The spring season has a subtle presence on Cape Cod. Surrounded by cool waters, the land warms up at a glacial pace. While inland friends begin to talk about picnics, baseball games, and sunbathing, we are still bundled up in fleece, trudging along our beaches with wind-burned faces. Still, there are days in March and April when the sun feels so warm that you can lay down on the sand and almost believe you are sunbathing . . . so long as you keep your parka on.
There is an austere beauty to the beaches and the marshlands at this time of year. The first week of March as my husband and I walked along Centerville’s Long Beach, the light on the ocean was so bright, we had to put on sunglasses. The marshes glowed gold and it was warm enough that our 15-year-old Lab dove into the ocean after a flock of Mallards.
We said to each other that we are lucky to live here, natural riches all around us. Sometimes when I look at the Cape landscape in the winter or early spring—the spiky marsh grasses, stunted oaks, twisted pines, scrubby cranberry bushes and prickly cedars, I think of what Mayflower pilgrim William Bradford wrote about his first sight of the Cape on a December day in 1620.
Bradford described the Cape as “a hideous dessert (sic) wilderness . . . of a wild and savage hue.” I think that description is still apt, even though we try to tame this unruly place with our manicured lawns and perfect gardens. Still, we all know that nature can blow away all our orderly impulses in a heartbeat. After every winter storm our beaches and marshes are altered, sometimes dramatically. That is what happened this winter to the shell tree on Long Beach.
For years we have admired the shell tree, a scraggly, long gone cedar festooned with shells by walkers. The first time I saw it, I thought something magical had happened on that cool April day and that the tree in the distance bloomed with some kind of rare flower. The tree was a white cloud in the distance, limbs heavy with shells.
There have been some bad storms this winter and when we saw the shell tree on our recent walk, several limbs were gone. The shell tree is a sad sight now. But we discovered that something wonderful has happened. All along Long Beach’s trails, shrubs and trees are covered with more shell flowers.
Our daffodils may be late and our lawns slow to green, but on Long Beach there are flowers blooming year-round on this, our splendid wild desert.
Susan Dewey, Associate Publisher & Editor