All in the timing

I was already a little out of my comfort zone when the demand was made. Standing on the shores of the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, the team leader, someone you didn’t want to argue with, barked out the command: turn over your watches. Seeing as how, with the exception of a few poorly executed, high-water tubing adventures, I was a complete river rookie, I obeyed. I figured it was among the myriad rules of the river I was about to learn over the next few weeks, like how to tie a bow line, rig to flip or make the perfect Nalgene margarita.

The sound of ripping Velcro echoed up and down the beach as all 15 of us dutifully reached over and unsecured our timepieces from our wrists, revealing the albino like strip of skin beneath. We forked them over with the promise of having them returned at the end of the 18 days.

The justification was simple. For the next couple weeks, we really had nowhere to be, no appointments to keep, no dates to remember. We would sleep when we were tired, eat when we were hungry, drink when we were thirsty and motivate when we were good and ready – or when the blare of the midday sun on the campsite forced us to seek cooler locales.

The concept worked beautifully, and other than that stubborn strip of skin that refused to tan, only burning and peeling repeatedly, I forgot all about time, at least in the human sense. And nestled deep at the bottom of that meandering canyon in a perpetual canned beer-induced haze, it was often hard to judge where exactly the sun was anyway.

So we just let our animal instincts take over.

Of course, upon arriving back in civilization, we learned those instincts were more akin to the sloth than some of the more noble members of the animal kingdom we would have rather likened ourselves to. As it turned out, one member of the trip, the same one who brought clean undies individually sealed in Zip-lock baggies labeled with permanent marker for each day of the trip, had smuggled a watch in her ammo can. While we languished on the beach for one last round of coffee or call on the groover, or finally got around to contemplating dinner way past dark, she secretly charted our schedule. And as we broke down gear in the Peach Springs parking lot, she could no longer keep it to herself. According to our unofficial timekeeper, most days we didn’t put rubber to river till the crack of 2, and dinner usually was served European style, somewhere around midnight.

We knew we were a little off the back, but just how much surprised even the most serious slackers among us. Even during the height of my collegiate barroom education, I had never managed such a sustained streak of loafdom.

But all too soon, our commandeered accessories were returned from their safe keeping and hastily positioned back on our wrists, reminding us just how long the shuttle was taking and how much time was left before returning to work, rent and reality.

But all too soon, our commandeered accessories were returned from their safe keeping and hastily positioned back on our wrists, reminding us just how long the shuttle was taking and how much time was left before returning to work, rent and reality.

In the decade since, my trusty Swiss Army watch, a family hand-me-down hijacked from my husband, has rarely left its position of prominence on my left wrist. However, in recent years, it began to lose its edge, slipping a few minutes here and there. New batteries did the trick for a while, as did setting it ahead to compensate for the slippage, not to mention my chronic tardiness. But even that proved to be only a stopgap, and soon the stalwart sentinel’s hands came to their permanent resting place.

Repair was a possibility, albeit a cost-prohibitive one, running about as much as a brand new watch. So instead, I once again unfastened the ratty Velcro strap and stowed the watch away for safe keeping. I’ll admit, I felt naked those first few days of watchlessness, my wrist conspicuously bare. I also found myself a bit panic stricken every time I looked down to check my time – or more correctly, see how late I was running – only to find an empty arm.

A friend who had been watchless much longer than I, reassured me. “You’ll get used to it, and pretty soon, you’ll start noticing there are clocks everywhere you look.”

And sure as the bare spot on my wrist, she was right. Of course, this is Durango, so several of said clocks were more than a little off or hadn’t worked since the Eisenhower era. But for the most part, I found that a general approximation of time was never far off.

More importantly, though, I realized that the watch I had grown so dependent upon really isn’t so indispensable. Watch or no watch, I still tend to arrive wherever it is I’m going, a little late, as usual (considered rude in some circles, I like to think of it as “fashionable.”) Deadlines are still met, appointments kept and dinner is served at a semi-reasonable hour. I haven’t started sleeping in till noon, although I would like to. And that naked arm doesn’t seem so obtrusive. It’s pretty much life as normal, with one exception. When I really and truly want to escape to that timeless place, where the position of two hands on a circular dial doesn’t matter, I know I can. Sure, it’s more a state of mind than anything else. But it’s nice to know that when I want to spend a few extra minutes savoring my morning coffee, watching the grass grow or just daydreaming about sandy beaches and semi-cold, canned beer, I’ll always have the lack of a watch to blame it on.

And maybe some day I’ll give in and shell out the bucks for the repairs or even splurge and buy a new watch all together. But first, I have to find the time.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows