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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

“You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille”

Living manzanita, Dragoon Mountains

(My emotions these days come to me through songs, hence today's title. "Sarah picked a bad time to leave us," I told the Artist. But then, there wouldn't have been a good time....)

I used to post to this blog more often. In the beginning, it was short pieces almost every day, usually with only a single photograph. Eventually that settled down to two or three posts a week, some image-heavy, others wordier. This past November, on the other hand? A mere four posts, from the day after Election Day to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I have felt more than a little disconnected to the world without my Sarah. 


But one of my husband’s cousins, who has known grief far deeper than mine, posted something on Facebook that helped me through the Thanksgiving holiday. She wrote, “As the years roll by and challenges surround, it becomes clear that being thankful doesn’t require feeling happy. May it be the same for you as we walk forward.” She did not emphasize the words I have italicized, but those were the words I found profound. 


Because – haven’t you found it so? -- it is so easy for us to think, when unhappy, that we should be happy, which then piles feelings of guilt and inadequacy on top of unhappiness already within us. It is far too easy for us to view our unhappiness as a spiritual shortcoming or a lack of maturity, a failure to be grateful for what we have. Anne’s profound insight is that we can be thankful, can be grateful, without necessarily feeling happy. Happiness, after all, comes and goes. If it were a constant, we wouldn’t notice it at all.

Manzanita again: Life gone but still beautiful

I once attended a funeral for a young man who had died of cancer at age 23, and part of the priest’s message to family and friends was that the young man needed to “cross over the river” and that if they, the living, failed to rejoice over his heavenward path, they would be holding him back. Sadness, heartache, heartbreak – all these, the priest painted as cruelty to the deceased. My heart ached for the mother, wife, and brothers in their sorrow, being told their grief was harming the very person whose loss had already devastated them! I thought then (and have never thought differently) that the priest was the cruel one that day. 


“But your grief is over a dog! Don’t you think that’s a little exaggerated?” No one has said anything like that to me or scolded me for not “moving on” more quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one person had thoughts along those lines. I’m happy – yes, happy and grateful – to have the reassurance that Anne, who barely knows me, is as sympathetic to my grief as my oldest, tried-and-true friends.


Sarah was with me 24 hours a day, from puppyhood until her last breath. When a stranger in the bookstore asked teasingly if she was the watchdog (this would be after she approached the newcomer with wagging tail and smile), I always said, “She’s my constant companion.”  

Her first winter

Here’s something too that I thought of only during her last days: Sarah was the same age as “Books in Northport.” We found and adopted Sarah in January of 2008, but she was four months old then, which put her birth in September 2007, the first month of this blog. And anyone who has read “Books in Northport” since 2008 has had the opportunity to watch Sarah grow from puppyhood to young adulthood to maturity and then into old age.


And the Artist and I are going on without her. We have each other and family and friends. We had (although I did not photograph it) a turkey for Thanksgiving and have enjoyed since then turkey pot pie and turkey soup with homemade noodles. 






We made drove over to the Dragoon Mountains and explored on foot a short stretch of equestrian trail (where we observed those manzanitas).

The Artist

The bookseller

In search of animal therapy, the Artist and I made an expedition over north of Benson, Arizona, to the Double R Ranch to visit their twenty-three horses and nine dogs, and I went back today for a trail ride.

My beautiful and patient companion of the trail

And I am reading again: 


A fundamental principle of nonviolence is that there is no such thing as defeat once a conflict is justly resolved, because there are no losers when justice is achieved. - John Lewis, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement


No defeat, no losers when justice is achieved! Isn’t that a beautiful thought? John Lewis’s death was a great loss to our country, but his life was a gift and an inspiration.

Times are not back to “normal,” either for me or for our country, but the sun continues to rise every morning and set every evening over the mountains, and the moon also rises and sets, and birds come to the feeding station in our mountain backyard, and there seems to be genuine progress on a vaccine for coronavirus, and one way or another there will be a new president in the White House in only a few weeks. And we will all keep getting older one day at a time on our journey “from the sweetgrass to the packing house” – or, as I think of it these days, from puppy breath to the last breath -- which sounds terrible, I know, but there would be no death without life, and life is a priceless gift.

Sunrise over Dos Cabezas, Arizona


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

I am Pierre’s dog.

Another dawn, another day

David, a.k.a. the Artist, took me to a new coffee house in Willcox, and we sat out on the front porch on Haskell Street (Business I-10) with our drinks. When I was in graduate school and reading Sartre, I wrote a paper called “Consciousness of Self and Pierre’s Dog.” Or maybe it was “Pierre’s Dog and Consciousness of Self.” The first line, anyway, was “Consider the dog in this café,” my variation on Sartre’s famous “Consider the waiter in this café.” In my version, Pierre’s dog was called that because, while Pierre did not own the dog, he and the dog had fixed morning routines in the café every day. Then comes a morning when Pierre does not appear, and everywhere the dog looks, all he sees is Pierre’s absence. 


