The morning was warm and sunny, and the prediction was that it would get a lot warmer and sunnier before the day was done. I didn’t have to be at work until noon, so I had plenty of time to go for a long walk and do some sketching. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, a place I knew would be full of butterflies and dragonflies as well as summer flowers and a spectacular view of the bay.

I packed my little sketch bag, threw it in the back seat of my car and headed out on the road. It was early but there was plenty of traffic as I waited for lights to change and then change again before it was my turn to pass through. The radio was playing some funky song by someone I’d never heard of and as I contemplated the fact that that made me feel really old, I realized I had taken the wrong route. Maybe you know the feeling of being on automatic pilot. By the time I realized my error, I was so deep into the wrong way there was nothing to do but change my plan.

The unexpected tornadoes seem to have turned more than a few trees upside-down. People I chat with say they find themselves doing silly things, being confused about what day it is and things like that. They all blame the weird weather. Why not blame the tornado for this as well?

When I reached my destination, it was so hot the air was hazy, and the cicadas were already screaming from the tops of the trees. The view of the salt marsh, however, was spectacular, so I grabbed my stuff and headed across the field to see what I could find down by the edge of the marsh. Like many saltwater marshes, this one had fresh water at its edge, so there was a nice array of plants.

The end of July/beginning of August is prime time for big, audacious wildflowers like the marsh or pink mallow. They are just coming into bloom but there were a few beauties to behold. There was a sea of milkweed interspersed with fat, brown candles of cattails. There were the buds of touch-me-nots and the fiery red stalks of cardinal flower that were holding on to their last hurrah.

Marsh grasses are wearing their finest greens these days, having had plenty of rain to help them grow strong and tall. An osprey landed on a nest in the marsh. The young had left to go hunting, I presumed. They would return to eat and rest but for now, this one bird ruled the roost.

There were yellow warblers, barn swallows, tree swallows and goldfinches. There were lots of catbirds and even more robins. In fact, there were so many robins I couldn’t count them all—well over 100.

A flicker was on the ground looking for ants. It let me get quite close before flying off. Another young bird would be my guess. There were chipmunks by the wooded trail and a wren sang from a signpost. The robins were loud and assertive, chasing each other about. I was a bit confused. And then, I saw what all the excitement was about.

A huge patch of blueberries and wild grapes was growing in a protected sunny spot. There were wild blackberries and pokeberries were ripening. In other words, it was a feast laid out for fruit-eating birds such as robins and catbirds and they were taking full advantage of the largesse. Much of the fruit wasn’t quite ripe yet and was in fact, very bitter. That wasn’t stopping the hungry birds, however. They were gorging themselves. The patch seemed to have been left to grow wild, though it is part of an old farm that is still being managed.

By the time I was done I had seen lots of birds, butterflies and dragonflies. It wasn’t the walk I intended but it was the perfect walk anyway. Sometimes the unexpected can be a delight.

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

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