A Tree Grows In America

Banished from public view in our cities, this two-hundred-year-old import is alive and well behind the scenes

“SHE LOOKED DOWN into the yard. The tree whose leaf umbrellas had curled around, under and over her fire escape had been cut down because the housewives had complained that wash on the lines got entangled in its branches. The landlord had sent two men and they had chopped it down.

“But the tree hadn’t died … it hadn’t died. Read more »

The Conundrum Of Corn

It’s our most important, profitable, and adaptable crop—the true American staple. But where did it come from?

In 1748 an inquisitive Swede named Peter Kalm, a protégé of the great botanist Linnaeus, came to America to find plants that could be useful in his country. He went around asking questions of everybody about everything. He asked Benjamin Franklin about hardy trees and was told that English walnuts did not survive Philadelphia’s winters. He asked John Bartram, the most knowing botanist in the colonies, about timber and was told that American oaks were not as tough as European.Read more »


Piskiou,Vaches Sauvages, Buffler, Prairie Beeves—

One morning in July, 1966, a lone buffalo bull grazed near the highway on the mountain between Virginia City and Ennis, Montana, unmindful of the click of camera shutters or the rustle of hesitant tourists getting in and out of automobiles. Nor did his tail rise and kink at carloads of miners and cowboys and store owners and the rest of us, come up from the towns below.Read more »

“whoso Would Learn Wisdom, Let Him Enter Here!”

So read a welcoming sign over the door of Charles Willson Peale’s great ill-fated museum

In the summer of 1786, an advertisement heralding the appearance of a revolutionary new institution appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet: MR. PEALE , ever desirous to please and entertain the Public, will make a part of his House a Repository for Natural Curiosities—The Public he hopes will thereby be gratified in the sight of many of the Wonderful Works of Nature which are now closeted but seldom seen.Read more »

Unearthing The Mastodon

Peale’s Greatest Triumph

During the spring of 1801 Charles Willson Peale learned of a remarkable discovery—the huge bones of an “animal of uncommon magnitude” had been found in Orange and Ulster counties north of New York City. The great relics were scattered abundantly through the swamps where the local farmers dug white marl for fertilizer but they were rapidly being dispersed among clumsy, amateurish collectors. No one had yet assembled a complete skeleton. Read more »

The Longest Walk: David Ingram’s Amazing Journey

He was the first Englishman to give a detailed description of the North American wilderness. Was it a pack of lies?

“Does the name David Ingram mean anything to you?” I have been going around asking. The answer is almost always no. Yet if Ingram is to be believed, he and two others with him accomplished perhaps the outstanding walk in recorded history. It seems undeniable that they were the first Englishmen to see anything of North America behind the coast, as certainly Ingram was the first to report on it. David B.Read more »

Getting To Know The National Domain

One hundred years ago, Congress created two agencies—the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ethnology. Both, according to the author, have since “given direction, form, and stimulation to the science of earth and the science of man, and in so doing have touched millions of lives.”

  Read more »

Johnny Appleseed

The quietly compelling legend of America’s gentlest pioneer

“There is in the western country a very extraordinary missionary of the New Jerusalem. A man has appeared who seems to be almost independent of corporal wants and sufferings. He goes barefooted, can sleep anywhere, in house or out of house, and live upon the coarsest and most scanty fare. He has actually thawed the ice with his bare feet. Read more »

In Furor Hortensis

The Garden Club of America-once the diversion of leisured ladies—is now a vigorous environmental league

The young should be trained to love flowers and take care of the garden shrubberies. Such knowledge and taste are greatly needed in our land,” counseled Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1858. The editors of that genteel monthly went on to note with alarm: “The surface of the United States is undergoing a revolution that must change its appearance and atmosphere. The hand of Industry is everywhere displacing the decorations of Nature, the hand of Art must add new beautifyings or the country will be unsightly as well as unhealthy.Read more »

A Plundered Province Revisited

The Colonial Status—Past and Present—of the Great American West

The pelts of beaver, the dust of placer gold, the tongues and hides of buffalo, the proteinaceous feed of native grass, the smeltings of precious and commercial minerals, the viscous gush of oil: these have been the elementals of the American West shipped eastward to enrich the nation while the West historically went begging, went bankrupt, struggled to recover before being exploited anew. Bernard DeVoto defined the cycle of mercantilism and misuse in a celebrated essay in Harper’s in 1934.Read more »