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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Its Own Kind of Beauty

I'll explain a little further on....
As we drove out from Traverse City on M-37, one of my favorite roads in the world (modest, quiet, familiar), we relaxed into the first leg of our trek south and west. I left the camera in the case but made mental notes of scenes along the way. This is some of what I saw:

Traverse City: riders on fat tire bicycles in the snow

South of Chum’s Corners: DNR deer check station (muzzle-loading season now)

Looking down onto the Manistee River valley: a snowy path ahead winding toward far banks of grey hills (lesson in perspective)

Restaurants and gas stations in small towns: “Welcome hunters!”

White Cloud: Sally’s Family Restaurant had a new sign out front. I couldn’t read it all as we passed, but the first two words were, incredibly, “Order online”! (Sally’s! In White Cloud!)

Newaygo: Sun peeking out at last as we stop at our usual cafe for a little pick-me-up

It was cold in Kalamazoo, but the Artist’s daughter’s house, where we dropped in for a family update, was warm and inviting. Those photos, sadly, are on my phone rather than on my camera, so you're not seeing them here. Then early Monday morning we went through northcentral Indiana on our way to central Illinois, captivated by the subtle beauty of the prairie and musing on prairie prehistory and history and the differences between prairie and the Great Plains, and since the Artist has always loved a horizon line, he encouraged me to get out my camera and take photographs as we drove along.  I managed to do so by using the sports setting (stop-action) on my Canon Rebel. These may look repetitious (and I could have adjusted color and didn't), but we were exclaiming minute-by-minute on our glide through this landscape. Does it do anything for you?






frosty cob
Originally I had planned a route of two-lane roads to I-55, putting us on expressway for the last leg through Illinois but we were so seduced by the beautiful haze on the prairie landscape that we took a final 2-lane instead to Springfield. The haze accounted not only for lovely atmospheric effects, but the cold air also turned those drops of moisture on trees and grasses to crystals, so that what looked like a morning frost occurred in the late afternoon. That is what you saw up at the top of this post, and here are some more shots from the same locale:




There was a spectacularly frosty tree in one ordinary small town yard.


And here is another small town sight, an old school still welcoming prairie students. Below it, still in the same town, a much more modest building also caught my eye. It was the contrast that intrigued me. 



As we began to run out of light, it was too late now to go back and take that easier expressway route. Driving was more of a challenge. At the same time, the combination of atmospheric haze and after-sunset hues turned magical, as buildings stood out against the sky in silhouette and each roadside tree we approached presented itself in all its glory. 





The prairie! It is not a land of lakes and hills, but it has its own timeless beauty.






Monday, December 10, 2018

Reading Other People’s Lives

Playing in the snow with the first dog of my life
As years go by, more and more older browsers in my bookshop tell me they love reading biographies. Is it more true of women than men? Maybe so, and probably more men read straight history than women. Across the gender gap, however, it seems that many of us, as we get up in years, turn increasing to nonfiction. 

In girlhood, I read nonfiction very sparingly. I found most history and biography written for young people too much like school lessons. What I looked for when reading for pleasure (which I did voraciously) was to be transported to other worlds, to be able to slip out of my own skin and away from my family and to live vicariously a very different life. Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Borrowers — early on, fantasy worked for me better than true-facts kinds of books.

My break-through, the first nonfiction story that succeeded in unlocking another real person’s life was — and the simple title emphasizes my point — The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller. Another girl-child, but with such a different beginning! Almost unimaginable obstacles between that young girl and the larger world! Her curiosity, her frustrations, her hunger, and the unfolding of the world around her, as she explored and discovered it, held my young inquisitive reading self in thrall. Later would come The Diary of Anne Frank, which I read at about the age she had been when writing it. 

The magic of a story well told and of a reader entering into that story is that we readers do take on, vicariously, the experiences of a character or narrator while we read. We leave ourselves behind, in one sense. — In another, of course, we remain ourselves and can only “have” the other’s experiences in translation, as interpreted by our own more familiar experiences, experience remaining, always, a subjective, first-person phenomenon, which is why I used those scare quotes around “have” earlier in this sentence. But really, what is it like to be someone else? Don't we all wish we knew?

