Benjamin Franklin's Cats

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, November 11, 2010

“Spring ahead – fall back” – modern words of wisdom for a forgetful world – was an oft-repeated phrase over the past week.

Daylight Savings Time, which ended last weekend, is not really a modern invention. Benjamin Franklin was the practical man who first proposed this very practical idea. In theory DLT would give farmers an extra hour of daylight during the busy spring and summer months.

It sounded good on paper, but would it work? Benjamin Franklin never had a chance to experience it. Daylight Savings Time was first implemented in 1916, then discontinued and started again in World War II.

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It was obvious from the beginning that there were pros and cons to the idea.

Despite the advantages of that extra hour of daylight, I would venture to guess that Mr. Franklin would not have been so eager to change things if he lived in today's world of digital clocks.

Basically, it means a week devoted to “rocking around the clock.” Those digital clocks, in other words, were named for a reason. Dexterity (of all ten digits) if required to get the time set the on first go-round. When changing time digitally, failure to let go of that little reset button at just the right split second means flipping through another 24 hours, or “rocking around the clock.”

On the microwave, for example, changing the time requires hitting a button labeled “clock.” Then the directions scroll across the control panel: “A.M.” – press one; “P.M.” – press two. If one forgets to hit “START” at the right time it's back to the starting line. It's a race no one wants to repeat. At that point things start heating up, but not in the microwave.

Remember the old game show, “Beat the Clock?”

This is it – without the prizes.

What Daylight Savings Time does, in effect, is cause the sun to come up an hour earlier.

Have you ever tried explaining that to a chicken? From my own experience on the farm, I can tell you that resetting the clock is not as simple as it sounds. Most animals don't take kindly to a change in their daily routine. Rousting the goats out of their comfy straw beds an hour earlier than usual, for example, almost always results in some well-placed hooves in the milk pail.

While most folks believe that Franklin's basis for daylight saving came from his famous saying “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” I know what really inspired him. It's spelled: c-a-t.

Cats are experts at “saving daylight” – they call it a catnap.

This slight variation of the daylight savings theme referred to as a catnap is, I should warn, highly contagious. I challenge anyone who might dispute this claim to work while surrounded by “daylight saving” felines.

On a recent rainy afternoon I decided to catch up on some paper work. For perhaps ten minutes I managed to work constructively. Then I made the mistake of glancing up from the stack of papers on my lap.

Luna was toasting her toes by the wood stove. I couldn't help but note how comfortable she was, as her paws twitched from side to side like a contented sleeper adjusting invisible covers.

Draped over the back of the couch, Sophie and Lily snored softly as their tails and whiskers twitched to some imagined cat adventure. Kiki was sprawled in the middle of the floor, tummy up, with a look of pure cat contentment on her face.

Looking through the French doors to the porch I noted that the dogs had also succumbed to the somnambulant spell of the afternoon.

The figures on the pages before me began to recede, my eyes began to close – I almost felt like flexing my paws. The only sound was the steady beat of the clock, ticking away the hours of daylight my feline friends and I were “saving.”

My dream was a timely one: I was sitting in Benjamin Franklin's parlor. The famous statesman/inventor was sitting at his desk beside a cozy fire thinking of words of wisdom to jot down for future generations.

I peeked over his shoulder as he penned these words, “Then do not squander time.”

Slowly Mr. Franklin's eyes began to close. Looking at his feet, I saw a pile of cats slumbering by the hearth, their collective sides rising and falling with the easy rhythm of contented sleep.

The author of wise words must have sensed my presence. He shook himself awake, glanced at the feline friends at his feet, and smiled.

Then Mr. Franklin continued to write: “Then do not squander time,” he wrote. “For that is the stuff life is made of.”

Waking moments later in my own comfortable chair beside my own cozy fire, I looked around the room.

You're right, Mr. Franklin – I couldn't have said it better myself.