David Mas Masumoto

Living on farmer time, my internal clock

Special to The Bee

Once a year – actually twice – I want to defy time. I pretend daylight saving time doesn’t happen.

I wake up at the same time. My body wants to work in my fields when the sun tells me to. I still eat whenever I come in from work – earlier in the winter because it gets darker sooner, and later in the summer with longer daylight.

I honor my internal clock. I operate by farmer time. I work according to the sun, not some mechanical instrument telling me when to wake up, eat, stop work and go to bed.

Time, an afterthought. Or am I old, stubborn, out of sync with the modern urban world?

The idea of daylight saving has been around for centuries. Ben Franklin wrote about it in his letters from Paris and the economical advantage of adjusting clocks to take advantage of sunlight and use fewer candles. Countries like Germany and Austria in 1916 sought to conserve fuel needed to power electricity – possibly motivated by war – and channel such savings to their advantage.

Of course, rural communities had no need to change their clocks since they were driven by nature’s clocks. Only the advent of railroads and train schedules forced standard time to be adopted, but not without resistance.

During World War II, “War Time” was introduced in an effort to conserve resources and increase productivity. But from 1945 to 1966, there was no federal mandate, and states and localities were free to choose their “local time,” which often created confusion. For example, the expanding television broadcast industry was challenged while trying to create a national programming schedule.

Finally in 1966, Congress established a uniform time-keeping model, but some states like Arizona still refuse to participate. Ironically, protest came from the outdoor theater industry that could only show movies when it got dark, which was late in summer and sometimes excluded family participation.

Of course, farmers protested – part of staunch individualism and perhaps the stirrings of anti-big government sentiment? But dairies did have a justified issue; after all, cows were used to routines and ignored clocks with their daily milking rituals.

In the end, a shrinking rural population and the acceptance by urban America institutionalized the time change. The urban workforce had steadily adopted an eight-hour day. Longer daytime meant more opportunities for recreation and commerce.

Of course, odd stories arose from the change of time. A bomb in 1999 was mistimed – terrorists refused to adopt “Zionist time” – and it exploded an hour earlier, killing the terrorists and not the intended victims. With concern over traffic safety, Halloween trick-or-treaters were cautioned about time changes. Candy manufacturers had long lobbied for an extension, ensuring holiday treats are handed out while there was still light.

And the order of twins’ birth can be altered by the time change. In North Carolina in 2007, one twin was born at 1:32 a.m. and 34 minutes later, the second twin was born, but because daylight saving time reverted to standard time at 2 a.m., the latter twin became the first and was officially born at 1:06 a.m. Good thing they weren’t royalty, and heirs to the throne were not called into question.

I cling to a farmer’s rhythm no matter what the clock says. I try to honor the seasons: sunrise, sunset; winter’s short days means more time inside, and summer’s long days compel me outside.

Peach trees go dormant in the cold, they want long nights to rest and sleep. Am I any different? I try to catch up on rest when there’s less natural sunlight, although specialists claim we can’t store sleep hours like bank deposits. But tell that to my body after a rough harvest year.

By summer, I’m excited to be out in the early morning, with a light that shines on the trees as if individual spotlights strike the ripe fruit, beckoning me to come pick. Greener fruit are not as brilliant, they need a few more days to acquire radiance.

Likewise, I enjoy working in the summer evenings, sometimes too long. Longer days mean more time to labor and satisfy expectations of demanding fruit. Occasionally and foolishly, I believe I have night vision and can see the dark outlines of a tree or vine and pretend my disk blade doesn’t strike them.

But I do pay attention to the clock for my advantage. In the middle of summer, the sun doesn’t set until 8 p.m., and I can work much later. I pat myself on the back for working such long hours, seeking support and extra sympathy from family. Playing the “hardworking-martyr card” can gain favorable kindness, especially when clocks amplify the sacrifice and commitment. A 12- to 14-hour workday, oh my!

But farmer time carries little meaning outside of a small circle of sympathizers. A few weeks following the change to daylight saving time, the world seems to have adjusted. My “libertarian, anti-establishment leanings protest over imposed time schedules” ends as I recognize the world functions on clock time not natural time.

Although I still fondly remember as a kid that fantastic time of the day: a second round of playing outside after dinner. As an adult, I love it, too. Long days are still playtime.

I know it’s supposedly not best for digestion, but I love eating dinner at 8 or even 9 p.m. in the summer. Truly the end-of-the-day meal. We celebrate work. We gather at sundown. Pass me the time.

David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and award-winning author of books, including “Epitaph for a Peach” and “Wisdom of the Last Farmer.”

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