My Extra Hour
A plan to defy the laws of time — in nature
Here’s a reprise of an essay for The Boston Globe, which ran a year ago in the Sunday Ideas section.
As most Americans gain an extra hour this weekend, I will set in motion my plan to defy the laws of time.
I will retire Saturday night without dialing back my clocks or allowing the gadgets to do it for me. On Sunday I’ll go about my usual business, including spending the day outdoors enjoying wildlife here in Vermont. All the while, my clocks and I will remain on daylight saving time — one hour ahead of conformity.
After all, I have better uses for my extra hour later that day.
George Vernon Hudson might have liked my plan. In 1895, the British-born scientist and postal clerk proposed, at a meeting of New Zealand’s Wellington Philosophical Society, to alter the time of day by two hours each spring and fall in the interest of energy efficiency, gardening, outdoor recreation, and even morality.
I have reason to believe Hudson had other motives. Like me, he was an entomologist with a particular interest in dragonflies. Extra daylight in the evening, which is what we get when daylight saving time begins in spring, would have given Hudson more time after leaving his work at the post office to find and collect insects before dark.
According to the proceedings of the Society, Hudson’s proposal met “rather with ridicule” that day, with a Mr. Harding calling the idea “wholly unscientific and impracticable.” Even so, 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.
Rarely do we literally “make time.” Finite, scarce, and arbitrary, time seems to slip so easily from our grasp. Even as we struggle to find it and control it, even as we might endeavor to do something productive with that extra hour next weekend, our gadgets will take it from us at 2 a.m. on Sunday. Many will use the extra hour for sleep. I’d rather claim it while I am awake.
So I intend to game the system.
On Sunday, I plan to travel to the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont to watch thousands of white Snow Geese honking overhead on their annual migration south. Perhaps I’ll find the last of this year’s Monarch butterflies, the stragglers on their audacious 2,300-mile journey to Mexico. And like my colleague-in-spirit George Hudson, I’ll look for one of the last dragonflies still on the wing here in Vermont — a red flash called Autumn Meadowhawk.
All the while, I will not yet have claimed my extra hour. Not until 5 p.m. or so. Around that time on Sunday, I would normally head for home and begin to think about my inbox, my calendar, and the work week ahead. But if it is not too cloudy, the sun, before slipping behind the Adirondacks across Lake Champlain, will cast low, angled light on the final pastel splashes of fall foliage. The Snow Geese and Monarchs and Autumn Meadowhawks will be settling in for the night. And I’ll want more time in the wild.
Only then, out there by the lake, will I claim my extra hour. Only then will I turn my clock back to 4 p.m. I will “make time” — not indoors on Saturday night before bed, not while Apple and Google make it for me, and certainly not to gain an extra hour of sleep. In an admittedly symbolic act, I will claim my hour later on Sunday for doing more of what I love: being outside in nature.
To be sure, minutes and hours remain our very own creations — arbitrary and temporary. As easily as we gain one hour now, one will be taken from us in spring. So I feel free to bend time for my own arbitrary — and purposeful — means.
In his proposal to the Wellington Philosophical Society, Hudson wrote: “In favor of the scheme, special attention is directed to . . . the numerous classes who are obliged to work indoors all day, and who, under existing arrangements, get a minimum of fresh air and sunshine; and the probable resultant increase in the health, morality, and happiness of the community generally.”
We can make good things happen over the course of 60 minutes. Or as Mary Oliver might have more elegantly put it: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious hour?