal. He really liked the water (a lot!) but spent most of his time hanging out in his stroller, which is probably not as much fun as getting to eat dirt and rub pine needles into his hair.

There were, of course, tribulations. Notably, the first night was an absolute deluge. The rain was phenomenal. On the plus side, we had a drum-tight tarp to keep us dry, which it did. On the negative side, we therefore had a snare drummer playing above our head all night long. Also, Thane woke up inconsolable, which is really hard when we’re all in such a short space. I’m not sure what was wrong with him, and therefore I couldn’t fix it quickly and that woke up Grey and that meant, well, let’s just say we were sleepy by the time the weekend was over.

Also, let us discuss for a moment the word cheap. Cheap can mean inexpensive — a bargain. Cheap can also mean low-quality. When one encounters “cheap” firewood, perhaps one should not be surprised when it turns out to have been cut last week in a bog, where it has been stored since. It took me two and a half hours to get a fire going with said “cheap” firewood. I can usually get a fire going with one match using no man-made materials in about 15 minutes. (We used to heat with wood. I’m really pretty good at fire-building.) The tinder would go up, the fire would appear started and then in 5 minutes it would be dead. The cheap firewood didn’t just smoke, it steamed.

There was also a plague of frogs. If I had to pick a plague, I think the plague of frogs was probably the one I’d mind least. They were pretty cute little buggers, but TINY. There were so many of them that on a walk with Grey we could hardly step without imperiling the little froggy bodies below us. The forest floor twitched with the movement of perfectly camouflaged frogs.

Tiny little frogs everywhere!
Tiny little frogs everywhere!

I think we will go camping again SOON. I keep wishing we could go with friends or another grownup so that my husband and I could go witness the miracle of stars, or listen to the loon sing a night-song on the lonely lake. But even if my husband didn’t like camping (which he does), I think he would go just to watch the petals of the flower that is me uncurl and turn to the new-shining sun. The wilderness is manna to me. It is sunshine. It opens me up and drops my defenses. It makes me remember what I like about myself and forget my mantras of doubt, gloom and distraction. I like who I am in the woods.

Driving home, I couldn’t help but be excited by what we were doing, and had done. Already, a grand two trips in, we have traditions. There’s the “Miss Wakefield Diner” and their chocolate chip pancakes. There’s the spooooooky stories (not so spooky) around the fire. There’s rough-housing in the tent. There’s swimming in the lake. There are memories saved up against cold February days and the creeping sense of dismal sameness.

There is joy, a shared joy, and remembered joy.