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The Nature of April

Turtles begin to move, especially the big snapping turtles that appear in driveways and roadways as they seek mates. These prehistoric-looking reptiles can live many years once they make it past the early stages when they are small and easy prey. Once they have accomplished their task, they will return to their favored ponds or lakes where they will spend the rest of the season. Our other turtles mate and nest later in the spring, but you may see them out sunning all month when the weather is right.

April is a great time for walking and hiking, bird watching and just poking about. After a long winter indoors, fresh air and the smells of spring invite us outdoors, even if the air is still chilly and raw. Every year, I have my favorite spots to check out all across the Cape. I often carry a sketchbook with me as well as a camera. These days, phone cameras do an admirable job, but there’s nothing like stopping to draw something to really see and experience it. You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy this simple activity. You just need a small sketchbook and a pencil or pen. I often add watercolor to my sketches, but on cold days I wait to add the color at home.

Every year in nature is a little different, even when it feels the same to a casual observer. After nearly 20 years of writing weekly nature columns here on the Cape, I’ve learned that although there are things we can predict fairly accurately, there are often many variables that make each foray exciting, even when it’s a place I’ve visited over and over and over again. 

As a child I was fortunate enough to take natural history classes with visionary educators such as John Hay and Marshal Case at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster. Both taught me the value of stillness, careful observation and how to find the joy in the simplest of finds. Looking through soggy mosses for salamanders with Case and lying in the sand on cold spring mornings to watch the shorebirds forage with Hay taught me that nature unfolds constantly all around us. We just have to look and listen for it. April is a prelude of all that is to come. It has everything—drama, intrigue, tragedy and even comedy. We aren’t going to experience any of it stuck inside looking at a screen.

Today’s world can feel discouraging and overwhelming. Nature is under threat like never before. If we don’t get outside to enjoy her, we will not learn to cherish her. Even if you think you don’t know much about the natural world, it is never too late to just watch, listen and take in the fabulous smells of the beach and the woodlands. The more you are out, the more you will learn. 

April on Cape Cod is often underappreciated. She may be dubbed the cruelest month for her teasing, but the lushness and lustiness of May and the summer beyond would never occur without her.

Get outside, and don’t forget to get down on the ground to smell the mayflowers. They are divine, and there’s nothing else like them. And, don’t be fooled by their name; they begin blooming in April. That alone makes this early spring month a winner in my book.

Mary Richmond grew up in Hyannis. She is a nature columnist and artist, an amateur naturalist and educator. She teaches sketching and watercolor at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. You may reach her at 

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