Stopping the clock

IMG_1696Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment.
              – from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”
              – from The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Stopping the clock

If only we could stop the clock. If only we could make life’s most beautiful and amazing moments last longer than their brief firefly flicker in time.

Late afternoon on a cloudy October day, climbing into your tree stand and watching, hearing smelling, sensing the woodland come to the end of its busy day.

Christmas Eve, reading aloud to your granddaughter until utter exhaustion finally overcomes her excitement and she falls asleep in your arms.

That snowy day in November when your springer spaniel swims the creek, races a quarter mile through a picked cornfield, catches the rooster pheasant you knocked down with a less-than-perfect shot, and retrieves it to your hand, head held high and tail madly wagging.

First light of morning reveals the sweep and grandeur of the prairie as you sit shivering beneath a red cedar tree with rifle propped between your knees, not really wanting a deer to appear from the coulees, savoring this first day of the hunt as it rolls along in a measured and leisurely pace.

Surely you have your own memories of a hundred treasured moments when you wished you could click the stopwatch of time so that they would go on and on. No, we are not so foolish as to want them to last forever. Like most treasures these moments are rare, and we realize they are all the more valuable because they come and go quickly and fleetingly fill our hearts with awe and love and passion. We cherish them, in great part, because they are so few and so ephemeral. An overdose of this medicine would cheapen its magic. As the poet Carl Sandburg wrote, “Even God gets tired of too much hallelujah.”

So I don’t want to stop the clock forever, locking down a prized moment in time for eternity. But every now and then I would like one to be less transient, to hold me in its grace for a good long while. An hour, perhaps, or a day. Just until the joy starts to fray a little around the edges.

Until I discover that magical stopwatch, until I can make time pause at my command, I have resolved to slow my appreciation and awareness of each day, to make the most of each pleasurable moment. I’ve quit fretting about whether I will run twenty-five straight in skeet and concentrate on the enjoyment of the act of shooting at just one clay target – the one I am calling for now, swinging the muzzle past, “seeing the picture,” and breaking. I’ve stopped pressing and hacking on my bird dogs to work methodically and quickly – I just tag along and let myself be fascinated by their hunting styles.

Most of all, I let each day play out at its own tempo. Once a great maker of lists and schedules, I now start my days (especially with grandchildren) with one loosely defined objective and am easily diverted from the plotted course by chance encounter, serendipity, circumstance, coincidence, and pure dumb luck. Never, for example, let pass an opportunity for a chocolate ice cream cone, even if it is 9 a.m. And stumbling upon a used book store is not to be regarded as a random event in an unguided Universe but as a sacred message from the spirit world, not to be ignored. I have put aside “Let’s do this someday” and have embraced “Let’s do this now.”

Do that and the treasured moments seem to come more frequently and last longer. Often it’s a matter of perspective. Last month, a planned hike in the woods and a drive to scenic vistas along the Upper Mississippi River was delayed by a huge tree that had fallen across our road. While I stewed and worried about changing clothes, putting on work boots, sharpening the chainsaw, and having to cancel half the day’s entertainment while we cut and moved the tree’s huge trunk and many limbs, my grandson Odin shouted, “Grandpa! Look at all the firewood!”

An hour later as I watched him toss cut pieces of oak into the box of the pickup I thought, “I wish I could make this moment go on and on.”

I will never master the magic trick of stopping the clock, but I’m learning how to slow it. And that might be even better.


More stories about life in the North Country, hunting, bird dogs, and bird guns are published in my two collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot and Old Coots Never Forget, and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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2 Responses to Stopping the clock

  1. barbaraofwindemere says:

    Loved “Stopping the Clock”.

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