Four Score and Seven Beards Ago


Cognitive Dissonance


Within a few weeks of moving to the mountain in June of 2013 Mrs. Cog and I found ourselves in the one and only bank within 10 miles of our new place opening a checking account in order to conduct (local) financial business as needed. The manager, a pleasant woman married to the realtor who sold us our place, helpfully informed us the locals were all on ‘Mountain Time’, meaning things got done when they got done and not necessarily when we thought they should get done.

I was familiar with the term, or more accurately the concept, since several decades earlier I had been married (briefly I might add) to a young woman who had spent most of her formative years on a Caribbean island. Yes, my ex-wife operated on ‘Island Time’, which for her meant if it was going to get done it would eventually get done, though not necessarily by her. It was her one redeeming quality.

To be fair, with the benefit of 30 years of additional maturity under my belt and the desire to remove myself from the daily grind of the consumer rat race, Mountain Time didn’t sound all that bad, particularly if it came with a southern drawl and the opportunity to shoot the shit down at the local country store/auto repair shop. While there was no way this Yankee would ever be able to discard his New England accent, I am a people person and most acquaintances wind up liking me, though I suspect many have no idea why.

Having just relocated from the Northern Virginia/DC area, where the consumer power knob goes all the way to eleven on a one to ten scale, the manager cast us a dubious look when we both nodded our approval of Mountain Time, then once again welcomed us to her bank as we were ushered out the door. It only took 80 minutes to open one joint checking account so I thought we had successfully begun our acclamation.

I remember reading a long time ago that man took his first step from savage to civilized when he began to master time. Even back then I wondered who (or what) mastered who in that competition because it seemed to me by the time I was five and had entered first grade I was in sync with Father Time and not Mother Earth. But the idea I might just be able to ignore the clocks up here on the mountain after 50 plus years of running in place was decidedly appealing.

Of course for the most part the idea of living time free is more fantasy than fact, at least for us. There are still clocks in nearly every room in our home and on many appliances as well as on every computer, laptop, cell phone and motor vehicle in our possession. Since there are occasions when we must interact with various businesses and professionals in the area, we must at least be aware what time it is in order to function. In addition, considering we run a website with international membership, in some respects we must think globally with regard to time, not just locally.

All in all though, time and the clock do not dominate my life to the extent it did less than a year and a half ago. I suspect what I am experiencing is a less regimented life more than one disconnected from time. Working a nine to five job requires nearly every other aspect of our lives to be in sync with the primary activity of the day, that of work. And for the vast majority of “We the People” working is no longer as much about subsistence as it is debt service.

It has taken us well over a year to extinguish most (but not all) of our debt and thus our debt service obligations, allowing us to substantially lower our income needs as the outgo also diminishes. While we are still net negative income wise, the gap is narrowing and our happiness index is through the roof. In so many small ways our prior lives were lived to service our past (our debt) rather than living in the present.

However when I take a closer look at our expenses I realize even though we have been here more than a year we are still knee deep in projects to improve our home, outbuildings and the homestead grounds. This means that while the major projects have been budgeted as capital expenses, many of the small outlays for those projects tend to fall under ‘household’ expenses against income rather than ‘project’ expenses against capital. With the major improvements nearly complete I suspect our income needs will continue to decline.

But while my life is much less regimented it is by no means sedentary. Between the high maintenance log cabin and log outbuildings, the large garden area, maintenance of old logging roads and general grounds as well as special features unique to our place, at a minimum several hours a day are devoted to its upkeep. On the rare occasion when I complain to Mrs. Cog of the unrelenting daily demand on me Mrs. Cog sweetly reminds me I am working for myself rather than the man. I think of it as working for Mother Nature, the ultimate authority and taskmaster.

Clocks - Clean

We arrogant humans have a bizarre relationship with time, bolding declaring we have mastered it while clearly subservient to its every whim. We obsessively measure it while chopping it up into ever smaller increments so our cell phones work and our nuclear plants operate………if they aren’t presently melting down in the ultimate Mother Nature middle finger to humans and our vaunted technological miracles.

