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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Country Views, April Two Thousand and Fourteen

Can you tell that the pond above is almost completely frozen over? It looks largely clear of ice but isn't, as you see in the shot to the left here. By afternoon, though, the ice will be gone and water rippling in sun and breeze, and then the question is how far the temperature will drop tonight. The last two nights the pond had refrozen, but maybe we're about to turn the corner in this 24-hour period. I hope so, because I can hardly wait for the peeper chorus to burst into full-throated song right here on this spot. 

Even this morning, however, there was life at the pond. My duck and gull photos are overexposed, as was much of what I tried to photograph this morning. Finally, almost to Northport, I stopped and figured out the problem. I'd been using the Av setting, Aperture Priority, in the woods on an overcast Monday morning and had changed the F-stop to bring in more light. Little did I know that changing the aperture on the Av setting would carry over to the Auto and Scene settings as well. Lesson learned, so all's well that ends well. And actually, one snow-edged road winding through frost-kissed fields seems to reveal its essence more fully with the overexposure. Or am I kidding myself?

(Snow was not really blue)

Closer to home in the past couple of days, here were some of the sights to be seen: 

Wild leeks!

Beechnut hulls (squirrels ate the nuts long ago)

Flicker singing at top of popple tree

I have lots of new photos of building projects around town but will save those for another day. David and I have been reading up a storm these days and nights, making the most of our indoor time before outdoor projects lay their claims on us. We've been reading Norman Lewis to each other and Harry Bruce and will soon embark on a little light-hearted Bill Bryson I've set aside. All these books we've been enjoying are nonfiction tales of faraway lands, compensation for the fact that it's been a year and a half since we've traveled any farther away from home than Kingsley, Michigan. -- But we live in a beautiful place. We survived the winter. And spring it is icumen in!

My other recent reading (the silent, to-myself stuff) has covered fiction (short and long), poetry, and more nonfiction. Some of it will find its way into reviews soon, both here and in the Northern Express, but I won't neglect the progress of the season, either. It's too exciting!

Woodpecker heaven amid last (?) of winter's snow

Friday, April 11, 2014


Bootstrapper: A Memoir, by Mardi Jo Link
NY: Knopf, 2014
Paper, $15

Northern Michigan readers have known Mardi Jo Link prior to this memoir. Her first book, When Evil Came to Good Hart (2008), revisited a cold case in a Grand Traverse Bay resort area, the murder of a family come to vacation in their summer home, a book I didn't want to read and studiously avoided for a long time. True crime is not the genre for me--my imagination generates pictures that are far too vivid--but then came Isadore's Secret....

Okay, fast-forward here to Link's second book of nonfiction, Isadore’s Secret (2009), the story of the young Polish nun who mysteriously disappeared over a century ago in a tiny Leelanau County crossroads community. Without a word of invented dialogue (everything in quotation marks comes from depositions or trial transcripts), Isadore’s Secret carried me back a hundred years to inhabit a vanished world of rural immigrants: Polish farmers and nuns, farm children who boarded at school during the week at the Catholic school because getting there on a daily basis was too difficult in the winter, classes taught in Polish, insiders and outsiders. I could feel the wind blow and see the locals combing the fields for the missing nun. The book won a well-deserved Michigan Notable award.

So then I said (to myself), Okay, Mardi, you're a really good writer, and I'm going to read your first book. I've always wondered what draws a writer to a particular true crime story. The genesis of When Evil Came to Good Hart made perfect sense to me when I learned it: as a girl, Mardi first heard the gruesome news story over the car radio as her own family was driving north for their summer vacation. Yes, the young mind of a writer-to-be would certainly be impressed by the parallels and unable to forget something like that!

But now, a memoir? It's a departure from Link's earlier books, but a writer's memoir addresses questions many people have about making a living by pen, typewriter, or, these days, laptop. There are general questions, and then there are specific questions particular to a particular writer. How, for example, in Link's case, while struggling to cobble together a serious career, does one also hold a family together when marriage disintegrates into divorce and “single mom” is added to one’s resume? This is the story told in Bootstrapper, out this spring in paper after its hardcover launch in 2013. 

