from Michaux to Fallingwater

On my final morning in the Michaux State Forest, I woke up at 5:40 am (not my normal habit at all) to ride some trails before it got too deathly hot for Hops in Foxy. I had not heeded well the warnings about the trails in this park, so I spent some time bush-whacking and hike-a-biking, and didn’t have the excellent time I maybe could have had; but it was still really good to be on the bike again.

It was a hard ride for me, too – it’s been weeks since I’ve been on the bike – and when I got done and was trying to make myself breakfast, I dropped an egg. A huge, lovely, brown egg from an Amish farm, on the floor of the van, where it broke. I was so distraught and fumbling and bonking that I immediately dropped a second egg on top of it. (This one was only cracked and leaking, so I totally used it.) And Hops wouldn’t even help me clean up! It’s like he’s not a real dog at all.

Breakfast mishaps aside, we had a nice final day in Michaux before heading west.

I had a ticket early the next morning (for the sake of Hops in the van, again) to tour Fallingwater, one of the most famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, in Mill Run, PA. It was an interesting experience; my review is mixed (of the house and of the tour), but I’m certainly glad I did it. The grounds are lovely: an expanse of dense green, lush and moist, with birdsong and a fat happy chipmunk in the strawberries. My impression is that they are definitely trying to pack tour guests in as quickly as possible: each tour group can be only so big, because we have to fit in small rooms and the tour guide has to keep an eye on us (no touching! no pictures!), and groups are right on top of each other, so that we overhear each other and wait for each group to leave a room so we can enter it. This made me feel a bit like cattle, but I understand they need the revenue. Our tour guide was very clear that Frank Lloyd Wright was the end-all genius of the world – he did no wrong. And as you may have figured out by now, I’m a little skeptical of unqualified praise. I think it might have been interesting to hear what we can learn from Wright’s small mistakes, that sort of thing. This is a mild quibble, though. I know he was a groundbreaker and this house is still very special, nearly 90 years on. And I guess you don’t get to be a guide at Fallingwater without admiring the man.

The home is breathtaking, and indeed – in line with Wright’s concept of ‘organic architecture’ – fits beautifully into its landscape. I really appreciated the places where the rock of the hillside formed the home’s floor, and some of the window designs were clever, and the stairs that lead down and into the creek below seem a real treat. I’m impressed, for sure. On the other hand, Wright’s penchant for low ceilings is a dealbreaker for me. Pops, beware: if you ever want to come tour here, you won’t be able to stand upright in a number of the rooms. No, literally. Some ceilings are just 6’4″ high. (One guest asked about this, and our tour guide explained that Wright got it ‘right,’ that he built this house to ‘human scale.’ This is what I mean by being a bit hero-worshippy for my tastes.) Some rooms were quite small; hallways and doorways exceptionally so; low ceilings don’t help. This is a stunningly beautiful place, and I admire it very much, but I don’t think I’d want to live there (nor was I invited, so no worries).

We were not allowed to tour the kitchen, perhaps because it was designed to be ‘utilitarian’ (no frills) because “the Kaufmanns would never see it” – only the staff used the kitchen, silly. Staff quarters (above the eight-car carport, attached to the guest house) were designed in line with the rest of the property, so at least staff lived in spaces as lovely as the Kaufmanns did.

It was a treat to see the furnishings and art, too – including a couple of Picassos and Diego Riveras.

I’m going to share just one picture that I took – we were only allowed shots from outside the house, and there are lots of lovely pictures available at the website, above…

Despite my critiques, I’m really glad I saw this landmark.