Sports & Outdoors

Sailing into the Fray

In May, my older sister emailed, wondering if I’d be sailing in the nationals, which this year would be where we spend summers in Michigan. I’d been considering it, but there were two impediments—pulling together a four-man crew and the spinnaker. No problem with the crew, but flying a spinnaker loomed in my mind like …

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Exploring the Cherry Run Game Lands

Traveling east from our Pittsburgh plateau area to the central Appalachian Mountains in the middle of the state makes us aware of the vast and diverse lands of Penn’s Woods. Hikers and nature lovers can experience the unique characteristics of central Pennsylvania’s rugged mountain terrain by exploring the Cherry Run watershed and State Game Lands …

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Building the Buzz

On a brisk October morning, Dr. Bill Bookwalter dons a billowy, white beekeeping suit complete with veil and hikes up a hill behind his Fox Chapel home to harvest honey. Most days, you’ll find him in surgical scrubs, but during his downtime, Bookwalter, a neurosurgeon, practices apiculture: he maintains colonies of bees. While the honey …

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A Modest Proposal

Mother Nature has a sense of humor and the soul of Monet. The change in the yard was startling. In just a week it went from being a crabgrass plantation to a breathtaking carpet of fluffy, soft-white clover, a pastel hand-delivered from the French master himself. But lawns are supposed to be neat and clean …

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The Scarlet Tanager

A bird on fire, a male scarlet tanager perched just above my eye level. He was in a tree at the edge of the Upper Fields Trail at Fox Chapel’s Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. Normally high in the forest canopy gleaning insects in spring and summer, this avian migrant, roughly robin size, had decided that …

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The Lure of Fishing

One of my earliest memories was Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s big home with its very high ceilings in Cincinnati. I was 4, and my aunt gave me a tackle box. As I examined the various fishing lures, my father said, “Be careful that the first fish you catch isn’t yourself.” I didn’t understand him …

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A Walk in the Woods

Cook Forest State Park, home to magnificent old-growth forest, is a prime destination for anyone interested in scenic beauty, natural history and a variety of recreational opportunities. Located 75 miles north of Pittsburgh in Clarion County, the state park is named for John Cook, the first American to settle in the area, in 1826. By …

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A Belted Kingfisher

“From the porch at dusk I watched a kingfisher wild in flight he could only have made for joy…” —Wendell Barry (from his poem “Before Dark”) One summer day not long ago, I sat on the front porch of our farmhouse. It’s a log house, built about 1860 and added onto over the years—a happy …

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Steelers Draft: Matt Milligan Gives the Scoop

The theatrics of the NFL draft reached new heights this year. Between a touching tribute to the late Dan Rooney and a pandemonium-inducing tirade by former Cowboys Wide receiver Drew Pearson, there were plenty of made-for-TV moments. A total of 6 trades were processed during the 1st round, 3 of which involved the eventual drafting …

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Hard Hitter

They’re not really going to miss Ralph Cindrich, those suits with the NFL’s 32 teams. If they think of him at all, it’s in vulgar adjectives attached to the devilish contracts he extracted from them for his clients, such as Bill Fralic’s Rabbi Trust, Will Wolford’s Blind Side contract and Dermontti Dawson’s first-ever option-year double …

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A Waterway Renewed

A beautiful place to enjoy nature this spring is approximately two hours north of Pittsburgh along the banks of the Bennett Branch in Elk County. The Dr. Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area includes 24 acres of forested land, located off State Route 555 in Benezette Township, and provides direct access to this recovering stream. …

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Ode to an Ash

“When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder lions hunker down in tall grasses and even elephants lumber after safety…” —Maya Angelou Ash trees are falling all over our farm—in the woods, on the driveway, by our front door. We shudder, and we lumber after our safety. We walk under these trees, ride horses …

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The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

One spring, I ventured south to Savannah, Georgia, for some sun and warmth. As a coastal locale and part of the Atlantic flyway, it was rich with avifauna heading back to nesting territories farther north in places like western Pennsylvania. It was March, and the streets of that wonderful city were alive with flowering trees, …

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The Northern Cardinal

Winter puts birders in a different mood. There are birds about, but they are fewer and generally more muted—focused on finding food, staying warm and getting through. The birds that stick around for a Pittsburgh winter are hardier, more committed, the stalwarts. They are the loyalists of cold. There is nothing better on a winter …

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Old-Growth Majesty

One of the most spectacular places to visit in western Pennsylvania is an old-growth forest in the Hearts Content National Scenic Area within the Allegheny National Forest. A timber company gave the property to the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1920s, and today this area is home to one of the last remaining untouched …

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Erie Bluffs State Park

One of the most distinctive places to explore in Pennsylvania is Erie Bluffs State Park. Located west of the City of Erie, the park sits along more than a mile of lakefront near Lake City, west of the mouth of Elk Creek and north of PA Route 5. The park’s 587 acres are mostly rustic, …

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Swainson’s Thrush

Fall is a time of movement: college students packed in SUVs returning to classes, younger kids nervous to get back to school, the lazy days of summer fading fast. Millions of birds are moving, too, some passing through the Pittsburgh area en route to wintering grounds to the south. Some of these migrants are more …

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Troutward Bound

Since 1926, when Zane Grey published “Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado,” fishermen have trekked to New Zealand—the other side of the world— to stalk the monstrously huge and famously wary rainbow and brown trout. If only they’d known about Spruce Creek, Pa. If only I’d known… I knew Spruce Creek was famous for fly fishing—that …

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The Clarion River

One of the best rivers in western Pennsylvania for paddling and nature watching is the Clarion River, starting about 70 miles north of Pittsburgh. The Clarion River corridor between the towns of Ridgway and Clarion is remote, rich in public lands and hosts large expanses of uninterrupted forest. Today’s Clarion belies its history. About a …

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Season of the Killdeer

One early summer day, I was walking the paved loops of Hartwood Acres in the North Hills. Off in the distance, a band was doing a sound check on the stage and bass notes were booming through the trees. As I headed west toward Middle Road, I passed some extended patches of gravel. It was …

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Golf’s Gold Standard

The U.S. Open, the toughest golf championship to win and generally considered the most coveted, will be played for a record ninth time across 89 years at Oakmont Country Club June 13-16, 2016. And the Open perhaps owes its existence to a big man with a big mustache who, more than 100 years ago, kept …

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Forever In Bloom

Gardens are fleeting, as anyone with a green thumb will attest. Within two weeks of neglect, weeds invade; within two years, shrubs perish and pathways disappear; within two decades, the garden is but a memory. Fast forward two centuries, when everyone who even remembers the garden is gone…   The Garden Club of America, founded …

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