November 10, 2012

North Cairn: Clocks stop, but time moves on

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.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)