Character traits to be inferred from Link’s previous books appear undisguised in her memoir: she sticks unflinchingly to facts, even unpleasant, revealing ones about herself that sometimes operate as a cruel mirror; the research skills that have always informed her work help her overcome seemingly insoluble financial problems; and she never gives up until the job is done. Hers is not a glamorous literary “lifestyle” but a life, some parts consciously chosen, others the price exacted by the choices.

Link and her boys depended substantially on their garden for survival (one season they bought a share in a pig, anticipating a winter of farm-raised ham and bacon, and in later chapters a flock of chickens come home to roost), but food is only one challenge. There are also taxes to be paid, an old house to be heated in winter, aging vehicles to nurse along, and blizzards and power outages to survive. At least some of these challenges will be familiar to every resident of northern Michigan who sticks it out between color season and blossom, but money or lack of money makes a big difference. 

If you've hoed this tough row yourself, you'll realize that nothing in Link's story is exaggerated, and if your life has never been as hard as hers, these glimpses into "how the other half lives" may trigger new empathy. We're told over and over again that  “getting old is not for sissies.” Well, neither is a writer’s life in northern Michigan. 

Still, for all the struggles recounted, Link’s story will also make you laugh out loud. I laughed a lot while reading this book. And I'd almost call it a tale of suspense, too, in that it will keep you turning pages eagerly from start to finish. Funny, well written, with a trajectory that never lets up--don't miss this book! If you live in northern Michigan, you owe it to yourself to read and share it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Earth Surfaces

Snow frozen rock-hard at sunrise
These early April mornings the topmost layer of snow (still ankle-deep or more in many places) is frozen to a hard crust. It’s hard enough to walk on, easily, with only the occasional surprising plunge of foot and leg precipitating a stumble or fall. During the day, sun and warmth do their work; like a retreating glacier, the snowpack gradually gives ground; and by early evening another six feet of last year’s sorry-looking vegetation has been exposed to view. Where snow still lies deep, it has the consistency of a slushie and begs to be kicked.

Standing water still freezing overnight, too
The basic soil type on my home ground is clay. With all the snow melting right now, water stands in temporary pools and lakes in field and orchard, and a miniature river, ephemeral, runs across my meadow. Runoff water is hurrying north to the little no-name creek that will carry it the last stretch west to Lake Michigan, while on the north side of the creek, water rushes south, tumbling down the soggy clay bank. All creeks are running high this spring, and there is still a lot of snow and ice left to melt, besides the usual April rainstorms.

Another thing I think about this time of year is “miniature geography,” as I called it in the past, although I’m now seeing it as miniature, speeded-up, fast-disappearing geology, as well. That second phrase hasn’t quite the same ring, but here are a couple of illustrations of what I'm talking about:

This snowbank built up over months by snowfall and road plow exhibits layering that reminds me of Upper Peninsula sandstone deposits, the banding in the stone along Lake Superior making apparent a laying down of sediment that occurred over vast periods of time. As warm weather and sunshine do their work of revealing the snow layers, they also, along with wind and rain, erode the bank. Sandstone erodes much more slowly, but wind and water are at work there, too.. Over on Karen Casebeer’s blog, you can see ferocious uplift and grinding of ice on Lake Michigan—again, similar to what happened with the earth’s crust long ago. Modern episodes like that, with earth rather than ice, we term disasters. Demonstrations in geology, just outside your door!

In my garden, rhubarb began to poke through a couple of days ago, as did daffodils under the silver maple tree. Soil is much on my mind in the spring.

It must be thirty years, maybe forty, since I first read Plowman’s Folly, by Edward H. Faulkner, a book that had such a profound effect on novelist Louis Bromfield that it changed the course of his life. Like Immanuel Kant when he read David Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature and “awakened from his dogmatic slumbers,” Bromfield reading Faulkner experienced the epiphany of his lifetime and was inspired to return from France to his native Ohio, where, with royalties from his fiction sales, he bought up “wornout” farmland (Malabar Farm, now a state park) and return it to productivity. The methods Bromfield practiced on his land were called then the “New Agriculture.” “No crime is involved in plagiarizing nature’s ways,” wrote Faulkner in his little book, published in 1943 and destined to become a small classic in its field. In fact, he argued, nature’s ways are what farmers should have been following all along.