On the other side of the ledger we stack increments of time on top of each other in enormous quantities in an entirely futile effort to mentally grasp large passages of time. Declaring something happened two thousand years ago when the scale of reference is our present age is as meaningless to us as stating the 2015 US government budget is $3.9 trillion dollars when our income for this year is less than $30,000. I have trouble thinking in terms of weeks and months and yet I’m expected to comprehend the volume of time that has passed since Christ was said to have walked the Earth? I don’t think so.

While we are assured by the experts that time is precisely measured based upon other ‘known’ phenomenon such as the decay rate of some radioactive material or the vibration of an atom, ultimately time is based upon perception and perspective. I have read some very interesting articles over the years where time was described as a construct of the mind and consciousness. Without the conscious observer present, there is no ‘time’ to speak of.

When I was much younger and still riding motorcycles, some idiot pulled out in front of me and then stopped in confusion and panic when he realized he wasn’t going to clear me in time. For my part I was travelling over 50 mph and was less than one hundred feet away from his stopped vehicle. There simply was not enough ‘time’ nor space to stop. Somehow over the next few seconds time slowed down for me to such a degree that I was able to plan out, then quickly maneuver the motorcycle first to one side, then the other and avoid hitting the negligent driver. A witness told me he had never seen anything like it in his life. Sparks were flying everywhere and the noise was terrible.

After the fact, when for me time had resumed ‘normal’ speed, I was astounded by what I had just done and was never able to repeat anything close to the maneuver that had saved my life. I had essentially laid the bike down first on one side, then the other in order to maneuver around the stopped car. And in the process I had ground down the foot pegs on either side as well as some of each exhaust. Plus the soles of my boots were now gone, ground away to nothing but a tiny stub for a heel and holes at the ball of the foot. I have heard several ‘expert’ explanations for what happened to other people in similar situations and it still all boils down to perception and perspective.

Similarly, anyone waiting for water to boil or attending a boring lecture knows how agonizingly slow time passes when you’re not having fun. On the flip side, engage in an activity that is new, exciting or fascinating and watch how quickly time flies by. How many times have you checked your watch or wall clock and been amazed by how late it was or how much ‘time’ had passed when you weren’t paying attention or were occupied? Another person in the same room doing the same thing may be experiencing exactly the opposite effect. But aren’t we all sharing the same ‘time’?

Much smarter and more imaginative people than I will claim I do this subject a disservice and I would not disagree. This is not a dissertation by any stretch of the imagination, but simple observations of a change in my perception and perspective. In fact it meshes nicely with the theme of our Two Ice Floes website, where we continue to navigate life with one foot still firmly within the Matrix while carefully attempting to place the other foot outside to the fullest extent possible. It is with this thought in mind that I have been observing myself and my reactions to this ongoing experiment in duality.

Our technological culture seems to place us firmly in conflict with time itself. The rush to cram as much as possible into as small a slice of time as we can seems to be the holy grail these days, and the pace is accelerating exponentially. While for now it is limited to external (to the human body) technology applications, I fully expect it to progress to internal computer chip implantations and drug induced time warping. The critical question is not can we do this or when will we be able to do this, but why would we want to do this. As my mother was prone to say, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” I agree mom.

As I have slowly withdrawn from the rat race my perspective and perception of time has gradually morphed into something I didn’t quite expect. I must still be mindful of what day of the week it is as well as the actual calendar date for a multitude of reasons. But I pay attention to this only for the purpose of meshing with the Matrix rather than to be engulfed by, or subservient to, the demands of the Matrix.

Clock Face - Clean

My days are still very full, even though Mrs. Cog calls me ‘semi’ retired. In fact I would say in many respects my days are more demanding than when I was working a traditional 9 to 5 ‘job’. The difference is in the work flow and time critical situations. Here on the mountain, while I arise at the same time I always have, there is no rush to hit the bathroom to shower and shave, then hit the car to begin the commute that begins the daily dance with time.

