Nature

It sure has been an unusual and unpredictable year, but I’m finding that I still have much to be grateful for in my daily life. Last January I began a notebook where I write every day about something that makes me thankful. Usually it is just a sentence or two, but often I have at least half a dozen things I want to write down. Not once have I had to hesitate. Even with a virus that shut down the world as we knew it, including my main sources of income, there were plenty of good things, fortunate things to appreciate.

Interestingly, I have not repeated any entries, and I’m well into my 11th month of daily notes. Imagine that, hundreds of things to be grateful for, and most of those are just the small stuff. It seems gratitude might be infinite.

As I walked the beach on this sunny day after an astronomical high tide so big it is referred to as a King Tide, I pondered the ways daily gratitude has altered my view of the world. I’ve always tended to be an optimist, believing in the best in people even when that feels difficult. I’ve had faith that people try to do their best and that bad decisions often come from a lack of good information. One of the reasons I’ve written this column for almost 20 years is that I believe people want to know more about the natural world but often don’t know where to begin.

As I stood watching the sun twinkle across the deep blue of the ocean I felt incredibly lucky to be able to step out my door and find this beauty nearby every single day. There are birds to watch, plants to enjoy, stars to gaze at and weather to wonder about.

On this day I could no longer deny that winter was on its way. The sand had that gray-white cast it gets as fall deepens into the coldest of seasons. The wrack line was full of washed-up scallop and quahog shells, seaweed and a multitude of odds and ends, including broken-up pieces of a wooden stairway that had obviously been new not too long ago. The wood had been splintered and twisted in the tossing of ferocious waves and wind, a reminder not to mess with Mother Nature when she’s in a nasty mood.

Old and frayed molted feathers, crab shells and bits of horseshoe-crab shells were littered on the beach like toys a toddler left behind, no longer needed or wanted. There was a starkness in this, but as an old-timer who has weathered a few storms, I knew there was new life on the other side of what looked like destruction.

I headed up a path into the low dunes where the sand was filled with the dark brown sand mushrooms that pop up each fall. They were tired and dried out, but they had had their day in the sun, quite literally. There were the fluffy seed heads of goldenrod and the soft neutral colors of the spent but still strong dune grasses. As I walked, I found where the rabbit must hang out, if its little bunny nuggets were anything to go by. They were only in one area but abundant. I’m not sure how many rabbits live out in this dune area, but I know at least one does. I see it often. There are only two trees out here, a few Rosa rugosa bushes and lots of grassy areas, but it seems to have found a way to survive. There is a resident fox and also an occasional visit by a small pack of coyotes from across the channel, but it or its relatives somehow persist.

I am grateful for this rabbit, the fox, the deer that run through here and swim in the bay. I’m thankful for the vistas all around me, of sand and grass, water and clouds in a bright blue sky. Even the sight of a ferry boat makes me happy on this fine day when the temperature is cool, but I can still get away with just a sweatshirt and jeans.

Along my way I find a blooming beach pea in all its purple glory. I find a last yellow sheaf of blossoms on a goldenrod plant and stop to watch a small flock of snow buntings spin around overhead. As I leave the dunes I hear a sound that is not unusual in early fall, but it is so striking after the very cold night I wonder about the little creature making it. It sounds like a cricket or grasshopper. I don’t track it down, since I figure it is already in its end days. It doesn’t know that, though. It is singing away, all by itself, hoping to find that one last perfect mate that has been waiting just for it.

And somehow, that just made me smile all the way back down the beach. If a tiny insect can feel hopeful on a November day, so can we. And for that, I’m truly grateful. So many things, so many reasons to feel thankful, my heart is full as I sit down to write.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and thank you for reading my columns. I appreciate it more than you know.

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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