[I'm letting the foregoing stand as I wrote it, although I mistrusted my memory, and with good reason, as it turns out. Malabar Farm was already in operation when Faulkner's book came out. There was, however, a connection, as you can read here, and Bromfield did think highly of Faulkner's recommendations and practices.]

The importance of organic matter in holding soil moisture and preventing erosion has become well known in the decades that have passed since Faulkner’s book was first published, but I’m finding plenty of new food for thought in his argument, nonetheless. Take the matter of soil compaction. Faulkner’s objection to the moldboard plow is not, as one might assume or I might have misremembered, that it compacts the soil but that, in turning over the soil, it deposits organic surface matter below the surface. Organic matter at that level, he says, will pull moisture down and away from crop roots, while the smooth, bare soil surface the plow leaves, however beautifully friable it appears, will shed moisture, leaving crops thirsty and setting up conditions for erosion.

Is anyone still with me? Did you think soil compaction was a bad thing? Is Faulkner is saying it’s a good thing? Not compaction, but compression:
Compression was the principle upon which the marker worked. [This was a roller he invented for marking rows and spacing to tell him where to put his vegetable transplants.] Where the idea originated, I do not know. Perhaps it was the result of an illustration we used to see in one of our soil texts. The illustration was intended to show the student how a well prepared seedbed should look. The light color of the surface soil indicated that this loose, “well prepared” surface soil had been dried out by wind and sunshine—as is always true—even though the area presented was supposedly ideal for seed growth. Included in the picture was a heel print. The moist condition of this compressed spot, darker in color, proved that capillary water climbed the vertical column of soil immediately under it. The comparatively dry condition of the rest of the soil showed that, in the loose soil, the capillary connection with the deep underground water supply had been broken. Thirty years ago, the picture meant nothing more than a clean-cut photo of an exceptionally well prepared soil in good tilth (according to established standards). Fitted into the new scheme of soil management, it becomes a significant guide to better methods of planting seeds and transplanting plants. [The italics are my added emphasis.]
If there is even one person who reads this far and is fascinated by the claim that compressed soil is better for plants than loose, friable soil, I will be satisfied. If two people are fascinated, I’ll be downright thrilled!

Because, think about it—does anyone want to go to the trouble of double-digging if the practice is deleterious rather than beneficial? We’ve been told that soil has to be loose, has to be aerated, and here’s Faulkner saying, Hey! Nature doesn’t do it that way! Do not disturb! Or, at least, disturb the soil as little as possible, and after you’ve disturbed it, try to restore it, as much as possible, to its undisturbed state.

I’m thinking Aristotle here and the Golden Mean. Soil too loose to hold moisture can’t be good, but neither can soil compacted into rock. “Builder’s clay” is what Faulkner had to begin with in the yard of one new family house, and that took a long siege of amendments, physical and organic. Too compressed or not compressed enough are bad. What we want is the “just right” middle position. Yes, Goldilocks comes to mind, too.

Not all cultivation is plowing, and here’s a site that will help make various tillage distinctions clear for the uninitiated (nonfarmer).

The question of tillage and cultivation has not yet been settled, even among organic farmers, partly because no-till practices often involve heavy use of chemical herbicides. An article published not long ago in AcresUSA (November 2013, Vol. 43, no. 11), which is a factor in unwanted soil compaction.
Many farmers bought into no-till methods as a way to “save money.” What the abandonment of tillage saves in the beginning, though, can be offset by declining fertility. Long-term use of no-till methods, especially when heavy machinery wheels are used at planting and harvest times, can lead to a state of brick-like compaction. It is unlike anything anything in nature, except perhaps as a result of certain catastrophes such as meteorite strikes [emphasis added]. 
 Salts, whether naturally present in the soil or added as part of the fertilizer regime, provide an active bonding agent to stick the soil together. This, you see, is the age-old formula for making mortar. – Jeffery Goss, “Tillage Under Attack?”
Faulkner, it should be noted, was not an advocate of herbicides and even thought fertilizer unnecessary, if proper tillage and planting practices were followed. He did admit, however, that his own “research” was not controlled enough to deserve the name and that long-term studies needed to be done. Here’s a 2014 site I found with a lot of recent research on the subject. Time for me to stop blogging now and go read the studies....

