Outdoor Recreation slows the passage of time

The perception of time is subjective, and you can slow it down-

Today I read this article, “Where Did the Time Go? Do Not Ask the Brain.” New York Times. It is about the sensation of passing time. Sometimes days, months, decades seem to whiz by. People commonly say that time passes more rapidly as you age, but I know the passage of time for me at least, slows when I am outdoors.

Late yesterday afternoon I drove out to American Falls Reservoir, which is currently frozen and windswept. I can barely remember the details of what I did when I came home or before I left.  On the trip to the reservoir I can remember almost everything — the number of geese flocks that flew overhead, the nondescript agricultural roads I drove, how far I walked in the freezing wind, every photograph (including those I deleted), my side trip to Bannock Creek (and the lone duck on its half frozen waters). You get the idea.

Just after sunset on Jan. 8, 2010. American Falls Reservoir. Copyright Ralph Maughan

I can remember the details of hundreds of outdoor trips, including not so eventful ones like yesterday.

My conclusion is spend part of each day outdoors, you will live longer.

Now what did I do this morning? It’s already after 2 PM.





  1. timz Avatar

    that is a cool picture

  2. gline Avatar

    Time slows down for things that matter. And then you have the memories…

  3. Mike Avatar

    I agree Ralph. I like the photo too.

    Time seems to just be much “slower” when I am camping. I can feel things “accelerate” when I approach big cities like Chicago. It seems to me that we feed off of each other like a colony almost. When a human is only with a few other humans in the wild, we get swept away by a sense of place and time, of the universe and the mountains. When we are in cities, we get swept up in the energy we ourselves create. It’s this energy that seems to speed up our sense of time.

  4. vickif Avatar

    I have serious ‘time depravation disorder’. But when I am away from civilization, I seem to be cured. While at work, I am acutley aware of time, but when I fish, hike or view etc. I find myself eating at midnight, because time just slipped by.
    I really am longing for a day away right now!

  5. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    I spent 26 years in the “Big City” when I was in the military, and I have spent as much time as I could away from the “Big City” since I retired, A day a field will always be a memory, a day in the city, will always be an rush.

    I agree, take a day and sit on the rocks, listen to the sounds around you, and take the smells into your soul, those will always be the time you remember.

  6. Dawn Avatar

    I know what you mean .

  7. JimT Avatar

    I think we underestimate badly the need for this human species to spend time in the environment upon which we depend for life for our mental stability and well being. We think that Google and TV and Netflix is enough, or we fool ourselves into thinking so.

    Get outside, turn those eyes to the sun, and tune in the silence or sounds around you.

    Obama, are you listening?

  8. Percy Avatar

    This is so true, as well as everything everyone has added. I have always called it “stopping time.”

  9. Salle Avatar

    For me it’s a reconnect with my spirituality. I don’t subscribe to organized religion. As I get older, the concept of time means less, it’s a social construction invented for the purpose of controlling a large population for the sake of industrialization. I have lost interest in all of that.

    I often suspect that all this war on wildlife and nature bears the same ulterior motives as the Indian removal and mass bison slaughter ~ to take away whatever it is that distracts us from being the automatons ~ devoid of independent cognitive functioning ~ that the barons of industry desire. Any connection to the natural world reminds us of the freedom that all species once had and gives us purpose in preserving them, though that is entirely against the capitalist industrial model.

  10. gline Avatar

    “…same ulterior motives as the Indian removal and mass bison slaughter ~ ”

    The truth is not upheld. Who is blamed becomes the truth, and “it” rolls from there with revenge acts. Do wolves retaliate?

  11. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted

    Thanks for the reminder, Ralph!

  12. Matt Avatar

    nice pic, soft blue tone , looks good, winter is a great time for photography, lots of different color shades, and often clear sunshine. January and Febuary , with the holidays over with, makes for some nice quiet outdoor winter time.

    ‘My conclusion is spend part of each day outdoors, you will live longer’

    Agreed, time outside , be it doing whatever outdoor activity, seems to feel like its time spent doing something relevant and not time spent wasted.

  13. Cutthroat Avatar

    Great picture Ralph and great posts.

    Just catching up after a wonderfully rejuvinating weekend in the mountains…may be feeling a little too deep for some, anyway….

    For me this has much to do with nature’s ability to bring me into the present moment. The awesomeness and beauty of nature tends to snap me out of living in my head. Obsessive thinking, whether it be about future events, which conjure up fears, worry, even excitement for great things to come and the anxiety that comes along with this, or things from the past which bring up feelings of guilt, shame or even grandiosity for self perceived greatness keep me held hostage to my thoughts, unable to experience what is taking place around me in the moment. Pretty soon life has passed by and I missed it. It can be very subtle. Like the afternoon commute, replaying all the conversations and dealings of the day and pretty soon I’m in the garage and wondering how I got there, as I don’t recall the scenery whatsoever. All “time”, past and future, seems to vanish when I stand at the river bank and witness the Chinook spar over a red, or like this weekend sitting alone by the fire in a yurt in the Sawtooths surrounded by the solitary silence of winter. It is times like these that I can be totally “in the moment” and when I’m really “aware” of each moment and experience them, instead of being lost in unconscious thought, I think time ceases to exist.

    I believe that everyone suffers from this type of subtle, yet mildly insane obsessive thinking to some degree or another and the thing is that the degree to which they suffer often keeps them from being able to “be present” and achieve a connection with nature that, in turn, allows them to view its’ “awesomeness and beauty” and thus, they see no need to protect or conserve it.

    Eckhart Tolle speaks of these things in his writings…I like what he has to say about time as a mental construct and what nature’s view would be:

    –Imagine the Earth devoid of human life, inhabited only by plants and animals. Would it still have a past and a future? Could we still speak of time in any meaningful way? The question “What time is it?” or “What’s the date today?” – if anybody were there to ask it – would be quite meaningless. The oak tree or the eagle would be bemused by such a question. “What time?” they would ask. “Well, of course, it’s now. The time is now. What else is there?”–


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan