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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nearby Place, Now and Then

The tiny village of Omena, south of Northport at the 90-degree bend in the road, has been a lively place again recently, with the opening of the Leelanau Cellars tasting room and, now, a new restaurant called Knot Just a Bar. Many a burger and beer were enjoyed on the waterside deck in deep contentment back when Keith ran the Harbor Bar, and it's good to have something happening there again.

This coming Thursday, Oct. 5, Marcia Jongsma will make a presentation at 1 p.m. to the Questers Club and anyone else who would like to attend their meeting at the Sunset Lodge meeting room (separate from the lodge). Her topic is "Summer Resorts of Northport and Omena." Marcia's quest for information has turned up many stories new to her from various sources, among them the following:

A HISTORY OF LEELANAU TOWNSHIP (available for sale at the Leelanau Township Library in Northport);

OMENA: A PLACE IN TIME, by Amanda Holmes, published by the Omena Historical Society (signed copies available at Dog Ears Books); and

A HUNDRED SUMMERS: AN AFFECTIONATE HISTORY OF NORTHPORT POINT, by Sabin Robbins (out of print, but one copy is currently available at Dog Ears).

Documented history of this part of the world doesn't go back very far, and many of our oldest inhabitants remember a lot from the "old days." Much has changed. Happily for us, the hills and water remain.

Friday, September 28, 2007

"We're working together for a better tomorrow"

Last night's Small Town Initiative Meeting, second in a series partnering our town with MSU faculty and students, (#3 will be Nov. 6; #4 on Jan. 9; #5 May 20), pulled a participatory audience equal to or larger than the initial meeting, much to the project director's surprise. The summer people are gone, so where did the big crowd come from? Well, summer is full of visitors, travel and general scheduling conflicts for everyone up here, and no one can get to all events. Fall is a little slower. Also, word must have gotten out that this meeting was the place to be.

How could our town be improved, and what would we like to see that isn't here now? Most of us already basically like our town and each other, so that's a good place to be starting.

This week's Leelanau Enterprise has two articles about other towns in the county with downtown beautification on their agendas. Cedar is ready to launch the second phase of its streetscaping, and Empire has decided to scale back its plans from both sides of M-22 to only one side, which makes sense, since you have to turn off M-22 to come into downtown Empire, just as you do to reach downtown Northport. Anyway, this kind of thing is going around.

In the 1950s, Richard Poston, working out of Southern Illinois University, spearheaded a community development field service. His earlier involvement in the Montana Study had led him to believe that university researchers willing to visit small towns and listen to their residents could facilitate rural rebirth across America. Poston's SMALL TOWN RENAISSANCE was published in 1950, and for him the dream never died. He came out of retirement at the end of the 20th century to help local citizens figure out how to revitalize Cairo, Illinois.

FAR FROM HOME: LIFE AND LOSS IN TWO AMERICAN TOWNS (1991), by Ron Powers, looks closely at the story of Cairo and Poston. The author contrasts this story with his own experience as a weekend resident in Kent, Connecticut. Cairo looked, Powers notes after his first visit, "evacuated." The curse of Kent, on the other hand, was its "success" as a desirable place to live. Too many well-to-do, part-time urbanites poured in, driving up real estate prices and replacing community values with those based solely on price, cost, profit. Powers urges the reader to see that too much growth, too fast, can be as divisive and destabilizing as decay. He realized, too, that he was part of the problem in Kent.

So far Northport seems to have taken a healthy path between these two extremes. We could use more jobs for young families, bringing more children to our little school, but "outsiders" tend to settle here full-time whenever they can, welcomed by third- and fourth-generation locals. It really is an unusually friendly place. I'd like to see more use of turn signals--and yes, more year-round business--but don't have serious, fundamental complaints. I'm lucky to be here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That Plummy Color

Has the emerald ash borer been stopped? Will we continue to have our lovely ash trees? Their colors are so subtle--soft banana yellow, rich butternut, deep bronze, aubergine, and the "plummy color" I mentioned in an earlier post. Here it is, a range of ash color.

And that's enough for this evening, isn't it?

Rocks in Our Heads

These are Kit's stones, picked up on the beach and left behind at her husband's family cottage when she returned to work in Rochester, New York. Every cottage and house I know has these random piles of stones somewhere. I have a plate of them on the front porch and more in a bowl on a small desk. Others turn up in pockets and drawers all the time.

"There is an innocence about rock." David Levenson's A SENSE OF THE EARTH is one of my favorite books for getting at the why-we-care of geology. "The boulder on which I stand," he writes, "the pebble that I release or hold--it is they, really, that hold me."

Most geology books are either textbooks or field guides. They explain, categorize and identify, and there is pleasure in learning to recognize and coming to understand. The LAKE MICHIGAN ROCK PICKER'S GUIDE earned its enthusiastic reception right out of the gate. There had been a need and desire for such a book, especially for vacationers, who want to know what it is they picked up on the beach and find a general book on rocks and minerals beside the point.

But isn't it curious? This affinity of our conscious, organic selves for objects devoid of life? Is it their seeming simplicity or the overwhelming complexity of their history that appeals to us? Rocks, after all, are their history, rather than, like us, having a history.