And so, autobiography and memoir stand out for me against the more objective biographies written by someone other than the person who lived the life that is the subject of the book. The best biographies, of necessity, must be filled with speculation. Even if the subject told the story to the writer, another layer of translation has be added between subject and reader. Writers of memoir and autobiography are translating their lives for us, too — that I admit. Whether years afterward or in daily writing sessions as life is being lived, what is written is a matter of perspective, selection of facts to be reported, varying emphases, and interpretation of the world (including other people) that formed the environment for that life. Die lebenswelt, phenomenologists call it. But I feel closer when the subject is the writer.

And here my own bias deepens: I am generally more interested in writers’ accounts of childhood than in their stories of later life. Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City moves me much more than his later New York Jew, and Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter has for me an immediacy I don’t find in her later autobiographical books. I could go on and on listing examples, but the question is, why would it be? Why do I prefer — and find more interesting — the stories of childhood?

When famous people write autobiographies or memoirs, accounts of their later lives tend to be filled with other famous people, and too often whole pages come across, for me, as tedious name-dropping. Well, aren’t those other people interesting (even fascinating!), also? Perhaps so, but often the mention of them and their intrusion into the story gets in the way of the reading experience I want to be having. 

Here we might digress to ask the question I already set up above: What is interesting? Who is interesting? 

Well, whatever you take an interest in is, for that very reason, interesting to you. Just so, what I take an interest in is interesting to me. So as I see it, being “interesting” is not a quality of an object or a body of knowledge or any particular field of inquiry or individual human beings.  Some people have more obviously exciting lives than others, but what makes the story of a life interesting is not the plot line but how the story is told — and, for me, how much room the memoirist manages to make for me, the reader, to get inside his or her experience. 

I’ve never pushed my inquiry further until this morning, but now what I’m thinking is that “how I saw and discovered the world” is the story of every childhood, and for me that story is subject to as many variations as there are human beings in the world, so it can never not interest me, while the story of famous adulthoods, on the other hand, tends more toward “how the world saw me,” a very kettle of literary fish. The childhood story lets me, the reader, inside the writer’s life — we see the world together — while the adult story keeps me at a distance (“Look at me!”), relegating me to spectator status. 

Spectator. Audience. There are occasions when that position is both necessary sufficient. Reading history that covers decades or centuries, a reader necessarily views the pageant from a distance. The Frontier in American History does not invite me into any particular individual’s life experience but captivates by its broad sweep and by the development of an argument that engages me as I read. I do not slip into that writer’s experience. That is not the point at all. Instead my relationship is with the writer, not exactly as a partner in conversation, because he is the one onstage, giving a lecture, but I can question and disagree in my mind, as one may press a speaker after a talk in Q&A. If, however, I were reading the story of the author’s life, the life of Frederick Jackson Turner, as told by himself, I suspect I would find my interest lessening as he neared the ripe old age of 30. Just so, when reading Alfred Kazin on literature or Simone de Beauvoir on philosophy, I do not expect to inhabit their skins and lives, only their minds! And that only in a limited sense. But when they are writing of their own lives, I feel closest to them when they were discovering the world rather than being concerned with their own places in it.

As readers, we all have idiosyncratic biases that influence how certain books attract us and hold us through numerous re-readings and how others put us to sleep. What are yours?



Monday, December 3, 2018

Not All Lights Are Out!

Not frozen yet
Kathie &Barbara
The last day of our 2018 season, Friday, November 30, was a good day at Dog Ears Books. Many friends stopped in to enjoy cookies, shop the sale, and exchange wishes for a good winter and happy holidays. Serendipitous encounters occurred, also, such as this one between a local reader and this year’s bestselling local author. And about those bestsellers, here are the top-selling titles for the past three years at Dog Ears Books:

Bestsellers, 2016-18

2016 was a tie between Kathleen Stocking’s The Long Arc of the Universe and Jim DuFresne’s Trails of M-22

In 2017 Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester came out on top early in the season and stayed there all year.

And for 2018, the #1 book in Northport was easily Barbara Stark-Nemon’s Hard Cider

Congratulations to these hard-working and very deserving authors!