As for reading, I haven’t finished a book since we were in Michigan, and that last book I read was Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail, which I left in Illinois (our second night out on the road) for my sister and brother-in-law to read. I tried to finish Absalom, Absalom! for a Zoom meeting with the reading circle but couldn’t manage to lock myself for long enough into that depressing, claustrophobic atmosphere to get through the last third of the book. Instead, while traveling and during our first days and nights here in the cabin, I read now and then a few pages of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, but my progress in it was slow, my attention repeatedly drawn away from the book to our dog’s unaccustomed demeanor. 


Then Sarah had a good day on Sunday, and I felt briefly optimistic that she would “recover from the trip,” as the Artist put it, and that we would have – not long hikes, but at least one more short walk with our neighborhood adventure pack before I had to leave her home on mornings I went off into the mountains with them. So on Monday and Tuesday of last week, which is to say during Sarah’s last days, I started into my winter writing project.

The following Tuesday, on what turned out to be her last day of life, I only “left” her briefly (we were scant feet apart and could look into each other’s faces whenever either of us had the desire) to sit with the handwritten diary that a young man in Pennsylvania began in 1854, a diary I will be transcribing this winter, putting his entries together with my own journal entries and other thoughts and reflections on his time and mine. 


Now that she is gone, I still read myself to sleep after an evening movie but have set aside SPQR for a comfort book, one of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels set in Botswana and featuring Mma Ramotswe. When we wake up in the middle of the night, as we do every night, the Artist and I may talk quietly or lie together in silence, but sometimes then too I turn on my bedside light to escape to Botswana. The cows in the book are comforting. I wish the cows of Dos Cabezas would pay us a visit, but they seem to be grazing and foraging somewhere out of sight.

The comfort of cows....

While I was lying on the floor with Sarah on Tuesday, stroking her head and fondling her ears, a Motown song by Gladys Knight and the Pips came into my head and would not go away, and it has been there ever since. “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye” is a song about a couple postponing a breakup they realize is inevitable. For me, it was about my dog – about Sarah hanging on and about my world having shrunk to wherever she was lying at any given moment. She never did “go to sleep” but kept following us with her eyes whenever we moved from one part of the room to another. She and I did not want to say goodbye to each other – and the Artist and I did not want to say goodbye to her.

Night lingers as day begins

My sisters mentioned another song, one called “Sara,” by Jefferson Starship. I put off listening to that one for days after Sarah’s death, and when I finally called it up, the Artist and I could hardly bear the lyrics: “I’ll never find another girl like you…. No time is a good time for goodbye.” 


Then the other day I picked up a small collection of poetry, ten poems by ten different poets, put together in a book by Roger Housden called Ten Poems to Say Goodbye. This may be the book I will finally finish and be able to add to my “Books Read 2020” list.

I am thankful

But life goes on, as it always does, and Thanksgiving will be here in two days. The Artist and I have each other! We have priceless family and friends! And we have received a flood of touching and very meaningful sympathy messages from a couple hundred people, many who knew Sarah for years and others in distant places who knew her only through my blog posts. We were unbelievably fortunate to have found puppy Sarah in the first place and then to have had her in our lives for so many years -- the best traveler, the best bookstore dog, and the best companion imaginable. 


I am very well aware of how blessed I am, what a wonderful life I have, and there are moments already when the Artist and I can make each other laugh, even over shared memories of Sarah. At the same time, for now, Sarah is my Pierre, and I am her dog: Everywhere I look, I see her absence.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

My Darling, Sweetest Girl

Sarah was adopted from the Cherryland Humane Society in Traverse City, Michigan, in January of 2008, at the age of four months.

Sarah died at 8 p.m., November 17, in her winter home of Dos Cabezas, Arizona, aged 13 years, with her family at her side. 


Rest in peace, darling, sweetest girl – you will live in our hearts forever.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Hello and Goodby! Coming and Going!


And no, I do not mean presidents! Don't you want a break? I sure do, so while we're waiting for the count, I'm stealing some bookstore news -- "industry" news, it might be called in other lines of work -- from articles in today's “Shelf Awareness” newsletter. 


Countless events take place in the world without generating screaming headlines. Comings and goings of indie bookstores take place all the time across America, whether you see them happening or not. How many times have visitors from elsewhere come through my bookstore door exclaiming that there’s nothing like Dog Ears where they live – or, more often, bemoaning the disappearance of bookstores in general. And yet, while it’s true that somewhere a bookstore is always closing, it’s also true that somewhere else a new one is opening. Statistics for openings vs. closures would be interesting to see, but every story is particular, as every independent bookstore’s identity is individual and personal.


