nature drawing 0906

Several times a year a lifelong friend of mine returns to the Cape from her home way up north. All through high school we walked Sandy Neck like it was our own backyard. It was back in the day when we could walk and wander through the dunes for hours, sometimes sitting on the sunny side of a dune on a winter day solving the riddle that was life that day. Or at least we tried to solve the riddle.

We wrote poems and thoughts in notebooks that we then exchanged and savored. We daydreamed about our futures and who we’d be when we grew up. We shared our hopes and disappointments, our fears and our few successes. Almost all these things took place on walks and talks on the beach, no matter the weather or time of year.

Life happened and we eventually lived in different places. Letters replaced notebooks and even they disappeared as life became busier and more distracting. These days we only see each other for a few days a year but we still walk and talk as if no time has passed at all.

We attempt to solve the world’s problems in our first few moments together, but mostly we just wander and wonder. We ponder the twists and paths our lives have taken. We laugh about the things we sometimes want to cry about, and we stop and look and listen constantly. Our walks take hours, even when the actual distance covered is short.

On a recent afternoon when I got off work, we met at a beach we’ve been frequenting for the last 10 or so years. It’s a quiet beach with a marsh side and an open beach side. We rarely encounter others there, but this was a holiday weekend and no place was private.

At the beginning of our walk we encountered kayakers and sunbathers. We exchanged polite greetings and went about our business. Soon, we left them all behind. A very high tide was quietly receding, and two young ospreys were soaring overhead, their eyes on the water below. Minnows were breaking the surface, leaving little ripples that intersected and spread over the still water. In the distance we could see glints of light in the sandy path that were the shiny little backs of fiddler crabs. As soon as we got close, they disappeared into their muddy tunnels.

All around us were hundreds, thousands of Rosa rugosa hips, round and red, begging to be picked. We sampled a few of these tart treats full of vitamin C and seeds. We found bushes full of almost-ripe beach plums, too. For those not in the know, the rose hips are the big, round, orange and red fruits on the rose bushes and the beach plums are smaller, firm, dark purple fruits that are pink in their unripe stage.

We stopped to watch the laughing gulls scream and bicker as they flew by us. We watched young willets feeding at the edge of the marsh. We picked up this shell and that shell and examined the plants we didn’t know.

The beach heather, or lavender, was fading, but several plants were still sporting their lovely lavender flowers. The Salicornia, or beach pickle, was bright green and crisp and we had to taste it several times to enjoy the salty crunch it is famous for.

As we turned the corner to go on the sandy beach side we felt the wind pick up. The ocean was a deep slate blue and many gulls stood at the water’s edge watching the tide go out. They were watching for stray crabs and fish left behind in sandy pools. When one got lucky, they all gathered and clamored, demanding a share.

We puzzled over a dozen or so small sponges we’d never seen before, tucking one into our pockets to look up later. We made note of plants we didn’t recognize, and the way certain shells grow that we’d never noticed before.

In the end, we parted ways once more. It will be months before we walk and talk again. In the meantime, we each have a pocketful of salty, sandy memories of our wandering and wondering to add to our lifelong collections.

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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