Sports & Outdoors

From the catbird seat

In mid-November, when daylight dwindles, the sky turns flannel gray and a cold drizzle waterboards Pittsburgh, I flap my old, arthritic wings and fly south to Florida—God’s waiting room. Upon arrival, I encounter nice people who inquire where I am from and, upon learning the answer, chirp brightly, “You must be a Steelers fan!” Good …

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Behold the Crow

On winter afternoons, thin inky streaks flow across Pittsburgh skies. They follow invisible channels leading over leafless hillsides, empty schoolyards and ice-strewn rivers. They drift, break apart and reconstitute, often in the city’s East End in great airborne swirls. They are the crows of Pittsburgh. Crows are common in myths, children’s stories and cartoons. Eating …

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The Man Behind the Players

Kevin Colbert grew up the youngest of five boys living in a house on Pittsburgh’s North Side. The house had one bedroom and one shower. The five boys lived in the attic, and they were orphaned by the time Colbert was 15. Recipes for success, however, can be tricky things to gauge. Despite the odds, …

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Laurel Hill Creek

In Somerset County, the cold, clear waters of Laurel Hill Creek run through forests and farmland, state parks and backyards, joining the Casselman River and, just downstream, the Youghiogheny. This picturesque Laurel Highlands stream sustains native trout populations, the rare eastern hellbender salamander, and a way of life. Laurel Hill Creek draws locals and tourists …

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The Ruffed Grouse

Imagine a bird like a chicken, but a little sleeker, a little more wild. Rufous, gray, with a tail that is barred with black and white stripes at the tips. When the tail pops open in a half circle, it resembles an earth-tone parasol. What’s most visually arresting about the grouse is its collar. A …

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The Great Blue Heron

Years ago, I found a long, light bone with honeycomb latticework inside that probably belonged to a juvenile Great Blue Heron.  After a winter storm, the bone lay in a pile of sticks that had blown down from the crown of an oak tree just off the 18th hole of a golf course in Fox …

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Fall Run Park

The verdancy of summer is best experienced in a narrow western Pennsylvania ravine. These places are particularly inviting after thundershowers wash the air crystal clear, polish the leaves to a glistening shine, and fill streams with roiling water. After the rain, the rising petrichor fills the valleys and tempts us to explore corridors winding under bowed …

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The American Robin

The early bird catches the worm,” so the proverb tells us. As the light and warmth of spring slowly thaw western Pennsylvania,  it’s likely that the American Robin will be that early morning bird with an unsuspecting wiggler in its beak. All winter, robins roam the region, foraging in loose flocks for berries and wild …

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A Mountain from the Hill

The wiper blades arched back and forth against the SUV’s windshield, sweeping away an icy rain. Over the narrow, cobblestone streets and vacant, littered lots of the Hill District, DeJuan Blair drove his grandmother’s Buick Rendezvous. He stopped at a light on Bedford Avenue and said, “This is my ’hood. Over there, that’s Whiteside Avenue. …

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Queens of the Court

If you think it’s hard to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers on the field, imagine competing with them for a chunk of the area’s sport-obsessed, male-dominated fan base. But two exceptional women, Agnus Berenato of the University of Pittsburgh and Suzie McConnell-Serio of Duquesne University, are prying some eyes away. Between them, they aim to …

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At Your Birdfeeder

Next time you turn the heat up a notch or pull on a sweater, consider the birds. Birds that winter in western Pennsylvania wear their own down garments, feathers fluffed on cold days to trap warmed air close to their bodies. Bird temperatures run around 104 degrees on average, and on our coldest days, birds …

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Pittsburgh’s Three Seasons

Forget about winter, spring, summer and fall. For Pittsburgh’s most faithful sports fans, there are only three seasons: hockey, baseball, and football. They tattoo their bodies with the names of their favorite teams and paint their cars and homes black and gold. They plan their vacations to accommodate a trip to Steelers training camp, and …

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Great Allegheny Passage

On May 21, 1975, a small train rolled out of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station in Pittsburgh. At the head was a yellow, red and blue Chessie System locomotive, #6600 with asleeping kitten on the side. It was followed by a gleaming stainless steel Amtrak Silver Dome, #9401, and a vintage blue, white, red …

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Autumn Knights

When these nobles gather, they’re known as a parliament. They hold proceedings under cover of darkness and their debates typically end with sudden death for the commoners around them. Whoo are they? Owls, of course. The Great Horned Owl is the tiger of the night skies. The last one I saw was perched on a …

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Staying Close to the Plow

Outside Neal’s Harness and Tack Shop in northern Lawrence County, cars and pickup trucks park alongside Amish horse-drawn buggies. A row of gasoline-powered washing machines, a sideline of Neal’s business, squat in a row beside the entrance. Inside, the smell of leather pervades. Harnesses, saddles, reins, tack and sleigh bells on straps hang from the …

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Zoo View

As creative director and volunteer photographer of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Paul A. Selvaggio has photographed animals for the past 17 years. But it’s not quite a matter of point and click. Unlike Annie Leibovitz, when Selvaggio photographs his subjects, he has to worry about becoming their lunch. The animals’ keepers have been …

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The Rub of the Green

In the language of golf, there is always a “hidden gem.” The hidden gem is a golf course that is little known or even unknown, that someone has visited and then pronounced a marvel. The course generally has been sitting there, probably for many decades, known but to the locals. It could be a Ross, …

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On Nesting

While attention rightly goes to our region’s green buildings, the greenest construction puts them all to shame. It uses only native materials, costs nothing and is totally biodegradable. And the winner is: Bird nests, so many and so varied that we hardly notice them. Look around, and you’ll see evidence of nesting birds everywhere. While …

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Now Batting: Roberto Clemente

Among the baseball bats, telegrams and uniforms displayed in Lawrenceville’s Engine House No. 25 is a 1960 photo some say predicted Roberto Clemente’s legacy. The former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder is leaping up to catch a ball, the cumulus clouds behind him forming what looks like angel’s wings. Twelve years after the picture was taken, Clemente, …

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The Origin of Spring

My benchmark for the onset of spring follows neither the facts of planetary motion, nor the predictions of a rodent. In my mind, spring starts when the daily average high temperature begins to increase after bottoming out in late January. By using this ruler, my favorite part of the year, spring, is lengthened. That magic day …

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Songbirds of Spring

An avian chorus is warming up, a spring concert that begins with a quiet movement and builds to a wild paean to the dawn that almost bounces us out of our beds. Take some time to listen to the growing swell of sound, and since there is usually a relationship, note the habitat in which …

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Crystal Clear Designs

Winter slows the primal routines of nature. Trees shed delicate, food-factory leaves before they freeze. Forests subsist on sugar hived in roots protected from the cold by the consistently above-freezing deep soils. Tender wildflowers abandon all life above ground. Small creatures build their own larders — caches of autumn’s bounty gathered and stashed underground out of …

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