The Laurel Highlands? Heard of them? If yes, then you perhaps you live in Pennsylvania or thereabouts. I hadn’t but had the pleasure of staying a few nights in the mountains there. I spent the night at Blum House, a house designed by an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. At Polymath Park
there are two such houses plus one done up by FLW himself, Duncan House. (My somewhat surreal experience arriving there at night follows.) Duncan House itself is quite cool and it was moved from Illinois to its present location near Donegal, PA. But two other nearby structures often steal its thunder. (Duncan House takes guests, so that is definitely cool points in its favor.) Kentuck Knob
, the only house signed by its famous designer, offers tours and some great stories of FLW’s stubbornness and vision. The 1956 cypress and sandstone Usonian home once had great views but now is nestled among thick forest. A short walk away is a great vantage point of the valley below and a statue garden is spread about the property. Just 7 miles away, however, is the most famous work: Fallingwater
. The cantilever design and the perch over a waterfall make this a remarkable design. A tour gets you some great Wright stories, of course, and you’ll appreciate his genius as much as his obstinancy and tunnel vision. Despite the eye appeal of the design, there are some pretty awkward oversights of human comfort and the roof offers up plenty of leaks. This is all about 1.5 hours south of Pittsburgh and well worth the trip. Combine it with some camping, kayaking, biking and/or whitewater rafting in Ohiopyle State Park. If you prefer less of a secluded place to stay, head over to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort for a hotel that looks suspiciously Wrighteous. More on this place later!
So about my night at Blum House… after a 6 hour drive from New York City, I was pretty damn tired and ready for a bed to collapse into. The drive wound up into the mountains and fog was settling in making me worry about the deer that are abundant up here. I checked in and was left alone in a cold damp house in the middle of the woods. The surrounding landscape was slowly swallowed up in the gray fog and soon after by the dark of night.
I went out to the car and under the light above the door I realized just how impenetrable that darkness really was. A writer, alone in the woods, left to his own imagination. Hm. Sounds akin to The Shining. About an hour before, a beautiful bird flew into the window of my room (which by the way is 3-sides glass in true Wright don’t-obstruct-nature style. I had watched the poor little thing twitch a few moments before it lay still in the grass. I had gone outside to feel if it was breathing. Nothing. Anyway, I go to the trunk with the new Stephen King/author in deserted house idea fresh in my mind, when I hear footsteps rushing toward me from the pitch black around the small circle of the door light. My heart climbs into my throat. The running steps break in a different direction and then stop suddenly. With my heart beating like a rabbit I think, ok, probably a deer. Of course, a deer. But what about bear up here? Then I hear a loud snort. Like the deer is still close by, but sizing me up. Cripes. I go inside hastily. Then I think, how ridculous; it’s a deer who will wet itself if I rattle the car keys for crying out loud. So I go back out and look for my flashlight in the trunk. Can’t find it in the mess that is my mobile office now.
With another wary look into the black, I step back in the house just as something swoops past the door, right behind my head. Gees, NOW what? A robin! There is a nest just above the door to the left. But it’s late now and the robin is still out? Hovering?!?! It is hovering along the eaves and then the wall, I guess trying to catch bugs like sparrows do and looking like a hummingbird suffering from gigantism and trying to work off those extra ounces. But I have never seen a robin behave like this — worm digging, ground hoppers that they often are — and certainly not for a latenight meal. It seems completely unaware of me standing just two feet from it at eye level. I close the door and lock it. So now that I am totally wigged out, I am back in my room with the glow of the laptop and three sides of windows reflecting back at me making me realize that I’m pretty much staying in a display case for the evening. Very relaxing. I recommend bringing a date.