Wild Time

Sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll. Play, nature, and the sacred.

| January / February 2003

For years I have wondered what it feels like to be deep in the wilderness. Then, on a trip to the Taku River watershed of Alaska, I found out. Wilderness is a ferocious intoxication that sweeps over your senses. It is an untouched place that leaves you elated, awed, and changed. It is an aphrodisiac, a place of furious, ripe fullness.

To me, this experience offers a model of how we might think in new ways about time. Just as vast wilderness once surrounded us, so, too, time was wild: everlasting, undefined, unenclosed, unnamed, a mystery. Now, wild land and wild time exist only in patches around the world.Western society’s peculiar way of marking time—the clock, the schedule, the urgency—has become the standard; wild time the exception.

The desire to seize time and colonize it runs rampant among those in power in the West, who have long defined their time as the time. The pretense that “time is money” has profited those who invented the slogan and impoverished everyone else. Wild time, by contrast, was free—the open-handed hour, the open-hearted day, until Benjamin Franklin and all his efficiency-seeking successors preached to us that free time was wasted (much as wild land was, equally falsely, called waste land).

What hope is there now for wild time? Loads. Every child is born chock-full of it, for starters. State-of-the-art physics is revealing facts about time’s chaos, caprice, illogicality—its many varieties of exuberant disequilibrium. And then there’s hope that everyone will see that clock time—tamed time—is a mere construct of modern society. It’s hard, though, because people are taught since childhood to see time as if it a were physical, concrete thing. Tuesday is spoken of as if it were made of slate, a deadline as if it were a wall, “three o’clock” as a chimney. We brick ourselves into a house of time which we then find claustrophobic. But wild time is still around and, if we wanted to, we could huff and puff and blow our house down.

So what is wild time? For answers, look at those things most resistant to the mechanisms of clock time. Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, for instance. Three ways of having a “wild” time. There is also a transcendent quality to wild time, of escaping the ordinary, as many religions know. Wild time thrives in the spirit of play and in nature. All the arts (serious play) have an affinity with the experience of living beyond the clock.

Let’s start with sex. Sex always wants to have its own way with the hours, shaming all that’s scheduled. In a beautiful paradox, Eros, god of Love, was understood by the Greeks to be at once the oldest and the youngest of the gods, born a child with an anything but innocent wink. Love detests the clock. Lovers have no sense of time and, equally, nothing kills passion faster than noticing time. It is the clock striking midnight that abruptly stops the burgeoning love affair between Cinderella and Prince Charming.

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