Save The Meadow! by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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A year after mother died, we gathered to scatter her ashes in the meadow. The place was no longer ours; we had deeded the house and the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a remarriage of sorts, a gift thankfully returned. High Meadow would now become a central part of Fallingwater’s residential educational program, a facility that would help to foster an appreciation of America’s architectural heritage and of environmental responsibility.

It was the right thing to do. None of my generation lived close enough to enjoy the house or tend the land the way my parents had. Nor did we want to sell the property; it was originally a part of the Kaufman’s preserve on Bear Run and to restore the property to its original configuration was to honor it. The trust that managed Fallingwater was willing to maintain the meadows in perpetuity and would renovate the house to accommodate guests, students, teachers, interns or even artists-in-residence. Maybe it was our way of embracing the land; to paraphrase Robert Frost, High Meadow was no longer our land but we would still be her people. After all, mother was now one with her wildflowers.

We became occasional visitors. The Conservancy was gracious to allow us to return for a weekend every now and then to walk the meadow and the woods and to remember. The renovation of the house had turned out well, all-the-more-so because it still smelled the same and even some of the furnishings held familiar shapes. The morning dew, the afternoon breeze, the evening stillness: all these things carried on as before.

Then came a day in the spring of 2010 when we learned that the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy was working discretely on plans to build six new structures at High Meadow. Described as a “cave-like community pavilion complete with a fire-pit,” the structures were to be built into the ground—troglodyte-style—and would be constructed essentially out of steel culverts. They would be innovative, futuristic, creative, and environmentally sensitive; they would be used for educational purposes or to house potential donors who might advance the Conservancy’s ambitious programs. The only problem, as we saw it, was that the dwellings would be at cross purposes with my parents’ desire to preserve the meadow’s pristine beauty. Now there would be electric and sewer lines; storm runoff and waste water management issues; removal of indigenous plants and grasses. To us, as marginally intrusive as these “pods” might be, they would forever alter the fragile ecological balance of the meadow that my parents had hoped to maintain in perpetuity. We politely objected.

The discourse was civil, even enlightening. There were thoughtful and reasonable arguments on both sides. We reviewed the Conservancy’s plans and the Conservancy listened to our concerns. They hoped to expand and enhance educational programming and to attract new sources of funding. We hoped they would honor donor intent and suggested they renovate existing structures on other WPC properties to achieve their goals. That strategy—making better use of existing structures instead of constructing new ones on or under High Meadow—seemed (to us anyway) more in line with a conservation organization’s mission of protecting and conserving natural resources.

There were more meetings; letters; a FaceBook page; an OpEd article in a Pittsburgh newspaper. To make what has already become a long story a few words shorter, we saved the meadow. The structures will be built elsewhere, or not at all.

So now, here we are at the last panel of the High Meadow triptych. The meadow is as it has always been: a place of peaceful and undisturbed beauty, changing with the tide of the seasons, full of wildflowers and song birds, welcoming summer hikers or winter cross-country skiers. Our old Sears catalog house has had another facelift but it still looks out on the meadow and the mists that rise like memories from the hollows in the fields below.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Well done. Congratulations on your success saving the High Meadow! Meadows are an under appreciated part of our landscape and. Heritage. You should not have had to save the meadow from aconservancy!

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