Monday, June 30, 2008

Mysteries of Time and Space

"Is a merchant entitled to demand a greater payment from one who cannot settle his account immediately than from one who can? No, because in doing so he would be selling time and would be committing usury by selling what does not belong to him.”
- 14th century Franciscan priest.

Today, nobody owns time: instead, we are all slaves of time. The academic school year is traditionally scheduled to permit students to help with planting in the Spring, and harvesting in the autumn, and to attend school in between their farming chores – a rather outdated seasonal tyranny of time considering how many students actually do help to sow and reap down on the family farm. We even use time to worry about time, looping back over hours wasted, and years misspent. From an early age, we’re taught not to become trapped in the concentration camp of idleness, where the devil will influence us to generally behave badly.

For most of us, there is no place we can hide from time – it keeps ticking, often the loudest during those moments of stolen time when we’re alone. This is more so for me. I have a benign circulatory condition called a bruit in my carotid artery that makes my heartbeat audible inside my head. I often think I hear the relentless beat of techno-rock, a phantom thumping in the background. Is that a car driving up the hill outside, with it’s windows down and its radio blaring, and because of my poor hearing all that comes through is the underlying beat of the music? Usually not.

J wrote that David Harvey said many Western thinkers, “typically privilege time over space in their formulations. They broadly assume either the existence of some pre-existing spatial order within which temporal processes operate, or that spatial barriers have been so reduced as to render space a contingent rather than fundamental aspect to human action.“ In other words, time is more important to us than space.

Except, that is, in gardens. In Gardens, while we may pay careful attention to passages of time (the seasons, the daily journey of the sun and the moon overhead, the changing shadows), we tend to compartmentalize our thinking not (as much) in increments of time, but (more so) in parcels of space.

When I garden, I deal with the spaces in my back yard, and time is simply what happens when I’m there. Today I have to turn the compost, and rake the dog poop out of the compost area. I also have to work in afternoon shade and move the water plants out of the pond in preparation for it’s impending acid wash and re-sealing. I also want to move some potted plants from the front yard to the back. Thus, time spent in the garden frees me from the very tyranny time seems to impose on the rest of my days. When I garden, I’m not just slowing down the clock to a more gentle pace marked by the passage of the seasons, or the sun’s journey across the sky. I’m freeing my other senses from the perpetual schedules and marking of time, thereby enabling me to hear, see, smell and touch and taste and to enjoy the timeless spaces.

Turns out, I can escape from the devil’s workshop of idleness into the garden, there to enjoy the space in peace, without worrying about wasting time. The beat of my heart even slows down enough in the garden that often, I don’t even notice the thumping of my heart, counting down the remaining days and hours of my life.

1 comment:

kate said...

I've never thought about this - but how it is. Time takes on an entirely different meaning while pottering about in the garden. Often, hours pass and I'm not even aware of it.

Now I'm fascinated by the idea of hearing your heart beating in your head. I've not heard of this before - it must be like a constant clock ticking away.

I like the quote that you have here.