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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Perceiving Time at Smith & Bybee Lake(s)

I sometimes think I can remember back to High School. Every classroom had a uniform, institutional-style clock about the diameter of a large pizza high on the wall. At certain stressful moments, say Mr. Rubin’s oral Algebra quizzes, my attention would be transfixed on the clock’s minute hand, all my powers of will focused in a hopeless telekinesis experiment to accelerate time and perhaps escape the grand inquisitor’s sarcastic wrath as he methodically and relentlessly worked his way from victim to victim on his master seating chart. I don’t think I ever saw the minute hand go faster, but I’m fairly convinced I saw it stop a few times just long enough to grant my classmates a smug sense of superiority as I proffered another ridiculous answer.

Depending on the clock, you may or may not be able to see the minute hand move. Sometimes minute hands click to the next minute-mark increment once the second hand completes a circuit, but I don’t think you can really see it move while you’re watching it. When it comes to the hour hand, forget it.

The only time I think I can see the Sun move is right at sunset or sunrise when it is put into scale against the horizon. It is kind of a revelation to realize that it has been moving that fast all day, all the way across the sky, but it really doesn’t intuitively explain how the earth could be spinning (at least at the equator) about a thousand miles an hour.

At the Painted Cove Trail in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, a boardwalk takes you on a journey through time measured in millions of years. At one point an interpretive sign explains how the trail spans two ages separated by ten million years: On one side of the trail, colored layers speak of the remnants of a deciduous forest. On the other side of the trail, jumbled rocks testify to a lush tropical jungle.

If you can’t see an hour hand move, how can you imagine the formation of mountains, state-wide lava lakes or continental plates migrating around a molten core?
Geologic time isn’t intuitive. I can’t see it directly, can’t feel it, and I can’t experience it except through imagination. But once I try to imagine it, once I walk on an outcrop of shale that holds the imprint of avocadoes in a central Oregon desert, it somehow enriches the sense of time I do experience.

This is the fossil shell of a café in Mitchell Oregon. It is evidence of a more prosperous economic epoch lost in time.

This is Smith and Bybee Lake. Actually, I’m pretty sure this is the Smith part of the Lake. (Or is that ‘Lakes’? – they’re connected). Anyway, this is how it looks in springtime. There is an explosion of growth – plants seemingly leap out of the water - yet just five months ago, photographic evidence tells me (and I kind of remember) it was winter.

From January, 2007 to June, 2007

The passage of time on a human scale.

All of the things we see, and all of us, it turns out, are fragile and brief experiments of life set in a shifting environment much harsher than Mr. Rubin’s Algebra quiz.

Occasionally, a species is fortunate enough to find a brief eddy in time sheltered from the current, a place to stretch out and flex a few muscles.

An opportunity to bloom.

As examination time drew near, Mr. Rubin used to write witty sayings on the chalkboard. The one I remember goes like this:

"Time will pass. Will you?"

1 comment:

  1. I had a discussion with someone this morning about time.

    How do you strike the balance between being in the moment and thinking/planning/dreaming of the future? How do you integrate your past and hold it with you, as necessary, as you move forward?

    Is the now all we really have, ever?

    Can we truly understand the passage of time, especially on a cosmic level?


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