Growing up in the 50s, I knew the names of a number of famous people without knowing what it was they had done to earn such notoriety. Their names alone came to stand for excellence in their chosen fields: Enrico Caruso, Rudolph Valentino, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, to name a few. The highest praise one could bestow on an aspiring singer would be to say: ‘He’s a regular Caruso.’ On the other hand, a common way to say someone wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer was to say: ‘He’s no Einstein!’
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the names I learned without knowing anything about him other than that he was an architect. In fact, I still didn’t know much more about him until this past week. But that changed when we decided to combine our fall foliage viewing with the 4-hour trip to his most famous residence, Falling Water.
But why, you ask, am I writing about Frank Lloyd Wright in a blog about dementia? Good question! It’s true that his best work was done when he was in his 80s, but that’s not why I’m writing about him.
One of the brain health findings I’ve come across is that travel to new places may be protective. It stimulates all your senses in a variety of ways which help stimulate brain cell growth. As we began planning our getaway, though, it occurred to me that you have to be functioning at a pretty high cognitive level in the first place to execute a road trip.
For starters, you have to have the desire and interest to go somewhere and not be overwhelmed by the logistics of actually doing it. In this case, the initiative came from Sally who said she wanted to do a road trip to see the leaves turn and I connected that with a suggestion some friends made a few years ago about going to Falling Water.
But it’s not like we can just get in the car and take off like we might have done in our teens and twenties. At this age, if we go somewhere on the spur of the moment without telling anyone, we might find our car make, model and license plate number flashing on the interstate in a ‘Silver Alert!’
Instead, we do our background research and make a plan. When will peak foliage occur? How long will it take to get to Falling Water? What days do we have free? Where will we stay? Do they have guided tours once we get there?
And there was one more big decision to make: which car would we take? My Volvo gets better gas mileage, but Sally’s Subaru has a much bigger windshield for viewing the scenery. We opted in favor of the view, but that introduced a layer of risk. She had run over a nail two weeks earlier and one tire was leaking air. She took it to the dealership and they put in a plug, but it didn’t stick. They had to re-do it twice. Was it really safe to drive? What if it went flat en route? We decided to roll the dice.
The weekend before our scheduled departure, I did a YouTube search and found great documentaries on the story behind the building of Falling Water and the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. On the eve of our departure, we watched Ken Burns’ 2-part biography of Wright on PBS. After 60 years, I finally now know why his name is synonymous with modern architecture.
Next up was finalizing the game plan: figuring out what time to leave in order to get to the first tour on time; packing (clothes appropriate for the forecast weather, medications, computers); turning off the air conditioning in the apartment; setting the alarm to wake up on time.
If you can do all of this planning and scheduling, your cognitive abilities are pretty much intact.
If you can shift your plans because you met someone on a tour who gave you a good recommendation, you are functioning well.
If you can keep your balance for two hours on a rock-strewn trail booby-trapped with tree roots hidden by fallen leaves, you are doing well.
If you can find your way back to the trailhead after missing a turn on your hike, you’re doing well.
If you can cut your stay short because it was impossible to sleep on your bed’s sagging mattress at the B&B, you’re functioning well.
Realizing that you miscalculated when the leaves would turn, if you can drive north in search of peak foliage without a map, keep moving in the right direction and find a hotel in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, you are doing well.
If you can survive meals at local eateries like See-Mor’s All-Star Grill and Hoss’s Family Steak & Sea House, you can be thankful that you dodged a bullet.
If you can keep your sense of humor during all of this, you are doing extremely well.
But most importantly, if you can embrace with wide-eyed wonder and amazement a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home, you have much for which to be grateful!
- That leaky tire didn’t give us a lick of trouble during our 500-mile adventure.
- Having travelled four hours west in search of foliage, we finally found it on the way home…2 hours north in the Poconos.