Passion: It makes all the difference

Passion can be defined in many ways. The definition that pops up around me the most is “intense enthusiasm: a strong liking or enthusiasm for a subject or activity.” I am lucky enough to work in a place where that definition defines the workplace. Audubon is filled with passionate people who absolutely love what they do, love sharing their knowledge, and love being outside.

There is so much going on outside that it is easy to get drawn in. I spent last Saturday morning with the bird banders at Audubon and it was amazing! These people not only are genuine experts on birds, they are filled with passion and excitement for the birds they are finding.

It’s not unusual to hear someone really into birds to gasp and marvel at the colors on an elusive Golden-winged Warbler or the showiness of a Baltimore Oriole. That kind of excitement and enthusiasm comes through when you hang out with a bird person.

Of course, not everyone is a bird person. Nature people are as diverse and unique as nature itself. The thing that unifies them is passion. Some people have a passion for reptiles, like snakes and turtles. Other folks love wildflowers. There are people who have a passion for insects. There are over 400 types of moths in our area and 76 kinds of dragonflies (Odonata if you want to be precise).

Many of the folks who know the most about these things are passionate amateurs who never intended to become experts. They are people who find a gigantic moth on the screen door one morning and, in the struggle to find out what it was, discover that there is a whole vast world of “mothology” that they didn’t know about. That one discovery and question can lead to leaving porch lights on and idly looking at the moths in the morning. Suddenly, that person is a moth expert that can passionately look at and explain the difference in various moths.

This kind of passionate enthusiasm is the reason I love the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage. For over 50 years, passionate nature enthusiasts have been gathering at Allegany State Park to share their knowledge.

It is almost like regular people don nature superhero costumes for the weekend. The walks are led by a combination of naturalists, biologists and people full of enthusiasm for a topic. For 364 days a year, these people are landscapers, engineers, karate instructors and yoga teachers who have a passionate nature hobby. At the pilgrimage, for that one day (or two) these people lead hikes about the topics they are most excited about: insects, skulls, birds, wildflower, ferns, moths and more.

Their passion, knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious, as is their excitement to teach about a topic near and dear to their heart. My first pilgrimage was in 1997, when I was new to the area. I went alone, not knowing many other “nature” people. I quickly found that the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage was full of people that were not only passionate, but genuinely kind, caring and fun.

This year, I am looking forward to going with my wife and kids. It’s like a great big family reunion. Everyone comments on how big the kids are getting. Play dates with kids from far flung parts of the country are set up with people we see one weekend a year. Some people have been coming to the pilgrimage each year for their whole lives, others are new, but all are welcomed. Walks are a mixture of neophytes and experienced people, joined together by an eagerness to learn and experience something new.

The pilgrimage is full of traditions, like morning bird banding and nighttime owl prowls that are scheduled, as well as the informal afternoon ultimate Frisbee game that seems to spontaneously happen each year on Saturday afternoon. It is an oasis of relaxed family friendly fun in an overscheduled world fueled by electronics.

The Allegany Nature Pilgrimage is held in Allegany State Park each year on the weekend after Memorial Day. This year, that is May 30 through June 1. It is held in Camp Allegany on the Red House side of the park. The weekend costs $40 for adults, $20 for students and $5 for children. It’s free for children under age five. You can rent a cabin, tent camp in the park, or drive in for the day. You can go on a dozen or more programs over the course of the weekend.

More information is available at www.alleganynaturepilgrimage.com. The pilgrimage is a joint effort between the Jamestown Audubon Society and Audubon Chapters in Erie, Buffalo and Rochester.

Jeff Tome is a senior naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary at 1600 Riverside Rd., outside of Jamestown, N.Y. He will be leading hikes at the pilgrimage entitled “Weird Nature.” More information on other Audubon programs is available at jamestownaudubon.org.