Nature Column 1015

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I like to walk and that I walk a lot. Lately I’ve been trying to walk in different places every day and I often chalk up three or four miles at a time. Some days I walk the beach, some days I walk in meadows or woods, and some days I walk along quiet roads that pass by most, if not all, of these things.

My walks are quiet walks. I don’t listen to music or books or talk on the phone. I just watch and listen, even in more urban environments where the sounds can be somewhat jarring. I like to be in my environment in all ways, even when it is noisy and messy. It reminds me that humans make a lot of noise that is disruptive and discordant. This is important to remember, I think. We need to put down the leaf blowers and rake again. I understand that landscapers need to be efficient and cost-conscious with their labor, but remember when we all did our own landscaping before it was called landscaping? I do. Cape Cod lawns were user- and nature-friendly, but times have changed and not really for the better. But I digress. It’s one of the things I notice most on my walks, however.

On a recent walk I started at a small, local beach. There was a mix of gulls, both on the sand and flying overhead. The tide was receding, and the marsh across the street was nearly empty of water but full of more gulls, a few Canada geese, mallards, and one great blue heron. The longer I stood looking, the more I saw. There were a half-dozen yellowlegs feeding and a small flock of sandpipers too far away to identify. Crows were chatting in the pines nearby.

Most rose hips have withered and darkened on their stems, and yet a few new roses are rebelliously blooming right alongside them. Seaside goldenrod is beginning to fade, and the masses of white flowers that are so prevalent along marsh edges right now are starting to turn. The poison ivy is scarlet, orange, or yellow, depending on its location, adding some fall color everywhere I turn.

Even in the sand, mushrooms are thriving, as are the small sandy earth stars and puffballs.

As I continue my walk I am on a road that winds by the sea. On one side are huge houses with manicured lawns and expensive cars in their driveways. On the other side are private docks, kayaks pulled up on the shore and a multitude of signs declaring that these beaches and pathways are private. I sigh as I walk by. It’s the curse of being a popular destination. Most of these houses will sit empty all winter, and many locals will defiantly walk out on the docks and beaches just to do so. When we were kids growing up here, we used to peek in all the windows during the winter and I’m betting kids still do that today.

These are the thoughts that ramble through my mind as I walk on by houses where kids I once knew grew up. I went to slumber parties here, and there is where my old boss used to live. The dentist who was also a town drunk and later arrested for sexual assault also lived on this road, though that particular house was torn down and replaced with an even bigger house.

I see rabbits under the rose bushes chewing on grasses and song sparrows foraging for seeds and insects farther down the road.

Bushes are filled with mockingbirds, at least half a dozen, vying for their fall and winter territories with lots of noise and flashing of black-and-white wings. There is a big winterberry bush, just bursting with juicy red goodness that they all have their eyes on but as they argue a small flock of robins and cedar waxwings are taking their fill.

A small hawk flies over in the distance, too far for me to see clearly. A few swallows swoop over the water but the only large flocks I see on this walk are blackbirds lined up on the wires along the causeway.

A huge brown rat lies dead on the side of the road, a victim of a run-in with a vehicle, its belly up to the sky, its long tail straight out behind it. I admit to smirking as I pass it for this is not a neighborhood that would be happy to have such neighbors, but that’s what happens when you live on or next to a marsh. I hope they know better than to use rat poison but there’s no guarantee of that. To be fair these are people who have built osprey platforms and are working on planting pollinator gardens with native plants. I give them a few stars for trying.

A late great egret is feeding at the water’s edge and in the distance I see numerous boats on the water, obviously fishing or scalloping. I’m not sure which but both are common in this area. As I walk back, a flock of gulls descends into the marsh and quite a ruckus ensues. A school of silvery baitfish is doing their best to avoid the sudden onslaught of predators but for a few moments chaos reigns.

My walk has taken a few hours, and in the end I covered many miles and walked through a multitude of habitats, both wild and human.

What did I see? Nature and humans doing their best to interact and intersect. It’s not always pretty. I just wish more humans took the time to actually interact and notice the nature around them. We are not alone on this peninsula, which a simple walk anywhere, anytime, can prove.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.

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