Fallingwater

Though I wrote this piece several years ago, I think the questions are still timely.

Fallingwater

            In an issue of the  New York Times, Fred Bernstein wrote about structural problems with one of the most recognizable buildings in this country, a house called Fallingwater. Built in 1936 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this structure does indeed perch over a water fall.  Surprisingly, both the house and water are enhanced by the placement, just as Wright intended.  Cantilevers thrust the house into space echoing the water as it changes levels over the rocks.  The effect is stunning.  The effect may end soon.

The house is in danger of succumbing to gravity and tumbling down the cliff just as the water does because of the shortsightedness of one of this century’s great visionaries. Wright’s prickly personality was well known. He hated to be told what to do to the point of being a contrarian. As a result of this sort of hubris, his masterpiece is in danger of becoming a pile of broken concrete at the bottom of the cliff it now leans over.  When the contractor who was building the house suggested that there was not enough steel in the structure to support the weight of the concrete, Wright had one of his artistic snits and threatened to quit.  Wright eventually got his way, or so he thought. Now nature is having hers, even though when Wright wasn’t around, the contractor sneaked twice as much steel into the structure as Wright called for.  Despite this secret shoring,  the concrete, which usually stabilizes in a year, continues to bend.  The cantilevers droop lower and lower.  Without buttressing the layers of flying concrete will eventually no longer be able to support themselves.

It is a temptation to consider the possibility that it was Wright’s plan that art imitate nature to the ultimate degree at Fallingwater.  That the structure would eventually follow the water as it seeks a lower level.  Such thinking requires a stretch, a large stretch.  A stretch which would have to account for other Wright design flaws like flat roofs that leak and furniture that is striking in situ, but horrible to sit upon.

As I read Bernstien’s article, I smirked at one comment a visitor made about Wright.  He said, “It’s surprising that as good an architect as Wright screwed up.” I thought to myself, “Humph, this guy expects him to be perfect.”  Yet, in thinking about Wright and composing this exercise, that’s exactly what I caught myself doing.  While I’m interested in Wright and his work, it is the problems with Fallingwater which caught and held my attention.

Like all those we admire and label “Great” or “Genius”, when we strip away the cloak of their achievements, we very likely find the inconsistencies and paradoxes the rest of us labor under. Why then, do we expect perfection in all aspects of their lives?  Why then do we gloat when we find their humanity? Perhaps the difference is that those whose achievements and lives rise above the rest, manage to disentangle themselves enough from the mundane to soar. Their genius is risk that succeeded.

 

 

Advertisements

Scat!

 

Sue kicked the pile of bear scat with the toe of her boot, then leaned over and peered at it.  “At least two days old,” she murmured.

I didn’t know whether to be relieved or stay worried.  Did two days old mean the bear was two days away in some other huckleberry patch or was it two days hungry and due back to this one any time now?

Late July is huckleberry season in the low mountains of northern Idaho.  Huckleberries look and taste a lot like blueberries.  One difference is that huckleberries are smaller. Another is that they are a favorite summer snack of Northwestern bears.

As we walked, it occurred to me that I’d never had to look over my shoulder or discuss in a very loud voice the virtues of sharing the woods while picking blueberries. In fact, I’d never really considered the possibility of actually sharing the woods with creatures which might take exception to my eating their lunch, or that might realistically consider me an acceptable substitute.  I was beginning to feel a lot like Goldilocks and wondered if before devouring me, the bear would drizzle me with huckleberries the way I had my pancakes that morning.

“You don’t think we’ll actually run into a bear?”  I ventured, pointedly ignoring the scatological evidence to the contrary at my feet.  I was not comforted by her reply.

“Mmmm, yeah, we could. They sure like huckleberries.”

“How do we know if they are around?”  My voice went up several decibels and at least one octave.

She looked at me, then at the pile of scat at our feet, and then back at me.

“No, I mean NOW. Around now.”

“Well, usually you hear them.  They are really noisy. They just crash through where they want to go. Not like elk or deer which you only hear by accident.  But then, sometimes you just happen on them.”

“Oh, swell.  Then what?

“Move very slowly.  Back out the way you came.  Don’t try to run.  No matter how clumsy and slow they look, bears are very fast and agile.”

I eyed the distance from me to the safety of the truck.  If spurred by the adrenaline rush brought on by immanent consumption, I figured I could make it.  “You mean I couldn’t beat a bear to the truck?”

Sue looked at me.  Eyed my overweight, out of shape middle aged state, grinned and shook her head from side to side.  “No way.  I told you.  Bears are fast.”

I was not convinced. However, as we continued on our way through the undergrowth, noting the vegetation for her habitat survey, stuffing ourselves with huckleberries, I joined in making a great deal of racket, singing camp songs, talking and laughing with abandon.

We encountered no bears that day.  I haven’t had occasion to eat huckleberries since.

I’m really glad I didn’t have to find out if I could outrun a bear, because deep down inside. I’m pretty sure Sue was right. But don’t tell her that.

 

 

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU

I know it’s March because the wind is blowing hard and will be doing so all week; and because I have an empty NCAA Tournament bracket awaiting me.  Not much I can do about the wind, but I will get my bracket filled out by the tipoff of the first play in game. Then, I will watch, wait and cross out my mistakes.  Soon, my pristine bracket will be covered with the red ink of faulty prognosis.

IMG_0740

As you may have guessed by the title of this post, I am an alumna of the University of Kansas.  Being glued to the television much of March is my legacy. I wasn’t always such a devoted fan.  Maybe I was just a clueless one.  I attended KU in the late 60’s and early 70s.  I don’t remember basketball being such a huge deal.  It must have been important on campus, because KU was very good then.  KU has been very good most of the time since then.  I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I remember attending only a few games while a student.  I certainly don’t remember it being one of the overarching experiences of many students’ lives.

Perhaps reality lies somewhere between my fading memory and the craziness that takes place on college campuses today.  I can’t imagine camping out to get tickets, donning face paint, white outs, black outs, Dick Vitale, ESPN Game Day broadcasts and Final Four tickets averaging a $1000 or more.  Sports were a big deal, but they weren’t big business, yet.

I really hope KU does win the tournament.  They’ve been playing well lately.  Seems like they have a good chance this year, except for a couple of things.  These are young men playing.  They have young men’s emotions and inconsistencies.  This is true for every team.  The other factor every team has to deal with is parity.  Teams are extremely evenly matched this year.  Adam Kilgore writing in the Washington Post says that the “Best Team in Basketball is Nobody”.

I guess that means that we fans will fill out our brackets and wait and watch. I will hope to hear “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk KU” chanted on the last night of the tournament.

IMG_0741

My aged but  trusty “Beak ‘Em Hawks shirt.