With the new year bearing down on us and a gasping 2012 in its death throes, you can't help but give some thought to the passage of time.
After all, we are born with a finite amount to spend, albeit no one knows how much we will be allotted before making our final exit. We obviously need to spend our time wisely.
I try to achieve that goal by reading material that leaves me a bit wiser. As anyone who has read this column can attest, I have met with varying degrees of success along the way.
Even defining time is a challenge. Perhaps we could call it a nonspatial continuum measuring the progression of events that succeed each other from the past through the present and into the future. Sadly, our timeline is largely measured by war.
The January 2013 edition of the Smithsonian magazine — an edition from the future since the new year has yet to arrive — includes several interesting articles focusing on time and our relation to it.
It noted there is an antarctic beech tree growing in Queensland, Australia, that is about 20,000 years old. Yet it is just an infant compared to the bacteria found in Siberian permafrost. Scientists estimate the bacteria on the ice is 400,000 to 600,000 years old.
In comparison, our humanoid life spans are but a blip on time's radar screen.
Still, the ancient bacteria is merely a gleam in Mother Nature's eye — Father Nature? — when looking at the rocks under our feet.
Consider geological time: the Table Rocks are roughly 7 million years old, according to Jad D'Allura, my friendly up-the-road neighbor and a retired geology professor from Southern Oregon University.
Roxy Ann Peak, the volcanic plug overlooking Medford, is some 30.8 million years old, he reported. The Rogue Valley, at least the area just south of the Table Rocks, is about 42 million years old, he added.
The oldest rocks found in the Applegate region? Really old geezers at 173 million years old, he will tell you.
Incidentally, he taught at what is now SOU for 33 years. Yes, Pilot Rock already existed when Jad strode across the Ashland campus to teach his first class. The rock, named for helping settlers find their way north from California, is about 25.6 million years old, he estimated.
As bipeds, we tend to shy away from million-year spans in everyday conversation, let alone millennia. We casually talk about response time to each other in terms of a jiffy, an instant, split second or even a wink. We plan our time in hours, weeks, months, seasons and years. Precious few of us have a decades-long view of the world.
After all, when you start getting into longer epochs and eras, timing time can be a bit iffy, something adherents to ancient Mayan astronomy recently discovered.
I like to think our pets give us the best glimpse of time and mortality. As a dog lover, I agree with James Herriott, who concluded the problem with dogs is they don't live long enough.
When Alyeska, our beloved German Shepherd-Akita pound puppy who lived to be 15, died of old age in our arms, we were heartbroken. Yet I eventually came to realize, after giving her departure time to absorb, she was ready to leap from this mortal coil.
If an average dog year is roughly the equivalent of seven human years, she would have been 105 years old. It was her time.
She is buried in our pet cemetery under an oak tree that is perhaps 200 years old. It would have already been a sturdy sapling when settlers first came to the upper Applegate Valley.
Although time operates at its own pace, we all experience the false sense that it speeds up or slows down, depending on what we are doing at that moment.
When I am gardening or fishing from a canoe, time seems to move at a leisurely pace. I end those days feeling young at heart.
When I was paralyzed with a broken neck from a car wreck shortly after completing my hitch in the service, time seemed to slow down. But a quadriplegic unable to move toes or fingers doesn't end the day feeling any younger.
When I wrestled in high school, the matches flashed past, particularly when I was winning. Granted, they moved a bit slower when I was on the losing end.
When faced with a writing deadline here at work, the minutes seem to race to the cliff and leap off like so many suicidal lemmings.
However, I have met my time deadline once again, although you did not use your last 15 minutes prudently.
But I'm sure you will spend your time in 2013 more wisely.
Happy New Year.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.