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The Nature of April

A Cape Cod sketch book

Text and art by Mary Richmond

Spring on the Cape is an ephemeral thing, here today but tomorrow, maybe not so much. She bounces back and forth from warm to cold, wet to dry, sunny days to stormy ones, with the capriciousness of a gnat, laughing all the way.

T. S. Eliot called April the cruelest month in the opening lines of his iconic poem, “The Waste Land,” and I can’t say I disagree.

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Every year, March teases us with  hints of warming days, mornings filling with birdsong and the tantalizing lime green sprouts of the year’s first plants. By the time we turn the calendar page to April, we are practically giddy with anticipation. Birds! Blossoms! Butterflies! Baby animals! But then, reality raises her head, her smile more smirk than grin.

One cause of Cape Cod’s funky spring, or lack of spring, is its unique geography. Unabashedly sticking out into the ocean, some parts of the Cape warm up faster than other parts. A quick road trip from Bourne or Falmouth to Provincetown on a warm spring day will give you a graphic example of how much warmer the upper Cape is. The lower Cape is always a little behind when it comes to blooms and birds. If you want to see the very first wildflowers or ospreys of the season, stay closer to the canal.

In spite of the often inhospitable March weather, right whales return to the bay, herring begin their run upstream and the local gulls start to sport their breeding plumage. Ospreys return and freshen up their nests. Piping plovers and killdeer arrive, and red-winged blackbirds converge upon area wetlands.

Vernal pools, those transient bodies of water that host spotted salamanders and wood frogs as well as fairy shrimp, begin to hop and swirl with activity while turtles, snakes, chipmunks and groundhogs wake from their winter slumbers.

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