CASCO BAY, MAINE -- I have taken time off. Literally. The watch that straps my workaday wrist to its demands sits on the kitchen shelf.
I have shed its manufactured time, its minute hand, hour hand, just the way I shed my city wardrobe, makeup, panty hose, skirt. Gradually, I have even begun to lose track of time. First the minute and then the hour, finally the day. My watch and I have wound down.
I reckon my real vacation from the moment I forget whether it is Thursday or Friday. And the moment I realize that it doesn't make any difference. At last, I tell myself, I have slipped out of one time frame and sunk into another one. I have left a world divided by nothing more than numbers, 60 minutes, 24 hours, seven days a week. I have entered a world of seasons: blueberry, raspberry, blackberry season; lobsters that shed old shells and then harden new ones.
My daily life here is more connected to the tide than the time. At low tide I can harvest the mussels that lie under great heaps of seaweed clinging to rocks by their umbilical beards. At high tide the mackerel may swim in hot pursuit, into the cove. The cove is not a store with hours set by its owner.
Like most people in the Western world, I have grown up in the artificial environment of modern society. It's a place dominated by external timekeepers, calendars, schedules, clocks. Our lives are subdivided into fiscal years, academic years, weekdays, weekends, deadlines. We are taught that there is a time to get up, a time to go to work, a time to eat. We set the clock by a single standard.
Time orders our lives and, inevitably, orders us around. We are so removed from natural rhythms that we rarely confront how ''unnatural'' this is. How unnatural to strap time on.
We didn't always live with this artificial timing. In ''Time Wars,'' Jeremy Rifkin explains how recently people have been alienated from natural rhythms to those of the schedule, the clock and now the computer with its nanosecond culture.
The schedule -- that control on our lives -- was the invention of the Benedictine monks, whose early passion for organizing and filling every minute of the day grew from St. Benedict's warning that ''Idleness is the enemy of the soul.'' His followers reintroduced the Roman hour, and invented the mechanical clock.
Not until the 15th century did clocks, those icons of temporal time, begin to rival churches in the city squares. Not until the 17th century did clocks have a minute hand. ''Medieval time,'' writes Rifkin, ''was still sporadic, leisurely, unpredictable and above all tied to experiences rather than abstract numbers.'' It was the merchants and factory owners who eventually, and with great difficulty, trained workers -- those who had previously lived in accord with the seasons -- to become as regular as clockwork.
Today, writes Rifkin, ''the high achievers see time as an obstacle to overcome, an enemy to defeat. They equate faster and faster learning with victory over time; to win is to beat the clock.''
Is it any wonder that many of us choose vacations that stretch uninterrupted from sunrise to sunset, choose to reenter the natural cycle, days of idleness, that friend of the soul? Is it any wonder that we seek, for just a while, not to think of time as a commodity to be spent, saved, wasted, used, but to live from tide to tide?
My own escape is hardly complete. A creature of habit more than habitat, I have yet to spend a day without once looking at a clock or asking the hour. My vacation itself is circumscribed. I have only a certain amount of time allotted to timelessness. It will end at a predetermined moment. I will go home according to the boat schedule, write on deadline.
But on this day, the ghostly white impression left by the watch on my arm has finally browned. I can barely see its imprint on my life.