Clear Skies, Deep Water: A Chautauqua Memoir
by Beth Peyton

State University of New York Press, Albany, 2014. ISBN 978-1-438-45172-5.
Reviewed by Enid Cokinos
Posted on 09/23/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir

Author Beth Peyton takes readers on a heartwarming journey of healing and new beginnings in Clear Skies, Deep Water: A Chautauqua Memoir. As Beth and her husband, Jeff, renovate their lakeside cottage, they also repair their lives following three painful losses in a short period. The cottage and the lake bring them solace as they grieve and put their lives back together.

Peyton is an engaging storyteller with a down-to-earth style. She writes from the heart, openly sharing the joys in her life, along with the heartaches of dealing with ex-spouses and child visitations, coping with family illness and death, and managing the loss of her husband's business. Peyton, however, sprinkles humor throughout the book to maintain balance. She shares funny recipes from her childhood, including "Barf Salad"; describes colorful characters living at the lake like Spike the boat guy, who, ironically, looks like Popeye; and includes us in the many neighborhood picnics at the water's edge.

With its seemingly inevitable series of events, destiny plays a role in bringing Beth and Jeff to Lake Chautauqua. They were living in Delaware and needed a place to stay during visits with Jeff's daughters, who lived with their mom more than 400 miles away in Ashtabula, Ohio. Tired of spending weekends in hotel rooms, they reviewed maps looking for other options and discovered Chautauqua Lake, approximately 90 miles east of Ashtabula in western New York State. From their first stay at the Maple Springs Lake Side Inn during a winter weekend in the late 1990s, they are drawn in by the beauty and quiet lifestyle of the lake, and the warm welcome they received. Their first impressions of the area, "This place is interesting," and "It feels old-timey," keeps them coming back year after year until they finally purchase their cottage, a true fixer-upper that becomes their year-round home.

The word chautauqua is derived from the Seneca Indian tribe language meaning "a bag tied in the middle," or "two moccasins fastened together," both fitting descriptions based on the drawing in the book, as well as online aerial maps. Driving the turnpike through western New York State this summer on our way to visit friends in Syracuse, I saw a sign for Chautauqua Lake. "Chataqua?" I fumbled. "Sha-ta-qua," my husband replied sweetly, pronouncing it phonetically with the proper emphasis in place. "Chautauqua," I repeated slowly, enjoying the feel of it; it felt pretty. I smiled and nodded in agreement when I read Beth Peyton's description, "I love the way the word Chautauqua rolls off my tongue, the hard and soft sounds of it."

The quote at the beginning of Chapter 2, "We Are Introduced to the Lake," summarizes the author's experience nicely: "She explained that she had not lost her way, but that she was trying to find a convenient dry nesting-place." —Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck

Beth and Jeff do indeed find their nesting place at Lake Chautauqua.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Beth Peyton earned her MFA in creative writing from Carlow University, where she studied in both Pittsburgh and Ireland. She lives with her husband, Jeff Hunter, and her dog in western New York State. This is her first book. Visit her website.

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