Search This Blog

Monday, June 30, 2008

My Way of Housecleaning

The house and porch haven’t been vacuumed for a week, the refrigerator needs to be cleaned out, there’s laundry to be done (as always), bathroom to scrub, trimming to do around the edges of the lawn that the mower misses, and I can’t get into any of it when there’s another human around, so David has to leave the house before I can start. In my non-system, there is no particular order and certainly no nonsense about having to finish one task before beginning another. The whole operation runs on impulse and inspiration. My process also requires at least one book. First, a load of laundry goes into the washer, and then I can sit down to a cup of coffee and bowl of cereal, and read a few pages reward myself for facing, at last, the daunting array of mundane tasks this day holds.

My book today is THROUGH CHARLEY’S DOOR, by Emily Kimbrough, an amusing story of her first job after college, working in the advertising department of Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Young Emily started at the legendary Chicago landmark in 1923, when Field’s was still a major tourist attraction, as well as THE downtown Chicago department store, but she found all the older staff were full of stories about the old days of the “carriage trade,” referring literally to society people who arrived at “Charley’s door” (the Washington Street entrance) in horse-drawn carriages. Our family tradition the day after Thanksgiving was to take the train into the city to see the store windows decorated for Christmas—not just with tinsel and lights but with colorful, elaborate tableaux in which mechanical characters moved through a sequence of marvelous actions. Each girl was also allowed to choose one new ornament for our Christmas tree at home. So, good! I can relate to Marshall Field’s.

Breakfast quickly over but with no time for an hour-long ramble with Sarah this morning, I telephone the neighbor to arrange for a brief doggie play-date. The dogs play first at the neighbors’ house, then follow me down to our yard, where I give them a big bowl of water before turning the hose on my little vegetable garden. Dogs go on playing. This is great: I’m exercising Sarah and gardening at the same time!

Next, back in the house, I attack the refrigerator, which not only fills up the container to be taken out to the compost pile (a trip that inspires me to deal with that tall grass along the walk and to pull a few weeds from the flower bed) but also nets a little early lunch of leftovers for Sarah and me. Sitting down at the table on the porch also gives me time to read another short chapter in my book, the one in which Emily writes up her first full page of advertising, using quotations from ALICE IN WONDERLAND to introduce items from each department, leading to many raised eyebrows.

“Miss Gardner was the first person to express doubt about it. She was the first person who saw it. ‘We’ve never had advertising done in a humorous vein,’ she said.
“’I don’t think it’s very humorous,’ I assured her mournfully.
“’Perhaps not,’ was her answer, spoken kindly, ‘but I’m sure you meant it to be.’”


Looking up from my book and casting my eye around the porch gives me the clue to fold comforters and throws, stack books and magazines neatly, and get all the dreck cleared off the summer dining table. Now, refrigerator clean, dishes done, porch tidied but not yet swept, it’s time to check e-mail and decide what to do next.

Silence from the laundry room tells me the laundry is ready to go out on the line. Sarah will like that: it means she can go outdoors again for a while. And when we come back in, the moment will be ripe for cleaning the bathroom, after which I’ll have earned a sit-down with my last cup of coffee for the morning and another peek into 1923 big city department store life before the horror of vacuuming. I’m sure a man invented the vacuum cleaner. Who else would want to fill the peacefulness of an empty house with all that thunderous sound? It is faster and more thorough than the broom, however, and that will give me time to hoe my garden rows and enjoy some more of Emily’s adventures on the job in Chicago.

It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, perfect for just about anything a person could want to do. Lucky me, having Bruce at the bookstore today so I can enjoy a few hours at home!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book Review: MERLE'S DOOR

I ordered MERLE’S DOOR: LESSONS FROM A FREE-THINKING DOG, by Ted Kerasote, when it first came out and had it for sale with other dog books in my store, but it took me until now to read it. You see, our household is a Cesar Millan fan club. We believe with Cesar that dogs without “boundaries, rules, limitations” (that is to say, dogs without manners), not welcome in social settings beyond their own permissive families, tend to become isolated and unhappy, their problems intensifying. We believe that by showing his human clients how to work with the dogs, Cesar makes the world a better place for dogs and humans alike, “one balanced dog at a time.” So I was apprehensive that the “free-thinking” dog, who lived with his owner on a basis of equality rather than submission, would challenge and refute Cesar’s way. Or, I should say, that his owner would.

