The 2014 Page Valley Road Race

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Beaver Dam in Fall

In a September post I wrote about the ephemeral beaver pond that shows up in the hollow across the road from Hawksbill Cabin. At the time the area was covered over with wild greenery, but through the verge you could just make out that something had happened to the dam and the pond behind was empty.

Fast forward to last weekend, and now that the leaves are down and some of the plants have died back, you can see that the critters repaired their dam, and the pond has filled back up.  The pond is not as big as it has been at other times, but it's nice to see in any case.

For comparison purposes, the second photo with today's post was taken last spring, before the leaves came up.  The pond was much bigger at the time, probably full from the spring rains.

Mary and I took a look over there on Saturday afternoon, finding the pond partly frozen over.  Then we saw the wake of one of the beavers swimming around, and eventually the animal came into view.  Good to see them still around.

This stream is called Beaver Run - the hollow across the road isn't on our property, but it's part of the view from the brick terrace, so we enjoy having a look at it for most of the year.  When the dam is there, we have the benefit of the constant sound of running water tumbling through.

I'll keep an eye out for the opportunity to take some photos later in the winter, when it is frozen over.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Visiting the Glass House, Part 3

Because he was a famous architect, the completion of Philip Johnson's attracted a lot of attention in the press at the time.  A number of publications since then have called the gatherings that occurred there a '20th Century Salon' - since they featured other prominent arts and culture figures from the mid-century era.  

The story goes that there is a cigarette burn on one of the Mies pieces in the living room - courtesy of Andy Warhol (this will not be the only Warhol reference in today's post, by the way).  Our group toured the main house and had a walk around the grounds.

While we were in the house, Mary and I couldn't help notice a few similarities between the place and our beloved Hawksbill Cabin.  One example is the brick flooring that ends at the line of windows, as it does at our house - although here, there's a bit of lawn outside, and at the Hawksbill Cabin, the view continues to the brick terrace, progressing off into the wilderness of the hollow below.

Our tour included many of the other buildings on the property.  I won't highlight them in this post, but would refer readers back to the Wikipedia article for more information.  However, here is a view from the living room, looking out to the pond and a couple of the follies there.

The original 11-acre estate was developed over the course of 50 years or so, with small structures such as these scattered throughout.  I can imagine strolling about these grounds and enjoying the little projects as I came upon them - a very relaxing juxtaposition to life in the city.

Johnson lived here with his partner David Whitney.  They collected a lot of art, including this Warhol portrait of Johnson, and built galleries for the paintings as well as the sculptures.  These buildings are on one side of the grounds, so we enjoyed a walk through the fall colors, mostly hickory trees, over to them,

There was an installation by a Japanese artist in place at the time that periodically framed the main house in fog.  Our visit took place on a sunny day so the feature was a bit incongruous - I would have liked to see it under an overcast sky to appreciate it differently, evoking a naturalist frame of mind.

As we progressed towards the end of our tour, we visited Johnson's library and studio, a small building set away and across the field from the main house.  There on a drawing table I saw some of the tools he used laid out precisely, at the ready, should someone come along and need to roll out some construction drawings and work on a detail.  Nothing doing, though, and eventually my thoughts turned to the thought that most of that work is done on computers now anyway!

Finally, our tour ended, and the group made our way by shuttle back to New Canaan.  The group all parted ways, and Mary and I hopped on the train, bound for our next stop, New York, where we planned to spend a couple of nights sightseeing from a home base in Chelsea.  I'll get to those posts next.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Visiting the Glass House, Part 2

The main objective of our fall weekend trip was to visit the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Some of Mary's college friends had arranged a tour and the plan was for the group to convene there as a group from all over the northeast.  Over dinner at one of her classmate's house on the night of our arrival, we got caught up on some of their alumni business and talked about the plan for the next day.

