Yesterday the time changed. I love daylight saving time. It means we can take a walk after dinner; now in the twilight, but as the spring turns into summer we will watch the sun set over Orcas Island, and later watch it set to the north across the sound over Vancouver Island.
We are learning about the sun in our teaching company course this month which is about images from the Hubble telescope. The one we watched before this was on the evolution of life. In the course on evolution we grappled with the concept of geologic time. With the Hubble images we have to cope with time spans that are even more unthinkable. Both provide ideas to play with while cooking or sweeping and before going to sleep at night. Both carry a load of emotion as I try to get my head around the idea of the germination of consciousness in living things, and the end of that consciousness when all life ceases to exist.
Thinking about the evolution of life evokes ideas of hope and progress but the message of astronomy seems to be one of violent forces and death. The earth is 4 ½ billion years old. The sun is a little older; it is a middle aged star. It will last about another 6 billion years; after gradually heating up to become a red giant it will shrink to a white dwarf and finally die. Long before it becomes a red giant all life on earth will be snuffed out.
After studying the sun our course moved on to the milky way and other nebulae that are unimaginable distances and times away from our little world. I begin to lose the flow and get fidgety. I have always found that cosmology made me nervous.
It is really difficult to relate these vast times and scales to human existence. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to experience the world as an ant might. Of course, I know this is silly; an ant’s sensory input is entirely different from the human, but the scale makes a kind of comparison. I suppose an ant-sized human would hardly be able to comprehend me as a unit. Perhaps one day to such a tiny creature would be like my lifetime.
And what about my cat and poodles. How do they experience time? My late husband, Hugh, was a lawyer, and like all lawyers he had a store of “war stories” and legal jokes that I heard many times. One that I always enjoyed was about two farmers. (This story, by the way, was told to Hugh by a federal judge a propos the Speedy Trial Rule — the rule that says an accused person has the right to a speedy trial.) Anyway, one farmer has a feed lot to fatten livestock for slaughter. He visits his country cousin and sees pigs running around loose, rooting in the garden, looking skinny and tough. He says, “Jake, if you penned up those pigs and fed them grain you could get them to market a lot quicker.”
Jake scratches his head and thinks a minute. “Yeah,” he says, “but what’s time to a hog?”
I have an old cat: Heloise. She is going on 14. Lately she has been losing weight. She sleeps all the time, doesn’t eat much, often forgets to come sleep next to me at night — just stays all night in the same chair and refuses to go out in the morning unless the weather is nice. I worry about her. I think perhaps her life is coming to an end. I said to Tammy, my friend who used to be a veterinary assistant, that I guessed Heloise was just getting old, but Tammy said 13 isn’t that old for a cat and maybe I should have blood tests done. Bill Bazlen, our island vet, could come to the house and Tammy could hold Heloise while he took blood from her jugular. I thought perhaps I should have that done.
In the meantime, my littlest poodle, Daisy, had a seizure. This was very scary and I nearly had a heart attack (well, not really). I called Bill Bazlen in a panic. He was in town doing surgery at Fountain Veterinary Hospital. He said seizures in poodles were common and not to worry too much, but to bring her in to the hospital for blood tests to be on the safe side. So into town we went ($20 on the ferry). A nice young woman veterinarian examined Daisy, said she was healthy and normal, and asked how long the seizure had lasted. When I replied about 3 minutes she opined that it probably wasn’t that long, just seemed so because it was so traumatic for me. Then she and took Daisy in the back to have blood taken from her jugular. I was glad not to watch that, but I could hear Daisy objecting loudly. It seemed forever before the vet brought Daisy back. She has clotted blood on the fur of her neck that I haven’t wanted to mess with. The vet bill was $126.
Bill Bazlen called to ask if I wanted him to come over to take blood from Heloise. I have been thinking this over, I said. She would hate to be held to have blood taken from her jugular. He agreed that she would. I said she didn’t appear to be in any pain or distress, just sleeps all the time. He said when old cats lose weight it’s almost always from kidney failure, and about the only thing you can do about that is change diet. So I decided to hold off on the blood test.
I have had Heloise since she was a kitten. She was the offspring of a feral cat my lawyer daughter took in for a while. She is not an interesting cat, but she used to be a good hunter; many a mouse’s life was shortened by her. She is calm and sweet natured with people, though timid. I love her in a quiet way and I do not want her to die. But of course, like all of us, she must die sometime. I try to think like a cat. Does she really experience time? Would she be grateful for extra months or years? Would she, if she could comprehend the connection, accept them as compensation for the experience of being held while the vet took blood from her jugular? If she turned out to have something other than declining kidney function would she want to be treated for it? Would she rather live out her time quietly, unmolested by vets?
I try to think about time. Perhaps to a mayfly it’s a day. Mayflies belong to the insect order Ephemeroptera meaning short-lived. To a human it’s a lifetime; perhaps fourscore years. For a geologist a short time is a million years. Astronomers talk about billions of light years. To a physicist it’s the fourth dimension.
The question I can’t seem to answer is, what’s time to a cat?