Emotionally, though, Kerasote won me over from the start when, recounting their first meeting and without being in any way cloying about it, he put words into the stray dog’s mouth: “You need a dog, and I’m it.” Nikki said that to me in 1993, Sarah in January of this year. (Both times I already knew I needed a dog.) The meeting rang true, and I believed every word of the book from then on. By the time the writer decided to make Merle his own door so the dog could come and go as he pleased, day or night, man and dog had pretty much already established a relationship of respectful, loving equality. They were fortunate to live in a near-wilderness area in Wyoming, a loosely knit, freedom-loving community where all the dogs ran free. It wasn’t Los Angeles, and it wasn’t suburban anywhere.

In fact, communication between Ted and Merle recalled doubts and reservations I had years ago when reading ADAM’S TASK: CALLING ANIMALS BY NAME, by philosopher-trainer Vicki Hearne, a writer and thinker whose work I admired but found somewhat rigidly authoritarian. Is training really, as she claimed in that book, the only possible way humans can communicate with other animals? They must learn our language or we have no basis for a relationship? I’m re-reading Hearne, more alive to her nuances, but my point here is that Kerasote learned Merle’s language (to the extent he was able) as much as Merle learned his. This is not at all a story of colonial (species) imperialism. Neither is it a dog training manual or a textbook on canine behavior, though many outside sources are cited, and the scientific material is well integrated with the story of Merle. Fundamentally, it is a joint biography-memoir. It is a memoir of the time in Kerasote’s life that he lived with the very particular, individual dog, Merle. It is also Merle's biography, authored by Ted.

Sharing home, friends and adventures, Ted and Merle usually understood each other, and when they didn’t, they tried. Ted realized early on that, other than himself, everything important to Merle was outdoors. Merle didn’t watch television or read books: he read the natural world (the Book of Nature, as older eras called it), and keeping him from that world was like withholding his library privileges. Merle did have boundaries and limitations: Ted taught him not to run cattle; he learned on his own that bison were not to be messed with; when they visited the city, Merle was walked on a leash. But basically Merle was a intelligent dog whose natural good manners were guided, when necessary, by a loving friend.

Anyone who has lived with and loved a dog will love this book (no one who is not a dog person will get it at all), and for my part I’ve reconciled Ted’s way with Cesar’s way. Our Sarah has less freedom than Merle but more than the dogs of suburban L.A. When she goes outdoors at home, we go together, and she doesn’t need a leash. We range widely over field and orchard and through the woods, and she loves it when we visit the neighbors, all the dogs playing together, rough and tumble. In Northport, when we walk around town, she’s on a lead, for safety’s sake, while in the bookstore, her degree of freedom varies with her energy level and attention to decorum, but mostly she’s unleashed except when she gets too rambunctious and needs calming. It’s a long day for a not-quite-10-month-old puppy, but she’s amazingly patient (many people are astonished to find out how young she is), knowing we’ll have a good time outdoors at home after dinner.

Does the book have a sad ending? We usually do outlive our dogs, after all, but Merle’s life was rich and full. He had maximum freedom and knew maximum love. And that thought led me to see a similarity in Ted’s way with Merle and Cesar’s way with “problem” dogs and their owners. Both of them understand that having a dog means being in a relationship and that any relationship requires time and attention.

It’s a big commitment, responding in the affirmative when a dog says, “You need a dog, and I’m it.” But sometimes they know things we don’t know, things we need to learn.

(All these pictures are of Sarah, taken this morning.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cooperative Weather

We can’t complain about Friday’s weather, and we just have to remember that Up North is always quieter pre-4th. The outdoor market down by the depot Friday morning had lots of bright flowers and jewelry, but no “farmers” in evidence. (I’m hoping for a few radishes and strawberries next week.) One of the Northport Future by Design committees has done an excellent job with benches and flowers around town, and these benches won’t be empty for long. It’s easy to forget every time June rolls around that our big season here never really kicks off until the weekend closest to or including the 4th of July.

