It Gets Old

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – The hammer of autumn darkness and the return to “standard time” seemed to fall harder than usual this past week. The reason is probably that, whereas twenty years ago we suffered them in relative silence and isolation, now thousands of us are loudly proclaiming our pain from the rooftops of the internet. That’s both a good thing and a bad: bad because depression can be as contagious as a virus; good because the obviously widespread discontent may lead to legislation to put the foolishness of manipulated time behind us.

I can’t say I care much which standard we adopt. For me, the main reasons to stick with one or the other are, first, the hazard of setting my two wall clocks (one, the higher up, is supposed to set itself. A cruel joke; it’s currently two hours ahead) and second, the complexity of falling back an hour on a digital clock without going through all the other settings, as well. Plus, the protocols are all different. My kitchen stove clock hasn’t been set successfully since we installed it fourteen years ago (one internet adviser suggests using a three-pound hammer). The cars – well, I don’t have to worry about the summer car; by the time it comes out of its protective cocoon in the spring, we’ll have switched back to its current setting. The newer car’s clock can be set, according to a note on Page 102 of the Owner’s Manual by referring to “General Settings” on Page 425. Reminds me of the remark of the Kapellmeister in “Amadeus” about Mozart’s music: “Too many notes.”

The most rueful remarks I’ve read have been those of pet owners. The poor animals, who, like the rest of the natural world, take their cues from the sun, the rain, and the temperature, don’t understand the sudden changes in their humans’ behavior. Those who “need to go out” at sunrise now need to go out and be fed their breakfast an hour earlier, to the disgruntlement of the slaves to the clock. Personally, I’m blessed with a little terrier who apparently’s been equipped with the bladder of a rhinoceros. Often – and especially in this colder weather when she’s deep under the bedcovers – Kiki knows it’s morning only by the racket of my phone alarm, to which I may or may not respond, and she doesn’t always ask to be let out to pee and clear the yard of predators. The scent of brewing coffee does nothing for her – she gets no meal in the morning, anyway – but the aromas of hot sausage and an omelet being sautéed in butter finally bring her in for a treat.

During the afternoon is when I notice the difference. For safety’s sake, I need to be out of the park while I can still see my feet, and dark’s now an hour earlier. Cued by the position of the sun, Kiki begins to tease to get going an hour earlier by my clock; so I’ve moved up our departure time, as well as our preprandial ritual and supper, by half an hour. That makes for a longer evening and an earlier bedtime; but with warm flannel sheets and a thick comforter beckoning, and darkness-triggered melatonin coursing through our veins, the prospect of hibernation is as welcome as the sight of its barn to a tired horse.

Except in midsummer, I’m almost always making breakfast in the dark, anyway; so, if I were to vote, it would be for daylight savings time. But permanent. No more of this sloppy switching back and forth. It gets old, especially as you get old yourself.

You have to wonder how the old-timers coped with the darkness without electricity or central heating. Simple: They worked from dawn till dark and, as the saying goes, went to bed with the chickens. An old journal I found from 1875 recorded that on the coldest winter days the writer and his father worked by daylight in the shop, splitting shingles, mending harness, and carving maple taps. Lamp oil and candles were extravagances for many of those folks. A good wood stove could hold a fire all night, and the first family member up in the morning stirred it to life and fed it fresh chunks for everyone else’s comfort. We’ve got it so good that, regardless of the time of day or night, we can watch television, compose on the computer, and read ourselves to sleep.

So how did those ancestors of ours, often clad defensively in long johns for as many months as we’re currently operating by standard time, manage those interminable nights in bed in the dark with nothing to do? If you have to ask, it’s possible that our modern conveniences, for all they’re able to perform for us, have caused your imagination to atrophy.