'Playing for Time,' watercolor by Carolyn Newberger

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 43: The wheels of time in quarantine

Confined in our homes, we struggle to take in the scope and portent of this moment while trying to maintain as much of normal life as we can.

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

April 25, 2020

We are living through a fateful time. What I know about such epochs comes from books, films, and especially in quarantine, Netflix series. Within the hours, days, and weeks of reading and watching, we can experience a sense of those times, of events in their unfolding, of the cataclysmic failures and heart-wrenching heroisms of people who lived through those times. Yet these accountings are distillations, condensations and selections of moments in history. Those who live through such circumstances are suspended in subjective time, with its dull pace, dread and uncertainty, such as the time we are living in.

As I sit on my window seat and watch the rain fall, the wheel of time turns grindingly, painfully, slowly. We are used to running like hamsters on smaller, faster wheels, the wheels of work, of watching children and grandchildren grow, of birthdays and playdates, of meetings and dinners out, of the processions of holidays, of projects starting and completing, of semesters beginning and ending, of successive seasons bringing new sports teams, new activities, new entertainments and new responsibilities.

Remove those inner wheels and we more fully perceive the slower pace of the outer wheels. Take the seasons, for example. I have never more fully felt how long it takes for spring to arrive. Beyond the turns of the seasons is the unhurried wheel of historical time, a wheel whose rotation we may overlook when we’re occupied with the swift revolutions of our personal lives.

Confined in our homes, we struggle to take in the scope and portent of this moment while trying to maintain as much of normal life as we can. One would think that with those inner wheels removed, we would be freed to get to the projects we keep telling ourselves that we need to do. For me, it’s quite the opposite. Immersed in slow time with no end in sight, I find it even harder to finally clean the oven, sort through four generations of photographs or weed out my closet. Rather, I push through torpor, sitting on my window seat, endlessly checking the news.

That’s where Lily comes in. Twenty pounds of optimism, she greets each day at the side of my bed with a nose to my arm, her tail wagging her body. Throughout the day she brings me her squeaky duck for a throw or two or 20, with each throw racing off with fresh excitement. She needs her walks in the woods, walks that pull me away from the screen, enraging me afresh with each new reading — walks where slowly, gradually, new shoots are sprouting from the ground and buds are becoming visible on the trees.

At the end of our walk at the far end of the Log Hop trail, an immense oak stands with two sturdy oaks on either side. I see her as the mother oak with two strong daughters. Passing her yesterday, I spread my arms as far as they could go around her mammoth trunk and pressed my cheek into her bark, my eyes filling with tears. She, my mother tree, lives in slow time. So I shall endure in slow time, too.