All that said, Woody Palmer of the Painted Horse Gallery and David Grath of David Grath Fine Arts were happy with the turnout for the Gallery Walk on Friday evening. (I haven’t talked to people from other galleries yet.) Crowds were light but enthusiastic. Ahead of time artist Bonnie Marris, married to W.P., commented, “It’s like Halloween—you never know how many people will come!” As with Halloween, weather is a concern, too, but ours held beautifully. Gallery walk, art crawl—there are various names for it--it was a lovely evening for strolling Northport. There was a silent auction benefit for the Leelanau Children’s Center going on at the Gills Pier Winery, and the second two hours of the Gallery Walk coincided with the first Music in the Park event down by the harbor, so all things considered, we had a successful evening. I hope the Leelanau Children's Center folks also feel their evening was a success.

Much earlier in the day, while Sarah and I were making our morning rounds, Joanne Sahs called me over to see something. This beautiful cecropia moth appeared to have a slight wing injury. Joanne had moved it out of the street to a quiet place, and I hope it recovered enough to resume its brief, beautiful life.

Another of my friends, who is also a regular bookstore customer, recently ordered a second copy of a book he’d read and enjoyed. “This one is for a friend,” he said. Imagine my surprise when Big Steve came to pick up his order and presented the book to me! “How many times do people buy you a book?” he asked. THE PROOF AND PARADOX OF KURT GÖDEL, by Rebecca Goldstein, is as fascinating a story as Steve promised. The story opens in Princeton, NJ, at the Institute for Advanced Study, where we observe Einstein and Gödel walking and talking together. Goldstein uses the friendship with Einstein to begin her exploration of Gödel’s revolutionary ideas, what he took them to mean, and what others made of them. It’s a very different sort of book from MERLE’S DOOR, which I need to write about very soon, but compelling in a different way. Thanks, Big Steve!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ride a Painted Pony

Tonight from 5-9 p.m. is the first summer Gallery Walk in Northport. Participating galleries are: Joppich Bay Street Gallery, Rantz Gallery, David Grath Fine Arts, Wright Gallery, By the Bight Gallery, Quiet Dove Gallery, Painted Horse Gallery, and the North Cove Gallery. Refreshments will be served. You can have a pleasant stroll around town admiring the art and then relax down in the harbor for “Music in the Park,” to listen to Hugh Willey and the Reunion Jazz Band, or picnic with music first and visit galleries afterward. Hope to see you!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Staff Book Review: QUIVER

QUIVER, by Peter Leonard. Thomas Dunne Books, 2008. Fiction.

This book was a fun read but isn’t easily categorized. From the title and cover art, I expected a mystery. My expectation of a “mystery,” however, involves the description of a crime committed early in the story, with the remainder of the story describing the unraveling of who committed the crime and how. QUIVER should perhaps be called a “crime novel” instead of mystery. Mr. Leonard has cleverly turned things around, in that he builds a complete description of his characters, both criminals and victims, in the first half of the story, and then the reader becomes an observer during the planning and commission of the crime in the latter part. In this way the author builds the excitement slowly, increasing the tension as we move toward the conclusion. This is especially true when the victims become aware, during the carrying out of the crime, that they are to be killed so they can’t talk to the police. How they extricate themselves from their planned fate makes the last part of the book an exciting ride, and once the criminals swing into action, you won’t want to set the book aside.

Interestingly, this is the second book of fiction I have read recently that takes place (in part) in Leelanau County and also has a woman as the principal character. In this story the woman lives with her teenage son, her husband having died in a tragic accident. An old friend with a prison past comes back into her life, inadvertently introducing criminal pals who spot a chance for easy money. At the conclusion, the woman and her son are trapped by circumstances in a cabin in Leelanau County and must deal on their own with the band of nasty but somewhat inept criminals.

The book is set in two distinct places. The first half, where the characters are introduced, takes place in Detroit, and anyone who has lived in Detroit will recognize many familiar landmarks, although since most of this part of the story centers on the criminals, many of the landmarks are of the slightly sleazy variety. (In fact, the author paints such an accurate picture that it reminded me of why I left Detroit.) The second half, where the crime and most of the action takes place, happens here in Leelanau County, in Northport and around Cathead Bay. Mr. Leonard does a nice job of contrasting the peace and quiet of our area here with the turmoil of Detroit, but he doesn’t go into nearly as much detail in his description of Northport as in the Detroit portion, so I got the feeling that he has never lived here, unlike the sense I got from Bob Underhill in his recent book CATHEAD BAY, which uses much the same setting more familiarly.

