Outside In – Time


by Marc Piane

I didn’t have to walk far from the shelter before I came upon a fallen branch. Pine makes good tinder for starting a fire but luckily this was a branch from a harder wood tree. Maybe an oak. Burns longer. It was too big to carry so I stepped hard on it. There was a sharp snapping sound as the branch broke. It was very dry and must have fallen some time ago so it would burn well. I grabbed the piece I had broken off and stood on it as I pulled up snapping it in two. I picked up those two pieces as well as a big handful of pine twigs and headed back to the shelter. It was getting near dusk and I wanted to get to fire started before dark.

When I got back to the shelter I dropped the sticks on the floor and dug around in my backpack for some fire starter sticks I had bought at the camping store. Basically sawdust and paraffin. I knew they were kind of cheating but a quick and easy way to start a fire. I also grabbed the small waterproof box that contained the wooden matches. I put the starter stick in the fire pit and arranged the sticks in a loose lean to on top. One strike of the match and…fire. The sharp crackling sound cut through that still air that was now almost complete devoid of sunlight.

I fished around in my backpack again a found a flask. Whiskey. A nightcap. I knew I needed to cook dinner but right now I just needed to chill and enjoy the fire. There was a chill in the air and the soreness in my muscles from my hike today was starting to burn. I leaned my backpack against the bunk which was maybe 5 feet from the fire pit and sat down with my back against the pack. I let out an audible sigh, unscrewed the cap from the flask, took a swig of whiskey, and felt the burn down my throat ending in a warm feeling in my stomach. “Smooth” I thought in a slightly sarcastic way.

I could feel my body get heavier from fatigue and whiskey. Time seemed to slow down. I could hear the chorus off cricket and the crackling of the fire.  I could feel the cool night air interspersed with wafts of warm air from the fire.  My mind wandered to the Flow theory of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He theorized that there is a finite amount of information our brain can process, so when we are occupied with a task we lose our ability to monitor time. This moment was the opposite of that. My head was clear and I was just watching the licks of flame in the fire. It felt like time had stopped.

My mind then wandered to the great book by Alan Lightman called Einstein’s Dreams. In the book each chapter provides a short vignette with one perspective on time. One particular chapter came to mind. The world with no time. Only images. I took another sip from the flask, put on the cap, and closed my eyes. Time had stood still and only the warmth of the fire, the sounds of the crickets, the smell of the burning wood, the lingering taste of whiskey on my tongue.

I leaned deeper into my backpack and drifted off to sleep.