My Extra Hour in Nature

A Plan to Defy Time with Birds this Weekend

November 1, 2018  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  34 comments

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.

After all, I’ve got better uses for that extra hour.

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.

A sampling of Hobblebush leaves.

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?

34 comments
  1. Rick says:

    Susan and I spent our extra hour sauntering around Walden Pond with thoughts of Henry David close at hand and heart. It was extremely cathartic considering these times.

  2. judy welna says:

    …I’ll spend the hour with wild and precious nature, location to be decided later. I wonder, is it the hour, or is it a moment, that we are most likely to carry in our hearts? Either way, precious.

  3. With my extra hour – I wish to get more native plants or perhaps I will search for native milkweed seeds to plant! Native plants = native insects = native birds.

    BTW – “Whats a clock?

    Worked for time; spending much of it on nature.
    Bernie

  4. Linda Markin says:

    All my favorite naturalists are/were also philosophers. I count you among them, Bryan.

  5. Britt says:

    I love your spin on the extra hour Bryan! Of course playing at the edge of defying time and rules appeal to me;-)

  6. Stevie Spaulding says:

    Lovely, Bryan. It brought to mind this quote from Thoreau:
    “In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.”

  7. Hildy Jones says:

    Bryan,
    As always, your photography is a great reminder of nature’s treasures and the “extra hour” reminder a bonus!! Thank you.
    I will get up my usual 5 a.m. –will be 4 and seek the critters that are using the twilight before dawn to do what they do best. I’ll listen for the sounds and watch, always a treat no matter the critter, owl, deer, skunk, fox, etc. Spotted some moose scat in my yard yesterday, just sorry I missed his house call !!

  8. Sue Cloutier says:

    Enjoy nature, where ever I happen to be. I will spin the time to my favor. And I will enjoy being alive.

  9. Kim H says:

    Bryan, Thank you for this reminder to take the time appreciate nature .
    Savor every second!

  10. Susan Abbott says:

    Great idea and lovely essay, Bryan. Even trying to find 10 minutes a day to go sit quietly by my pond feels like a challenge (and it’s a mental one more than physical.) Thanks for this reminder that we make choices how we spend our time, and the choices have consequences.

  11. Shirley Zundell says:

    Who really thinks about that extra hour? You do! Thank you, Bryan, for reminding me to think about it too and use it as a nature bonus.

  12. Sarah Cooper-Ellis says:

    Yay, thank you, Bryan!

  13. Linda Wheatley says:

    Brilliant idea, Bryan. I will acknowledge this little gift of time on Sunday morning: I’ll get up at my usual time, make my latte and wander the empty cornfield out my front door, with my geese. Who will know or care, except for me . . . and maybe the geese?

  14. and as dear Mary Oliver also wrote:

    “Instructions for living a life,
    Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

    Would that we could all be so reflective and share (communicate)
    the wonders of this life we live!
    Thank you, Bryan for all you bring to this world!!!!!

  15. David J Healy says:

    Nicely done. Fabulous writing as well.

  16. Rita Pitkin says:

    Great idea! I’m in. Thank you Bryan.

  17. John Snell says:

    Thank you, my friend, always, for the reminders!

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