Time and Time, Again

Most North Americans moved clock hands back last night.  Others in the northern hemisphere did this a week earlier. Meanwhile, some folks in the southern hemisphere did the deed in the opposite direction. Others never changed to Daylight Saving Time, so they aren’t moving any time soon. It’s a gemisch of spinning clock dials, but the world’s biggest mess is in the United States, on the Navajo Nation in the state of Arizona.

We’ll get to the Navajo in a minute. But first, the whole notion of springing forward in the spring and falling back in the fall shall be examined.

Ben Franklin, America’s inventor/publisher/scientist/statesman/postmaster proposed the idea back in 1784 as a way to save money. His father was a candle maker. From an early age, Ben realized how expensive it is to light a house at night. Instead of “early to bed and early to rise” making a man wealthy, Ben figured that pushing the clocks ahead in the spring could do the same trick. Thus, he invented daylight Saving Time. While ambassador to France, Franklin told a Paris audience that their city would save 128 million candles a year if people simply moved their clocks one hour. But his idea wasn’t adopted anywhere until 1916, when Germany and Austria used clock setting as part of their war effort. The USA began saving time in 1918, but not every American state joined in.

Saving time really does save money. Roosevelt instituted War Time from February 1942 to September 1945 – non-stop Daylight Saving Time. In 1973, Richard Nixon decreed an extra-long summer savings of time during that year’s fuel crisis. That summer, people used Saving Time for an extra few months, saving millions of dollars and tanker loads of oil – 3 million barrels a month, according to the US Transportation Department. With such success, one wonders why we don’t move the clock back two hours and keep it there. But there are dissenters.

Maybe you don’t move your clocks at all? For a few years, I lived in  Saskatchewan, Canada. It’s one of the few northerly places that doesn’t bother with Savings Time. It’s a cow thing – Saskatchewan cows rarely wear wrist watches, so the cows of Saskatchewan saw the idea as so much BS. They knew when they needed milked and the farmers had no choice but to stay with natural time. But within Saskatchewan, there’s a group of timely dissenters: The Hutterites.  I was their Honig Mensch, many years ago.

Sask Hutterites

Saskatchewan Hutterites – from another time zone. (Image: Miksha)

Hutterites don’t use Daylight Saving Time, and they don’t use Saskatchewan Time, either. They use Slow Time, instead.  When I visited Hutterite colonies, I was careful not to show up at the communal farm during daily prayers, which were at 5 pm, slow time. This Mennonite-type group set their clocks to their own unique slow time, which is an hour behind the rest of Saskatchewan. This way they coordinated prayer time with other Hutterite colonies across North America. Slow Time put their clocks at the same time as Quebec, in the Eastern Time, 3,000 kilometres away, instead of Saskatchewan’s Central Time Zone which began at the edge of each Hutterian. 

Saskatchewan time, with immobile clocks that never experience ‘savings’ has apparent merits. Since Saskatchewan bees have the highest annual per colony honey production in North America (about 180 pounds per hive),  we need to consider that keeping the bees on a stable clock has its advantages, too.

Elsewhere, in August, the wizard of North Korea magically moved his country even further back in time, making news by shifting clocks back thirty minutes.  Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un created the new Jong-un Time Zone where un-time not only stands still, but occasionally even runs backwards.

Saskatchewan and North Korea are not the only places with idiosyncratic time shifting.  There are numerous enclaves of other-time peoples. Arizona does not change to Daylight Saving Time when the rest of the United States does. However, within Arizona, the Navajo Nation does move clocks ahead to Saving. However, within the Navajo borders, the Hopi Reservation does not change its clocks. However, living on a ranch in Hopi country is a family where the mother works on the Navajo Reserve, so that house moves its clock. This results in a complicated situation where a family’s clock is ahead of their neighbours’ clocks that are behind a surrounding community that is ahead of a state that is behind a country that moves ahead.

Mixed times on the Navajo Nation (Wikimedia)

Mixed times on the Navajo Nation (Wikimedia)


About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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