As Friday drew to a close and quiet descended over the village of Northport, holiday lights shining against the dark were an irresistible temptation. Though we will not be on hand this year for Christmas and New Year’s, I’m glad we’ve had a chance to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season with local friends. And I also want all my readers to know that there are still  several pockets of lively activity in Northport. One of them (featured in the novel Hard Cider, by the way) is Sally Coohon’s shop, Dolls and More. Stopping in on Friday morning while Bruce took charge of sales at the bookstore, I found Sally providing guidance and support to a local man making a memorial quilt with his beloved late dog’s scarves. 
Working on the backing

Memorial quilt top
Twinkling holiday lights rest on poinsettia quilt

One small corner of Sally's treasure island of materials!
So much going on everywhere!
Sally offers instruction in quilting, knitting, stamping, and holiday crafts, and her shop is warm and cozy and welcoming, a most cheery place to spend time when the weather outside is frightful.

The Artist and I will be spending our winter in a place even quieter than Northport, out in that Arizona ghost town I chronicled in 2015 and again in early 2018. What will winter be like in Cochise County this time around? How will our friends at home in Leelanau fare in terms of snow, ice, and cold? And what exciting books, new and old, will come our way in the months ahead? There again I trust to serendipity and wish a sleighful of it to all of you!



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Our Last Week!

Northport was full of holiday-makers on Saturday evening when our big village tree lights were turned on, and before that a fair number of revelers found their way into Dog Ears Books, making for quite a lively day. People seemed to appreciate the sale prices, which I’m continuing through this week. A kind friend, Kirk O’Green, sent me the wonderful photo below of “Christmas horses.” Rides through the village in the horse-drawn wagon are another annual Northport tradition that goes along with tree-lighting. See my building in the background, just behind the driver?

As the northern hemisphere approaches winter solstice, there are a few complaints in northern Michigan about days ending so early, but bright lights hold darkness at bay in our little village. Doesn’t the Garage Bar & Grill (my next-door neighbor) look welcoming?



Following the weekend, Dog Ears Books joined indie bookstores across the country in celebrating CIDER (please, not ‘cyber’!) Monday. We had cookies and the appropriate beverage. That was fun! Now, however, the end of November is at hand, and Friday, November 30, will be the last day of our 2018 season. That’s right, you’ve only got three days left to visit the bookstore in Northport and shop the holiday sale and greet the bookstore dog and share cookies and season’s greetings with us! We’ll re-open in mid-May. For now, I’m both happy and sad to see the year end. 

The Artist and I have had a somewhat grueling summer and fall, and we look forward to our time away from work — our “seasonal retirement,” as I’ve taken to calling it. Still, we will miss friends here at home. But our neighbors the sandhill cranes left long ago, and it’s just about time for us to migrate, as they have already done, to a winter home. “Your last week?” one customer cried out in alarm. “Last of this season,” I hastened to assure. God willing, we shall return in the spring, along with the cranes. 

Meanwhile, keep safe, friends! Stay healthy! Drive defensively, don’t take any falls on the ice, enjoy your winter holidays with family and friends, and keep reading good books!



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Winter Comes to Northport


The solstice is still in the future, but we have had snow (along with books) in Northport. We’ve also had some early holiday guests at Dog Ears Books.


Saturday morning (early)
Featured Guest Aaron Stander

Saturday was the long-anticipated book signing with Aaron Stander and his #10 Ray Elkins murder mystery, The Center Cannot Hold. Such is Aaron’s popularity that even before he arrived on the scene, his fans were pouring in, eager for face time with the author.




And so, despite gloomy weather, despite the existential crisis I fear Sheriff Elkins in facing (consider the title), we had a cheerful and convivial day in the bookstore. Aaron came all the way up from Interlochen, and Saturday’s customers were from Omena and Cedar, as well as Northport.




Happy customers!
Another visitor: my son

My son, Ian, was visiting from Kalamazoo, also, having arrived on Thursday evening. As the proprietor of a bookshop, I never have a problem entertaining visitors who are book readers — and happily, all of my relatives are readers. So it was that during quiet moments at home and in the shop, as Ian and I sat reading our respective books, every now and then one of us would pause to share a passage with the other. Readers, after all, are not antisocial. We are happy to read aloud to others and often to pass favorite books along to friends. Can’t do that with a pumpkin latte.