Nowadays, while I might have the day planned out with regard to what I wish to accomplish, there is no strict order or process I must follow unless others are involved. Basically I do what I want when I want and purposely inject flexibility into my daily routines. I still have the same ‘work ethic’ and can be disappointed by a lack of progress on a project. But this is mostly because I still plan my projects with a 30 year old mind that happens to reside within a 58 year old body. The mind is strong, the flesh a bit weaker.

Overall I am more relaxed while doing equal or greater amounts of work than when I was a slave to the clock. This is not to say I don’t feel time pressures. As the season changed to autumn I tackled the last major project of the year, the sealing of our log cabin and outbuildings as well as caulking the log checks and cracks.

Within days I realized the logs were in much worse condition than I had assessed and the time I had allotted for the project tripled with the weather quickly getting colder. My back was against the wall time wise and now I was once again a slave to the clock. I did not like the personality/emotional change I experienced, with my anxiety level suddenly increased as I watched the weather reports for dry warmer days to continue the work. ‘Time’ was no longer on my side, or so I imagined.

However, another thought just occurred to me. I am much more attuned to Mother Nature and her cycles now that I spend several hours or more a day (and night) outside on chores, projects or just fun puttering around. Not only am I more sensitive to changes in the weather, but also the length of daylight as the seasons change. Like a squirrel frantically searching for nuts as winter closes in, I suspect I ‘sensed’ the end of the maintenance season was fast approaching and with the sealing project now greatly extended, like the squirrel I became a bit frenzied.

I did not wish to do a half assed job, which would have been the case if I had tried to use the water based sealant and caulk in cold wet weather. The bottom line though was simple. While I do watch the clock and the calendar, I can (and mostly do) choose to live my life by my own inner sense of time and priorities rather than an externally imposed timepiece. So it was extremely amusing for me to realize that over the last few months I had developed my own unique measure of time.

While previously working the nine to five life, for the most part I shaved on a daily basis. One of the small pleasures of life for me is no longer feeling the need to scrape my face daily with a sharp blade. Thankfully Mrs. Cog does not mind Mr. Cog in a beard, so there has been no resistance to a shaggy Cog. But I do not like full beards so after nine or ten days of growth I pull out the razor and shave away.

The other day I found myself thinking about a small project I had finished and I was trying to remember how far back it was. Try as I might I was uncertain how many weeks/months had transpired. Suddenly I thought about how many times I had shaved since the project was finished. The answer was three and a half….or three shaves times ten days on average between shaves plus another five days or a total of thirty five days……a little more than a month ago.

I laughed out loud at the silliness of it all, not to mention the originality of my discovery….at least for me. I have no doubt that for thousands of years man (and his beard) have discovered and created unique and interesting ways to measure increments of time and its passage. I guess what surprised me was how the idea just seemed to materialize as complete and fully accepted with little to no deliberate thought on my part about the process and application.

Usually by day eight or nine I begin to feel the beard is becoming too long. By day ten it is obvious to me I need to shave. If it goes to day eleven or twelve it has crossed over the line to become a full fledged irritant and now I am itching (pun intended) to hack the facial hair off with any sharp implement available. I suspect my beard will be a fairly reliable time piece for me as we continue our adventures up here on the mountain.



Cognitive Dissonance


Cog scowling at the camera on day five or six of "The Beard".

Cog - Clean

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13 thoughts on “Four Score and Seven Beards Ago”

  1. Scowling? I thought that was your happy face. :-)

    Perhaps sometime in the next 4 or 5 beards I can catch you grinning and grab an image of that for your readers.

  2. Hi CD:

    Thanks for exposing your happy face.

    Actually I see your look not as a scowl, but as a questioning, thoughtful look. Almost a smile as you ask, “what are you doing?’”

    The thing about Nature is that it never misses the right time to do what ever it is that needs to be done in that instant. Nature is so resolute and powerful. We can only hope to match Nature in its power and capability of working with time and that certainly can’t be done on a 9-5 schedule. Your use of a growing beard as a clock of time seems much more appropriate than any possible mechanical clock.