So here are a couple of stories, but keep in mind that every week there are more stories like these:


New kid on the block: I’d love to pop in for a visit at the new Beausoleil Books in Lafayette, Louisiana. The only time I was ever in that town, I was delighted to find it (much more than New Orleans) a true francophone community, so a bookstore in town stocking French books along with English titles seems long overdue. Among Lafayette’s other charms: how many universities do you know with an alligator pond behind the Student Union? ("Pond" not at all the word I want, but I'm drawing a blank here. Help!) And dancing, every evening, all ages, to live Cajun music between dinner and sensible early bedtime. Road trip, road trip! Beausoleil Books, we wish you un succès fou!


Veteran’s farewell: On a sad note, however, the Book Nook in Monroe, Michigan, is closing its doors forever after December holidays, the “heartbroken” owner writing sadly on her Facebook page that after 50 years of weathering challenges from the Internet in general, the Online Behemoth in particular, and a fire next door, she has finally made the tough decision not to go "further into debt.” She adds bluntly (speaking of presidents), “I don't think it is ‘smart’ to not pay my share of taxes or file bankruptcy or stiff local vendors. I wasn't raised that way.”


My heart goes out to honest, hardworking bookseller Janet Berns, who asks for patience from her customers at this time when her emotions “are running the gamut from sadness and despair to anger and frustration to nausea and grief.” I can imagine myself in her shoes, with that roiling stew of feelings, and I hope her next chapter will have the brightness and rewards she has certainly earned after a half-century in her bookstore!


And so it goes. They come, they go, and nothing is forever. 

Some booksellers, of course, look forward to retirement. Book Nook owner Janet, though, was clearly not ready, and that troubles my heart.


Remember Tinker Belle? If children no longer believed in fairies, she would die, but if enough believers clapped their hands, she would live?  With bookstores, clapping your hands and saying you love them isn't enough. Only sales pay the bills -- another case of actions showing much more convincingly than words what people believe in and value. So to all who have kept Dog Ears Books solvent for over 27 years, please know that I appreciate each and every single one of you and look forward to picking up again in the spring in Northport for what I hope will be a busy, happy, healthy 2021 season. 

Meanwhile, be safe, stay healthy, keep reading -- and remember to shop local with my literary colleagues at Leelanau Books in Leland, Bay Books in Suttons Bay, Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor, Horizon Books in Traverse City, and Landmark Books in Traverse City. And if you must shop online, try alternatives to the Online Behemoth

Thank you, all you reader customer friends, for your support! You keep us going!


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Alone and Not Alone, Each and Every One of Us

Sunshine and shadows


...Brown eyes stared back at her bleakly. A serviceable, capable person with a heart like a volcano, one that was spewing out a lava of rage and confusion and grief. Oh, no one would ever guess it. Her customers would never believe her capable of such fury and desolation, the unending baffled confusion she felt…. 

-      Ellen Airgood, South of Superior


Our little reading circle, that long-standing, intrepid band that formed lo these many years ago to read James Joyce’s Ulysses together, has chosen Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! as November’s discussion group book (meeting via Zoom), so I’ve been plowing, dragging, trudging – picture a tired old mule, legs shaking with fatigue – through that depressing American classic. But last night, the night before Election Day, I needed a break, I needed comfort. And I needed to feel close to my friend, the author. So I fled, in spirit, to the U.P. before falling asleep (and waking at 3 a.m. to read some more, but that’s another story).

Toggling between the near and dear familiar and the difficult long-ago

The thing is (as another friend and I touched on earlier last night, during a phone conversation that we agreed at the beginning could not be long but which somehow kept going irresistibly once underway), we have all endured long years already of painful political and social division in our country, and on top of that came and still continue long months of pandemic restrictions and isolation. And still, on top of all the unusual, long-drawn-out, seemingly endless daily stresses of political and social strife and pandemic, the usual crises and disasters that life brings every year keep coming, too: accidents, unexpected expenses, job losses and business failures, fires, hurricanes, power outages, serious illnesses and hospitalizations and deaths – in other words, trials and losses of all kinds. Even happy events such as weddings and births cannot be celebrated as they would have been in normal times. It’s overwhelming and exhausting, the cumulative toll.


So no one is not exhausted. Which is why the long slog with Faulkner through the South, before, during, and after the Civil War, as we continue to feel nightmare reverberations today from that long-ago time, is not something I can handle nonstop.


Are Faulkner’s long sentences Proustian? One member of the reading circle thinks so, but I’m finding them very different, both in form and mood. A Faulknerian sentence, interrupting itself over and over on the way to each delayed and long-desired period, strikes me as an articulation of bottomless anger and frustration and regret and pain, while Proust’s sentences -- for me -- unfurl voluptuously in slow, bright, festooning ribbons of sensuous detail. Proust wraps a reader in long, luxurious moments, Faulkner withholds and torments. Of course, the respective content of these two brilliant writers cannot be separated from form, and the very different content undoubtedly colors my impressions….


