I have a nineteenth century German grandfather clock here at Nuevo Rancho Lake. It belonged to my Lake grandparents, who got in Germany during the 1950s, probably for the equivalent of a few dollars, given the disparate economies in those days. The clock features prominently in my early childhood memories of being in their house, especially the ticking sweep of the pendulum and the chime of the hours.
The most interesting thing about the clock is the winding. About every five days I have to open the case and very carefully lift each weight one by one while pulling down their chains. It’s a very deliberate act, me imparting potential energy to a system, trading the movement of my arm for a few more days of timekeeping.
This is such a direct involvement in the process, that electric clocks don’t provide. I don’t do anything to my bedside clock except reset it after the occasional power outage. Virtually everything in my house works at the push of a button or the flip of a handle. My relationship with the grandfather clock is more direct, the transfer of energy not mediated by my power bill and the good offices of Portland General Electric.
I touch it, and it goes.
So with writing and reading, I’ve decided. The grandfather clock is a metaphor. Watching a movie is like using my electric clock. It’s just there, it’s available, but the effort is indirect and the result convenient. Time does not tick sonorously by, nor do the nets of memory get dragged by the digital display the way the grandfather clock’s chime can call back my childhood. Reading, though, book in hand and words in my eyes, that is direct effort, energy being transferred from hand to eye and later eye to hand. Though in truth, I suppose the book is winding me.
Still, I feel a kinship to this tall, dark atavistic mechanical inhabiting my home. The weights must be lifted for time to be measured. In my own head, the mechanisms of writing must be given energy by the processes of reading before words can be measured.
And the hours toll beautifully.