During the storm, overnight, the kitchen clock stopped at 7:48.
The clock in the basement of the cottage in which I was living temporarily had never ticked pieces of time at all. It had been stuck on 9:35 since I had arrived a month before.
But the effect of having two timepieces in a tiny space quit on me seemed a little eerie, even allowing that both were running on batteries, at best, and would have to have some human assistance eventually to stay on task. I began to feel like a character in William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” in which the symbols and concept of time are handled in unexpected ways.
“Clocks slay time,” he writes. “Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”
I had to go back, all the long way through the dusty corridors of personal memory, to make sense of it, to recall what it was that had brought it all back: the clocks and Faulkner and the person I had been decades ago, as an undergraduate, reading his work with awe.
And then I found the passage: “When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire … I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.”
I have never witnessed a clock the same way since.
But I have had a chance over the last several weeks to see time in a different light than ordinarily frames my thinking about it. I have been immobilized by a bum ankle trying to heal itself after surgery, and that has abandoned me to a sense of the world that is defined by windows and glimpses, not clock faces and the measure of minutes and hours, or days.
From where I have sat most dawns, waiting for the healing of tissue and muscle and anticipating a return to business as usual, the hands of the clock of my world have been evidence of movement restrained: the rocking and dipping of phragmites in high winds, the restless darting of wings as the late songbirds skitter through the shrubs beyond the door, resting, then moving on again, urgently south, anxious to be gone.
I have listened, powerless, as the squirrels have visited the eaves of the cottage, on the run from winter in the air, gnawing at cedar shingles and exercising squatters’ rights over my little dwelling. I have heard the tide of mice, rising in the walls, then falling away as the wind and rain and cold subsided. I have seen the final petals of summer’s blooms roll into themselves, turning from red and pink and blue to dried brown, as the landscape outfits itself for the season of frost, slow-going and snow.
These alterations outdoors, along with my own, within — an evolutionary-like, slow metamorphosis back to a mammal capable of walking erect on two feet — have marked the passage of time along one short shoreline of the sea. The last three weeks of high winds and damaging tides have reshaped the beaches, as they always do when hurricanes break open like seeds under pressure, in season, under the right natural conditions for reconstitution and loss. Movements mainly, and change.
It made me think more about Faulkner, since I could not spend a whit of energy in trying to capture or conquer time, or hope and desire. For the time being, my race was run. My whole world was waiting, everything suspended, except the routine obligation to herd the dog in and out the door for a snuffle of fresh air or to pick off the scents of neighbors and news — a coyote one night, using the side yard as a crosswalk to the marsh, a muskrat making its way home, another, to the tidal creek.
The clocks stop but the world goes on, I thought one afternoon, transporting laundry from the washer to the dryer — a simple act of keeping the daily schedule, completing the customary chores. The world goes on. With me or without, within or there beyond, in the world of weeds and wonders.
I suppose this is the territory through which one might travel to enter the mausoleum of hope and desire, these windows to frame the journey and glimpse the destination. But from here, sitting quietly and growing still, I know I am no more than a fleeting bird or a broken twig that may yield a bud again.
I don’t need a clock to tell me: I am biding my time. The pendulum will swing again my way: I will add my tock to the rhythm of the moment, the course of seasons, the cycle of life.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: