more Pittsburgh

Whew: we had a big day walking Pittsburgh, starting with the Point State Park and carrying on through downtown. The Point is where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet and form the Ohio; it’s a geographical point of significance in the city’s history, because of its obvious military strategic importance, for one thing. It’s a lovely space, and site of the Fort Pitt Museum, which we each toured (taking turns, so that somebody could be with Hops at all times. Hops, my dearest ball and chain).

Then we walked on through downtown, visiting Market Square, seeing lots of old buildings (with Karen as tour guide), including the ornate old jail and courthouse…

And the old train station, whose astonishing rotunda totally captured my heart, which is why here are a bunch of pictures of it.

Gorgeous, gorgeous.

We took a little rest in the afternoon, and then I met (quite by accident) a neighbor of Karen’s who is a former Pittsburgh Steeler and celebrated local artist. I accompanied Baron on an ‘art drop’ to leave a painting at a local park for some lucky hiker to find.

I snuck in a couple of beer-related stops –

and Karen treated me (with guests Brian and Baron) to my first ever MOTH Story Slam! I’ve attended some MOTH-style events, but never a MOTH proper.

It was the perfect way to close out my busy time in Pittsburgh, a city I’d be happy to visit again.

busy busy in Pittsburgh

I have been having the nicest visit in Pittsburgh with my friend Karen! (She is much better at taking pictures than I am, too, so that’s a boon here.) We’ve been seeing a lot! First of all, I got into town specifically to go see Matthew Ferrence read from his book Appalachia North at City Books. I am so excited about this book – my review is forthcoming at pagesofjulia, and hopefully a fuller version elsewhere as well.

Matt’s reading was truly special. He picked short pieces from his book to read – out of order – and rolled straight from one into the next seamlessly; and indeed they read seamlessly, too, so that he patchworked a fresh, new essay from the book as if designed for it. I was very impressed; this seems like an art form in itself, choosing selections to read, in a way that so neatly showed what his book is about. I am a fan all over again. Don’t miss this read, y’all. I’ll try and repost a link here to the review when it goes live.

From here Karen took me on a driving tour of Pittsburgh in the dusk, including up to Mount Washington, where we rode the incline down to the edge of the Monongahela River and back up again. My fear of heights was present but not prohibitive. It was a gorgeous view of the city!

Although we’ve just begun our tour, I feel warm already toward this city with its beautiful, old architecture and humble, working-class story. Rivers and hills and old brick: what’s not to love?

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.

slowly across Pennsylvania

I feel like I’ve been getting worse at posting regularly. And at taking pictures. I’m sorry! I don’t know what to say, except that I will try harder.

After leaving the horse farm, I spent another day in Lancaster, the city: visited a very nice dog park (good tip, Daina!) and a brewery. The next day we hit the dog park again on our way to Gettysburg.

I felt a little mixed about Gettysburg. I don’t get excited for war and guns the way some people do. We need to know our history – even, or especially, the unpleasant parts – and I don’t hesitate at the civil rights parts, which can certainly be hard to look at. But the wars, those I don’t like to revisit. And the Civil War bothers me more than most, maybe because it’s still such a wrongfully romanticized cause in the south? I don’t know. At any rate, I did slow down in Gettysburg for a cursory tour – felt I couldn’t do less than that. Hops and Foxy and I drove the auto tour of the National Military Park (almost all of it), though we didn’t stop and get out at every stop.

On the way out of town, we stopped to see the Sachs Covered Bridge, which was used in the Battle of Gettysburg by both sides, we are told. Wikipedia further informs me that it is therefore “severely haunted.” I didn’t see anything unusual, though. Just a couple of locals fishing in Marsh Creek.

From Gettysburg, we headed on to Michaux State Forest, another (like Redden in Delaware) where camping is free! This location was not quite so lovely as Redden – no picnic tables, no toilets in the immediate vicinity – they had me park on a gravel lot with nothing special to recommend it. BUT, just two miles or so down the road was a lovely park area with covered picnic tables and pit toilets. So we spent our days there and our nights on the gravel lot, and I was quite grateful for these accommodations, at the right price.

