Nature Connection: Hello And Goodbye

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustration.

Back when Paul McCartney was writing the lyrics, “You say goodbye, but I say hello,” he probably wasn’t thinking about scoters and ospreys, but that was the song that popped into my head as I stood on an empty beach this past week.

Calling a beach empty is probably an oxymoron, for even if we can’t see them, thousands, even millions of tiny organisms are doing their jobs. Plants such as beach peas are spreading roots and beginning the long journey of sending up shoots through the sand, which in many cases is piled higher due to winter storms. Mollusks and echinoderms are moving closer to shore and crabs are venturing out of safe billows of seaweed to feed in warming tide pools. Gulls, no strangers to seasonal changes, are watching and waiting for them. Signs of successful foraging and gorging are spread across the sand.

The emptiness is a mirage, but compared to the winter, the surface of the sea seems quieter than it was. The eiders and scoters are moving on. Some mergansers and loons remain but far fewer than even a week or so ago. Snow buntings have left their winter haunts and even most of the sanderlings have flown away north. 

Ospreys are arriving, at least on the upper and mid Cape. Plovers have been spotted and in a week or so will be setting up housekeeping. A few oystercatchers have shown up and willets won’t be too far behind. Horned larks, song sparrows and Savannah sparrows are singing and flirting and letting their intentions be known.

Red-winged blackbirds and common grackles are far from subtle in their domineering ways. They can effortlessly call and make a ruckus all day long, something those living near ponds, marshes and streams can confirm.

Right whales have been here for a good part of the winter and about 90 of them are currently in Cape Cod Bay, according to the Center for Coastal Studies. Some have been seen near the canal off Sandy Neck and Scusset Beach this week and hearsay has it that at least one was escorted through the canal this past week. Many will migrate farther north for the summer, and the humpback whales will arrive from down south throughout April and May.

Our white shark friends will arrive as waters warm and our smaller harbor seal buddies will head back north for cooler waters. Horseshoe crabs are making their way closer to shore to prepare for their mating and egg-laying season and diamondback terrapins, our only salt marsh turtles, will also be gathering soon for a mating extravaganza, having left their winter resting spots.

We tend to think of spring as a time for arrivals and hellos. We forget that it is also a time for departures and goodbyes. Many of those that leave do so in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness. They are here one day and gone the next. Often we are so focused on the ospreys that we forget about the loons and scoters that kept us company all through the cold and damp months. It’s as if the glamour and clamor of spring makes us forget those that got us through those short, dark days that led to long, darker nights.

Nature is full of hellos and goodbyes. Flowers die off and leave seeds behind, giving us first a colorful shout hello and then a quiet wave goodbye with a promise of return. Fish arrive in large numbers in the spring and lay hundreds of thousands of eggs. Tiny hatchlings swim unnoticed in weedy waters until large enough to quietly escape back out to the open sea when the autumn leaves fall, leaving the trees naked and leafless.

How often do we mourn a loss of an elderly friend or relative only to turn our attention to welcoming a new little life full of joy, love, hope and endless potential? How often have we held our breath when a hawk, snake or fox threatens a nest of baby birds we’ve tried to protect? There is both a beginning and an end, often in the same moment, as all predator and prey interactions prove.

Many cultures have words that mean both hello and goodbye, as if they have the same meaning. Maybe they do. Perhaps each hello holds an inherent goodbye and each goodbye promises a new hello. I like that thought.

As I stood on that beach on a clear sunny morning I watched the waves lap the shore. They were quiet yet insistent. Over and over, they came in and then went out. The words, “You say goodbye, but I say hello,” fit perfectly with the rhythm of the waves and the rhythm of my heart as I watched winter say goodbye and spring say hello.