But first a couple of reminders --

Reminder: A book that makes clear the relationship of soil health to every human being's health, Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing, by Daphne Miller, M.D., is still being featured at Dog Ears Books.

Reminder: Poets Night Out in Traverse City is Sunday, April 27. And this is National Poetry Month, so I'll be getting to poetry with my next blog post.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Should We Sell the Legislative Process?

Long before reading Chris Lehmann’s piece, “Funding Fathers,” in Bookforum (Volume 20, Issue 4, Dec/Jan 2014), I’d had cynical thoughts about what’s happened to our American system of electing legislators. What with the gerrymandering of recent years, the increasing tendency of Americans (and probably most of the rest of the world) to get their “news” chiefly from sources whose political biases they share, and then the Citizens United decision, now beefed up by the recent McCutcheon verdict – why, I wondered sadly, go through all the uproar and distraction of political campaigns? Why not just go directly from Point A to Point B and sell the offices to the highest bidders?

I mean, you think the Tea Party is Populist, that it represents the Common Man and Woman? Lehmann cites a study done by Thomas Ferguson (political science, U-Mass, Boston), Paul Jorgensen (political science, UTexas-PanAmerican), and Jie Chen (statistics, U-Mass, Boston) showing that there is “no meaningful divide” between donors to the Tea Party and the GOP’s usual donors. “The business community and its leased Tea Party mouthpieces share the same basic long-term goals: to continue cutting taxes and to slash away at government expenditures.” I’m sure my readers will realize without having to be told that small indie bookstores are not representative of nor even part of “business community” in this context. In fact, the articles goes on,
It [study results] gets better. Among the biggest bankrollers of Tea Party incumbents in 2012 were commercial banks and their executives—i.e., the very constituencies that, in rhetorical terms, at least, Tea Party leaders profess to despise....
Now ask yourself: Does it make sense to elect to office--or even to sell legislative office to--legislators who don’t believe in government? Who think government is the problem? Who don’t want any regulations or taxes? Who don’t believe in “the common good” at all, except insofar as they like to tell us that benefits to the wealthiest will “trickle down” to lower levels?

So here’s a new modest proposal for the 21st century: Abolish Congress and sell laws to the highest bidders. You want a certain law? Write up your bill, round up your donor base, and if you come up with more scratch than your opponents, you get your law. Simple!

Naturally, a few kinks need to be worked out before the new system can be put into effect. The U.S. Constitution will have to be seriously amended, for starters. But that shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle, do you think? I’m sure a majority of the Supreme Court could be –uh, let’s say persuaded. The bigger question is what would be done with all the money raised. It couldn’t go to legislators (or their campaigns), because Congress has been abolished, and it shouldn’t go to government, for Pete’s sake. That wasteful, spendthrift old dinosaur of an antiquated institution? Please!

I've got it! CEO bonuses! But only the already highest-paid would be eligible for these windfalls. After all, aren’t those with the biggest salary and compensation packages worth more than the rest of us put together? Can you doubt that for one moment?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ringing the Changes

[Not sure how much general interest this post will have, but I'm sure my fellow booksellers, along with publisher and author friends, will light on some of the quoted lines like ducks on June bugs.] 
From the earliest times, booksellers sprang up with mushroom uncertainty and irregularity, and, again like fungoid growth, they passed into nothingness. In many instances their very names are buried in the depths of obscurity, and no amount of delving amid the strata of literary rubbish will bring them to the surface. – from Chapter IV, “Bookselling in the Seventeenth Century,” in The Earlier History of English Bookselling, by William Roberts, originally published in 1889 and reprinted in 1967
What a fate, no? To be “buried in the depths of obscurity ... amid the strata of literary rubbish”! Who would court such an end? As you see, my reading into the early history of bookselling has continued this week,. Clarification, however, is in order. In the early days of “bookselling,” the term comprised also printing and publishing.

Going back to the years before printing, we all know that “books” were literally manuscripts, that is, written by hand. And so, says Roberts, “The monks may be regarded as our very earliest booksellers.” Monasteries were able to create considerable revenue streams by the copying of books not otherwise available.
‘...The Countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, Bishop of Halberstadt, two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet.’ - Histoire Littéraire de la France par des réligieux Bénédictins, quoted in Roberts (from Robertson)
Gradually the monasteries, seeing a good thing, filled whole rooms, scriptoria, with monks engaged in this money-making activity, and it wasn’t surprising that secular copyists soon wanted in on it, too, and competition was born. But change didn’t stop there.

