Nature

Saving Injured Animals

Carol Holmgren lifts a baby bunny—a kit—from its bed at Tamarack Wildlife Center in Saegertown, Crawford County, for morning ministrations that include potty training and breakfast. Just four days old, the tiny Eastern cottontail weighs little more than an ounce and its eyes and ears are still closed. He and three littermates were brought to …

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A Natural Escape Minutes from Downtown

Some of the deep ravines in the regional landscape provide secluded getaways for hiking and exploring, while not far from the urban center. One such special place is the 370-acre Toms Run Nature Reserve, eight miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh, off Route 65 just before the I-79 interchange. The stream that intersects the reserve, Toms …

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Counting Your Chickens During COVID

Buff Cochins: sold out. Barred Rocks: sold out. Light Brahmas: Sold out. Not a hen of my choice available this year from Murray McMurray, the hatchery in Iowa where I’ve ordered peeps for 30 years. This has never happened before, but due to coronavirus, suddenly everyone wants to be a chicken farmer. I had no …

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A Walk in the Northern Woods

About two and a half hours northeast of Pittsburgh is a remote property in Elk and Clearfield counties known as Bennett Branch Forest. The 1,500-acre tract owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy adjoins Moshannon State Forest. Visitors can hike a newly designed 3.6-mile round-trip trail through forests of mixed oak, sugar maple, black birch and …

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Floating on the Shenango River

One wonderful way to see portions of our western Pennsylvania landscape is to paddle a river or stream by canoe or kayak. One place to paddle is the upper Shenango River in western Mercer County, 70 miles north of Pittsburgh. A 23-mile stretch flows unimpeded between the Pymatuning and Shenango reservoirs. The Iroquois name Shenango, …

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The Invincible Elder

“Judas was hang’d on an elder…” —Biron in Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” “What shall we do with it?” Ron Weasley asked Harry Potter and Hermione in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.” “It’s the elder wand. The most powerful wand in the world. With it we’d be invincible.” Who knew that the lowly-looking shrub perched …

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Ramps

At Greene County’s 29th Annual Ramp Festival on a sunny Saturday last April, a party atmosphere was in full swing with crafters, wood carvers, metal workers and a band. But the main draw were about 15 vendors selling ramp chili, ramp sausage, ramp cookies, ramp mints, ramp butter, ramp wine, ramp hardtack, ramp pancakes, ramp …

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Fallingwater and Bear Run Nature Reserve

Southwestern Pennsylvania now has a world Heritage site. Fallingwater, designed in the 1930s by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family, was inscribed this summer to the UNESCO—United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—World Heritage List. It’s in good company: the few structures in the United States on this list include Independence Hall, the Statue …

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Trying to Save a Horse

There have been phone calls in my life I wish I’d never received. I was cold and wet from swimming in an Irish lake when I returned to the house to see my husband standing in the driveway. Waiting for me. That wasn’t normal. My father had called. My mother was dead. She was unloading …

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Pathway to Pain

I’ve always been enchanted by the idea of a days-long hike—to head off into the woods with nothing but a pack and the possibility of adventure, much like Bill Bryson in my favorite book, “A Walk in the Woods.” But with two kids and crazy soccer schedules, I really can’t afford to take six months …

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The Urban Deerhunter

Every July, along deer trails in pockets of forest in and around the city of Pittsburgh, Dan Krivanek and his buddies hang a bevy of camouflaged infrared LED hunting cameras in the crooks of trees. They also strew cut up apples and feed corn. Then, back in his Bridgeville borough home a few miles away, …

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Where Nature and History Collide

Here are a few state parks in Pennsylvania that offer nature at its most dramatic and some history of what life was like long before barcodes, internet and smart phones. McConnells Mill The park wraps around a restored 19th century gristmill that ground buckwheat, oats and corn with the force of the wild stretch of …

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Memoirs of a Quehanna Chief

“Wanted: Young men, college graduates, comfortable outdoors.” ­—Uniontown Evening Standard I was enthralled by a classified ad that appeared in late March 1976. To work in some way conserving the outdoors where I’d grown up fishing, hunting and foraging wild plants was how I’d always envisioned my life. But what job could this be? The …

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Hunting Ginseng

“In passing through the mountains, I met a number of persons and pack horses going over the mountain with ginseng.” —George Washington’s Diary, 1784 I am grateful for the locals who taught me so much about rural life. Our mail carrier showed me morels, our babysitter taught me about “onion snow,” and last fall, Gary, …

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Our Glacial Heritage—Moraine State Park

One of the largest and most popular parks in Pennsylvania is Moraine State Park in Butler County, an easy drive north of Pittsburgh. The park offers 28 miles of trails, boating, swimming, fishing, ice-fishing, hunting, horseback riding, cycling and educational programs. Overnight accommodations include both campsites and lakeside cabins. The story of the park begins …

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The Price of Nature’s Beauty

Second in a three-part series: Even modest exploration of Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests reveals their gifts: hidden waterfalls that appear along hiking trails, imposing rock formations bolted with anchors for climbing, lakes created by dams for swimming and boating on warm summer days, and rivers and streams stocked with fish for the catching. Some …

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Catching Critters

The second floor office window of my home looks out over a lovely rural valley 25 miles east of Pittsburgh. Immediately below my window is a field that slopes away to a line of trees about 50 yards away. From my perch, fauna appear intermittently and behave as if I’m not there, as if I’m …

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The Fly Fisherman’s Workout

Big-woods trout fishing takes the fisherman to spectacular natural places. Wild brook trout, in particular, demand we hike deep into the forest, improving our physical and mental health by walking long distances, relaxing our minds and feasting our eyes on one beautiful vision after another. The sun’s morning rays angling down through dark green hemlock …

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Beavers Don’t Get Headaches

“A beaver sits on the riverbank watching all of this unfold.” —from “Cairo” by Sara Miller In my small and random survey, people know, at the very least, that beavers chew wood, build dams, have big teeth and large tails. That’s about all I knew, until beavers moved into our farm pond. Turns out North …

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The Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr., Trail

There is a beautiful new trail to hike, just outside Confluence, a quaint town in the Laurel Highlands situated at the confluence of the Casselman River, Laurel Hill Creek and the Youghiogheny River, in Somerset County. Confluence is a popular area for hiking, paddling and fishing, and it is one of the notable stops for …

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The Cicadas Are Back

“I think they’ll miss the party,” said John Wenzel, director of Powdermill Nature Reserve when I sent him these photographs of a cicada nymph shedding its skin. The nymph hatched too early, he told me, and will have difficulty finding a mate. No doubt my photos were commonplace to an entomologist, but I had never …

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Crown Jewels of the Commonwealth

A stand of old-growth hemlocks with trunks nearly four feet in diameter towers over a trail cut along a creek shrouded in mountain laurel that ripples through Laurel Hill State Park, part of one of the largest state park systems in the nation. It rose from a Depression-era work program that employed young men desperate …

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