Felix Neck Festival a Thanksgiving staple on Martha’s Vineyard

Avina Christie isn't quite tall enough to get her face in position. — Photo by Susan Safford

If Thanksgiving traditionally was the day to be grateful for family, abundance, and turkey with all the trimmings, Friday was the time to celebrate the riches of Vineyard nature and community at the 32nd annual Felix Neck Fall Festival.

As much a tradition for many families and visitors as feasting and football, the annual post-Thanksgiving gathering offers a chance to get outdoors and stretch one’s legs after a lazy day of indulgence, meet friends and neighbors, have a break from leftover turkey, and learn some nature tidbits too.

Fun and gently educational activities for children is a main focus of the event, but there is plenty for grownups to enjoy, making the festival a family affair at its best. Blessed with the finest Thanksgiving weekend weather in most everyone’s memory, the warm, bright day drew crowds of nature lovers, packing the parking lots and filling the grounds with laughter, cavorting children, and lots of good will.

“It’s an incredible community event that brings the Island together,” said Felix Neck director Suzan Bellincampi, taking a moment from bustling through the crowd, helping volunteers, and greeting guests. “The amount of community support and volunteer commitment is unbelievable.” Some 60 volunteers had dedicated “hours and hours and hours” to the festival’s success, she added.

With the soothing sunshine, the aromas of fresh popcorn, chowder, and grilled burgers filling the air, and music by The Flying Elbows adding an old-timey country atmosphere, the best place to be was just sitting on a hay bale, enjoying a hearty snack, and soaking it all in. But there were too many compelling attractions to stay still for long!

The Marchand family’s sturdy draft horses pulled wagon-loads of delighted children and their parents around the big field on hayrides. Nearby, Marla Isaac of New England Reptile and Raptor in Taunton kept audiences captivated with her bird demonstrations, fascinating scientific facts, and personal anecdotes. The birds of prey — including a gyre falcon, peregrine falcon, osprey, and three wise owls — perched docilely on stumps, boxes, and stands. Always hyper-alert, they eyed the crowd with as much cautious curiosity as the humans scrutinized them.

“I gave up my life and dedicated myself to nature and teaching people about it,” Ms. Isaac said with a smile. “We spark the kids’ interest in science and being good stewards of the land. I may not be the richest person in the world, but I’m rich in other ways.”

Far from TV sets, video games, and strict schoolday schedules, the children were delighted to run around outdoors and try out the easy-going games and crafts. The Leaf-Identity Beanbag Toss was a hit, likewise the home-grown Squash Bowling game — butternut squash as pins, a perfectly round sugar pumpkin as the ball. Always in demand, busy face-painting artists had long lines of little ones patiently waiting. Good-tempered despite the delay, the youngsters debated what design they would pick: butterfly, lion, seal, or something even more exotic.

Inside a tent, volunteers guided little hands in making nature cards, hand-colored pinwheels, clever “weather clocks,” and stringing cranberry-popcorn garlands. Outside, pine cones and small logs were turned into tasty bird feeders to hang on trees.

Probably the most popular “do it yourself” activity was an extensive wreath-making corner, which offered an abundance of assorted greens, dried flowers, grasses, and pretty weeds, along with wreath forms woven from bittersweet vines. Children and adults gathered decorations and labored with concentration, turning out gorgeous holiday wreaths to bring home.

By midday the 175 stockpiled forms had run out and soon volunteers and visitors too were hustling to weave more to meet the demand.

Volunteer Oscar Thompson, a Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School student, said juniors and seniors from the school have been working to clear a large patch of invasive bittersweet vines, getting rid of the harmful vegetation and providing material for wreaths.

Wind and weather were the focus of an exciting new attraction presented by the Mt. Washington Observatory in New Hampshire. Jeff DeRosa, outreach coordinator for the observatory, along with local observatory volunteer John Pearson, offered fascinating weather facts and a literally hair-raising hands-on demonstration of static electricity and lightning that thrilled young visitors. In a related presentation the next evening, Mr. DeRosa brought oohs and aahs from an entranced audience at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center with a virtual tour of the observatory and stories of life in “the world’s worst weather” at the 6,288-foot summit.

For those who may not have had their fill of pumpkin pie, a bake sale table heaped with sweets was set up indoors among the amphibian exhibits and intriguing owl cam with its view of a hidden nest.

And if anyone possibly could have missed heading to the mall on Black Friday, the shop offered the perfect alternative with nature gifts for everyone on the list.