Bruce brought me a book

Bruce Balas, my part-time volunteer of many years, recently traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland, and as he so often does from these international jaunts, Bruce brought back a book for me. This time it was The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell, a day-to-day account of one little shop selling used books in Scotland.

Each day in The Diary begins with a notation of the number of online orders received, along with how many of the books ordered the bookseller and his crew were able to locate to ship out, thus fulfilling the orders — his rating with the online behemoth selling engine rising and falling accordingly. He notes ruefully that while one of the compensations of self-employment, traditionally, has been not having a boss, the behemoth “is slowly but certainly becoming the boss of the self-employed in retail.” I read that, shivered, and thanked my lucky stars I pulled out of the online selling morass years ago, as prices realized raced to the bottom with no corresponding diminution in time required to process orders. 

(An order for a six-dollar book is as time-consuming as one for a sixty-dollar book, and in an open shop, with a single person working, it makes more sense to focus on live people who have taken the trouble to come through the door. Of course, that means depending on those live people to buy books in the shop so that it can remain open and viable. Word to the wise sufficient?)

The Book Shop in Wigtown sells mostly used books, only a handful of new, and their most popular used books are on the subject of railroads. The proprietor buys considerably more books than I do from private libraries being dispersed and, as I say, is selling online daily. He has a handful of part-time employees (what would that be like?) and a bookstore cat rather than a dog. He lives above his shop. And while he doesn't mention it, I know he drives on the wrong side of the road. All these are differences between his business and mine, but so much of what he experiences is still familiar to me that I keep laughing out loud as I read.

The meat of each day’s diary entry is a narrative including descriptions of weather, stories of shop help’s eccentricities, customer requests and staff responses, expeditions to examine private libraries offered for sale, accounts of local “festival” plans, and the bookseller’s recreational activities on his days off. Following the narrative is the number of customers in the shop that day (he calls them all “customers,” whether or not they spend a shilling) and the total “take” in British pounds.

On the minus side of Shaun Bythell’s observations are the following phenomena, sadly familiar to your bookseller in Northport: people who enter with boisterous proclamations of their love of books and bookstores and buy nothing (so it is not my imagination, and I’m not the only bookseller to have noticed!); those for whom nothing is cheap enough, no matter how much they supposedly “want” it or how many years they have been searching for it; the problem of the behemoth’s pricing algorithm (comments about “cheaper online” made within hearing of the bookseller); etc.

(I am waiting to see if he will mention the dramatic souls who confide with a shudder that bookstores are “very dangerous places” for them, folks who eye me suspiciously, as if I were a dealer in illegal substances luring them, at their peril, into an ambush! And are there in Scotland bookstores the annual visitors who stop by, look around, and sail out each time empty-handed with promises to “see you again next year”? I wonder what they think keeps my bookstore in business from one summer to the next.)

On the positive, brief side of the pro/con ledger — he prides himself on being a “curmudgeon” and tends to accentuate the negative — Bythell describes some of the joys of bookshop life: children who lose themselves in books (“It gives me a glimmer of hope for the future of bookselling  … to see a child reading, their attention rapt in the book to the total exclusion of everything else.”); a regular customer who orders from the shop rather than online (you how who you are, loyal Northport friends!); exclamations he overhears about how “cool” his shop is; the thrill of selling a treasure he’s had on the shelf for a decade and that of discovering another treasure among boxes of books otherwise good for nothing but to sell by weight to a scrap dealer. Occasionally he goes off on a paean of praise for something like historic publishers of quality books or a grump-fest about a planned wind farm he fears would ruin his view. 

There are also nuggets of old-bookish information to enlighten anyone not familiar with the trade, and so, as I read and laugh and share aloud bits to anyone fortunate enough to be nearby (at present, my son and/or the Artist), I keep thinking of others who would enjoy this book. The experienced bookseller would find, as I have, a kindred soul and familiar situations; for the novice or wannabe bookseller, there are useful lessons; and anyone genuinely interested in books and bookstores and human foibles would be amused and entertained.

Books about bookstores, like books about dogs, seem to be increasing in number. Is this indicative of a new and growing appreciation for bookstores and their continued existence? One can hope.


