For some reason I am usually aware of the passage of time in small increments. If I look at a clock at 10:30, then for the next half-hour or so I tend to know what time it is within one or two minutes. It’s just always been this way. Rarely do I not know approximately what time it is. Although I sometimes wear a watch, mostly I don’t bother since looking at a clock once or twice an hour is usually sufficient.
A few years ago I was on a “cattle boat” fishing near Catalina Island. The sun was extremely bright and I lifted my hand at arm’s length to shade my eyes for a moment just as a friend asked me what time it is. A few minutes earlier I had noticed the time on the watch of another fisherman, so I added about six minutes and said, “It’s 1:18.” The fisherman whose watch I looked at glanced at his watch and confirmed the time as 1:18.
My friend was a bit confused by this since he realized I wasn’t wearing a watch and I didn’t look around for one. He made the assumption I could tell time by holding my hand in the air and looking at the sun. When I realized how he had come to this conclusion I knew I could carry this ruse on for a long time.
“How did you do that? You just held your hand up and looked at the sun to tell the time?”
“Yep. That’s what I did. It’s really simple. Just hold your fingers horizontal and spread out a little. Count the number of hands the sun is above the horizon with each hand representing forty-five minutes. If the sun is two hands in the air and the sun came up at six a.m., then the time is 7:30. If the sun is between the index and middle finger, then the time is 7:45. A little practice and you’ll learn to divide the spaces into individual minutes. Works every time, unless it’s cloudy, then you need to use both hands to create the illusion of a shadow on the front of your shirt and read the results upside-down. Give it a try.”
And he tried. And tried. Finally he came back to me and asked me to show it to him again. Fortunately I had recently checked the time again and knew it was about 2:20, so I held my hand up and showed him how to count the distance from the horizon to the sun, add up the 45-minute intervals, calculated the individual minutes and came up with the time. He walked over to a man with a watch and asked the time. The look on his face was priceless when he discovered I was right to the very minute. For the rest of the day until the sun went down he continued to ask me the time at random intervals. And I was always right within one minute.
After returning to the dock we went our own ways as we each headed home, but his mind was apparently dwelling on this for weeks. I was at his house one afternoon helping him with a project when he suddenly asked me what time is was. Fortunately he was wearing a watch and I had looked at it about fifteen minutes earlier, so I held up my hand to the sun and made my best guess. “2:32.”
He looked at his watch, looked at me, looked at the sun, looked at his watch again. He didn’t say a word. I wasn’t certain if he was confused or angry. I realized right there this game had become a quest for him to debunk, and I wasn’t about to tell him the truth.
For nearly three years he kept trying to figure out how I could tell the time by looking at the sun, and for nearly three years I gave him the same answer. Then one day he didn’t ask. I was prepared for the random timing of the inevitable question, but it didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen the next few times I saw him. Now I was worried. Was he just observing me to see if I was cheating? Well, just to stir the pot a little, I confided in one of his other friends what I was doing and how I did it. Then he decided to get in on the act by doing the same thing.
We had our mutual friend completely baffled by the process. Of course we showed him over and over how we did it, but he just couldn’t get it. Then it happened to me.
I had taken a day boat out onto the ocean and I heard someone ask another person the time. I looked over there and saw a man holding his hand up towards the sun for a moment before saying, “10:19.”
For the rest of the day I watched this guy to see if I could figure out how he did it, but every time he was asked, he knew the answer. To be honest, it has me stumped to this day. Was he pulling the same trick I was using, or did he really tell the time by looking at the sun?
I’ll never know, but there is no way I’m giving up my secret again concerning how I did it.
Oh, wait. I think I just did.