"How short is memory; how great is our need to trust." This is Levenson again. Rocks seem eternal to us, he says, only because of our own short life span, and it is easy for us to forget "the unstable nature of this globe that we inhabit." Rock reminds us of our connection to the universe and can remind us, if we reflect, of that universe's fluid nature.

Levenson's is a poetic sense. "There is no stinginess about rock!" he exclaims. "Sought out or revealed unexpectedly, apparent or disguised, it is the shape and substance of things--within whose folds we are born, on whose flanks we are passionate and follow our fate, to whose depths we eventually return."

Returning to the theme of innocence in rock ("it presses its case so little," he urges, charmingly), Levenson asks, "But if rock is innocent--no more or less so than an animal or a plant--as its offspring, doesn't this quality devolve, ultimately, upon us too?"

Here I hesitate. If we are all innocent, then guilt does not exist, and then innocence itself loses its meaning. And why would we need to search for, pick up and hold, collect, keep beside us--what we already possess?

The air is cooler this morning, after yesterday and last night's rain, and I hear geese overhead.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Traveling with Travel Books

These little guys will be moving on soon, leaving Northport's harbor for warmer waters.

"What are you taking to read?"

That's a question that comes up in our household when bags are being packed. It matters to each of us what the other is taking, since reading aloud (usually at bedtime, occasionally in the car or on the beach or wherever) is part of what we do on a trip. On the recent getaway to Mackinac Island and the U.P., it turned out, purely by coincidence, that both of us had brought books about (1) travel (2) in Eastern Europe and Greece (3) in the 1930s. What are the odds?

BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER, by Anglo-Irish Patrick Leigh Fermor, is the second volume of his foot travels from Holland to Constantinople. My friend Kathie introduced me to this wonderful book. (Actually, she loaned me the copy I'm taking so long to return to her. Thanks, Kathie, and sorry!) This second part of his trip begins in the town of Esztergom on the Danube, and he hurries from there into Hungary as a spring dusk falls. Before we left home on our own very brief (but totally delightful) trip, I read to David, by kerosene lamp (a storm had knocked out our power), the third chapter, in which Fermor rides a borrowed horse across the Great Hungarian Plain from Budapest to Gyoma. Here are a few lines from that chapter:

"These long un-desert-like stretches have left a memory of dew and new grass and Malek's hoofs trotting through woods and flowers while the climbing sun showed so clearly through leaves and petals and grass-blades that they seemed alight. The woods flickered with red-starts and wheatears, newly arrived after amazing journeys, their giveaway rumps darting through the tree-trunks among birds with their nests already built, and in the open, crested larks flew up from the grass at our approach and sang as though they were suspended about the sky on threads. There was not a single way in which life could be improved."

I love that last simple sentence. I also love the way Fermor refers to himself and Malek, his mount, as "we," e.g., "We stopped and ate in the shade...."

Picking this book up again on the island, a chapter or two further in, I read: "Wherever horses and mares with their foals moved loose about the grass, a few ragged tents were sure to be pitched. Everything in these reedy windings was inert and hushed under a sleepy spell of growth and untroubled plenty." What a lovely scene to imagine from our rented room in a small island motel, next door to a stable! When I paused in my reading, we could hear the shifting feet of horses in their stalls as they settled down for the night.

(My friend Laurie wants me to say here that readers who enjoy Fermor's travels may also appreciate Jean Auel's CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR series, set in the same part of the world but in prehistoric times.)

David's book for the trip, from which he read to me the following evening, was Henry Miller's THE COLOSSUS AT MAROUSSI. Miller's enthusiasm was a match for Fermor's, and as enthusiastic travelers ourselves we were well served by these books. And so we moved through time as well as through space, backwards as well as forwards, through fall and spring at the same time, simultaneously enjoying Michigan, Hungary (or Greece, depending on which of us was reading), our life a many-layered, rich and moveable feast.

Forty (40) Years Later

Twenty-four hours after we arrived home from the U.P., after visiting Mackinac Island, I turned around and drove three hours south to meet an old friend at Pentwater, where I lived one long-ago summer. Back then, coming directly from Lansing, Pentwater seemed tiny to me. Of course, it's grown a lot since then, but looking at the length of the downtown main street and experiencing it in comparison to Northport and Leland, where I've lived for the past 15 years, I don't see Pentwater as all that small any more. Wonder how big their school is?

I'd been through a couple of times in the decades since that brief residence, so I knew about the condos and other new development. But just this past spring the old Nickerson Inn, where my friend Jeanie was a waitress back in 1967, burnt to the ground. Now a big billboard at the front of the empty hill reads "Thanks for 93 years of memories." And only this past Saturday the old Gustafson's gift shop closed for good, the beautiful big old three-story corner building now for sale. Those are big changes for the town.

This past weekend was the "Fall Festival," with a huge craft fair and even a Deep Fried Twinkie wagon, but a more permanent (or as permanent as such things are) sign of the new, upscale Pentwater is this little tiki bar where Laurie and I lunched on Sunday. It's like Florida with birch trees instead of palms.

