My Extra Hour in Nature
A Plan to Defy Time with Birds this Weekend
As the rest of America gains an extra hour this weekend, I will set in motion my plan to claim the future and defy the rules of time.
I’ll go to bed Saturday night refusing to dial back my clocks an hour or allowing the gadgets to do it for me. On Sunday, I’ll spend the day outdoors enjoying nature here in Vermont. All the while, my clocks and I will remain on daylight saving time — one hour ahead of everyone else. One hour ahead of conformity.
George Vernon Hudson might have liked my plan. Born in Britain and raised in New Zealand, Hudson was, like me, an entomologist whose passions included dragonflies. At age 28, Hudson suggested tinkering with clocks in the interest of energy efficiency. At the October 1895 meeting of the Wellington Philosophical Society, Hudson proposed “to alter the time of the clock … and … so reduce the excessive use of artificial light which at present prevails.”
But I have reason to believe Hudson had ulterior motives. The extra daylight after work, which is what we get with daylight saving time in spring, would have given Hudson, who earned his living as a postal clerk, more time before dark to find insects.
Among members of the Society that day, Hudson’s proposal met “rather with ridicule.” Yet various configurations of daylight saving time gradually caught on during the 20th century. By advancing clocks an hour in spring, when the sun rises early anyway, we still awaken to daylight but get an extra hour of light toward day’s end. Not a bad deal.
But now that we’re about to switch back to standard time, I intend to game the system. On Sunday, I’ll head to the shores of Lake Champlain to watch thousands of Snow Geese honking overhead on their migration south. Perhaps I’ll find the last of this year’s Monarchs, stragglers on their audacious journey toward Mexico. Or maybe I’ll do little more than enjoy the Hobblebush leaves, fat and round and flashing every color of the fall foliage spectrum.
All the while on Sunday, I will not yet have claimed my extra hour.
Rarely do we literally “make time.” Finite, scarce and arbitrary, time slips so easily from our grasp, even as we struggle to control it. And even as we might try to do something productive with that extra hour, our gadgets make the change for us at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, when most of us are unaware. Many will use the extra hour for sleep. I’d rather use it while I’m awake.
So on Sunday by 5:30 p.m. or so (according to my clocks) the sun will begin to slip behind the Adirondacks across Lake Champlain. The Snow Geese and Monarchs will be settling in for the night, and the fading light will no longer make the Hobblebush leaves glow. Around that time, I might normally head home for supper with Ruth and to start thinking about the week ahead. But I will not go home.
I will claim my extra hour. Out there by the lake at 5:30 p.m., I will turn my clock back to 4:30 p.m. I will “make time” — not indoors on Saturday night before bed, not while I’m sleeping and the overlords at Apple and Google steal the hour from me, and not to gain an extra hour of sleep. I will instead claim my hour for doing more of what I love: being outside.
I will instead claim my hour for doing more of what I love: being outside.
I’ll even have options for my hour. I might spend it watching the afterglow of the sunset illuminating the Green Mountains to my east. Or maybe I’ll catch the dusk flight of Short-eared Owls hunting chubby meadow voles. Or perhaps I’ll do little more than sit beside the lake, watching the waves … and contemplating time.
I might even use the hour to hatch a new plan for when we’re all ordered to dial the clocks forward an hour in spring. I would gladly give back an hour of screen time, for example, or give up an hour of reading about national politics.
Minutes and hours are our very own arbitrary creations anyway. And for better or worse, we are now awarded — temporarily and arbitrarily — one extra hour to live, when living, like time itself, is utterly temporary and arbitrary.
Life and time are fleeting. So, to borrow brilliance from Mary Oliver: tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious hour?