Chapter One – House of Earth and Sky

Some people say the most splendid thing about a road trip to Ohio is the road trip from Ohio. A month ago I might have agreed. However, if you follow this simple itinerary, you may come away with affection for benighted, rustbelt, flyover, swing state Ohio. Spring is a good time to go.

I had signed up for a two-day nonfiction conference at a small university in a small university town in the middle of Ohio. The keynote speaker, Scott Russell Sanders, was someone whose work I respected. He had written a wrenching essay about his drunken old man I could not get out of my head. Once I decided to drive, I started examining the road atlas for possible routes. There is no getting around Pennsylvania if you want drive to central Ohio from New York City. Two basic corridors exist – Interstate 80 to the north and the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the south. Driving the full distance would take more than a day’s work: so, to break up the trip, where to stop? What’s beyond Harrisburg?



I could finally see Fallingwater – Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece that sits astride a stream in the western Pennsylvania forest. I have been an architecture nerd since a college survey course and I believe Fallingwater to be one of the supreme achievements of twentieth century art. So I went.

I dropped my things at a B&B nearby, then found some very good sushi, and ultimately wound up at the multiplex in time to be disappointed by Star Trek Into Darkness. Early the next morning I wound through wooded hollows pillowed with ground fog to the invisible town of Mill Run, Penna.

Wright built Fallingwater as a weekend home for department store magnates from Pittsburgh. They gave him free rein and what they got was a glory, a stack of cantilevered terraces that stunningly recapitulated the cascade below. The rugged watercourse added music to the breathtaking geometries, while the yellow-green leaves of spring seemed to respond by scattering counterpoints of light over everything. It felt like there was a breeze. The terraces levitated, suspended from a supple column of stone and glass by good fortune alone. Standing the great room, the boundaries of inside and the outdoors dissolved. Somehow, gravity didn’t operate. The sensation was almost Cubist in the way the sights and sounds and smells and textures activated each other. But there was no mistaking it for anything but a family home. It served their needs as it elevated their spirits. Entering Fallingwater fulfilled a persistent daydream.

one thought on “Chapter One – House of Earth and Sky

  1. You had me at “a stack of cantilevered terraces.” Your first pics of the place made me want to go. Your prose insists I go. And Ohio has many nuanced treasures.
    Well done.

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