Hops and I spent a few days at Michaux. I met a friend for lunch one day, and I’m so sorry I didn’t get a picture (bad blogger) with Megan, who I know from grad school. It was so nice to catch up! Otherwise, we just hung out in Michaux. My camp was just a mile or so from the Appalachian Trail, so we enjoyed some hiking – about eight miles in all, although some of that repeat mileage. I also enjoyed meeting various hikers – I didn’t meet anyone doing a proper through-hike, but several section hikers – and the folks performing “trail magic” by setting up to feed the hikers on the weekend. I got to see one of the shelters. Of course I did a little fantasizing about a big backpack of my own someday, but for now I think I’ll stick with Foxy.

We’ll be taking off soon, but this has been another fine respite. It’s always nice to slow down and stay a while, when we find a nice spot. Cheers, y’all.

still on the horse farm

It’s quiet and easy here. I may accompany my hosts on an errand or two, or help out with some gardening, but mostly I loaf around, reading and writing, and I’ve watched a few movies. The place is rich in birds: mostly common ones (bluejay, cardinal, robin, house sparrow, common grackle), but so plentiful and active and vociferous: I am awakened each morning by birdsong. I especially like the barn swallows, which swoop quite aggressively, and although they are small, they are an easy ID, with their red throat, blue back, pale chest, and split tail. I also spotted a red-headed woodpecker – or possibly pileated, it’s hard to tell. (My host says red-headed, and I agree that looks more likely from pictures, but the pileated is more common in this area.)

On a Sunday morning I took a short audio recording of the Amish singing at their home worship, accompanied by birdsong. It was lovely, I think. I’ve decided not to post it here, because that feels a little intrusive. But if you drop me a line, I’ll send it to you, how’s that?

I have not bothered the horses too much, having no expertise there, but I’ve helped walk them to and from pastures and feed them a little. I had forgotten how big horses are! I think my hosts are probably a little disappointed that I can’t appreciate more what they are trying to show me. Oh well.

On my last night here, I’m going to see a play, and that will be a real treat – it’s the kind of thing I’d do more of if I had better accommodations for Hops. Stay tuned for that review, eventually.

I have taken precious few pictures, for which I apologize. I think I left tourist mode when I got so relaxed and settled here. It’s a beautiful place…

on the horse farm in Amish country

I’ve stayed for just about a week now in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which Wikipedia says has the largest Amish population in the world (though at 37,000 just 7% of the local population). Where I’m staying, the Amish are very visible. Mennonites, another of the “Plain” people, make up another distinct group, although it sometimes takes a trained eye to see the difference. I am very curious, of course, but I’d think it rude to start quizzing people I meet on the street. My hosts were able to loan me this book, which has helped some, along with all the questions my hosts have generously answered for me.

The horse farm I’m staying on is owned by medium-distant family, who are of course “English” (as Amish call the rest of us), and they have been kind in letting me – practically a stranger – park and use facilities and hang around. They’ve also taken me out and shown me the world, more than I’d expect your average host to do: we spent a day running errands and visiting Amish businesses, including a tack shop, a grocery store, a dry goods store, a hardware store, a produce & baked goods stand, and then a Mennonite restaurant for lunch. It was very interesting to me to see how they live under certain strictures: kerosene lamps light their businesses, and the hardware store had a very long PVC pipe running from the register to some back area, that they speak to each other through (and through which they honk a bicycle horn, to get one another’s attention). They take cash or checks, no cards. They don’t use rubber on their buggy wheels – those are metal – and they won’t ride bicycles, but their push-scooters do have rubber tires; hmm. They do not use gas-powered locomotion, getting around by horse-and-buggy or scooter, but they will use gas-powered engines for farming – pulled by teams of horses or mules. (This is a fascinating distinction, to me.) They will also take rides in gas-powered vehicles, which has birthed a small local business of “friendly” taxis. My hosts are also sometimes asked for rides, for which they generally turn down the offer of gas money.

I got to meet a few Amish – staff who help out here on the farm – and one lapsed Amish, whose privacy I’ve respected by not asking too much, but boy am I curious. Another day, we drove into another town to buy hay at an auction, and we stepped into the livestock auction for a few minutes. An older Amish man stopped me because Hops reminded him of a good dog he once had; we then stood for some time as he told me about all the dogs he’s ever owned, going back sixty years to the best one. I appreciated that interaction very much.

It’s beautiful here.