Monday, September 07, 2009

Rachel Carson in chautauqua

"Would you like to come to a chautauqua at the Nature Center?" The question came from a good neighbor. My answer: "Of course. Uh, just what is a chautuaqua?" In this case, it was a presentation not about Rachel Carson but rather a presentation by a woman who became Rachel Carson for the evening.

Said the Nature Center website, "a few thousand words from Rachel Carson and the world took a new direction." Carson challenged the experts, questioned government, technology and progress itself. "Silent Spring has been recognized throughout the world as one of those rare books that change the course of history . . . by altering the direction of man's thinking." The impetus for the book, however, was Carson's love of life itself, and it is this love that Fiona Reid interpret[s] as the image of Rachel Carson.

Nearly 10 years ago, Reid, education director of the Center, had made a study of Carson as her college senior project and, over the years, had become ever more intimate with her subject, as a person and as a scientist.

The performer passed around a container of sea sand with shells to help move the audience into her world on the coast of Maine and of The Sea Around Us. As part of the program, the audience asked questions of Reid in her role as Carson, followed by questions about her subject.

Always curious, I found myself consulting with The Google about chautauquas, which were a rather remarkable adult education movement in rural America in the late 19th and early 20th century, before movies, radio, and television brought the same glitz and entertainment to the boonies that the cities enjoyed. Orators, performers, and educators traveled a national Chautauqua circuit of more than 12,000 sites bringing lectures, performances, concerts, classes, and exhibitions to thousands of people in small towns and cities. Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauquas, "the most American thing in America." So notes the website for the Colorado Chautauqua, one of the three remaining permanent chautauqua sites. The most famous is The Chautauqua Institution, on Lake Chautauqua in New York, which remains a fascinating blend of summer camp for grown-ups with all manner of cultural/educational programs. And, of course, the source of this strange name.


Lucy said...

Sounds like a really interesting evening.

Is Max back now?

Kathleen said...

Very interestinag - I didn't know they did that there.

Granny J said...

lucy -- no, there's been no sign of the Max cat.

frame -- I was quite surprised at how active the organization is -- check their web site (linked in the post).

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