Friday, September 21, 2007


This isn't the most glamorous shot of Mackinac Island, even on my camera, but it's one of my favorites. Our island getaway surpassed expectations. Two of the best smells in the world, we agree, are the fresh-fishy smell of the Great Lakes and the warm, earthy, pungent odor of horses. With preferences like that, how could we fail to be happy on Mackinac Island? Is it the "real world"? There we disagreed. David thought that what he perceived as artificiality would become cloying after a while. (Certainly the crowds in July and August would be a trial.) I maintained that the island residents are living real lives, even if theirs is a tourist economy. After all, there are people who think Leelanau County isn't the "real world" and that those of us who live here live in La-La Land. I say that wherever people have their lives, make their living, spend their days, pay their bills--that's the real world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Brain Calisthenics

Yes, this is my roadside bouquet, mentioned yesterday. But now, to get into books--

I've been reading a lot of economics in the last few years. Is that a sign of age or a philosopher's foible? Here's a short list of books I've found insightful: Amy Chua, WORLD ON FIRE: HOW EXPORTING FREE MARKET DEMOCRACY BREEDS ETHNIC HATRED AND GLOBAL INSTABILITY; George Soros, THE CRISIS OF GLOBAL CAPITALISM; ONE MARKET UNDER GOD, by Thomas Frank. There was another (very old) book called THE INDUSTRIAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND, but that has vanished from my stack. Top of the heap these days is EVERYTHING FOR SALE: THE VIRTUES AND LIMITS OF MARKETS, by Robert Kuttner.

Kuttner is like the other contemporary writers in my list in that he believes in democracy and believes in capitalism but doesn't buy the myth current in our land that the best form of capitalism possible would be "pure" (think Ayn Rand here), with no role for government beyond that of policeman. I will not pretend to summarize his views. His arguments are complex and detailed. They are, however, written for lay readers, not academics, and they are perfectly clear to the reader who is willing to do some mental work. (This is no popular magazine article to be breezed in half an hour.) Published in 1996, is this book still relevant? That question was put to me in conversation, and my answer is a resounding "Yes!" The simplistic theory the author demolishes so carefully and painstakingly is still very much around and has, I would say, passed from university classrooms into American mythology. It begs to be challenged.

I read this book in short, intense, thoughtful doses, turning at bedtime to less rigorous reading.

Should mention that the skies cleared yesterday for the Tour de Leelanau and that yesterday's sunshine is repeating itself today. It is a glorious day for hanging clothes out on the line, visiting horses, putting a garden to bed, or anything that involves getting outdoors.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Watching the Skies

In sixth grade one day, I was told to draw my house. Each student was to make a picture of his or her house. My house was across the road from a cornfield, and on our side of the road stood a row of mature elm trees, so I drew what one would see from the cornfield--the row of big, lovely trees with a house peeking through in bits. This was not right. I was supposed to have drawn the house, not the trees. Today's picture is my answer to that criticism. Down beyond the trees in this image, before you get to the lake, that's where I live. This is how I see it.

It looks different this morning, though. Mountains of clouds are piled up in every direction, and all the trees are dripping wet. It isn't the best possible morning for the Tour de Leelanau bicycle race. I haven't clicked on the marine radio yet to hear the forecast, though, and therefore can still hope for a break in the weather.

Farmers, boaters, event planners--there's no end to the list of people watching the skies, concerned with the coming weather. The migrating hawks don't seem to care. Neither do the trees and wildflowers. The ash trees are going that lovely fall plummy color, and there is a patch of asters just south of Fischer's Happy Hour Tavern that I enjoy each day when I pass as if it is a bouquet presented to me personally.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Slow Learner

My husband, David, likes to think I am "media-savvy," but the truth is the media is way ahead of me, and I'm running along behind, calling out forlornly, "Wait up!" This to say that I wanted very much to add a picture to last night's post and tried for two hours without success. Brainstorm this morning was to downsize the file, but that hasn't worked, either. It isn't much of a "window" that shows you nothing but words, however, so I'll keep on this task.

Postings coming soon will include the books MARCH; EVERYTHING FOR SALE; HOPE FOR CARSONVILLE; and BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER. There will also probably be something of a brief trip to Mackinac Island, my first overnight there and David's first visit.

Evening P.S. to this post: You can see that I finally made it. More to come!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Getting started

The purpose of this space, aside from self-expression, is to bridge the gap between my physical bookstore in northern Michigan and my friends and customers who spend much of their time somewhere else. We are already a community of minds and spirits, but this space will let me commune with you over the miles.

Those who love Dog Ears Books love Northport, Michigan, too. Thus my subjects for this space will fall into three broad categories: (1) news and musings from Northport in particular and the North in general; (2) reports on what I'm reading, no matter how long ago it was written; and (3) new books I consider worth the list price. Some postings will be a combination of all three categories--for instance, if I'm reading a new book and carrying that title in the bookstore and hosting an event with the author. Other times there will be no discernible link between my reflections and my business.

This is not a bookselling site. It is a window into my world. I hope you will enjoy visiting.