Unfolding Time

Time is a funny little creature; working ever-covertly to evade human consciousness in its mysterious becoming. How often we find ourselves looking back at a span of time: a summer, say, or a school career, and thinking, “Wow, it seems like it flew by, but also took forever…” In the more immediate and pressing sense, our American relationship to time seems painful and quite perverted. If only there were more hours in the day, we say; I would love to, but I simply haven’t got the time. Or, my favorite: Better get moving; time is money. How wonderfully capitalistic of all of us.

While I am not yet foolish enough to consider the conversion of time, life, and experience into fabricated currency, I have found myself bringing into question the ideal length of the Earth’s rotation cycle, in relation to my schedule. Each day I wake, overwhelmed by the rapidity of planned activity, and the anxiety festers. By night, spent, I lie down to a too-short span of sleep, and prepare myself for the abrupt reality of the next morning’s awakening. Days, weeks, months pass at warp speed, and I can never, it seems, catch up. I’ve got to do more; we’ve got to do more; we’re behind; I’m behind. A string of under-breath expletives escorts me everywhere I go, and heaven forbid any of the customers I serve at the coffee shop would see my thoughts or hear my muttered words.

Even this reality of flounder and flurry, however, gives way at moments to the deeper sense of time; most often accompanied by a natural surrounding or happening within or around me. When I’m at Field Notes, I always tend to spend a moment with the first plot of peas that we planted, which are now beaming and bold, making their way up the trellis string with surprising speed. Always, always, I find myself overwhelmed with wonder at how big and beautiful they’ve become. Somehow, in the flush of my own pace, I forget that the rest of the world is also unfolding. How did all of these trees become suddenly green, when just yesterday they were brown? How did our tiny tomato seeds become these gargantuan, top-heavy giants? How is it 9:00 already, when the sun has just barely set?

The great paradox of farming, I’m finding, is the requirement of a simultaneous speeding up and slowing down. We are, in fact, behind; and we do, in fact, have a lot of work to do. Even with that understanding, the broadfork takes its own time, as the soil moisture and type dictates the amount of effort, weight and balance required to flow to the end of the row and back again. Tiny beets demand a bit of care and finesse in drawing them out of their little plastic tray homes to meet the living world of soil, where they will live and thrive. They also like to be carefully covered and cozy at night when it’s getting cold, in spite of the darkness around them as they’re being covered. No matter the workload, the nature of each activity demands a consciousness of mind and body, and an awakening to the real, deep time that continues steadily beneath our surface-level floundering, stress and expectation.

We finished covering our newly-transplanted beets just after 9 last night, and I set off wearily for the car, thinking ahead to the short night of sleep, and morning awakening to follow. While we were actually working, however — drawing those tiny bunches of beets from their trays and tucking them carefully into the soil — time stood still, in spite of the lazily setting sun. Time is not, I realized, the daughter of expectation, but the father of presence and becoming.