Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day Trippin'

Our good friend Jack invited us to attend the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's 2012 member's day and annual meeting last Saturday. It was held at the barn on the conservancy's grounds at Fallingwater, the landmark vacation house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh.

The meeting was interesting with info sessions held in the upper barn every 20 minutes or so on various ecological subjects with reports on stream health, local species, trees, butterflies, flora and fauna. We listened for a while to the presentations but we soon grew restless. The outdoors was calling and we were anxious to stretch our legs and get out there in nature.

We found a trail map, got our bearings and set off from the barn, crossing Route 381 and entering the beautiful woods on Tissue Trail. Downhill through the towering hardwood forest, the trail ultimately opened out into the valley at a wooden bridge over tumbling Bear Run on the grounds of what had once been the gardener's cottage. As advised by our trail map, we stopped to listen to Bear Run and feel its breeze. Native brook trout thrive in the cool, clear and aerated stream. Acid mine drainage from small coal mines once threatened this watershed. Once hunting grounds, this land later supported the village of Bear Run, producing timber for railroad ties and mine posts. As resources were used up, the community declined. Today, Bear Run is an Exceptional Value stream, Pennsylvania's highest designation for healthy waterways.

Bear Run later became a summer camp for Kaufmann's Department Store, with a clubhouse, dance hall, rustic cottages, and a streamside pool. It was a two-hour train ride from Pittsburgh. In 1933 the camp became the Kaufmann family's private country retreat. Their greenhouse once stood between the apple orchard and the gardener's cottage.

We stopped at a rock outcrop that began 600 million years ago as sand at the bottom of a vast inland sea. The compressed sand became hard sedimentary sandstone. Rain and flowing water slowly washed away the softer layers and exposed the hardest stone. These earth patterns inspired Frank Lloyd Wright. Bear Run cascades swiftly west from Laurel Ridge to the Youghiogheny River along a rocky path begun millions of years ago. Its waters carved out this valley, forming a moist microclimate where native rhododendron thrives. Their white blossoms dot the landscape in midsummer.

We felt lost in time. The air was cool and humid and the mid-morning light was misty due to the persistent cloud cover. We could feel droplets of water at times and thought it might be threatening to rain, but it was only the dew falling from the newly-leafed tree canopy. As we walked along to the accompaniment of birdsong and the rush of the great stream, we were both energized and nourished by the fresh, oxygenated air. All at once we emerged from the green forest to view, across a driveway bridge that spans Bear Run, the spectacular house where water and building unite.

Our map tells us that Fallingwater is a house dedicated to outdoor living - a retreat from the hectic lifestyle that the Kaufmanns led in Pittsburgh. Local laborers built the main and guest houses between 1936 and 1939 under the direction of a self-taught builder and three of Wright's apprentices. Immediately hailed as a modern masterpiece, its reinforced concrete cantilevers extending out from a masonry core expressed a new freedom in structure. The family used Fallingwater until 1963, when Edgar Kaufmann Jr. entrusted it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

We had come to the end of the trail and enjoyed the spectacular scenery from the overlook where my pictures were taken. Our trail map tells us that in 1952, Frank Lloyd Wright commented, "If you look at the design, you can hear the waterfall." Can you?

We made our way back from fairyland toward civilization, passing through the pavilion that houses the gift shop, cafe and restrooms. We paused to hug a couple of trees along the trail ... after all, we're tree-huggers, aren't we? We arrived back at the barn just in time for lunch, our first outdoor picnic of the year, complete with fried chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, veggie wraps and trays of homemade cookies for dessert.

While dining alfresco, we met some of the other conservancy members, exchanging pleasantries about the surroundings, concerns over issues impacting the work of the conservancy and its accomplishments over the past year, as well as the value of each member's support of such a worthy organization. A grand time was had by us all.

1 comment:

  1. Wow...what a wonderful outing! Thanks for sharing some of the history. I had the pleasure to visit Fallingwater in the 90's. FLW's design truly included the beauty of the surroundings and incorporated them.