Not that long ago....
And now, Thanksgiving is coming

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for my years of Up North bookselling, despite the occasional frustrations. Making dreams come true is as much hard work as it is joy, but for me it has been worthwhile. I’m thankful for the Artist’s steadfast support from the beginning; for Bruce’s loyal assistance over many years; and for the collegiality of fellow bookstore owners, especially in northern Michigan (real booksellers, in my book, are those with open shops, willing to meet the public face to face). 

I am ever grateful for the generosity and talent and professionalism of authors it has been my privilege to meet and know in the course of the last quarter-century; for parents who bequeathed to me and my sisters a love of reading and respect for books; for other parents and teachers who have done and continue to do the same for children in their lives. 

And always I am thankful to my customers, both local and visiting, first-time tourists and returning summer people, all who continue to show their appreciation for my bookstore by buying books in Northport, at Dog Ears Books, on Waukazoo Street. That’s what keeps my bookstore here! Thank you all! May your holiday be blessed! You have all been blessings in my life!

“Going Forward”


(As if there’s any other way we can go, eh?)

In 2015 I called my winter away from Michigan a sabbatical. I didn’t give it a name in 2018. Now, however, still working long summer and fall days as younger friends and relatives retire, I have decided that “seasonal retirement” is a more meaningful term. 

This year the Artist and I will be away from home and our places of business from December through April, our longest absence from ever. You’ll be able to follow our adventures (as in previous, shorter absences) here on “Books in Northport,” should you be so inclined. Meanwhile, for the more immediate future, here is the plan for Dog Ears Books for the remainder of November:

NOVEMBER BOOKSHOP CALENDAR

Tuesday, 11/20: OPEN 10-2:30 (need to close early to keep an appointment)

Wednesday, 11/21: OPEN 11-5 (Take a bookstore break from mixing up cranberry relish and bread stuffing and baking pies.)

Thursday, 11/22: CLOSED FOR THANKSGIVING

Friday, 11/23: OPEN 11-5 WITH BEGINNING OF HOLIDAY SALE

Saturday, 11/24: OPEN 11-5. OPEN HOUSE IN BUSINESSES THROUGHOUT VILLAGE. HOLIDAY SALE CONTINUES. VILLAGE TREE LIGHTING 6 p.m. LIVE MUSIC

Sunday, 11/25 CLOSED

Monday, 11/26: OPEN 11-5 for CIDER MONDAY — YOUR LOCAL ALTERNATIVE BY SHOPPING ONLINE! HOLIDAY SALE CONTINUES.

Tuesday, 11/27: OPEN 11-5 HOLIDAY SALE CONTINUES

Wednesday, 11/28: OPEN 11/5 HOLIDAY SALE CONTINUES

Thursday, 11/29: OPEN 11-5 HOLIDAY SALE CONTINUES

Friday, 11/30: OPEN 11-5 LAST DAY OF THE BOOKSTORE YEAR???

Saturday, 12/1: Who knows? Not sure yet! Friday, 11/30, may be our last day of the season, so don’t wait for December 1st to do your holiday shopping at Dog Ears Books!


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Do You Need a Weatherman?

Many years ago — and it’s been so many that I don’t want to put a number on them — back when “long distance” was so different from “local” that the former kind of telephone call was still for most of us a special occasion, I was in New Jersey and speaking to a dear friend at the time in El Paso, Texas. An impatient note was pressed into my hand: “Weather is boring.” Yes, my friend and I were sharing weather news, but no, it wasn’t boring. 

“Small talk” is a label applied, often derisively, to safe topics of general interest. People with conflicting political opinions or religious beliefs antagonistic to each other are unlikely to get into a shouting match over weather reports or forecasts. “Everyone talks … no one does anything about….” the weather, Mark Twain is said to have said, but that’s exactly what makes it a safe topic. We are not called upon to do anything about it, other than prepare for it. Lay in supplies (blizzard) or prepare for evacuation (hurricane), but no one expects us to stop a weather event in its tracks.

Small talk? More to it than that. 