We had traveled up by train from Alexandria - we walked to the station, caught a regional, and rode all the way to Connecticut, where we had to make a switch to a commuter line for four stops.  It would have made for a long day, but since the visitor center for the Glass House was walking distance from the station in New Canaan, if the scheduling worked out we probably could have done this whole trip in one day.  It's a shame, but I doubt you could do something like that in other regions of the US.

The Glass House was designed to be a weekend residence by architect Philip Johnson, who built in on an 11 acre property in 1948.  His architecture practice was in the city, but the story goes that the building was inspired by Mies van der Rohe after Johnson completed an exhibit on his work at MOMA in 1947.  In any case, besides the modern aspects of the house, it was an early experiment in the use of industrial materials, such as steel and glass, adapted for private residences.

A side note...Hawksbill Cabin was completed at just about the same time frame - they broke ground on the property and completed the foundation at Thanksgiving, 1948. While we have learned that the family that built our place drew their inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian houses - especially the Pope-Leighy house that was built a few years earlier in Falls Church, Virginia.  Although that is the case, the modernist features of expansive glass fenestration and open plan interior are common features of all three residences.

For today's post, I wanted to focus on the experience and photos of the house itself.  The next one will include a few photos of the interior and the other buildings on the site, which has been expanded by the National Historic Trust from the original 11 acres to now include about 200 acres of wooded property.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall of the Berlin Wall - 25th Anniversary Edition

A section of the Berlin Wall in Manhattan, October 2014.
When Mary and I were in New York a couple of weekends ago, we happened upon two slabs of the Berlin Wall in the south end of Manhattan - the area that is recovering from the 9-11 attack and from Hurricane Sandy.  It was a good reminder of the triumph of the human spirit - that there are so many things that we have, and we will, overcome.

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall opened, at last allowing the people in East Berlin and West Berlin to openly cross the border.  

Me standing near a section of the Wall in May 2001.
It's an anniversary always leaves me a little conflicted about my memories of Berlin - my five years there were spent while it stood - as a fact, as a scar dividing the city - and I typically write about memories from those times, instead of how things are now, now that the wall is down.

And that's what is important - the reunification, the healing that continues, and the future.  

Still, in case anyone's interested, here are a few posts from my blog on the topic. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Visiting the Glass House, Part 1

So far I've put up a couple of posts about our trip up to Connecticut a couple of weekends ago - I still have a few to go, starting with today's post about the portion of our trip up to CT.  Mary arranged it with the goal of joining some of her college classmates for a tour of the National Historic Trust's Glass House, designed by architect Phillip Johnson.  And so, the trip up from DC had us arriving finally in New Canaan, where the house is located.

We had a great hotel stay, and spent Friday evening visiting with friends over dinner.  The plan for Saturday was to meet up at a cafe in town, and then walk over to welcome center for the tour.

Mary has a few classmates that live in the DC area, and one of them was with the group at breakfast.  We spent some time catching up - she'd been on a few trips recently, and her husband was just getting ready to depart for two weeks in India.

The welcome center was typical of what you might expect - plenty of books to peruse, some pretty wonderful design objects - including the George Nelson clock I took a photo of here.  Soon our tour guide joined us for an overview of what we could expect on the tour.

There was a wall of small video screens continuously running clips behind where she spoke - and she would refer to the clips from time to time.  They showed some of the "follies" that Johnson had built on the property, as well as an image of a party or two, and then, a fascinating clip of a person flipping through Johnson's rolodex.

As I watched that, the anachronism wasn't lost on me...I remember changing jobs a couple of times during the late 1980's and early 1990's, making sure that the rolodex made it into the little box I packed as I departed.  Of course, Johnson's file included a card for Andy Warhol, and then surprisingly, David Childs, whom I mentioned the other day in the post about the new World Trade Center building - he was the architect for the new tower.

At last it was time for our tour to begin, so our guide concluded the overview and we headed out to the vans for the short drive over to the property.  It was a beautiful fall day - sunny, crisp, and blazing fall colors on the trees, just past their peak.