“Tomorrow will be the pick of the week,” the weatherman said as he grinned through the TV screen at me. “The sun will shine, the humidity will drop and the temperature will be perfect. It may be the best summer day we’ve had and will have.”
I took him at his word and gleefully planned my day. Amazingly, I had nothing on my calendar that couldn’t be moved around. I packed my sketching and painting things, my binoculars, and my sunscreen. Then I went to bed with a smile on my face.
The day dawned just as predicted. Both warm enough and cool enough, no humidity and the sun rose brightly right on time. I made my lunch, filled my water bottle, and headed for one of my favorite places.
One of the reasons places become favorites is they never disappoint. Time of year, time of day, fickle weather, nothing interferes with their wonderfulness.
This particular spot has been a favorite of mine for about 60 years. We’re not allowed to run about in the dunes anymore due to erosion and too many people, but I have many fond memories of wandering through the dunes when I was young. The beach itself is long enough to make for a half day’s walk and on the backside is one of the largest, oldest marshes on the Cape. There’s something for everyone and it’s never the same.
I’ve found thousands of squid washed up here and watched right whales feed offshore in winter seas. I’ve found seal pups on the sand and seen more than my share of washed up mola molas, ocean sunfish, that seem to strand every fall. If I hit it just right on a windy day in fall I’ll see a show of gannets diving and fishing that can’t be beat, and if I hit a calm, cloudy day a few days later, I may be treated to the sight and sound of thousands of winter ducks sitting on a glassy sea, having just arrived from up north.
There are deer and coyotes, foxes and bob whites. There are ospreys and terns in season and a parade of migrating shorebirds each spring and fall. There are beach plums and marsh mallows, rosa rugosa and more poverty grass than I’ve seen anywhere else. There are scrub pines and red cedars and enough poison ivy to make me itch just thinking about it.
On this morning, the beach and dunes are quiet. The crowds have not arrived yet, so the sandpipers and plovers have the beach to themselves as the tide recedes. An osprey scans the water for a sushi breakfast and the sky is bright blue in contrast to white wispy clouds.
On the marsh side the heather is fading but the huge pink marsh mallows are still blooming. Beach plums are still pink, not yet purple. Poison ivy is turning red and the bayberry bushes are packed with waxy berries, a fact those tree swallows soaring overhead will soon appreciate.
I’m on the lookout for baby diamondback terrapins, or at least their tracks where I found tracks of females as they left the marsh to lay eggs in the dunes in June. It doesn’t take long to find my first set of tracks. The hatchling had made its way up and down a dune, crossed the sandy path where I stood and made its way into the marsh, where hopefully it will stay safe through the winter. These little guys are easy prey for crows, foxes and other predators, but this area is well monitored and many hatch safely and make it to the marsh.
After spying a few more sets of tracks I settle down to paint. One is humbled in beautiful settings like these, for no paint or brush can match the beauty nature has thrown down on her earthly canvas. I don’t pretend to try. My goal is to sit still, observe, splash some water and paint around and fully engage with my surroundings.
Young catbirds frolic in the shrubs nearby while a young towhee tries out his voice. Swallows twitter overhead and a robin calls from a bent pine tree behind me. A phoebe stops, tail bobbing as it watches me from afar. A red-breasted nuthatch that has been calling in the distance arrives on a branch so close to the robin that they both look surprised. The robin loses the staring contest and moves on while the nuthatch moseys about looking for food. The trees here are short and stunted by salt and wind but still productive, and they are often full of birds.
Later in the morning I put down my brush and just soak it all in. The sun, the breeze, the sound of crickets and the calls of ospreys. Soon enough I will have to return to the “real” world, but right now, this feels more real than anything I can imagine. Sometimes making time in our lives for a little daydreaming outside is the best medicine we can receive, and it’s free!