Watching the local wildlife from day to day, season to season, you will verify that the animals do not know what day of the week it is, nor what space on a calendar page any particular day fills in.
Humans have made it their job to create order in time keeping - watches and clocks and cellphones tell us our days are 24 hours long, and each of those hours is divided into minutes and seconds. Calendars tell us where these days line up. Sunday through Saturday, there are seven slots for days of the week, and there are never five weeks in a month. Some months are longer than others, with February, in the middle of our coldest and snowiest time, being the shortest and fastest to get through. We keep track of this information.
Humans pay attention to the celestial bodies in our solar system, and we know when our days are evenly divided into dark and light at the equinoxes. We know when the longest night falls on every winter solstice, just as we know when the longest day falls every summer solstice in June. Our woodland animals know the important part of this parceling out of time through the seasons, but they do not need all the artifacts we do for keeping track.
Animals are smart
Animals do not study these things. They do not need calendars and watches to navigate their seasons. Somehow, deep inside their wild brains, they know when to gather food, when to fly to winter hangouts, when to make cozy nests for winter, and how to puff themselves up when the temperatures fall way below freezing. Our wild animals do not need to know where the plugs are for charging their cell phones, nor do they need to text their friends to see where they are at any given moment. They fit into the world without spending energy trying to control anything at all except their own survival.
Visitors need training
During these holiday times of the year, family and friends come north to visit us in our isolated wilderness. We watch them, slowly but surely, begin to relinquish the grip that their hand-held devices have over them. A smart phone is only as smart as the reception its owner can find. Someone's iPad seeks out Wifi input, while someone's Android phone keeps looking for reception via Sprint towers. The guests' compulsion to look at a device begins to wane the longer they go without access.
After a few days of realizing that some people have land line telephones and (gasp!) cable television, some of these guests lean back, relax, and spend time having conversations with us, playing board games and card games with actual pieces to move, actual cards to hold in one's hand. Even if and when the power goes out, guests begin to realize that we who live here have learned to manage quite well in spite of the "hardship" of not having constant cell/smart phone service. They think we are quaint. We think they are a little too entangled in devices that appear to add stress and subtract human to human interaction.
We live where there is little to no cell phone reception. We're fine with it. We see so many friends visibly unwind while visiting ... phones sitting useless on the table, we chat and laugh and find the old fashioned art of conversation as foundation for community and friendship.
Nostalgia requires contact
Vacations are short. Humans are not permanent. My best suggestion for all of us for a New Year's resolution would be to disconnect from these hand held devices regularly. Do not see it as missing out on something if you do. See it as adding awareness, like the winter wildlife that surrounds us. See those devices as being something that can make you miss out on real human to human contact, can make you miss out on true communication, true community. Little voices and little words on a small screen are not a replacement for a big hug and cup of coffee with an old friend or favorite aunt.and face to face is always something you can look back on with fond memory of shared times. No nostalgia for those texts and voicemailsnone whatsoever. They do not build memory or relationships at all. They mostly feed an addiction for attention, and sometimes, that gets old.
Time travel the easy way
We may need our calendars and watches to know when we need to be somewhere, or when appointments need to be kept. We are humans, and humans generally try to keep that data close at hand. But there is a lot to learn from the act of letting go, letting pressures recede, letting excessive obligation find another place to ruffle feathers.
Allow yourself the moments it takes to truly unwind, to feel what no pressure feels like, to leave the "conveniences" of the modern day behind for awhile and feel what a natural Adirondacker might have felt a hundred years ago, walking outside on New Year's day saying, "Happy New Year" to every deer, squirrel and bird that may be walking or flying by. Where we live it is possible to time travel in that way. Just look out over a hillside, mountainside, or shoreline where there are no houses. Watch the trees sway in the wind. Listen to the crunch of the snow under your feet. Hear the familiar winter song of the chickadee from the treetops. Those sights and sounds are no different than they would have been back in the 1800s.
Practice letting go. Watch what our animal friends do during this dark time. And remember the value of face to face contact. The people in our lives give us strength and belonging; the least we owe them is eye contact and maybe even a living, heartfelt hug to boot.
Happy new year, one and all. Be safe.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.