These days many usually soft-spoken friends, feeling powerless and fearful despite their noble and tireless efforts to bring about better times for us all, express themselves privately in loud expletives. One dear friend, overcome by spells of panic that come without warning, bursts into uncontrollable sobs as we speak on the phone. Another loved one sadly expresses the feeling that he is alone in the world. Anger, panic, loneliness. Fear and sadness. Rage, confusion, grief, fury, desolation. Exhaustion.


Do I exaggerate? The basic condition of aloneness – that each of us is born alone, suffers alone, and dies alone – a truth that active, busy people generally manage to keep in the background of consciousness, is in our faces every day now. Giving up is not an option, however, and so we seek calm and comfort in prayer and meditation, long walks outdoors, playtime with children and pets, happy memories and current domestic joys, making art or baking pies -- and calling, texting, writing, making and maintaining connections, that is, to each other and to the precious ordinariness of life. Because joy is, we remind ourselves, as true as pain, loving connection as true as social isolation, every moment of life a precious gift not to be squandered.

Making connections

As Airgood’s character Madeline Stone realized about the U.P., life is “all mixed up, beautiful and bleak, both.” 


Will my friend Ellen be taken aback to find herself in company here with Marcel Proust and William Faulkner? Love you, Ellen and Rick!


I want to send a special “Hello and thank you!” to Margie Burns, also, up in Marquette, whose cheery note in the mail yesterday was such a lovely surprise. Warmest greetings to you and Jackie and all the members of your book club, Margie! I remember your visit to Dog Ears and am touched that you continue to follow my bookstore and life vicariously via this blog – and that you wrote to tell me so is a special gift.


In closing, on this long-awaited Election Day 2020: Better off than four years ago? Hardly! But not giving up, either, not by a long shot, whatever the results! It’s time to call on all our sisu and keep calling on it, daily, one day at a time, the only way life can ever be lived. That is today’s Upper Peninsula lesson, no less applicable here below the Bridge or in any other part of the world.


This tree has sisu!

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Last Hurrah – with Comfort and Kid Stuff


I’ll start with what I call comfort books. Above is pictured a little stack put together today of books that I consider as falling into that category.


Cheaper By the Dozen (1948), by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, illustrated by Donald McKay, is a story about growing up in a household of twelve children (written by two of the twelve) of parents who were the first “efficiency experts,” otherwise known as industrial engineers, the first to undertake professional motion studies of people at work. Having a dozen children, it was inevitable that their quest for efficiency would spill over into their home life. Read it once, and remember it forever. Belles on their Toes is a sequel.

Life with Father, by Clarence Day, Jr. is an American humor classic set earlier in American life than the Gilbreth titles. The mere chapter titles call up scenes in my memory and make me smile. Father keeps a carriage horses and is skeptical of “letting in” the telephone. I wouldn’t have wanted to live with him, but I love reading the stories.


The I Hate to Cook Book, by Peg Bracken, was certainly a classic of its time and launched its author’s writing career, and yes, there are recipes, but that’s only the beginning. Peg Bracken offered comfort to novice homemakers, and she is still comforting today.


…I’ve often thought it’s pretty presumptuous of cookbooks to tell me to make Individual Baked Alaskas when I am already up to my hips in Chicken Pilaff and Brussels Sprouts Calypso. I am not about to do it, either, because I. know something easier and just as good, like that lovely orange-cream sherbet at the fancy-food store, and the brownies I made two days ago. Or a rare, fine, immortal glass of Irish Coffee.


All of the above qualify as what I consider “comfort books.” Something comforting in an entirely different way is Katsura: A Princely Retreat. I’ve written about it before (and you'll find more pictures if you follow that link), but here’s the cover, in case you’ve forgotten. Sitting quietly, turning the pages, immersing yourself in the images is a calming meditation. And the book has its own slipcase, which it richly deserves.


Which (the slipcase) prompts me to go back to cookbook land to tell you about a two-volume, slipcased set of books, The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages. But there – the title tells you all you need to know, that there is a lot more to read here than mere recipes. 


I’ve been showing off lots of new books recently, for children and for grownups, but recently I acquired quite a few “new” old children’s books. No doubt many will bring back memories for my older readers. Not only individual classic novels and old-fashioned series books and readers from bygone decades, but also beautiful things like My Book HouseLive Dolls in Wonderland, and – yes! – a couple more illustrated versions of A Child’s Garden of Verses


You will be surprised, you will be amazed, you will be delighted! We have the ordinary, and we have the unexpected. So come in this Saturday, October 31, or you’ll have to wait until spring to tour my treasure island of – Books in Northport!