Common Ground: Take your ‘time’ in adventures

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Time takes on a different meaning in the outdoors.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Time takes on a different meaning in the outdoors.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

We had been on the boat for 11 hours when the captain suggested we stay out longer and fish for king salmon. We had already caught a limit of halibut. That was the plan for the day. I had agreed to fish for halibut. No one had once mentioned fishing for kings or spending more than 11 hours on a boat. I briefly felt that I’d been kidnapped. While the three others assembled the down riggers necessary to fish for kings, I mentally began to fashion means of escape by assembling an array of useful objects.

Dare I ask, I wondered, how long we were going to be out? The invite to go fishing only had a start time. I’d failed to ascertain when the party would end. These uncoordinated expectations could cause three people to be having the time of their lives, while the person who didn’t pack three square snacks (me) to be like Daffy Duck sizing up the others for a meal.

The more time I spend outdoors on uncoordinated fishing expeditions, the more I realize that the clock on the wall at the office is no longer valid. Time in numbers is meaningless in the outdoors. Even the terms used to describe time cannot be taken literally. Based on my experience working in offices, time is very literal to me. It’s not just the hours and minutes. There is lunchtime and break time and other designated times. All of that was clearly out the window, since the boat didn’t have a window. We were on fishing time, and that was a very scary form of timekeeping. Because I care about my fellow human beings who may count time as I do, it is necessary to share some of the things I’ve learned about declarations of time in the outdoors.

  • Early. If you ask what time we will be leaving the next morning and the answer is “early,” beware! Early is an adverb, not a noun, and it is closer to the word “soon” than “morning.” Some people think 8 a.m. is early. It is not. Early can be any time after midnight.

  • Late. Given the difficulty of ascertaining what time is meant by “early,” you’ll probably be late to being early. This happens to me all the time. Even if someone says, “Show up at the boat launch around 4 a.m.,” and I show up at 3:45 a.m., I have been met with the accusation of being late. “Where have you been? Three boats have already left.”
  • Five more minutes. This is a magical expression evoking the question, “If you had five more minutes to live, what would you do?” Although the answer is, “something amazing,” the reality translates to approximately two hours of doing the exact same thing you were doing before you only had five more minutes.
  • 15 more minutes. This has more to do with Andy Warhol’s famous expression that everyone could be famous for 15 minutes or achieve amazing results in a short amount of time. These are minutes that must count for something and translate to approximately one minute of doing something ridiculous that takes an additional five hours to correct.
  • A few more minutes. This expression is not about time. It means that there is no way of telling how much additional time is needed, or the five or 15-minute increment would have been selected.
  • Not by a long shot. Whether the term originated in scorekeeping or aiming for a target so far away there is an outside chance of hitting it, it translates to continuing until dark, running out of supplies, or being physically restrained.

There are lots of other expressions that are open to interpretation. Rather than focus on time, I now focus on the gear that’s required for the trip. If those going with me unload a freezer chest full of food, extra fuel cans and a duffel bag of overnight gear, I don’t ask about when we’re coming back. But if I find myself on a tortured excursion in which no one has enough food and I sense that we are about to begin the Who Can Stand it the Longest Contest, I try to focus on the beauty of the outdoors. If I focus on the beauty of the outdoors, I think, it won’t matter that my feet are numb from cold and my last meal was a vanilla latte at 5:14 a.m.

On this particular trip, instead of saying, “When will we be done?” I said, “Isn’t it beautiful out?” And then hoped against hope that I didn’t have the smallest bladder, thinnest skin and weakest stomach. I hoped someone else on the boat knew that, “Isn’t it beautiful out?” could also be an expression of time. It meant, “Isn’t it a beautiful time to be heading back in?” I looked around in panic. No one knew my code.

“We’re in a fog,” one of the fishermen said.

“Should we head back?” I asked. It was a logical question and not one desperate to be done.

Everyone was looking at me now. “In a little bit,” the captain said.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at For information on her book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.


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Filed under Common Ground, fishing, outdoors

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