Nature’s timeclock is blessedly slow

Time moves differently out here.

About a week ago, I was doing an interview with a wildlife biologist. I was anxious to talk to her because her expertise brings insight to a project I’m working on, and the fact that she took time to talk to me while out in the field doing wildlife counts made it that much more appreciated.

As we spoke, she said something as an aside that stuck with me. She said she wanted to observe these animals “slowed down” in their time instead of what we’re used to in our uber-structured world.

It hit me because in my life, most things are more or less organized by times that I set: When I get up, when I eat each meal, when I hit the gym, go to work, wind down and hit the sack. Every day has its own routine that is specific to preordained tasks that I want done. Daily deadlines at work must be met, and the clock is always ticking.

I imagine that’s true for just about everyone. Everyone, that is, except non-human creatures that live in the wild. And when we visit their world (face it, almost all of us are “visitors,” even if we’re outdoorsy types), it’s striking how much differently time passes.

The clock tells basically two times: Sunrise and sundown. In extremely hot places, the heat of the day pushes wildlife into the shade and underground, waiting for things to cool. In cold places, winter drives hibernation. Seasons dictate migration, fur thickness and even the color of hairs and plumage. Mating and birth have their own seasons, too. So, there’s structure in the wild, too, but not in the manic way in which it’s enforced by humans.

Day to day, things slow down. Way down. And they get quieter.

On solo hikes, the quiet of the land hits me like a truck. Animals don’t seem to be in a rush, unless they have to be rushed. Usually that’s driven by the need to feed or escape those who want to feed on them. On multi-day backpacking trips, the simplicity of the unmanufactured world can be jarring, too. You want to sleep in, but after a time, dawn is your alarm clock. I stay up late every night at home, but come sundown at camp, I turn in. A few days of this and you hit a natural routine, that circadian rhythm that doctors keep telling us is so healthy.

And have you ever noticed how boring it can be out there? No TV, no cellphone coverage, no radio, no constant barrage of things to grab your attention. Just trees, breezes and the muted sounds of wildlife. Nothing for your thumbs to do for days at a time.

But here’s the kicker: Sometimes you need to be bored. All those man-made crutches that keep our attention can make our mental muscles weak from disuse. You can actually spend time to think more deeply. Or not think at all. Eventually, you notice things more – colors of the woods, the desert or the prairie. The different calls of birds and rodents. You’ll see the way water moves and perceive what the skies are trying to tell you about what’s to come.

I’ll admit, I’m a little jealous of the biologist I talked to, because it’s her job to be in these environs. She gets paid to live on nature’s clock, and when the task is done, she can return to “modern” life. It’s a gift to be able to float between those two worlds.

I like my routines. They serve me well. But I need to take a page out of her book and travel more between my structured life and that of a slower, more ancient timeclock.

Bob Doucette

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