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  • I walked around downtown Ipswich for an hour with my camera, a Canon Rebel XS with an 18-55mm lens, F/3.5-5.6. It is a digital single lens reflex that shoots three frames per second.

    It works like this: When I look through the camera, light is passing through the lens (mine has 16 parts), bouncing off a series of mirrors, and into my eye. When I depress the shutter button, the first mirror snaps up, allowing the light to pass through the lens and onto an image sensor, the digital equivalent of raw film. While the shutter is open (with this camera, anywhere from thirty whole seconds to one four-thousandth of one second), I am blind to the image it is recording.

    *

    The town was quiet; it was the middle of Monday morning and just below freezing. No snow had fallen yet, the sky was grey. Nearly empty streets. It was the kind of weather that adds years to everything. I walked east towards the center of town, towards the kind of tangled intersection that typifies New England towns: a bridge, a hill, seven possible roads, several of which were probably one-way, and no traffic light. I went uphill, towards two churches.

    The sidewalk was buckled, puddles recently rethawed. The houses all were small and boxy, wooden siding painted one color, doors and window frames another. Several of them bore plackards from the Ipswich Historical Society.
    Down a small alley. A man in skate shoes and a black hoody, smoking a cigarette and talking on a cell phone. He’s flying out tomorrow, he says, probably from Logan. A tiny driveway with two cars, a new VW sedan and a black BMW X5 with a rainbow of bumper stickers: WOOF, Know Your Farmer, Peace, Ipswich Lacrosse.

    The town hall, a large four-story brick rectangle. Behind it, lined by trees, were two small baseball diamonds, the outfield grass encroaching upon the orange infield dirt, and opposing football uprights. The Ipswich River runs behind those trees, as does a path.

    A yellow buoy bobbed in the river. The water was dark and silent, surging ice-laden towards the sea. One of the houses on the opposite bank had a rowboat and two canoes. The river and the path bend at a lagoon, where gulls sat on a sandbar, calling.

    *

    We perceive the world primarily as echoes. That is, both sound and sight reach us as reverberations and reflections. Sounds are merely waves of pressure colliding with a thin membrane in our ear. Sight is the process of energy of a certain wavelength striking an object, bouncing through the lenses of our eyes, and tripping photosensitive cells. On an atomic level, sight results in a phenomenon termed the Observer Effect. What we call light is, at its most fundamental level (at least for now), a stream of photons, tiny packets of energy that act both as particles and waves. For us to see something, a photon must strike it. And in striking the observed object, it transfers to it some miniscule but measurable amount of energy. Thus the very act of observing something alters it.

    *

    I went into a coffee shop. There were two women talking, one behind the counter the other on the paying side of the register. They looked up when I came in. I looked at the menu written above the kitchen. They saw me with a camera slung over my shoulder. So they saw themselves through my lens.

    “Can I help you?”

    “Do you know where I can get some scones?”

    “We have scones.”

    The paying women stepped aside and the one behind the counter showed me a scone. “Red Pepper and Jalapeno.”

    “I was looking for something chocolaty.”

    A voice from the kitchen: “We have chocolate chip cookie sandwiches.”

    Behind the counter: “Or you could have a frozen Snickers.”

    “No thanks.”

    “Here take a menu.”

    “Ok, thanks. Maybe I’ll come back for lunch.”

    “Ok bye.”

    “Bye.”

    I walked to Marty’s Donuts, opened ‘Midnight to ___ PM.’ There was a fat woman with white hair sitting on a stool and a fat woman with darker hair behind the counter. I looked at the board above the kitchen.

    The one with white hair said, “This boy looks like he wants one of everything.”

    “That sounds about right.”

    The one behind the counter: “Come over and see what we’ve got.”

    I looked at the donuts. “I’ll have one chocolate, one coconut.”

    “That all?”

    “Yup.”

    She put the donuts in a white paper bag. “Dollar-eighty.”

    She handed me the bag. It wasn’t warm. I had been wondering if the donuts might be warm. “Thanks.”

    I walked to the door.

    “What were you taking pictures of?” the woman with white hair said.

    “My friend is at the dentist. I’ve just been walking around.”

    “Oh. Have a nice day.”

    “You too.”

    I stepped outside. I’d been seeing things as potential pictures, isolated from their setting by a click and a frame, not a steady silent unfolding. And it made everyone else imagine themselves as they thought I might see them. And I hadn’t even taken any pictures.

    My phone was buzzing. It was Becca. Her dentist appointment was over.

    I stepped into a narrow alley between Marty’s and the next building. It opened out to the big piecemeal parking lot that might be the actual center of town. It is ringed by shops, one of which belongs to a dentist.

    “I just got you a donut,” I said. “I’ll be right over.”
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