In Out of Africa, Karen Blixen writes about the fascination her cuckoo clock held for the young Kikuyu shepherds who lived near her. Knowing nothing about clocks and used to measuring time by the sun, they thought the “bird that told the hours” was a live bird. In the same way we project our mechanistic view of the world onto living beings, the shepherds projected their animistic view of the world onto the machine.
The idea of a bird telling the hours may seem fanciful, but in fact, the flight of birds has always been a powerful symbol of human time. With each beat of the wings, we see ourselves propelled out of the past and into the future, pushed and pulled in equal measure. And in between: those magical moments of time suspended, the eternal “now” of the free glide.
We treasure those precious moments when time seems to stop: moments of ecstasy, moments of love. We wish we could preserve them for eternity, and in our efforts to do so we rush headlong into the future, hoping that by flying ever faster we will reach that elusive goal. But alas, no amount of speed and efficiency can enable us find eternity inside time.