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Campground Standard Time
Getting back to days measured by the movement of the sun, not the ticking of a clock.
Campground Standard Time
Have you ever paused and considered the fact that time is a completely human invention?
Yeah, that’s where my head is at this week.
No, of course not actual time, that never ending unfolding series of nows we all seem to find ourselves wandering about within. But the way we talk about time — minutes and hours, weeks and months — are figments of our collective imagination.
British mathematician and Stanford researcher Keith Devlin explains it better than I ever could:
“Most of us think of the time produced by our clocks as time itself. Yet the only thing natural about the time produced by clocks is that it is originally based on a complete revolution of the earth (or more precisely, the average of such revolutions). The division of that period into 24 equal hours, the division of each hour into 60 minutes, and the further division of each minute into seconds are all human inventions.
Indeed, so different was the time determined by the clock that the practice developed of indicating when a time given was produced by the clock by adding the phrase ‘of the clock’—later abbreviated to the ‘o'clock’ we use today.
With the invention of the clock, the basic unit of time ceased to be the day and was replaced by the hour.”
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Clocks produce the time they measure… if that blows your mind as much as it blows mine, you’ll probably enjoy reading his entire blog post on the subject.
It got me thinking about one of the things I love so much about camping: time disappears.
Measuring days by the ticking of the clock is a habit so deeply ingrained in our days it seems almost impossible to break. We are awakened by an alarm clock, we begin work at a predetermined hour, our meetings are dictated by the clock, we eat not when we are hungry but when the clock says it is time for lunch, on and on.
It is no wonder we are so out of touch with the natural progression of the day; we spend most of it indoors staring at clocks.
On camping trips, I don’t care what a clock has to say about my day. I rely instead on my own observation and intuition.
Camping doesn’t run on a schedule of minutes and hours so much as it runs on the momentary arising of needs and the slow evolution of the day. You wake up when your body decides it would like to be awake. You eat when your body tells you it’s hungry (or when you feel like it—it’s a vacation after all.) You drink when your body tells you it’s thirsty. You set up camp before it gets dark, you make sure you have a headlamp or flashlight on hand as twilight falls, and you go to the tent when the campfire burns out.
The sun’s journey across the sky is but the most elementary of time indicators, and even it can be life-changing to become aware of. The longer you give attention to the changes of the day, the more you begin noticing the subtlety and complexity present in the simple passage of time.
You begin to notice how long before dawn the birds begin singing. You start feeling the air warm and lift from its cool nighttime rest in the morning. You hear the cicadas welcome the afternoon, their droning measuring the air temperature as accurately as any thermometer. You wonder precisely how long after sunset the first stars are visible, and realize it’s as much a feeling as it is a duration.
I am but an amateur time-teller — there is so much more to notice.
At some point in the dusk crickets begin chirping, though I haven’t been able to put my finger on precisely when they start. Even more mysterious to me is the hour when they turn in and leave the night silent, but for a solitary owl.
Next time you go camping, take a moment as many times throughout the day as it comes to mind and notice the progression of the day you’re a part of.
What does the passage of time sound like? Smell like? Feel like? When do you get hungry, or sleepy, or lethargic, or restless? I’ve started finding that the patterns I identify in myself on camping trips are the same patterns present in my everyday life.
I’m just usually too busy checking the time to notice them.