U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms Charles P. Higgins turns the Ohio Clock forward for the first Daylight Saving Time in 1918. Senators William M. Calder (NY), Willard Saulsbury, Jr. (DE), and Joseph T. Robinson (AR) stand in front. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Daylight saving time returns to the United States on March 9, 2014.

Thousands of years of history prove that people like to use some kind of a clock to regulate economic and domestic life. It’s true also that the species does respond to an inner clock, the circadian rhythm, which scientists say is roughly a full day long (actually close to 25 hours). Whenever we jar our inner clocks, we should feel ill at ease for a while. Going into the woods for a period can re-set the inner clock, allowing the chance to recoup without clock pressures.

Most people in the Western world are so trained to rely on clocks that we might believe we can’t escape them, even in the woods. The reality, if you spend more than a day or two there, is that you tend to think of time on a grander scale, as in geological time, according to Michael Downing, a writing teacher in Boston who wrote the book Spring Forward(Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005), a critical history of daylight saving time. In his book, Downing makes a case that daylight saving time is unnecessary, perhaps even silly. “I think that clock time is designed to move us away from that sense of how minute we are,” he said in an interview. “Our lives are part of a genuine planetary project which, if we have that thought and let those thoughts rise to the surface, really confounds the notion of getting up and being at work on time at 8 o’clock.”
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On March 11, 2007, the United States began the longest period of daylight saving time since the energy crisis of the mid-1970s. The country moved the clocks ahead three weeks earlier than last year. Daylight saving time will continue until the first Sunday in November. This extension, set by federal law, is expected to save electricity. Daylight saving time, first tried during both world wars and then made permanent in the mid-1960s, makes the actual number of sunlit hours coincide better with people’s preferred summer schedules, many claim. In the evening, we feel as if we gain time as the sunset comes late. But the changeover does cause some havoc in schedules at first.

Daylight saving time now prevails for the majority of the year. In March, the dark mornings remind us of the winters of 1974 and 1975, during the Middle East oil embargo and subsequent drop in supplies. In those winters, just as now, Americans set out to work and school in the dark so that the evenings would be lighter. Pay attention to your circadian rhythms. How will you fare in March, when the clock went ahead? How will you do in November, when the country regains the “lost” hour?

Daylight saving time was first proposed by a British man who was disgusted that most people slept too late. Daylight saving time places a new time on the sunset, fooling us into rising earlier to get those pleasant evenings. For some reason, we respond better to changing the clock than to deciding to get up earlier.

In the recreational backcountry—the mountains, wilderness lands, along rivers, and on the ocean—when adventurers have no electricity or business appointments, you can’t do much without the sun. No one but you expects you to be anywhere in particular when you are away from cities and towns. The only good thing about a clock is that it helps you plan your day by a map or guidebook. But even then, the usual ticking of each hour slows down, and life takes on a rhythm that is seasonal. In the backcountry, no one can pretend that every day is the same.

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