Time has this strange habit of passing as it pleases, varying according to circumstances.
It’s 9:00 pm. In this small village lying at the end of a fjord, I shut the car door and start the climb. It’s already late. I hope to get there before the clouds… Midnight: I’m in my sleeping bag, lying on the edge of this huge peatland, against a big rock that shelters me from the wind. The ever lowering clouds end up wrapping me and making the landscape and summer light disappear. On this vegetation mattress, I dive into a sleep that will only be disturbed the call of a Willow Ptarmigan. Imperceptibly, time is slowing down.
The next day I explore the area. I walk about the landscape in every direction, going from one summit to another. Quickly, I oscillate between the enthusiasm of what I could observe and the frustration of seeing nothing; the pleasure of imagining there should be elks, reindeers and muskox, and the sadness of seeing nothing but sheeps grazing in this seemingly not so wild nature. As usual, doubt ends up settling: would I have time to observe something, to bring back a sketch?
Come the first interruptions in this frenzy. The calls of a Golden Plover, a Meadow Pipit with his beak full of insects. So many reminders of reality that make me sit on thesemossy ground to search, observe, widen my gaze. Slowly, nature imposes its rythm.
Little by little, the impatience is fading away. I forget the watch and light becomes the beat of the passing time. While I am chasing it, time is expanding, stretching. And instead of always wanting more of it, I settle into it and watch it flow, slowly.
Days pass, in the sun, in the fog, sheltered under a rocky overhang waiting for the rain to stop. Then finally, replete from this place, one night, I grab my backpack and walk to a new destination. It’s late, light declines. As I get on this pass, the wind gets stronger. Bowing under the weight of my pack, I observe the clouds sweeping the top of my head and engulfing the world around me. Silence sets in, colors fade and solitude strengthens. The fog refreshes the body heated by effort and as I take a moment to rest, sitting on a rock, I enjoy this moment that never ends, this timelessness.
With a quiet and tired step, I enter a rocky vale with a gentle slope. A few feet away from me, a ptarmigan flies away. I dive to the ground to break my vertical silhouette in hope of seeing the bird land. I don’t move a millimeter. At the very last moment, this female stops on top of a rocky overhang a few tens of meter away from me. At this very moment, time comes to a halt.
I only have eyes for this bird and only one idea in mind: managing to draw it without scaring it away, but all the material is in the backpack. I am watching every bird’s every reaction. Completely still, only my arms are moving, close to my body. First, pull the hands off the walking sticks, untie the bag and contortion myself to remove the straps. Slowly stretch out to turn it around, open it, catch the tripod which I drag and unfold as I can. Starting over with the spotting scope. Catching paper, pencil and balance my drawing board on my thighs.
The tip of the pencil touch the paper. In my rush, I miss my first attempt. I quickly flip my leaf, breathe deep and start again. The real observation begins. The main shapes are appearing. Scope, paper, scope, paper, scope… The profusion of details is as fascinating as it is exhausting. The bird ends up lying in a semblance of calming down, but it doesn’t take its eyes off me. Face-to-face, we are both still, looking at each other. Another look at the paper, back to the scope, it’s gone. Discreetly, she disappeared to return to her mimetic life.
Back to reality. An hour-and-a-half has passed.
An hour and a half during which my world confined itself to the rectangle of my paper and the circle of my scope.
An hour and a half spent in an instant.
In the consciousness of these present moments, time no longer exists. It disappears into action.
This is how nature imposes on naturalists this paradoxical rhythm. The eternity of expectation, patience, contemplation, dotted with intense moments of observation and fascination.
My brother, who is a psychologist, once taught me that there is chronological time and logical time. We basically live in the first one, framing our daily lives in an outset time; chrono. The second requires taking the time needed for every thing; logic. Nature does not bother with the first and leaves no choice but to submit to its tempo. Each stay in nature is a switch from one to the other, from chrono to logic.