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.)
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.
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.
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.