Guest Columnists

Considering time, wristwatches and televised revolutions

Kurt Ullrich
Kurt Ullrich

I have taken to wearing an old wristwatch, the kind one needs to set and wind. It was a prize I received when as a child I came in third place in a costume parade. It’s a sweet 1960 Timex that still works beautifully, thank you for asking.

At some point I attached a new leather wristband, but I’m not sure why I dug it out, because it doesn’t remind me of anything in particular, doesn’t drag me back to a better a time, a kinder nation. It does, however, remind me that I’m closer to a quiet exit than a grand entrance. The first-place winner got a bicycle, and I’ll bet he doesn’t still have it.

More ancient than my Timex are recently discovered mammal fossils found in northeastern China, believed to be 160 million years old, mammals called Maiopatagium and, no, I don’t know how to pronounce the name. These Maio-things evidently were the equivalent of our current flying squirrels, gliding from tree to tree while big dinosaurs lumbered on the ground, the Chuck Yeagers of the Jurassic period.

I love this kind of stuff. Yesterday, while crouching down to catch my breath after using a bow saw on a bunch of very tall, thorny bushes, a dragonfly stopped for a moment on my knee. It, too, had a prehistoric look, a miniature biplane, four wings and an efficient body. Prehistory exists everywhere out here, and it’s immeasurably satisfying — satisfying in the way that’s difficult to explain. On some level or other, everything that happens in the wild makes sense, until man steps in to the forest.

Most evenings I sit down to watch national news on one of the channels I can receive with the antenna in my attic, and the past couple of weeks have convinced me that in this day and age poet and songwriter Gil Scott Heron would not have written what he did in 1970, a beautiful rap piece called, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Disturbing television coverage out of Charlottesville, Va., strongly indicates that something is going on, perhaps not a revolution, but something close.

Too often out here in the middle of nowhere, we are astounded by what’s happening out in the big world, in cities, on far shores. We mistakenly assume the unrepentant live elsewhere, that they simply are uninformed, reckless people whom we probably never will encounter but, wait, there’s more:

A radio station in a nearby town has a weekly call-in show that features all sorts of small-town stuff. Folks call in to advertise this-or-that fundraiser, elderly women call in to ask whether anyone knows who will repair an old Hoover, an old radio, whatever, and there will be the usual whining about government. But a recent show took me by surprise.


Some old guy called in to weigh in on the removal of Confederate statues around the country and he concluded his short harangue with, “The coloreds need to just sit back and appreciate what they’ve got.” Uh, OK.

The radio now is off. It’s more than I can take. Time to get away. If you need me I’ll be out in the woods with an ax and a bow saw, thinking about time and about wristwatches that measure it, about old men and how one can possibly take their measure without getting angry, and about prejudices that reach all the way back to prehistory and probably will continue until the Earth grows cold. Lord help us.

• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.



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