Nature

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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Hiking in Laurel Hill State Park

Second only to Alaska, Pennsylvania hosts more than 86,000 miles of streams and rivers. Our state also provides hundreds of hiking trails covering elevations from near sea level to the highest point in the state, Mount Davis. While ridgeline treks often offer sweeping vistas, Pennsylvania’s best hikes also include forested trails along our beautiful streams. …

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Against the Grain: The Tale of a Fallen Maple

Just after dawn on the beginning of a humid day, the copse below my hilltop home appeared out of order—something just not right. I crunched about 100 yards down my gravel driveway to investigate. The large maple, one of the bigger trees on my property, had toppled over, pulling up its roots when it fell. …

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The Tionesta Natural Areas

The largest remaining uncut forest in Pennsylvania is the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. This remote 4,000-acre area is almost equally divided between the Tionesta Research Natural Area and adjoining Tionesta Scenic Natural Area, which are managed for science and aesthetic values. Situated along creeks at the top of the 2,000-foot-high Allegheny High Plateau, …

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Wild Bones

My daughter brings home bones and piles them on the driveway: femur, rib, jawbone with a few flat teeth attached, dozens of thin arced parts. —from “My Daughter Brings Home Bones” by Jennifer Richter The American photographer Sally Mann, controversial in the 1990s for the photos she took of her naked children, has a fascination …

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Patterns at the Reservoir

With winter’s storms and frigid temperatures come delicate specimens of nature’s beauty, for those attentive enough to notice. Over several years, photographer David Aschkenas captured the natural art of ice patterns on the surface of the Highland Park Reservoir. Enjoy the beauty of freezing temperatures—without needing to bundle up—in this photo collection by Aschkenas. View …

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Highland Park: When Ordinary Becomes Dramatic

Photographer David Aschkenas has been walking through East End’s Highland Park for many years. When visiting the same area on a daily basis, you begin to see dramatic changes in the same landscape due to the changing of the seasons and weather changes. As Aschkenas shows in this hauntingly beautiful photo collection, something that looks …

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The Brush Hog: Thoughts on a Fall Field Cutting

Twice a year, in June and October, I cut the long grass and other species of plants, named derisively as weeds, in my fields. It’s a bit like cutting grass with a huge lawnmower. I use a Kubota tractor with a twin-bladed brush hog attached. The cutter is about eight feet wide. For most, no …

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Saving Bats and Great Fishing Along Spruce Creek

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has recently acquired a unique property in northern Huntingdon County that does two unusual things—provides public access for world-class trout fishing on Spruce Creek and helps save struggling bats with desperately needed habitat. In addition to the exceptional fishing, this 13-acre property includes a major limestone cave network that may provide …

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The Mysteries of Feral Bees

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery, The revery alone will do, If bees are few. —Emily Dickinson I am a failed beekeeper. I had two hives. One died the first year and the other lasted about five, from which I got beautiful honey, …

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Tryon-Weber Woods Natural Area

There are many forests to enjoy in Penn’s Woods, but one of the best examples of a mature beech-maple forest can be found in Tryon-Weber Woods, in western Crawford County about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh. This 100-acre property was originally protected by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1976, and was just expanded last year. …

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Getaway to the Pennsylvania Wilds

Sometimes a person just needs to get away—from work, from people, from everything in the city. For me that means heading up to the hills and waters of upstate Pennsylvania. On one particular occasion, however, not even my hunting/fishing cabin would do. So I packed a one-man tent and planned to sleep out under the …

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The Secret to Finding Morels

“I can’t seem to give ’em up I just like morels too much I like other ’shrooms and such But I just like morels too much Oyster mushrooms mighty fine Seafood and some nice white wine Chanterelles’re tasty too In a wild mushroom ragout Storebought shrooms can be a crutch but I just like morels …

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Fleeting Blossoms of the ’Burgh

April showers bring May flowers, but May showers can quickly destroy the delicate blossoms on flowering trees. Sometimes the blooms only last a few days before a sudden downpour—of which Pittsburgh has been experiencing often these days—washes them away. In this collection of images, Pittsburgh photographer David Aschkenas captures the fleeting beauty by lighting the …

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The Allegheny River

In many ways, the Allegheny River is the centerpiece of our region. It traverses landscapes from wilderness to urban and provides recreational opportunities in many different places along its course. One of the most spectacular parts of the river is the free-flowing 125 miles of the middle Allegheny from the Kinzua Dam in Warren County …

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Making Maple Syrup

What is this?—syrup, maple syrup in a quart jar, syrup my grandfather made twenty-five years ago for the last time. I remember coming to the farm in March in sugaring time, as a small boy. He carried the pails of sap, sixteen-quart buckets, dangling from each end of a wooden yoke that lay across his …

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A Mountain in the Winter

People often hike through landscapes without having a real sense of the place. In the Laurel Highlands, there is an opportunity to get a “sense of place” before or after your trek, by taking advantage of a sweeping bird’s-eye view of the east flank of Laurel Hill and the Laurel Hill Creek valley, at the …

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Winter Patterns

“Where, twisted round the barren oak, The summer vine in beauty clung, And summer winds the stillness broke, The crystal icicle is hung.” —From “Woods in Winter,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Walking our woods in winter, I see the natural world differently than in the warmer months. Distracted by neither color nor blossom, I instead …

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Becoming a Deer Farmer

Deer may be the taxidermy industry’s essential resource, but living deer are making a much bigger economic impact now, thanks to the growing business of deer farming. Deer farming is growing faster than any other industry in rural America, according to a study by Texas A&M University. The business provides jobs to tens of thousands …

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The Art of Taxidermy

The Victorian Era is known for its décor, literature and scientific developments. However, alongside the works of Dickens and the birth of photography, a long-dead style of art re-emerged in Victorian homes: taxidermic animals. That art originally began as a way for scientists to showcase an animal’s biological features and was used by ancient Egyptians …

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What a Rack! The True and Weird Story of Antlers

Doug Lovstuen saw movement first, then his quarry. The average buck’s antlers are seven points, but this one had the biggest antlers he’d ever seen. Sweat dripped down his neck. He aimed. And the buck bolted. Lovstuen’s shot grazed the buck’s neck, stunting its right antler. Two years later, after its gigantic rack regrew and …

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