Madison Monday: Chautauqua at night

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There is no Chautauqua at night. The fair itself closes up at 5:00 on Saturday night. The streets empty out. Almost everyone leaves. It’s probably not surprising to discover that, for me, this is the very best part. There’s still a lot to see after the gates close.

– The chimney swifts at dusk, getting ready to make their nightly plunge. They’ve moved from the chimney of the church to the one in the apartment building across the street. They migrate south, so they’ll be gone soon, but not yet.

– The clouds painted pink around the edges. The pink sky framed by the hillside. The pink reflected in the surface of the river.

chautauqua 14– Couples. Couples on benches. Couples out for a stroll. On a weekend like this, I like to imagine where they’ve come from. Are they staying the night or on their way out? Who are these folks smart enough to stick around past dark? There are young couples, their faces just inches apart, their shoulders touching. I imagine them leaning over to kiss after I walk past. There are older couples, two sets on one of the benches, segregated boys and girls. They’re talking about where they’ll go next. Daytona, maybe, they think.

– Silhouettes against the river. Everyone is beautiful in this light. A fisherman with his pole. A loner sitting in a chair on one of the docks. Someone with a light attached to his head wading through the shallows, looking down into the water.

– The sound of a siren, crossing the bridge and heading up the hill on the Kentucky side. It echoes. Everyone raises their head to watch. Then it’s gone.

– The sound of geese, coming in low over my head in a battalion and landing on the river.

– The happy clustering of boats at the dock, pieced together like a jigsaw. The sound of voices floating up. The honk of a horn and an answer. The sound of music–“You Ain’t Woman Enough to Steal My Man.”

– Kids playing on the basketball court. Figures at the table under the picnic shelter. A lone girl walking down the middle of the street, her head swiveling from one side to the other.

– The lights still on in the empty food booths. The carnival ones making a kind of lonesome clicking noise as they flash. The strong smell of cinnamon from the roasted almond cart.

– The sound of the dock squeaking as the wake from a boat one the river reaches it.

– The pattern of light on the river as the waves reach the shore.

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