nature 04.19

There’s something about walking in the woods in early spring that delights me in a way I can’t really describe. I simply love it. Maybe it’s the freshness of the air, the sponginess of the earth beneath my feet or the tiny buds waiting to burst into green on the tips of all the branches. It could be the songs of pine warblers or the cleaning out of holes in old trees by woodpeckers. Perhaps it is the bright green of the moss or the blue of the sky above the trees. I don’t know for sure, but I do know it fills me up to overflowing and makes me feel giddy and carefree in a way nothing else does.

Over the last week I’ve taken a walk in the woods almost every day. The woods have been in different towns and the walks have varied in time of day. One walk was in Provincetown, another in Brewster. One was in Cotuit and the next was in Mashpee. Walks in Cummaquid and Osterville filled out the rest of the week’s schedule.

All these wooded areas were different but also somewhat the same. One bordered dunes on one side and a big pond on the other. One followed a stream, one ended up at a herring run and another meandered down to an estuary. One thing I almost always find on a walk through the woods on Cape Cod is a body of water. This isn’t too surprising; since we have so many ponds on the Cape, we could visit one every day of the year without repeating a visit.

The light in early spring is especially lovely in the woods. Leaves haven’t filled the canopy yet, so plenty of sunshine filters down to the woodland floor. The shiny leaves of teaberry carpet the ground beneath the pines pretty much everywhere, no matter what town I’m in. Soft, green moss is also omnipresent as are copper-colored pine needles and tiny trees growing everywhere.

Mayflowers can be found almost anywhere there are pine woods and old trails. They love sunny banks with somewhat poor soil and are one of our earliest blooming wildflowers. I have found only a few blooming so far, but it won’t be long before they are blooming in profusion. These are subtle, small flowers you have to look for, but they are worth the effort. Once you know them well, you will find them all over. Some areas in Mashpee, Sandwich and Barnstable have patches that go on for considerable lengths of certain pathways.

There’s no sign of the Canada mayflowers or starflowers yet. No hint of lady’s slippers or trilliums. I’ve yet to find a trout lily or anemone but it won’t be long now. It gives me another excuse to go woods walking, to search for these spring ephemerals that only bloom before all the leaves fill out.

Cat brier, Rosa multiflora and honeysuckle are all in bud. Red maples are flowering, and many other trees will be right behind. I saw my first mourning cloak butterfly flitting silently through a sunny patch of woods but not too many other insects are out and about quite yet.

Sheep laurel is putting forth new leaves and if you look closely, you’ll see the tiniest of flower buds. Soon sarsaparilla shoots will poke up out of the damp earth and so will poison ivy. The one will be wonderful while the other? Perhaps less so.

Worms, slugs and snails are active. Painted turtles have been sunning and toads have been trilling. Everything is waking up.

Old fallen trees covered with moss are among my favorite spring treasures. Tiny trees grow from their richness and as the old trees sink into the soil, the new trees will flourish. It is the story of life, the story of time. Perhaps that is why I love spring in the woods so much. Life never ends there. It is always renewing itself, over and over again, with new growth and fresh starts. It is the lesson of spring, rebirth and renewal. Take a deep breath of the richness of spring. It may be the best medicine of all.

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

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