Ask yourself this: how many hours are there in a day, and how many days are there in a year? I know the answer’s simple. Perhaps a better question is what does time feel like, or when did time start to matter? From this perspective, I reckon we’d all have different opinions.
I was recently confronted with the realisation that context is everything when it comes to perceptions of time. I was talking with my daughter about how I started work at eighteen years old, ten years after we arrived in Australia. And then ‘kapow!’ — it struck me.
Had I really only been in Australia for ten years before I joined the workforce as a young adult? My Australian childhood had seemed to last forever. There were the overland trips to the remote interior in our FJ40 Shorty; the several overseas excursions for months at a time, travelling with dad when his university work took him on secondments to foreign countries; the years at primary school, high school and college — growing up, making friends, changing friends, learning new concepts and being challenged through interminable tests and assignments — meanwhile, school holidays stretched out beyond the horizon, filled with fun, promise and endless opportunity.
All this in just ten years. The same length of time that my daughter’s been alive. Yet, these two periods feel so different from each other. I see photos of Scout as a two-year-old and I remember where we were, what we were doing and what we were feeling. It feels like it happened just yesterday, but these same ten years are an entire lifetime for her. When you ask her, the prospect of a play-date next weekend feels like an eon away!
So, when did time speed up so much? Can I ever slow it down again? I think it can, but I’ve formed the view that it only slows down on the outbound leg of an overland adventure, and it takes effort to achieve.
There’s a lot of preparation involved in dropping normal day-to-day responsibilities and heading bush. There’s route planning to do and bookings to make. There’s work to ensure that the rig is in tip-top shape. There’s the inevitable paperwork involved in handing off professional responsibilities that need to continue while we’re away. There’s a bunch of admin to collect schoolwork that our daughter can complete while she’s away from home. Then there’s the packing. Packing, packing and more packing.
Then we’re finally on the road, at which point, all of a sudden, time doesn’t matter anymore. We wake when the sun’s rays send dappled light across our camper and the birds start their morning chorus. We eat when we’re hungry. When we’re driving, we stop when something interesting catches our eye. We set up camp when we find a promising site. And, if the weather turns rubbish, or we face mechanical difficulties, we adjust our plans and make the best of things. Never once do I need to look at my watch. In fact, on most trips I leave it at home.
The result? Time stops. Or, at least, it slows down to the point where I start feeling the same carefree attitude that I enjoyed as a kid.
Geez, I’ve missed it. The combination of brutal heat and bushfires over summer, followed closely by our self-imposed isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, has shuttered our horizons and confined many of us in ways that we’ve never experienced before.
In the Heiman household, we’ve been among the lucky ones who’ve enjoyed work continuity despite the restrictions. We have a backyard where we’ve conducted impromptu camp-outs, and the nature reserve near our home has been the site of many memorable ‘outdoor classroom’ sessions with our daughter, teaching her about the bush and helping her prepare for our next big adventure into the great outdoors.
Even so, time has sat heavily on my shoulders. From professional work, to school work, to makeshift workarounds to get things done remotely, the responsibilities have mounted within the four walls our home. They’ve necessitated a shift-work arrangement between my husband and I — probably like other people in similar circumstances. It’s been the only way to ensure that we could continue to earn a living while simultaneously giving our daughter the education she needs. As a result, I’ve felt accountable for every hour of every day.
As the pandemic restrictions begin to ease, and life returns to some semblance of normalcy, I’m not craving the opportunity to sit in cafes sipping lattes, watch movies at the cinema, or have large gatherings at home.
For me, the time has come for time to slow down again. As John Muir, the 19th century Scottish naturalist, famously said, “The mountains are calling and I must go”. Come to think of it, I reckon the desert’s calling even louder.