In the course of our evolution and yet today, leaving our homes to venture out on land, sea, and air, knowing about weather conditions is important to our survival. “How are the roads?” is no idle question asked to fill in awkward silence. But while the roots of our perennial interest are undoubtedly in the history of our species, fascination with weather goes beyond our need to know. I in New Jersey and my friend in west Texas had no survival issues at stake in the road conditions of each other’s temporary places of residence. No, what we wanted, we two friends from Michigan, both far from home and missing all that was familiar to us, was to place each other in the alien landscapes we were then inhabiting. 

For several years now I have corresponded with a friend in New South Wales, Australia, a friend who has never been to Michigan, as I have never been to Australia. (We may never meet! But we are friends.) And not only do we experience different weather but also opposite seasons: winter in Michigan is summer in New South Wales. Somehow Kathy and I never cease to be amazed at that. If one of us picks up the phone to call (as she did once, years ago) instead of relying on e-mail and the occasional package, we are speaking together in real time across what feels like a six months’ time difference (instead of only 17 hours). Intellectually, we understand about the northern and southern hemispheres, the tilt of the earth on its axis, but experientially we are all wonderment.

But to backtrack — because already I’ve oversimplified, as you may have noticed. We know very well that the need for response to weather and other natural events (e.g., fire) events is not an argument-free topic, particularly in the wake of catastrophe. Who should have done more to prepare? Who failed to respond adequately? Some of the discussion has to do with improving future preparation and response, but there’s also that pesky business of assigning blame. Oh, we can do that, all right! And I’m only talking here about natural disasters. Whatever happens, there is always some group of people at fault, and that’s just the weather! 

Stakes of the blame game get much, much higher when we shift from “small talk” to anything remotely political. Do you need a weatherman? What direction do you think the winds of change are blowing? Because time, after all, is change, consequently the times are always a-changin’. For better, for worse — it all depends on your point of view. Or does it? 

I guess, though, that the good news (it’s always important to look for a bright spot, if not a bright side, isn’t it?) is that — oh, darn! Now I’ve forgotten what the bright spot was! That we don’t have hurricanes in northern Michigan? What could have flitted through my mind there?

Well, the Artist and I made an odyssey to Indiana last weekend. It felt odyssic (is that a word?) to us, anyway, though Indiana is only one stay away from Michigan, in that we worried about weather and driving conditions and only very reluctantly left our Sarah (dog) with neighbors for four days. (Sarah and the neighbors had a wonderful time — a change of pace for everyone.) Reasons for the trip, however, were happy ones. After losing my mother, a neighbor, and an old friend (three funerals), at last I was going to a wedding! It was lovely. And we made it home on dry roads before Monday evenings snowfall began.

One question in our house, whenever we are preparing for a trip, is: “What are you taking to read?” I took along the book I had set aside over a week before, Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Frontier in American History, originally published over a hundred years ago as separate papers on frontier topics. Turner’s view — new at the time he articulated it, persuasive in its time, hotly debated and rejected by many between then and now — was that American history and the American character were essentially shaped by a westward-advancing frontier. 

I am still puzzling over and wondering about “the American character,” though Turner does list features of his paradigmatic American. It’s interesting that he acknowledges a large percentage of immigrants in his frontiersmen, so his “American” character was not limited to those born in the American colonies or, later, states. Was not each successive wave of immigrants resented in East Coast cities in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century? Did the frontier accept each ethnic group equally? I do not find answers to these questions in Turner’s papers.

As a research assistant in the 1980s I learned that nineteenth-century Michigan farms were established by waves of settlers first from Pennsylvania and New York and later from the European states eventually consolidated as the German nation. It was common practice for pioneers to settle, “improve” the land (clear the forest, plant crops, fence acreage, build houses and barns), and then sell and move farther west to do the same again, new Western immigrants replacing the older as the frontier moved west.

Turner stresses ongoing conflict between established East Coast colonies and cities and the more sparsely settled agricultural lands on the frontier. Such conflict was part of the differences that led to the Civil War but was also much larger and longer lasting. No doubt if he could return to the United States in 2018 Turner would find evidence to justify himself in holding to his thesis, and it can be a compelling lens or grid, though it is not the only possible or useful organizing principle of American history. And it’s kind of a shell game, each theory presenting some gap or contradiction, so it’s a question of which intellectual problems you want left at the end of your say.

