Sharpening Your Powers of Observation 10X | Almanac.com

Sharpening Your Powers of Observation 10X

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Practice keen observation of nature and the world around you.

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I was given a magnifying glass for Christmas. It's a fine brass one, with all sorts of knobs and moveable parts. It's like having a brand-new eye. It's a reminder in the New Year to practice the keen observation of nature and the world around you. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, slow down and stay inquisitive.

Beneath my magnifying glass, a fingernail suddenly has texture. The wrinkles around one's knuckles look like almost legible handwriting. An hour might not be too long to spend studying them. The tiny hairs on the back of the hand are turned into a dry forest, each bowed and bent the same direction, as though blasted by a prevailing wind. 

What else can we train the glass on? The fibers of knit sweaters: chaotic. A sharpened pencil-lead: quite dull. Rime on the window: beautiful. Nothing's beneath consideration. 

There's fresh snow on the ground this new year, not much, but enough, sharpening light on a bare branch or the leafy top of a still-green fern. What's alive is mostly stowed beneath, or curled up on itself like rhododendron leaves, or hiding within layers, like dormant moths. Life has made itself small, and tight, and as warm as possible.

In winter, one has to use the eye the way the fox uses his nose, putting it right up close to things in order to get any scent off them.

I take my magnifying glass around, following tiny vole-tracks to tiny vole-lairs. If I shine it onto the disappearing place, I'm thinking, it will show a tiny WELCOME mat, and a tiny brass knocker. 

Here's a poem for the new year. The imagination's a kind of blind lens, too, a mole-nose prying into spaces its writer might not be able to, unaided. May yours, too, be sharpening its resolution this January.

 star-nosed_mole.pngImage: Star-nosed Mole

by Henry Walters

The minuscule is what
the eye’s no good at.
It can’t make itself

We have some tools
for blowing things up.
Rootlets for rafters
grubs for meals
the star-nosed mole
must turn whole versts
of his particular  
compounded of
to a little bit
of architecture.

the carpenter ant
is little by little
dealing with
the unintelligible &
outlandish roominess
of a wet log.

Do not squint.
Do not
cudgel your brains
for examples.
The needles
you need to pass
through the impassable eye of
are lost in a haystack.

Let them come
all by themselves
sprouting out the scalp
as laughter


rifling off the top of one’s head
like the thought
of the kudu’s horns—
the sharpest
vanishing augers in
a multiverse
of light

Image: Kudu Antelope
About The Author

Tom Warren

Tom Warren is a lifelong bird enthusiast. Tom is also committed to protecting birds and their habitat as a Trustee for both Massachusetts and New Hampshire Audubon, and the Harris Nature Center. Read More from Tom Warren

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