Chet Baker listens to the 8 AM carillon over Lake Chautauqua, real live bells playing things like "Lord of All Hopefulness," "Morning has Broken," and "The Yellow Rose of Texas." It's a lovely way to start one's day, feeling the moist wind off the lake, hearing real bells, knowing someone is actually ringing them.
We're back. No Internet bandits packed their weapons, got out of their computer chairs, booked a flight to Ohio, asked for directions in downtown Whipple (Do you know where Bill of the Birds and Julie live? I understand they're on vacation and I want to rob them) or came to ransack our house. Nobody mowed the lawn, either. I finished that job by the light of my tractor headlights at 9:15 last night. This morning, the lawn looks like it was mowed in the dark. There are curving rows of wet hay and big missed patches like badly cut hair. I'll wait for it to dry before raking. Maggie watered everything beautifully and the gardens are blazing. I have a very happy macaw on my shoulder, pressing his warm face into my neck. I've read your comments and laughed out loud. I've missed you, and I know you've missed Chet. I've downloaded all my Chautauqua photos and am thinking about what to write. My heart is full and my brain is buzzing.
One of my pre-recorded commentaries aired on All Things Considered
on Tuesday, August 8. It's called Rosemary is for Remembrance (and so are Lilacs).
I'm delighted that my beloved editor pulled that one off the shelf and broke the dry spell. I understand it made it to the Most E-mailed Stories list and was there at least three days. Of course, I missed it, but you can listen to it online, as I did. I jotted down a lot of new commentary ideas on the ride to and from Chautauqua. I feel them building inside me, fruit of a week away, a week to relax, walk, and think.
It was hot and sticky when we arrived last Sunday night, but the next morning dawned cool and clear, and it stayed that way the whole time. Fall weather, crisp air and cobalt skies, little white clouds ranking like sheep on the horizon. Sun on water.
The most beautiful houses in the world grace Chautauqua. Arts and crafts bungalows,
All nicely kept and drowning in flowers.
Perfectville, Stepford, all right, you can jokingly call it that, but when you've seen patch after patch of woodland felled to accomodate just another blasted doublewide, prefab dwellings without foundation, substance, or soul, it's darned nice to run your eyes over a Real Home, with thought in its lines, solidity in its structure, and care in its upkeep.
The Athenaeum Hotel is queen of them all. Just look at this building. It's a city unto itself.
Bestor Plaza is the heartbeat of the place. In the evening, students come out to play music and rake in dollar bills. Here's a bass and viola holding forth.
I had never seen anyone busking with that particular combination of instruments.
This is Mark Finkelpearl. He works for The Discovery Channel, and has been coming to Chautuaqua since he was little. Now he brings his wife, Ruth, and three lovely kids.
Mark was playing Sugar Magnolia on his lovely silvery Taylor guitar when I sat down next to him. He knew who Chet Baker was named for. We became friends in minutes. He played two original songs for us, and they were really good. Bill borrowed his guitar and we played and sang for him too, until it got dark.
I love Chautauqua. I love being there with my family, and riding our bikes or walking everywhere we go. We're out from before dawn until well after bedtime, walking, listening, taking photographs, taking it all in.
Chet loves Chautauqua, too. We walk constantly, me reminding him (No pull, Chet!) not to tug my arm out of the socket. He wears a harness to ease the strain on his soft neck, and he's really pretty good about walking on a lead, as long as there's not a dog in sight. There's so much to see and smell, squirrels to chase and dogs to tussle with. More on that anon!
Phoebe and Liam can't get enough of the place. They're different kids there, independent and carefree. Here, Phoebe surfs the Net at Bestor Plaza,
where wireless internet allowed Bill to keep his blog going and get quite a bit of work done.
The kids take off together on their bikes, bound for adventure, and are gone for hours. We don't know where they are, though we can guess. And we don't worry about them, not one bit. They're at the playground, or at the plaza, rumbling over Thunder Bridge or feeling the wind in their hair by the lake, playing with friends and meeting new ones, wandering home when they're hungry. They feel like full citizens at this tolerant and family-oriented place. We are lucky to be able to go there, and deeply grateful to the Bird, Tree and Garden Club which first brought us there, and, amazingly and against their own unwritten laws, invites us back each year. Without their help, we'd never glimpse the particular possibilities The Chautauqua Institution
has to offer. We feel like a passel of very lucky hillbillies.
Phoebe and Liam walking Chet on a golden morning at Chautauqua. Liam's still in jammies.