Scene from the 2024 Kestrel Land Trust pot luck at a farm house off Hockanum Road. Photo: Hetty Startup

Amherst History Month-by Month 

Late spring in Amherst is the season for graduation ceremonies and maybe driving around with the roof top down. It’s a time to anticipate the bounty of colorful spring flowers, jewel-like strawberries, and the NEPM Asparagus festival in nearby Hadley.

I attended two annual events recently that were pot lucks featuring both asparagus and the simple gift of local, fresh strawberries. These events were in person, in real time as we continue to work our way out of the pandemic and the difficult legacy of the Trump administration. It is a process. Perhaps, like me, you look forward to such times and spaces for the connections they may offer? I’m convinced that such opportunities help to nurture local preservation efforts and the continued protection of our historic assets, whether natural or man-made. 

Kestral Land Trust 
Last weekend, the Kestrel Land Trust (KLT)  held their pot luck off Hockanum Road, under the awesome silhouette of Mount Tom. This area exemplifies why Route 47 is so special; historically it was the site of a ferry connecting Bay Road to the other side of the Connecticut River [I wrote about this in my first Indy article]. Since the Kestrel Land Trust moved from its home by Kendrick Park in Amherst a few years ago to its new offices on Sweet Alice Brook at the base of the Holyoke range, this wonderful conservation organization has gone from strength to strength, adding more lands that have been put into conservation and offering many content-rich and well-organized public programs. Any time we walk by the Amethyst Brook we are likely walking on KLT’s trail.

After sampling plentiful, delicious, and local food, we gathered under the low branches of an enormous tree, and were introduced to new staff and recognized many volunteers and committee members. The program culminated in a hike on a nearby trail. I saw people I hadn’t seen for ages. Some of us ate inside the big red barn while others took their food outside for the stunning views and various shaded seating areas. I felt as if I was at once experiencing something very contemporary but also very old and time-tested. Celebrations like these have been held in this valley for centuries, especially in barns and for much longer, even millennia, along its ancient indigenous trails. 

Scene from the 2024 Kestrel Land Trust pot luck at a farmhouse off Hockanum Road. Photo: Hetty Startup

Amherst Neighbors  
Mill River Recreation Pavilion in North Amherst was the setting this past Monday for a pot luck by Amherst Neighbors, an organization born about six years ago. Amherst Neighbors provides information and services for older adults to promote socially engaged lives while aging at home. 

Attendees enjoyed tables covered with scrumptious food brought by our neighbors in Amherst and Pelham. A beloved volunteer had contributed delicate flower arrangements. Plentiful cold drinks were available. Again, volunteers and staff were thanked. Testimonials by a variety of speakers suggested just how deep the bonds can be between recipients and givers of practical assistance, care, and mutual aid. 

Judy Bowman spoke about her move to Amherst recently, and stated, “I should say yes to help out (for today’s event) because Amherst Neighbors said yes to me.”  A limerick was shared in honor of long-time volunteer, Sue Lowery. Karen Romanowski from the Pioneer Valley Memory unit spoke about their partnership with Amherst Neighbors’ members experiencing loved ones with dementia. The organization has an annual award, set up in memory of Linda Terry, one of its founders, and it was given very deservedly this year to Liz Walsh, who along with Terry was a founder of Amherst Neighbors. In a follow up announcement, Larry Steinhauser from their program committee, wrote: 

Our Program Committee helps to brainstorm educational programs for our members. We usually average two programs a month and have fun selecting topics. While we have done many programs on Zoom over the past several years, we have had recent success doing in-person programs as well. Our last Zoom Program on Memory had 67 participants. Our last in-person program on the Ancestral Bridges Exhibit at the Frost Library (Amherst College) had 30 people in attendance. We have had success with a wide variety of topics and look forward to continuing this effort but we need your help.”

While we all listened to the speakers at the potluck, a big yellow swallow tail butterfly flew around in the shade of the pavilion. 

What these events tell me is that they are of intrinsic value in raising us all up to share in the history of the Valley and to conserve and protect its historic buildings and landscapes. 

Amherst Neighbors pot luck on June 3, 2024 at the Mill River Recreation Area Pavilion. Photo: Hetty Startup
Amherst Neighbors pot luck at the Mill River Recreation Area Pavilion on June 3, 2024. Photo: Hetty Startup

Before I finish there are two groups I need to give a special shout out to relating to this same issue. The first is an even more specific and locally focused group, the Amherst Shade Tree Committee. It is a remarkable thing to have a small group of dedicated volunteers taking care of Amherst’s trees. Like Amherst Neighbors, they are also looking for new volunteers. We can all celebrate that in a recently updated list of Champion Trees in Massachusetts, Amherst has the state “champs” for Eastern Redbud, Japanese Larch, Kobus Magnolia, Sourwood, Sakhalin Corkwood, Sawtooth Oak, Weeping Willow, Japanese Tree Lilac, Japanese Elm, and the Lacebark Elm. They can all be found on the Amherst campus of UMass. 

Finally, having borrowed the word “Pride” for the title of this article, it is also the case that June is LGBTQ Pride Month. Pride Month is a celebration of the beautiful diversity that exists within the LGBTQ+ community. By celebrating this diversity, we can be reminded that our differences make us stronger and that every individual deserves to be celebrated for who they are. Pride Month provides visibility and solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community locally and commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City. I am happy to see that all kinds of diversity are represented in the Town of Amherst’s revised Preservation Plan. With regard to the specific history of the gay rights movement:  

“In the 1980s, in response to the national movement for gay rights, the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College developed on-campus resource centers for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer + (LGBTQ+) students. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Stonewall Center and Amherst College’s LGBA Center later called the LGBTA and now known as the Queer Resource Center—continued to provide resources on- campus to LGBTQ+ students.”

These local organizations are all a part of an active, living culture that contributed to our town’s unique quality. June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ love and resilience while also calling attention to important policy and resource issues that the community faces. 

Pride month feels particularly special in Western Mass, perhaps because 20 years of marriage equality springs from this part of our state. Currently showing at Amherst Cinema is the movie ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. And, to beat the heat, you can stay home, and enjoy a special film series on PBS. 

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