Groundhog Day stems from an ancient ritual of celebrating spring in midwinter, which came around Feb. 2, and by this time of the year, I am more than ready for spring myself. To those of us who are living through it, winter feels like the longest season of the year.

It so happens, however, that winter is actually the shortest season and summer is the longest, for there are only 89 days of winter and 93.7 days of summer. Winter only seems long because it is such a hard season to endure.

Unlike time in the physical world, mental time can speed up or slow down depending on what we are thinking or feeling, the intensity of the emotion, the condition of the environment, the level of activity and the physiology of the body. Time flies when you are having fun, and it drags when you are bored or feeling mental or physical distress.

As Einstein once wrote, “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours.”

Our time sense is influenced by temperature. One day back in the 1930s, Dr. Hudson Hoagland went out to get some medicine for his wife, who had influenza and a temperature of 104 degrees. Though he was only gone 20 minutes, she insisted it was two hours.

Hoagland got out his stopwatch and asked his wife to count to 60, at the rate of one per second. He found that when her body temperature was high, she consistently counted faster, and when it was low, she counted slower.

The biological clock of insects is also tuned to temperature. Since insects are unable to control their body temperature, they chirp faster when it’s warm and slower when it’s cold. In fact, the chirping rate of the snowy tree cricket makes a pretty good thermometer.

Metabolism is another factor that influences the judgment of time. When metabolism increases, time goes faster, and when metabolism decreases, it goes slower.

This could be another reason why we are ready to celebrate spring in midwinter. Cold weather increases our metabolism, which makes time in winter seem to go by faster than it really is.

The feeling that time speeds up as we get older also might be an effect of changing metabolism. As we progress from childhood to maturity, metabolism steadily decreases, and by age 50, we consume only one-fifth as much oxygen as we did at age 10. The days keep going by faster because we are slowing down.

Our bodies are designed to wear out. Though many factors affect longevity, there is an upper limit to how long we can live that some think is programmed in the genes. The current life expectancy in America is 81.2 years for women and 76.4 years for men. The record is held by a French woman who lived 122 years.

Time is woven into the fabric of our being. Nothing in nature is so familiar, and yet so mysterious. After centuries of debate by philosophers and scientists, no one can still quite agree on what it is. Some even doubt its existence. Yet, we can feel its rhythm in the beating of our hearts. We move about in space, but time moves in us.

It is in the rhythms of our body that we find our deepest connection to nature. The motions of the earth, moon and sun synchronize the cadence of our biological clocks. It is as if the sun rises and sets within us. The very chemistry of our blood changes with the seasons and with the time of day.

The body is an orchestra of numerous cycles. Body temperature, metabolism, breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, all are coordinated with precision. If the timing goes off in any one of the cycles, it could result in disease and even death.

The pace of work and our attitude toward leisure are influenced by culture. Speed and efficiency characterize time values in the western world. Time is money. We buy, sell, save and spend it. Leisure has no intrinsic value, and idleness is a pure waste of time.

The Ankore of Uganda have a different view of time. “In African life,” writes James Gleick, “a person creates, produces and makes time.”

Those who appear to be idle are not wasting time but are in the process of “producing” it.

Gleick goes on to say: “What harried citizen of a technological culture could resist the seductive appeal of this prospect? All we have to do is think differently, and then, as we sit idle, watching the clouds, we might become little factories, manufacturing time for ourselves.”

I have often sat idle myself, in the backyard, watching clouds or just gazing across the pasture, and I can say from experience that it’s a great way to manufacture time. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion, and sometimes it stops altogether. Then I have all the time in the world.

Making time like that is a genuine act of creation. What we are creating is life, in the process of living it.

Richard Weber is a nature enthusiast living in Ellis County.