Bear Run:
A Personal Perspective
By Ben Moyer

At roughly 40 degrees north latitude, and about 2,200 feet above the Earth’s oceans, the Bear Run Nature Reserve folds into the coves and hollows of the Alleghenies’ western slope. Thousands drive by it on their way to Ohiopyle or Fallingwater but the reserve’s complexity, beauty and expanse do not reveal themselves through windshield glass. Bear Run’s boundaries form a crude 5,000-acre arrowhead, broader to the east along Laurel Hill’s crest, so that a motorist sees only a right-ofway slice of the tapering western tip.

Hikers, though, know a spot not far from the Bear Run barn along the Wagon Trail where much of the reserve looms ahead and above. It’s just east of the juncture with Aspen Trail, where spruce plantings stand north of the path, on your left if you’re headed out. Their dark branches, and the bulk of Maple Summit to the south, frame a view of the reserve’s eastern heights.

Farther out is a place along the Hemlock Trail that commands a reverse vista down on the ranks of spruce you stood beside an hour ago. Such a vantage today is rare, where you can look back across a distance over which you carried yourself with your own power, recalling all the clefts and climbs. It is a satisfying perspective, and a provocative one. From there you face
northwest toward a great city spilling itself out into valleys and across the hills.

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Still, Bear Run’s best invitation is to reflect in solitude on the here and now, on process and place. A giant red oak lies fallen across the Ridge Trail, prostrate hint at a forest in flux. Within the radius of its own prone length, still standing, barkless, are dozens of its bleached brethren, posing the same uncertainty as oak forests everywhere.

Moving downslope, you feel the imperative of Bear Run seek eternally the great Mexican your own knees. You must work to hold yourself back. The stream, though, does not work. It careens and piles against the mountain’s stony ribs. Its descent, obstacles not withstanding, is the most certain of constants.

Here, perhaps because they harbor the determined stream, hemlock coves foretell a more stable community than the oaks far above. Where the trail crosses a Bear Run tributary, the bulk of a hemlock stump juts as high as a hiker’s shoulders. Where the bole parted in some storm or wind, the stump is 40 inches across by the rough measurement of an outstretched hand span. Its top reclines nearby, furrow-barked and studded with snags. On this particular day in late autumn, at least three species of moss mat the stump’s splintered top. From within the mat sprout 39 hemlock seedlings, some five inches tall and the same deep green as the surrounding glen. Most, though, are an inch high at most, arrayed with a dozen to 15 needles, pale yellow-green, as the older sprouts might appear if sunlight were ever to sift through the dense canopy above. All else equal, there will be hemlocks here for a long time to come. It is a good spot for pondering the future.

Listen to the wind here long enough and it yields a sense of the knit of wandering air, treetop, earth and root. It consorts with the hemlocks, then mounts the ridge to buffet the oaks. Heard casually, as background, the wind sounds much the same in both locations, but there are differences around its edges, suggesting that if one spent enough time in the woods, then suddenly lost one’s sight, it would be possible to know hemlock wind from spruce, poplar wind
from oak.

Somewhere on the contours above Bear Run is a zone where it is hard to discern the hemlock wind from the stream’s liquid rush. There, where the calls of wind and water blend, may be, if you seek it, the very heart of a good wild place yet remaining.

Ben Moyer, a native western Pennsylvanian, is an award-winning author and essayist whose writing on nature and conservation issues has appeared in numerous state, regional and national publications. He is also an outdoors columnist for the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. In 2002, Moyer was honored as"Conservation Communicator of the Year" by Audubon Pennsylvania and The Nature Conservancy.

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