During the current pandemic and quarantine, I work from home. I only leave the house a couple of times a week to grocery shop, spending the bare minimum amount of time out of the house. Over the past few months, I’ve heard various people mention in puzzlement that they are losing track of days of the week, sort of. Losing track of what day it is, sort of. They’re having a hard time articulating the experience. I have put some thought into this time warp, trying to pinpoint the effect on me. There is an unease, a feeling of not being grounded. I‘ve now realized the pandemic is the backdrop of this experience, but not the reason for it.
In the 1980s, I took myself off on several long-distance bicycle trips. One trip was from Portland to San Francisco. I was on the road ten days in mid-August, sleeping outdoors each night, seldom inside. By the end of that trip, I knew precisely when the moon was going to rise, and where, and how big it would be. That trip was north-south, and only ten days, so I didn’t notice much difference in the sun’s position in the sky. As I went south, it was a little further overhead was all the difference to me.
A few years later, I pointed my bicycle east in early May, landing in Boston in early July. This was a two-way trip – I rode back to Portland, arriving home late September. On that trip I became attuned not only to the moon, but also to the sun. I understood for the first time why time zones. I could tell by the time of sunset when I was approaching the next opportunity to change my watch. I knew when and where the sun would rise next morning, where and when the moon was in its cycle. I was seldom indoors for nearly five months, and felt the changing of the seasons.
It’s June 21 as I write this, summer solstice. I only know that by calendar observation. Because I work a Monday-to-Friday job, I haven’t lost track of days of the week, as some of my friends have. What I have lost track of is the time of month, the season of year. June 21? It might as well be May 15. Or July 30. My bicycle trips put me in touch with the rhythm of the earth, the cycles of time we call seasons. I’ve lost that rhythm, and no longer have any sense of what time of earth it is. Spending our time indoors, that sense of rhythm is disrupted for me and most of my friends, subconscious though it used to be.
My friend who is quarantined in a beach house at the coast is having the opposite experience. Spending time on the beach morning and afternoon, she has a newfound sense of the rhythm of life, never having lived with the ocean before. Tides. Moon. Sun. The rhythmic harmony of nature. Those of us quarantined in the city have a harder time focusing our daily lens on ourselves as part of nature. And yet we have had a subconscious attunement to seasons, an attunement disrupted by quarantine.
Even those who go for urban walks fairly regularly have felt the disruption, focused as they are on the potential proximity of other people and not able to attune to the earth surrounding, supporting, sustaining us. It would benefit all of us to get out of the city on occasion if we’re able, to be alone in nature with automatic social distancing, regaining that rhythm of life.