nature 11.22 worn feather

The morning was dark and moody, the sky a deep indigo with wisps of gray clouds. The air was heavy, with a long rain that had finally passed, and there wasn’t a sound to be heard. The stars and the moon were well hidden and the silhouettes of the big Norway spruces in my backyard were almost inky black against the sky.

The wind of the last few days had quieted, and the branches of the oak and maple were now bare. November makes herself known in so many ways. On this morning I could be grateful that at least the rain and wind had stopped.

The day wore on, as days tend to do. An errand here, another there. An appointment, a phone call, a few notes to write and mail off before I could be ready for work. The sun was doing her best to push away the clouds, glinting off the tops of trees as I made my way down the road.

The beach was warm, the air soft. The sand, still wet from all the rain, clumped beneath my feet as I made my way to the water’s edge. A few gulls stood by, eyeing me in that way that gulls do. I always wonder what they’re thinking. Are they simply waiting for me to go by or are they planning something a bit more sinister? The way they walk away sideways from me, as if I’m one of the most annoying things they’ve ever experienced, makes me feel a bit edgy, so I often talk back. I’m not here to hurt you, I say, just passing by. They don’t care about words, just where my feet are going. Do I have any food, any tidbits for them? They mosey down to the tidal edge and poke around in the shallow water. It’s scallop season, and they seem to know it as well as the people in their chest-high waders and glass-bottomed boxes that are populating some of our area beaches right now. I’ve watched gulls steal scallops right out of the buckets of busy shellfishermen and carry them off to enjoy away from the crowd.

The sea ducks are here; buffleheads, mergansers, eiders and scoters. Loons and grebes are around, too. Brant, those smaller, dark-breasted geese that winter here, can be seen in many areas, as well. They seem to be increasing in numbers, at least where I regularly visit. The snow buntings are chittering in the dunes, and they all rise and fly off across the channel when a Cooper’s hawk makes an appearance. It’s a cat-and-mouse game these birds play all fall and winter. Usually the hawk seems luckier catching pigeons, and I’m pretty sure they make a better meal than the much-smaller buntings, but they still give chase.

As I walk along the marsh and then a field I find the empty gray pods of milkweed still standing, looking somewhat forlorn these days. The seed heads of the goldenrod are puffy, but more raggedy than they were just a few days before. There are the tall stands of dark seeds of curly dock, the last red berries of the bittersweet and the last of the grasses turning gold and gray. Sparrows feed on the ground, having a lovely banquet of seeds to choose from. Soon enough the feeding will be less secure but on this day, there is more than plenty for all.

There are days when I feel like the world is crazy, falling apart. I can’t make sense of people who think it’s okay to deregulate environmental protections. I don’t understand people who think poison in our food and water is okay. I am not equipped to comprehend people who think they are immune to the dangers they are spewing on “others.”

To remain sane, I find myself enumerating all the little things that still make me happy. I take my joys in minutes, not hours; in a single, elegant feather or a perfectly round stone. There are the flights of birds, the rustle of branches, the quiet assurance of waves coming in and going out. There are sunrises and sunsets, foggy mornings and fat squirrels scolding me from a branch above my head. If we look for the little things that make us happy, we will feel strong and able to cope. Being thankful doesn’t always feel easy in a crazy, maddening world, but there is always something to be thankful for. Step outside and breathe the salty air and try to remember, even the darkest morning can bring on a lovely, sunny day.

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

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