A Recitation for the River

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An illustration from the 1913 edition of ‘The Wind in the Willows.’ On Saturday, writer-performer David Templeton will recite the entire chapter ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn.’ Painting by Paul Bransom

When it comes to quarantine hobbies, binging Netflix and day-drinking on Zoom top the list. Writer-performer David Templeton had something different in mind—he committed the entirety of the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s seminal work, The Wind and the Willows, to memory. Now that it’s—literally—in his mind, he’s bringing it out, word-for-word in an online recitation this Saturday to benefit Friends of the Petaluma River, the organization that stewards the conversation of the Petaluma River Watershed. 

The chapter in question, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” finds the protagonists Rat and Mole on a late-night boat journey up the river in search of a lost baby otter. Who do they meet along the way? The god Pan—the goat-legged pipe-player of the title. For context, the 3,800-word chapter is about 10 times the length of this column (the contents of which I’ll forget immediately upon filing it). 

How Templeton managed to squeeze a beloved literary classic into his brain and keep it there likely comes from his skills as a solo theatrical artist, penning and performing one-person shows like his popular Wretch Like Me in the past decade (not to mention being a former Bohemian theater critic). 

The difference, beyond the text being that of another author, is that Templeton has forbidden himself the luxury of extemporizing should memory fail. It’s a literary tightrope walk across a roiling river of words. Will he make it? Tune into the free simulcast on YouTube, Facebook or the Friends of Petaluma River website this Saturday to see for yourself. 

Online donations are encouraged and donors will have the opportunity to win a “Wind in the Willows”–themed gift basket. I’ll be on hand, virtually, to introduce Templeton and to host a post-performance Q&A with him and Stephanie Bastianon, executive director at Friends of the Petaluma River.

As Templeton says, memorizing “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” “has been a true joy and pleasure at a time when joy and pleasure sometimes seem in short supply.”

Indeed, it’s good to have a little Pan without all the “demic.”
David Templeton’s from-memory recitation of “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” begins at 5:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 12. The performance will be available for free via Facebook, YouTube or the Friends’ website; for links and more information visit FriendsofthePetalumaRiver.org.

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