Memories of Chautauqua

I woke up today thinking about Chautauqua.

Since 1874, people have come to this beautiful spot in upstate New York to study, paint, make music, dance, meditate, read — and relax. The 12-week-long personal-growth extravaganza features a different theme each week, and every day brings at least one distinguished speaker. (Jane Goodall, Fareed Zakaria, Al Gore, Ken Burns and Michael York have been among my favorites.)

What makes Chautauqua even more exceptional is the setting. Most of the original Victorian cottages remain, and (with only a few exceptions) cars are prohibited on the grounds. The net effect is one of going back in time.

To Esteban, Chautauqua is home. He spent his summers there as a kid, and he still talks wistfully about his grandma and her lakefront house. (Sadly, both she and the house now live only in our memories.)

Steve and Grandma Hutchins in about 1986

But I’m a more recent convert. I first visited Chautauqua in 1986, when Esteban and I took our first trip together. It was wonderful to see him revisit his favorite childhood haunts.

Esteban at his fountain BLOG

But it wasn’t until 2004 that I got to have the full “Chautauqua experience” when Esteban, our dog Arrow and I crowded into the car, drove 900 miles, and spent a week in a lovely little shack on the northern edge of the grounds. Here’s Esteban, on a typical morning, flanked by Arrow and our landlady’s dog, Wally.

Esteban Arrow and Wally 184_8486c BLOG

We returned for another week in 2006. This time, we stayed in the heart of the small community — which meant that the lake and the landmark bell tower were just a few steps away.

I got up before dawn every morning to photograph the sunrise over the lake. And every morning I was struck by the variability — and changeability — of the weather.

Being up early also meant that I had the grounds to myself, more or less. I got to know a couple of the regular dog-walkers, and the local cats.

I spent hours wandering through the dance and artists’ studios. But maybe my favorite pastime was sitting outside the musicians’ practice shacks. The guy in the last two frames was tackling Rachmaninoff (quite successfully, if memory serves).

Evenings brought a quiet sunset with Esteban, or maybe a concert in the Amphitheater.

And each new morning would bring another spectacular sunrise.

All of these images floated through my head this morning when I thought, “It’s time we went back to Chautauqua.” Alas (perhaps ironically), the 2011 season closes tomorrow.

Stay tuned, though … Chautauqua is definitely on the radar for next year. I’m already looking forward to another road trip with Esteban.


  1. Breathtaking 🙂

    I have to definitely come back to this post over and over again…revisit it when things are crazy and I need to relax and feel calm.

    On a personal note, I apologize for not being around lately…I am in the midst of moving from NY to PA. My mother and I are taking the plunge and becoming roommates in her home there. It just happens that I need her right now, and she needs me, so it’s a mutually happy move. I’m not sure how her two cats will get along with my two cats yet…but here’s hoping, heh.

    • Oh, Lis … hearing from you always makes my day. Thank you.

      I’ve been by prosebythelb a few times and I’ve been missing your prose. Glad to know you’re well and just in transition. (Oddly, that seems to be a theme among my online friends at the moment.)

      Anyway, here’s wishing you an easy move to Pennsylvania. I’m glad that you and your mom can be there for each other — and I’m very hopeful that the four cats will adjust well, too.

  2. Also on a personal note, I believe WordPress has provided you with my email address? If so, I would love to become Facebook friends if you are a FB member and would be willing. Please email me your thoughts. I only ask because, during my transition period, FB is becoming more and more my lifeblood site. I am not able to keep up with WordPress as often, and I’d hate to lose touch with you.

    However, I know you are very busy too so I will leave the decision up to you. 🙂

    • Indeed, hallysann! I’ll admit I’m a bit envious of my husband, who got to spend summers there. But then, I *did* get to run around in the Amazon, so I can’t complain too much … 🙂

  3. One more thing for my Bucket List. This sounds like heaven. The closest I’ve come is six weeks at the Bread Loaf School of English, thirty years ago. But I spent too much time fizzing over Chaucer to completely relax. I vacation in the area as often as I can, though. Lovely.

    • Oh, Kathy … you must *definitely* go to Chautauqua! It probably won’t offer as strong a curriculum as the Bread Loaf, but you also won’t have to read any Chaucer. (Unless you really want to, of course.) Thanks so much for reading!

      • I wanted to read Chaucer; I just didn’t want to write the papers. And I’m way past desiring a strong curriculum. I’ve gone from wanting to be a professional student to wanting to be a professional auditor.

        • Oh, me … I obviously misunderstood. Sorry, Kathy! Well, if you wish only to *read* Chaucer, Chautauqua is a wonderful place to do it. Ditto for any other activity that involves learning and nurturing the soul.

  4. Just, just, breathtaking. This post shows that you have been a wonderful photographer for *years*. And what an extraordinarily special place! There are photos here that I’ll revisit many times. Hhhmmmm…. (happy sigh of relaxation.)

    • Aw, DB … you know how to make a girl’s day! I wish Chautauqua were just a wee bit closer for you … of all the people I know, you’re the one who I think would most appreciate this wonderful place (after Esteban, of course!). 🙂

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