Hawk Mountain: Pennsylvania’s natural treasure a teaching tool for outdoor knowledge
I’m extremely lucky that I’m able to spend full summers with my two young grandsons as they grow, because sadly, I know of some grandparents who seldom get to see a grandchild at any time of year.
Consequently, when time with children is abundant, it is far from abnormal for parents and grandparents to wonder what type of person a child will grow to become years down the line. I’m certainly no different.
In the case of my oldest grandson, I have often carefully studied his facial expressions and behavior, trying to ascertain what he might be like in the future. I’ve watched him learn much through his young life. I’ve seen specific interests he showed in varied subjects blossom into forms of pleasure. Much the same with his younger brother. But of all things they indulge with enjoyment and wonder, I’m grateful they both seem to have flowing through their veins a genuine attraction and curiosity for wild creatures and outdoor places – that I’d like to think is genetic.
I’d be a failure if I would not attempt to nourish that special characteristic, hence I chose a day in late August to take the two boys and their grandmother to one of Pennsylvania’s most cherished outdoor wonders, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Only a 35-minute ride from my home, we reached the sanctuary on a pleasant morning with a couple pairs of binoculars, some bottled water and two anxious grandsons. After paying a small fee, chatting with some sanctuary workers and viewing the splendid display of mounted eagles, hawks and vultures that are suspended in a striking side room, we headed toward the Kittatinny Ridge to look for migrating raptors.
We walked a short, well-groomed trail and quickly reached the South Lookout. The boys climbed onto some big rocks there, huge stones ideal for sitting and viewing a deep, wide, lush green, valley that spreads to an opposite mountain.
Within seconds, two black vultures drifted past close to the lookout, and the boys said they knew them as “buzzards.” I took a moment to explain the birds’ usefulness and how nature functions well because of them. During the remainder of our stay on the South Lookout, we talked about what towns and places might be found in certain directions as we gazed at the valley below.
From there, we headed toward the North Lookout along the Lookout Trail. This path was different, as most of its length was rock laden with a moderate slope (noticed by grandparents, anyway).
The boys bounded along the trail with ease, enjoying hopping from rock to rock and easily outpacing their older companions. I managed to keep a steady gait, but grandmother needed a couple of stops. Still, she did well considering this type of walking was at best foreign to her legs.
The North Lookout overlooks an even greater viewing expanse than the South Lookout. When we arrived, other people already stood and sat at this vantage point, all armed with cameras, spotting scopes and tripods, and some with clipboards to keep count.
But there was still plenty of room for us to scale some of the rocks along the precipice and share in the watch for raptors. After a good half hour, more vultures, one redtail, and a single broad-winged hawk were all we saw, the migration’s serious start a week or two away.
Yet, with the fantastic views and wild surroundings, it was great to be there. The return hike was rewarding also, as I showed the boys some deer trails and explained why ancient glaciers were the vehicle for the rocks, both big and small.
Now it is September, and my young grandsons are back in school learning whatever teachers in schools now teach them. I hope, too, that I was able to teach them a few things on Hawk Mountain that morning, or at least place in their minds a memory that will one day bring them back to the Sanctuary when they are older.
For it is here, on an astonishing and extraordinary Pennsylvania mountain, where they will learn something that cannot be taught anywhere else.