Many, many years ago I moved to Mississippi for a short time. While I was there, I discovered the Southern tradition of mothers packing their families into the car to head to the lake or the mountains for a summer together, leaving fathers to come visit on the weekends. All great literature describes different versions of how people are steeped in and defined by their local geography.
These are the ties that bind us to each other in fierce loyalties and mutual support through the toughest of troubles. I recognize these bonds from growing up in Alaska, where communities are tied together out of necessity, to support each other through tough winters and demanding summers. Over the years I’ve lived in New York, I’ve paid attention to the outdoor experience of New Yorkers and the importance of the seasonal migrations families make to the Adirondacks or across the Canadian border.
Then just a few weeks ago I discovered the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage, now in its 59th year. Although not a full summer away in the woods with your friends, family, and neighbors, it is a very full weekend at the very beginning of summer, full of activities and outdoor events, easy to plan for, simple to join, accessible to all ages.
For one weekend in early June, outdoor enthusiasts from all over the area travel to the mountains for three days of community among naturalists, geologists, birders, foragers, artists, and writers. If you pack up your family or hit the road solo, you can pitch a tent or book a cabin near the creek, close to the lake, or tucked back into the woods. Connect with friends, attend nature presentations under the open sky, hike through the woods, and investigate programs about trees, flowers, ferns, insects, birds, salamanders, reptiles, animal tracks and signs, mammals, geology, astronomy, ecology, fairy houses, yoga, paper-making, photography, and on and on. Live reptiles and birds of prey will also be present.
Originally designed for conservation newbies, the Pilgrimage covers a wide range of general topics for all ages. Among the dozens of workshops and programs being offered: Lauren Makeyenko, Director of Education with Buffalo Audubon Society, leads Fairy House builder workshops for age 8 to adult. Teaching artist, poet, and nature photographer Karen Lee Lewis offers a nature writing workshop. Wayne Gall, US Department of Agriculture entomologist (the study of insects), and Steve Daniel, international ecotour trip leader, lead several bug expeditions, including an all day “bog slog” in search of dragonflies. Dr. Allen Podet, Buffalo State College philosophy and humanities professor, leads a kid friendly and long popular Fern Walk. Aurora Waldorf School teacher and parent Mary Lyn Nutting leads a morning ski trail hike. Wildlife biologist Chuck Rosenburg will lead his ever popular owl prowl. Writer and artist Liz Urbanski Farrell will teach a watercolor class for painting birds using John James Audubon’s ‘natural state’ methodology. Many of the workshop leaders have been coming to the Pilgrimage for years, some for decades, many with their families, and all say it’s one of their favorite events of the year. Full workshop descriptions are available online.
Weekend check in opens Friday, June 2 at 10 am, with the first ninety minute to three hour hikes and programs kicking off by 1 pm, continuing into the evening past 9:30 pm. Saturday morning programs start up at 6 am for a bird walk, followed by bird banding at 7 am. A chicken barbecue or vegetarian dinner is available for dinner, followed by a folk concert and more evening activities. Sunday morning includes another bird walk and banding for early risers with additional programs wrapping up by midday.
Online registration is open now through Friday, May 26 at www.alleganynaturepilgrimage.com. Weekend registration for non – Audubon members is $35 but will increase to $45 after April 24. All children are always $5.00 each. Saturday dinner is additional. A daily rate is available in person for $25. Note that cabins and tent sites are filling up quickly. Call your friends and family, make a plan, pack the bags, round up the kids, and soak up the great outdoors for an afternoon or three full days. These are the days that define and shape our lives, that hold the memories of our youth.