    1. No…’s a scowl. :-)

      When I work a smile rarely crosses my face because I am always thinking many steps ahead, then checking and double checking myself for errors. I’m actually very lazy and hate to do the same job twice. Even if I am just walking around I’m always looking, examining, planning and thinking.

      Mrs. Cog convinced me it was time to show the membership Cog’s face and she thought this was a good picture to use after cropping. I didn’t agree, but there are some things you argue with Mrs. Cog about and some you don’t. This was one you don’t.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  3. Mr Cog

    Another very interesting think piece. I’ve been thinking really hard about the time thing or slave to the clock for a few weeks now. I’m so pressed for time and for me it’s all the projects I have going on outside of the SLOCK, The stuff that I really enjoy doing, producing something, having fun, helping myself and others. I really dislike the SLOCK , but the SLOCK has me for a few more years:(

    I had a recent time measurement thing the other day.I was given an assignment recently that required me to go to a local store and do an experiment that I failed at. That was the grade I gave myself, I am my hardest critic. Anyways on my drive over I noted that it was two The Who songs away. So today I decided to give the experiment another try and I purposely played the same two Who songs for the trip over there.

    Thanks for the great read!!

    Mr Pepper

    1. @Urban Pepper – As always, your talents as a word-maker-upper shine. Perhaps since you are “free” to choose to be a slave to the clock or in SLOCKery… you might gear your thoughts more towards FRIME free from time. You are “free” to choose to SLOCK or not? Just a thought.

      We’re gonna need to appoint a keeper of the new TIF dictionary. I nominate you. :-)

  4. CD,
    The last time I saw a look like that on someone while I was in the mountains, it was followed with “Why are you on my Land?” :-) Had a beard for 40 years, it went when it turned white and for some reason it was not as flattering as say Kenny Rogers 20 years ago. Don’t shave on Saturdays now so I can tell that the weekend is here. I try to put a little shift on everything…start shaving in a different place, brush teeth different… it is really easy to get in a rut and you know a rut is a grave with one end knocked out:-)

    1. Some of the locals have the same face on when I walk up to greet them. I’m clearly not a local because I don’t dress like one.

      For some reason my beard has more white in it than my head of hair. At least I still have some hair left. Most of the males in my family were nearly bald by 35.

      Yes, mix up the routine. It keeps us young in mind and spirit. I simply must get outside at least once a day or I begin to go stir crazy. Let me do something, anything, even if for only 15 minutes so I can feel I’ve accomplished something today.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  5. It is a scowl of sorts, but it exudes a certain contentment.

    “This spoon now exists in Paradded…we are now in Heaven.” D.T Suzuki

    1. Mrs. Cog tells me on a daily basis that I am happy and contented. I suspect she is practicing the power of suggestion and mind control on me.

      Pssst, don’t tell her I said this…..but I am happy and contented. :-)

      Cognitive Dissonance

  6. Cog,

    Mrs Ko and I have noticed that we think of time differently now that we live closer to the land and in the farther northern reaches ( having lived in Texas prior to moving to Canada ). The chores of the farm require sunlight, so we have found ourselves tracking to the sun. In the summer, we are up just before it is, (before morning nautical twilight BMNT from a former life). We retire to the house once the sun has set and the evening twilight has faded (early evening nautical twilight EENT). Often we see our meal times slide based on the sun, and it seems that no matter when it rises or sets, we are getting up just prior and going to sleep one to one and a half hours after it sets. During the hours we are awake, we have as much time as we need to do the things we need to do. Likewise, when we look at time on a larger scale, we follow the seasons, and out days play out as the seasons progress. Paying attention, being present, these are the things that give us as much time as we need to do what is to be done.

    Mr Ko

    1. I am outside on a daily basis all year round, though some days much more than others. As a younger adult I worked for a living outside before piloting a desk for nearly 24 years. It has only been over the last few years that I have returned to nature and a more natural rhythm.

      I now realize I really missed that connection. Now if I don’t spend at least some time outside working, walking or whatever, I feel I am ‘off’.

      Cognitive Dissonance

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