Along came printing. In 1450 Gutenberg printed the “Constance Mass Book.” The first known printing press in England was that of William Caxton at Westminster in 1477, and, according to my trusty friend, The Timelines of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events (New Third Revised Edition, 1991), in the year 1492 (does that date ring a bell?): "The profession of book publisher emerges, consisting of the three pursuits of type founder, printer, and bookseller."

So there you have it. Monks, or at least monasteries, were booksellers, but only with the advent of printing in the 15th century came the rise of independent publishing. The “booksellers” mentioned in my opening quote, then, were not merely shopkeepers but also printers and publishers.

The first piece of the vertically integrated profession to break off and go its own way was printing. But then, oh, the howls from printers, on the one hand, and authors, on the other, over the rapacity of “booksellers”! – who were still, you recall, publishers as much as shopkeepers and respecting nothing like copyright in either capacity. Printing was costly, but the number of copies many of any edition was set, “so that the master-printer was put to the cost of resetting his book in type, even in cases where he was certain of a larger sale.” As for the unhappy authors –
The war between the bookseller and the author almost synchronized with the introduction of printing; and it still goes merrily on! [Remember that this was written in the late 19th century.] They appear to agree only in regarding their interests as antagonistic.
Authorship was slightly younger than publishing. For some time, you see, among educated, literate people, it was considered “vulgar” to print or publish. Instead, private copies were circulated among friends – until they “fell into the hands of some enterprising bookseller.” From then on, where one publisher/seller met with success, others were eager to follow. Authorized? Hardly! So imagine the case of an author looking to make a living by his pen. Barnaby Rich wrote in the preface to his own book,
It is but a thriftless and a thankless occupation, this writing of books: a man were better to sit singing in a cobbler’s shop, for his pay is certain a penny a patch! but a book-writer, if he get sometimes a few commendations of the judicious, he shall be sure to reap a thousand reproaches of the malicious.
Roberts observes, “The howl of the author may be reckoned in an inverse ratio to the comfort and opulence of the tradesman.” ("Opulence"? Don’t look to my modest lifestyle for "opulence"!)

It’s interesting that the online behemoth (no names, please) is reintroducing vertical integration to the world of books, perhaps (retaining income stream, reducing costs drastically) phasing out printing altogether. That would leave the author completely alone, on his or her own, with no line of defense against the behemoth’s wealth and power. But we’re not quite there yet. We’ve entered a new century, but independent printers and publishers and booksellers have come into it, along with readers and writers, and this bookseller’s heart is warmed by professional authors (and I don’t want to name any and leave others out – love you all!) who recognize the value and champion the cause of independent bookstores.

The only certainty the future holds is that change will continue to occur, but aren’t we fortunate to have, for now, a ringside seat?
In the history of the whole world no movement can be pointed at whose inception involved so many issues, or whose importance has proved so universal and so enduring, as the history of books, which is practically the history of human thought himself. – William Roberts, 1889

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Come Summer, You Will Hardly Know Where You Are

Work goes ahead, behind piles of dirty snow in the harbor 

Following my enjoyment of his biography of Charles Dickens, I’ve been re-reading Stephen Leacock’s delightful Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the portrait of an imaginary Canadian town and its imaginary inhabitants so lifelike that Leacock’s readers had a hard time beliving he’d made it all up.
In regard to the present work I must disclaim at once all intentions of trying to do anything so ridiculously easy as writing about a real place and real people. Mariposa is not a real town. On the contrary, it about seventy or eighty of them. You may find them all the way from Lake Superior to the sea, with the same square streets and the same maple trees and the same churches and hotels, and everywhere the sunshine of the land of hope.
Mariposa (the imaginary place) is a small North American town--yes, Canadian, but not so very different from Michigan--on the shore of a lake, its population swelling in summer owing to an influx of tourists, so perhaps I may be forgiven if, as I read, I picture various buildings and people in Northport. (It's hard for me to believe Leacock's book was published almost 100 years ago, in 1912, since it feels so current to me.) We do not have Church of England in Northport, but we have churches, and instead of a 20-mile-long lake, we are on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay, an arm of Lake Michigan, but if you know Northport and were to read about Mariposa, I’m sure the latter would seem familiar. 

