“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?”
Yes, I do. Like the character in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, I have an uncomfortable relationship with Time. I watch for the longest day of the year, as well as the shortest. I calculate how many years/months/weeks/days since or until some big event, personal or public. I note the arrival of each season, as well as the season “trimesters” on the twentieth of each month: Now it is early Spring. Now it is mid Spring. Now it is late Spring.
The good news is that time is infinite! The bad news is that we are not. Worse, we can’t tell how much time we’ve got. I’m three times as old as I was at fourteen, six times as old as I was at seven. My 21st birthday was half a lifetime ago. If I live to eighty-four then I’m already fifty percent of the way there.
When you run out of time you can’t get more delivered via Amazon.
Einstein said the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once. But what does time look like all smashed together and waiting? Would time come blasting out at us like whip cream from a spray can? Post-forty, time does seem to move at the speed of whip cream.
I’ve got an eleven-year-old at home who just wrapped up elementary school in about the time it takes me to find my keys. In my experience, elementary school lasted about a century, so I find it perplexing that I can still feel the weight of newborn Lucy being placed into my arms, even as she vacillates over electives.
It is early summer now, just a few days in. The earliest of early summer. It is a beautiful time of year. Each morning around nine the dog begins sitting closer and closer to the door, looking at me with a meaningful expression, so I grab his leash and we go for a walk. Behind our house there are woods. First there is a short, steep hill. I believe it dates back to when the Key Peninsula was first settled. (First settled by white folks, who thought the Coast Salish had a nice looking piece of land for them to take over, and promptly set about chopping down every tree in sight, sliding the logs down the hill toward the water where they floated away to be sold.)
At the top of the hill is the tallest tree on our property. It is a Doug Fir. It has such a massive diameter that if two people stood on either side hugging it their fingers would not touch. Looking up at it, there are at least a hundred ragged dead branches–they started strong but got shut out by a growing canopy. The lowest living bough is at least a hundred feet up. The trunk, near where I stand, is pockmarked with woodpecker holes, but the bark is so thick they are superficial. The ground around the base of the tree is acorn shells, cracked open and in various states of decomposition. The dirt is higher here as entire generations of small furry forest creatures have stopped for a snack. The tree is connected to the ecosystem in myriad other ways I can not see.
I wonder if Coast Salish people walked across this spot enroute to the beach and clams. I wonder how many years passed between the Key Peninsula clear cutting and the start of this Doug Fir. I wonder what my property, my road, town, county, state and nation looked like on the day this tree was just a fragile sapling. I wonder how old I will be on the day it falls.
Maybe it has to do with location. This tree is right at the top of the hill. I am always a bit winded and sweaty when I reach it. Maybe that’s why it seems like a natural place to pause and listen.
The tree does not talk. It creaks sometimes in the wind, but it doesn’t communicate to me in meaningful ways. I’ve walked by the tree many times in the fourteen years I’ve lived here and it has taken a very long time to hear anything at all.
Maybe “hearing” in this case is really “imagining”. But I think I’m getting the message now: Do one thing. Do it well. Make the world better.
Right now summer feels long. But, (to paraphrase another favorite, Shel Silverstein,) it’ll be gone in a whoosh and a shiver.
Today I can do what I can do to make the world better. Today I will pay attention to life’s lovely details in order to save them as a memory. Today I am.