What Can You See in Fifty-five Minutes and Thirty Seconds?

There’s enough time to go out for about an hour. I head out the door and start walking out the road, not knowing exactly where to go. The sound of a car coming down the road behind me feels intrusive. To avoid it, I take a turn into the field on the right, and can decelerate into “looking” mode.

On this late November morning, a few spiders are still spinning webs. They shine, bedewed, in the grass. I walk to a grove of evergreens. Underneath a spruce tree that I helped plant, with my mother and my sister, about fifty-five years ago, is a chunk of bone. Its surface is marked all over, inside and outside, chewed by calcium-craving rodents.

Rodent teeth create striated facets.

From the grove to the edge of Look’s Pond is a few hundred feet. Little bluestem grass is russet, lowbush blueberries form maroon patches, and green notes come from mosses and from young conifers. At the edge of the field, a little pitch pine has met a setback. A passing buck, or bucks, with their antlers, have rubbed completely through the outer bark.

Pitch pine, rubbed raw.

On the ground next to the little pine is a fallen and licheny sassafras branch.

Sassafrass, limned in lichens.

Quacks come from the water below the slope. I’ve moved slowly enough not to alarm the ducks visiting the pond, though they’re aware of me, and swim slowly away.

“Turtle Rock” and ducks.

I go back uphill by way of a little valley that passes the house I grew up in. In the yard are some cedar trees, which once were too short to tie a badminton net to. Now they’re between a foot and eighteen inches thick where they emerge from the lawn, and between twenty and thirty feet tall. Ten years ago I pruned them, removing dead and small branches. Today I see that the trees are growing back around and over where those branches once were. I tilt my head and notice a branch scar that looks like the eye of a sleepy dinosaur.

The next waypoint of the walk comes to mind. I head down the road, to go over to the neighbor’s house to see if her horses have produced enough manure to make a trip with the pickup truck worthwhile. Along the way, the branches of the trees are are busy with chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, flickers, bluejays, and more. They are all out on “noticing” forays of their own.

Crows caw afar.

I slip through the electric fence that contains the horses, say hello to them, and go to their barn to see how well they’ve been tending to business. There’s a modest truckload, in two different locations, but there will be no harm in waiting a week or two. A family of woodpeckers is tapping along the trimboards of the stable, hoping to sound out grubs or larvae. What beautiful birds.

Looking for a meal.

I decide to cross Music Street, and to go home by way of Jerry’s Pond. I love this old house. I learned a little bit about how to ride here.

One of the things I remember from this place is the time I didn’t flatten my hand when presenting an apple to my horse. The blaze of pain from the bite of those jaws is a memory indelible. I remember other, nicer things, too. Like the sight of an orchard oriole in the branches of an apple tree in full bloom.

In the brush near the house, I find a partial skull of a deer, a young buck, who died with his first “spike” antlers on. The skull goes into my jacket pocket, and it will join another buck’s skull on an outside table, back at the house.

I pass through a patch of field in succession, its grass being crowded out by cedar, hawthorne, blueberry, viburnum sumac and wild roses. Young oaks are shouldering their way to the sky.


An old utility pole still has its nailed-on aluminum “C & V E CO” name strip, and it number. The number 3 means that this is the third pole of a line that comes in from Middle Road. The C&V E CO and its successors have been swallowed multiple times by corporate buyouts and mergers. It gets hard to keep up with the name changes.

Pole Number Three (retired).

Then I pass a pond with three names. Most maps call it Davis Pond. Most locals call it Jerry’s Pond. A few of the locals, mostly those nearest the pond, call it Glimmerglass Pond. That name is from the Victorian Era. Ducks are here, too.

This is an old mill pond, one of the mill ponds built by the first white settlers of the Vineyard. Near the outflow of the dam, a beech tree and a maple tree seem at combat. The beech grows so close to the maple that an anaconda of maple root is trying to strangle the beech.

From here I go up the path to the road, up a hill and past grandmother’s house, on the way home. Under a utility pole is a dead squirrel. Did it accidentally electrocute itself? There’s not a mark on it, as it lies on the ground, front and rear paws clasped together, its unseeing eyes still open. I feel its paws and claws with my fingertips, then lift the animal’s body, which is surprising heavy, and dense. Such power, such strength. Suddenly I better understand how well fitted these creatures are for making their homes and their living up in the trees.