Northport, however, is a very real place. And despite one of the cruelest winters in living memory (not only for snow accumulation but for sustained brutal cold), never have I seen so many building projects going forward at one time. Here, then, is today’s gallery of what’s going on, beginning with the caboose down behind the Depot, with --

Yes! Solar!

Bowling alley moves closer to Opening Day
Golf course clubhouse amid remains of snow
Big renovations ongoing at the old Ship's Galley
Peek inside galley
New brew pub still under wraps

Downstairs at Lelu....
Now here's some really big news. I've already shown you work going on at Lelu Cafe (and elsewhere), but here's how that looked this morning. Then Keith, the carpenter you see at work here, offered to show me more. So we went upstairs....

Do you know what you're looking at? Can you believe your eyes? At last, at last, the hotel is coming into being! Nine rooms at the corner of Nagonaba and Waukazoo, right across the street from Dog Ears Books and only a short walk to marina, harbor, beach and picnic grounds! Please excuse all the exclamation points, but I've been waiting years for this. Talk about something the town has needed!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fiction: In the Fullness of Time

Summer Meadow

In the Fullness of Time©

P. J. Grath

The air was sweet with the heavy scent of roses, reminding her of her grandmother’s house, especially the front porch of that simple little house, a porch all but hidden beneath a wild forest of climbing crimson blooms, screening a child dreaming over a book from the eyes of passers-by. Full-blown, she thought. Then, to bloom, to blow, the archaic verb coming to mind like a petal on the breeze, as it had every spring and summer since she had first learned of the old usage.
The plum trees were also in blossom, but the oddity of plum and rose blooming simultaneously escaped her attention because she had eyes only for the man coming toward her from the barn with quick steps, his eyes bright and hair tousled. “Time to mow soon,” he said, adding, “as it always is.” And he was enfolding her in his strong arms, and at the same time she was in some other space, light and white and clear and open and bare, and a different voice was explaining a new world to her.
“But who are you?” she asked the stranger, searching for even a single comprehensible fact to counter an impossible reality her mind could not compass.
“You may call me Michael, if you need a name for me. It doesn’t matter.”
She couldn’t see him and could barely distinguish his voice from her own, the only apparent difference being that he was the teller and she the questioner ... for now. Who said, “for now”? Had either of them spoken those words?
“Give me the basic outline one more time, please,” she requested, knowing he would comply. “We have all the time in the world, don’t we?”
“One more time, a thousand times, it’s all the same,” Michael answered. “Because there is no more time. There are no more ‘times.’ No more events, nothing happening or changing or growing or sickening or suffering or dying. Do you remember your ancient and medieval philosophy? The concept of perfection? A circle complete, with nothing more to be added. Well, time is complete. And so, it ceases to exist.”
“Perfection and nonexistence – that’s contradiction,” she objected.
“Think of it, rather, as a paradox,” he suggested gently.
She looked around her. The white light contained, as she could now see, all colors, some of them quite new to her eyes, and she pushed Michael further with her questions. “When did it happen?” she asked. “When did time become complete?” Her thoughts whirled, and her heart beat like a pow-wow drum, colors flashing by her eyes like the lights of a city seen at night, close-up, from the window of a speeding train. And yet all was calm and still.
“There is no ‘when’ to fullness,” Michael replied patiently, and she seemed to hear a smile in his voice.
“Well, am I dead then?” she demanded. You would question St. Peter himself, she heard her mother say, and she was nine years old, insisting on answers her mother gently urged her to “take on faith,” something else she had never managed to do, either as a girl in seersucker pajamas or a woman with more practical concerns. Home was the classroom where the subject was philosophy, where questions were demanded as urgently as answers. Home? But home, too, the woods in spring and autumn, the wildflowers and mushrooms and fall colors, her dog bounding eagerly ahead and then turning to wait for her. Home that bedroom in Paris, with the cooing of pigeons echoing in the airshaft every morning. And home every evening, wherever they might be, the marriage bed, the perfect circle of her husband’s arms around her.
“Do you feel dead?” Michael’s voice asked.
“No, not at all.”
“Do you have a memory of dying?”
“What? Would I remember anything at all if I were dead?”
