nature 04.12 sketchbook

An early morning escape to the beach beckoned me like an unheard, but compelling, command. I obeyed, got in the car with my sketchbook and my phone with its dying battery and started the ignition and windshield wipers to remove the heavy condensation. Imagine my surprise to find it was frost and ice, not just water that greeted me. I dug out the ice scraper and went to work. It was quick and easy with the warming sun over my shoulder.

When I finally made it to the beach parking lot, only a few other cars were there. I stepped out into the fresh morning air and walked up the path through the low dunes. What I saw nearly knocked me over. The water was absolutely still, its green-blue turquoise edged with pink reflecting the quiet sky so perfectly I swear it pierced my heart. I tried to take a photo, but my phone was dead. I put it back in my pocket. One less thing to distract me.

All my worries and cares about bills due and chores to finish before the day was done melted away instantly. The only thing that mattered at that moment was that moment, pure and peaceful.

I stood at the water’s edge and watched a bright white-breasted gull as it sat on the surface of the water, its mirror image looking up at the cloudless sky. It ducked its head under the water and rose into the air with a huge spider crab. The crab’s legs flailed desperately as the gull chuckled and called a muffled cry as it flew to shore. It dropped the crab unceremoniously from on high to the sand below. Several of the gull’s compatriots rushed over to see what they could steal, but the first gull declared itself the winner with some indiscernible signals, at least to me, and settled in to enjoy its breakfast. One of the other gulls yodeled his complaints loudly, its head thrown back with open beak high in the air.

Farther down the beach a pair of piping plovers were searching the water’s edge for tidbits. Much of the sand they’ve nested on in the past is gone this year, washed away in the winter winds and flooding tides. Last year one pair nested behind one of the low dunes. Perhaps this is the same pair, and they will repeat in that location.

Tracks of two coyotes traveling together accompanied me on my return trip but they had gone in the opposite direction. I must have missed them by a matter of a half-hour or so; their tracks were on newly exposed sand the receding tide had left behind. They had ignored the fencing put up to protect the plovers and, eventually, the least terns that nest there. They’d headed right up the dune with no regard to the rules and regulations that I had to follow.

The ospreys were on their nest. One flew down along the beach, where it collected a piece of driftwood to carry home. Ospreys add to their nests each year, and this nest had taken a beating over the winter, so it would need a lot of new additions to make it comfortable and cozy. The lack of a big nest didn’t hamper the mating activity, however. Each time the male brought back a new stick or clump of dried grasses, he made his intentions known. This pair has never successfully raised a brood, so I’ll be interested to see how they fare this year.

The peace of the morning beach had become a part of me when I returned home to begin the rest of my day. There were lists to prioritize, clothes and dishes to wash, food to prepare for the week ahead and garden chores too numerous to mention. They wouldn’t all get done. Some wouldn’t even get done before the next Sunday arrived, but that’s okay. The most important thing on my list was achieved just after sunrise. I found the calming peace of the sea and the reassuring crunch of sand beneath my feet. I cannot want for more than that in a day.

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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