The tail is as large as the body, but is as ephemeral as the body is dense.

A close look at the squirrel’s tail reveals bands of colors, and of stripes inside stripes.

I don’t want a passing truck to squash this deceased gem of creation, and then think that it might be nice if my grandson, who might be exploring around here, could find the squirrel. I move the body from the road to the top of a nearby rock. Maybe he’ll find it, maybe he won’t.

In the yard at the house I notice the japanese maple, a years-ago Fathers Day gift from my family. Every year it is the last tree in the yard to lose hold of its leaves.

Today its leaves are ablaze with the red of death and resurrection.

Welcome home.

86 responses to “What Can You See in Fifty-five Minutes and Thirty Seconds?

  1. Some really beautiful finds and a great eye to find them. I’m teaching my kids to slow down and really look at the natural world around them, and they’re getting it so well that they often will come up with things that I’ve missed. Thanks for sharing your walk, and a thin sliver of your life.

    • Thanks so much. I had the good fortune to grow up in a time when “free range” was normal for children. Kids are great notices. My 3 1/2 year old grandson can find a spider at 40 paces.

  2. I absolutely love this post. It’s so telling and fascinating. I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind me going out on my own around my college campus to see what I can see in a walk such as yours and post the result?

    • Thanks very much. I had never heard of the “freshly pressed”, but am pleased to be noticed. I’ve had more visitors in the last few hours than in the previous week or two.

  3. A really nice take on actually looking and seeing what is there, a whole system existing alongside us. Enjoyed your photos and your walk very much – could do this every day!

  4. Is this Martha’s Vineyard? Not a horrible area for a quick walk. I really enjoyed your photography and your writing. I felt some “warm fuzzies” after reading this šŸ™‚

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  6. What a beautiful piece. felt it inwardly slow me down just reading it. I love going on ‘noticing forays’ myself, though I don’t have a camera at the moment to capture the beauty as you have done so well. Love it:-)

  7. Such a lovely post! It is amazing what you actually “see” when you walk. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the addition of your history and personal memories of the places your walk covered.
    You may have gotten a lot of people out of their cars and into some walking shoes. Great job!

    • Having lived in one place for many years, almost nothing I see is “new”. What I encounter in my daily movings-about is clothed in memories, and wreathed with “ghosts”. It often seems as if nothing is simply itself.

    • Thank you Pam. Your “Photographer creates a Universe” post, w/ rhododendron photo, made me think of something I read about making pictures. It was an answer to the question, “How can you make a good picture?”. From the context, the questioner seemed to be looking for information about what camera to buy, what equipment to have. The answer gave no such advice. The answer was that to make good photographs, you should learn everything you can about everything that you can, because it is one’s depth of knowledge and awareness that makes a photograph, and not technical details such as depth of field.

      • I agree with you completely but good glass and 28MG will seriously improve an image BUT without the inspiration you could be using a phase one and the image will be flat.

  8. Nature offers us so much, yet we are way to busy with our hectic lives to slow down and “smell the roses”. I love doing this and found all your photos and descriptions very warm and enticing. It makes me want to grab my camera and take a similar stroll about my place.

  9. The dinosaur eye caught my attention and I felt compelled to read the post. It inspires me to go on my own walk! Thank you!

  10. I go for walks when I want to relax. I also look for those little details–sometimes, just wandering around my suburban yard with a camera is all it takes to find a whole world of tiny wonders. Somehow, that can make my own problems feel a lot smaller.

  11. Reminds me of the walks we’d take with my grama in northern Michigan, pointing out bugs and moss to her while she told us stories of birds she’d seen, and if we were lucky we’d have a chance to catch sight of a grazing deer or two. Then it would be inside for cups of steaming hot chocolate.

  12. I have recently read a book set on Martha’s Vineyard at the time of the first European Inhabitants.The book’s called ‘Caleb’s Crossing’ by Geraldine(?) Brooks. Your post bought those early days to mind. Thanks you for taking the time to show me (in far away Australia) your home.

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  14. Hi Tom, beautiful blog! I would like to ask your permission to use your succession photo in a land conservation presentation I am giving. Free open to the public.

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