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Vacation

05/17/06 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) If you like to avoid summer crowds, spring is a good time to take a vacation. And, for commentator Caleb Daniloff, going on vacation is all about redefining your relationship with time.

(DANILOFF) I could still hear my dogs barking in the mudroom as I loaded the last bag in the car. We were leaving for a week in Los Angeles. I hated this part. I told my wife the boys would be OK since they don't measure time with clocks and calendars. It'll feel more like an overnight, I said. But I knew the words were more for me than Chris. A week is still a week no matter how you slice it. Right?

Later in the terminal at Logan Airport, I watched people thumbing their BlackBerrys, some while on cell phones. I hadn't checked email since early that morning and felt downright inferior, nothing but a slow-witted book on my lap. My fellow travelers were experiencing developments in their lives, rapidly evolving right next to me. I was turning parchment pages, a tragic figure stuck in yesterday.

As I closed my book, I was reminded that vacations are less about an escape from work, and more about breaking the grip of time. I'm always a little tense the first few days. It's hard to let go of schedules, lunch hours, appointments. Even reading for pleasure feels unsettling, like I should have something to show for my efforts.

And Los Angeles in particular does its best to keep time in a headlock. Ads for cosmetic surgery are almost as prevalent as car ads. There are no distinct seasons, only sunshine. And LA's bubble-like feel is reinforced by its sprawling size. At five hundred square miles, you can cruise the Pacific Coast Highway for an hour-and-a-half and still find yourself in the city.

It was only halfway through our vacation, among the hairy Joshua trees and immense boulder formations of the Mojave Desert, that time finally loosened its belt. The rugged and dusty landscape feels like the surface of a distant planet, remote and ageless. The monolithic piles of impossibly balanced boulders seem to have been placed by some unseen hand.

We hiked several mountains, scuffing up winding rocky trails with little protection from the sun. We placed our own stones on a growing pile at the summit. Below us, the desert spread in every direction. You could feel the spiritual pull of the place, that in this sprawling absence you could untether from yourself, remove a barrier between you and your god. Out here, technology is moot. In fact, most everything is moot, except for the spot you're standing in.

But the moment your mind steps out of time, the hours and days begin rushing as if from a burst pipe. And before you know it, you're back in seat 26A, hurtling toward the Atlantic and eastern standard time.

We got back to Middlebury in the middle of the night. When I walked into the kitchen, Niku greeted me with a confused look, like he didn't know me, not even enough to bark. My heart sank.
A second later, the tumbler clicked, and he sprang toward us, with Oliver skidding after him. Back here, time had been measured by absence, a shape that expands in their little hearts until they burst or go numb. I put down some kibble and gave their chewball several tosses. We opened mail, put bags away, and chatted about our travels. The dogs began wrestling on the carpet. It was three in the morning, and none of us was quite ready to call it a night.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter, book reviewer and freelance journalist.
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