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That summer, time and my timepiece flew

That was the last time I wore a wristwatch. Maybe I would have started using pocket watches anyway. Wearing a chronometer on my wrist made me too conscious of time. Whenever I turned my wrist toward the sun, man's busy concept of time as hurrying hours, minutes, and seconds appeared, its face staring into my face.

I tried to become less ruled by time. I left my alarm clock in the valley when I drove up the mountain, and I lived well without it. I easily woke awhile before daylight with nothing to call me but the eastern sky showing lighter gray against the dark night as the earth slowly turned my camp toward the sun.

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More than the hour of the day did, hunger decided when I would eat. I quit work when I thought I had done enough for the day. And I went to bed after dark, when I felt sleepy, and when I had watched and listened to as much of the night on the quiet mountain as I needed to.

I still referred to the hours of the day, as shown by my wristwatch, but I referred less as spring progressed into summer and summer toward fall.

Most of that summer I worked alone. I hiked through the forest, hooked a rabbit-eared pick under the crowns of ribes bushes, gooseberries, and currants, and levered them out of the ground.

This was to slow the spread of blister rust, which depended on such bushes for part of its life cycle. Blister rust was fatal to pine trees. Sometimes I had to work hard to stay on the mountain alone, to be content with my own company and my own thoughts, with the quiet work I did through days of sunshine, to be content with the shelter I took during mountain storms and with my nights alone in the mountain forest.

I never lost my awe at the beauty of the mountains where I worked. I added daily to the list of wildlife I saw: deer, eagles, hawks, 30 varieties of smaller birds, weasels, and a badger, nearsighted and pretending to be very bad-tempered so other creatures, including me, wouldn't bother it. There were flowers in endless variety coloring the mountain and releasing soft, pleasant odors into mountain breezes.

I worked both sides of a steeply sloped canyon. Muggins Creek ran clear and cold down the bottom of the canyon. Granite bluffs rose abruptly from the deeply soiled slope where pine trees, fir trees, and brush grew, from steeply sloped meadows where pine duff and leaves decomposed to soil in sunshine and rain.

Large parts of the canyon's steep sides were clear of gooseberry and currant bushes, so I only had to travel through, checking to be sure I didn't miss a rare bush here or there. I ran across the slope and tried to maintain my elevation. The canyon sloped so steeply, I would start to angle downslope. I'd spot a tree ahead of me that held a limb down the slope, within my reach. Still in a full-speed run, I'd grab the limb and hold on as it arced me uphill again.

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I'd let go when I headed a little uphill and gallop across the slope, spot another tree, and do the same thing again. My progress was an exhilarating race across slope: I'd start to head down, arc part of a ring around a pine tree, catapult slightly upslope, straight across, start to lose altitude again, and do the whole thing over again. I had so much fun, time absolutely flew.

When I grabbed one particular low-hanging limb, a branch drove under my watchband. When I rocketed on across the slope, my watch didn't. The limb jerked my arm back. My watchband broke, and the branch sprang back and threw my watch toward the clear blue mountain sky.

I walked through that area several times in the next few days as I scrambled down to Muggins Creek for a cold drink of water. But I never saw band, case, nor face of that watch again. I was glad the band hadn't been stronger.

I lived without reference to the marking of hours. The sun, the moon, the amount of work I had done, the motion of stars, hunger, and tiredness measured time for me, and that was sufficient.

When I did buy a new timepiece, it was one I carried in my pocket. Sometimes I needed to know hours and minutes, and I dug into my pocket for my watch. Not having a timepiece quite so available left me a little freer from constant reference to hours and minutes, a little more tuned to the cycle of the sun and the moon, the turning of the earth, the cycles of nature. I'm pleased with that.

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