As I read, for instance, I am dismayed at Turner’s claim that westward expansion was “peaceful.” He sees the pioneers as naturally democratic, holding “equality, freedom of opportunity, [and] faith in the common man” as ideals acted out in their everyday lives, holding themselves independent of state and national power insofar as they could do so without detriment to their own interests. 

…The importance of the result can hardly be overestimated. It ensured the peaceful and free development of the great West and gave it political organization not as the outcome of wars of hostile States, nor by arbitrary government by distant powers, but by territorial government combined with large local autonomy. These [local] governments in turn were admitted as equal States of the Union. By this peaceful process of colonization a whole continent has been filled with free and orderly commonwealths so quietly, so naturally, that we can only appreciate the profound significance of the process by contrasting it with the spread of European nations through conquest and oppression.

There. I have restrained myself and not added italic emphasis to a single word in the passage quoted above. I will simply urge you now to go back and re-read it, slowly, a phrase at a time. What stands out in your mind?

Earlier in the same chapter, “The Middle West,” originally published as a paper in the International Monthly in December 1901, Turner wrote of the “removal policy” that “effected the transfer of most of the eastern [Native American] tribes to lands across the Mississippi,” with later “removal” clearing Kansas and Nebraska for westward-migrating Eastern whites and European immigrants, and he notes — as again I restrain myself and add no emphases:

A period of almost constant Indian hostility followed, for the savage lords of the boundless prairies instinctively felt the significance of the entrance of the farmer into their empire. In Minnesota the Sioux took advantage of the Civil War to rise; but the outcome was the destruction of their reservations in that State…. The systematic slaughter of millions of buffalo … put an end to the vast herds of the Great Plains, and destroyed the economic foundation of the Indians. Henceforth they were dependent on the whites for their food supply, and the Great Plains were open to cattle ranchers. 

How are these two accounts in a single published paper by a single author to be reconciled? Was the frontier pushed west in orderly, peaceful fashion or by a relentless series of destructive forces upon established inhabitants? If Turner had ignored the Indians entirely, we could simply reject his claim of peaceful expansion. As it is, he acknowledges the presence of the Indians, their hostility to the pioneers, and the destruction of their economy, so that, even while he has remained silent on more direct destruction of human populations, we need to explain somehow why it is he sees no inherent contradiction in his story.

Sadly, I think I see the way he interprets pioneer history, and the key is the contrast he asks us to draw between American expansion and “the spread of European nations through conquest and oppression.” Think about it. He does not see displaced Native American tribes as conquered and oppressed. Why not? How can he see them any other way? The key, I believe, is his characterization of the Indians as “savage lords” of the prairies. (That the prairies were not “boundless” is another matter.) In Europe, conflicts of “conquest and oppression” were between what Turner recognized as civilizations, whereas conflict between a civilization and “savages” fell outside the scope of “conquest and oppression.” He does not even defend this aspect of his thesis. It is an assumption rather than an explicit premise or defended conclusion. 

Abraham Lincoln made the public statement that the nation could not survive half slave and half free. Weatherman Lincoln had his eye on the slavery question. Following the Civil War, many displaced Southerners, both white and black, sought new lives for themselves in the American West, and one path open to them was fighting Indians. History frequently refers to the “Indian wars.” Were the “hostilities” not “wars” in Turner’s eyes because the “tribes” were not organized as “States”?

Halfway through the Turner book, once again I set it aside. Though I will finish the reading of it, I have to ration my intake, just as I try to ration my daily intake of national and world news. 

Weathermen look for patterns, predicting the future on the basis of the past. These forecasts work best in the short term. Low chance of precipitation today, sunshine this afternoon and more tomorrow. A 10-day forecast can be helpful in planning life events but will usually be revised during that period, so check it every day if you need to know. 

Has heavy snowfall come this early in the previous seven years? That was the question of one friend, and I looked back over a few blog posts for the answer and quick found this one from 2014. Snow before Thanksgiving — not unprecedented.

Weather patterns are not fixed by human calendars. They are not even identical from one century to the next. How much more uncertainty attends human predictions of economic activity and of war and peace! This is 2018. We have never been here before.