“What do you think? Do you think the dead have memories? Or, ask yourself this: do the dead have sensations...?” His voice faded off, and there was no more white, bare space but green grass and blue sky again, and clean, white sheets blowing on the clothesline in the bright sunshine, and her grandmother – her mother’s mother, it was – pushing back and forth, with her feet, a metal glider bench in the shade, a bowl of green beans in her ample lap, fresh from the garden, her hands busy snapping the ends of the beans, stripping the "strings," while out beyond, behind the garden, her grandfather – her mother’s stepfather, he was – went about his slow, steady work of pruning back raspberry canes, bees lazily humming about his head, and all around rose the sweet smell of earth and growing things. In the distance a train whistle sounded, and she knew it to be her other grandfather, coming to the crossing where they often drove in the car to wave at him as his engine sped by, and she knew his second wife, her other grandmother, was making a salad of the bright, ripe, red tomatoes from his tiny garden behind their old, brick, two-story house on the tree-shaded street in Ohio.
“And with time complete,” she said aloud, addressing herself to Michael and trusting that he would be wherever she was, “there is no more dying, is that right?”
“No more change of any kind,” he confirmed.
“But those who died, in time – that is, before completion -- ?”
Again she heard a smile in his reply. “They live in your memory, as they always have and always will.”
At tables under the sheltering maples, on blankets spread on the grass, on the porch swing and strolling at the edge of the meadow, and in the halls of old university buildings and in the streets of cities and on quiet country roadsides, they were all with her, but not seeming at all a crowd. Instead she saw only one or two or three at a time, as they had been together in time. And she was also onstage with her high school orchestra and standing on a bridge in Paris, looking down the Seine, and singing blues in a dim, smoky club.
“But it wasn’t all good....”
“Again, recall the older philosophies. Did evil have substance? No, it was but a turning away from good, from God. All pain and suffering were temporary results of the absence of perfection. Hence -- .”
“That’s too simple!” she objected.
“So think of it another way: the bad parts simply don’t bear remembering. And in the fullness of time, whatever you are experiencing you are, in reality, remembering.”
“But then I’m selecting and leaving out -- .”
“So go back to the first explanation. Why turn away from perfection?”
Another problem formed in her thoughts. The very fact of my failure of understanding implies a lack, an imperfection. Furthermore, this very conversation implies ongoing thought, by definition incomplete at every step....
“Do you think we are having this conversation for the first time?” Michael asked her, although she had not spoken aloud. “You are remembering it. You are, in fact, remembering many conversations, and you are remembering them, reliving them, because you have always loved such conversations, because you have always felt most alive when asking such questions of yourself and others. There is no contradiction. With the fullness of time, love also is complete, including your love of argumentation, with no one telling you any longer to cease from questioning or arguing....”
Again Michael’s voice faded, lost on the breeze. Where he had seemed to stand, off to her side, appeared frolicking dogs, entering into her field of vision joyously, ears flapping, tails wagging, eyes shining bright. There was the first Ginger, their first family dog, as spry as Ginger II, a puppy now and always, as well as canine companions of later years, joining the Gingers, all of them alive and healthy and happy and playing together.
It is all quite impossible, she mused. Perhaps all of it might exist in one brief millisecond of her conscious imagination. Perhaps there was nothing more to it than that. 
But she saw no sense in rejecting any part of it. Not the gardens, any of them, and certainly not the old friends and dogs all come back, or her grandparents, the train whistle, the scent of roses on the breeze, laundry on the line. Not the soft cheeping of baby chicks and contented sounds of hens hovering nearby that she heard now, along with the neighing of a horse from the pasture. Her horse. Her chickens.
No, it only made sense for her to take her comfortable ease in a cushiony chaise recliner beneath her grandfather’s old standard apple tree, where there in dappled shade someone handed her baby son to her, and she took him again in her arms and gazed down at that beautiful child. He was miraculously complete and perfect, from the downy, sweet-smelling crown of his head to his tiny, pearly pink shells of toenails, and nothing was wanting, truly, nothing missing in all the world.

Northport, Michigan
March 26, 2014