Just in case you aren’t aware, Peter Leonard is the son of the immensely popular novelist Elmore Leonard. This is Peter Leonard’s first novel. In particular, the clever way he builds the tension to the story’s conclusion makes this an exciting crime novel and a required summer read, and I think you’ll want to look for more work from this writer in the future.

- Bruce Balas

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Time Flying

Last night's kick-off to the summer library series drew an excellent crowd. The speaker, Porter Abbott, held the audience with every word, and afterward everyone agreed we were off to a great start, promising an excellent series of events.

It's the first cutting of hay around our place, and the air is full of that lovely aroma: new-mown hay in the morning sun. Too bad this is strictly a visual medium.

Halfway through MERLE'S DOOR, with lots to say about it that will keep until I finish the wonderful, wonderful book.

Today is furniture-moving day at the gallery. Dog Ears Books, which had spread out into Painted Horse Gallery space over the winter, needs to be brought back into its own corral so we can get everything ready for Friday evening's Gallery Walk. Lots of work to do....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

St. John's Eve, Day, Feast

With the cool spring we had, everything is blooming slightly behind schedule, but I did find a large patch of St.-John’swort up on Novotny Road in front of North Fork Ranch. Yesterday afternoon, when our grandson and a couple of his friends arrived to surprise us at the bookstore, one of the boys picked up a book on wildflowers, and it fell open to the page listing 'Hypericum perforatum,' and there was a dried example pressed between the leaves of the book. On St. John’s Eve, yet! Or is today the Eve and tomorrow the Feast? Close, anyway.

Some of my friends raise their eyebrows when I mention the Feast of St. John and St. John’s Eve. “What’s it to ya?” they want to know. What it is to me is a bonfire in front of the old Trinité Church in Paris and fireworks elsewhere in the city. It’s Latvians in Kalamazoo jumping over bonfires all night long. It’s a picture in my mind of medieval villages on European hills lighting fires that can be seen by people in other villages on distant hills. It’s the latitude that joins us, from North America to Europe, and it’s a flower that came along for the ride with immigrants to the New World. It’s beautiful June, just past the solistice but not by much. Isn’t that enough to celebrate?


Tuesday, June 24, 7:30 p.m., Leelanau Township Library. First presentation of the summer series will be “Introduction to Story-Telling,” by Porter Abbott. Punch and cookies served afterwards. Come one, come all!

Friday, July 27, 5-9 p.m. Northport Gallery Walk. Participating art galleries are: Joppich Bay Street Gallery, Rantz Gallery, David Grath Fine Arts, Wright Gallery, By the Bight Gallery, Quiet Dove Gallery, Painted Horse Gallery, and the North Cove Gallery. Refreshments will be served. You can have a pleasant stroll around town and then relax down in the harbor for “Music in the Park,” listening to Hugh Willey and the Reunion Jazz Band, or picnic with music first and then do the galleries.

It's summer, and we're off and running!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Arizona Dreamin'

Foggy, wet morning in meadow, woods and orchard. Cherries are starting to look like cherries, though still very green.


Outdoors by 6:30, I came inside to finish THESE IS MY WORDS when Sarah and I got back. (Sarah my dog—Sarah the protagonist of the novel. Both are irresistible, no-nonsense females with beautiful souls.) Although I know there are two more novels featuring Sarah Prine, it was hard to read the last few chapters and close this particular book, since later she will be older, and her life will be different, and I have been loving the experience of living her life vicariously while she is so young and strong. But maybe she won’t be all that much older in the second book. Some hint dropped by Stephanie, who recommended this book to me, makes me think that. It doesn’t matter. I’ll go on to SARAH’S QUILT later this summer.

At the end of the paperback edition are questions for book club discussion, an interview with the author, and background on how she came to write this novel, all of which (for a change) I read with interest. THESE IS MY WORDS began as a community college writing class assignment—a short story—but then “got out of hand.” Besides the story’s length, Turner’s switch from nonfiction to fiction (the main character was inspired by her great-grandmother) and the incorporation of meaningful historical dates and incidents necessitated serious rewriting. Add to that what she calls a “serious case of dyslexia,” and you’ve got one very hard-working writer who did a lot more than fall off a log to get published. “I’ve never published a single word that hasn’t been reconsidered at least eight times.”

Here's something that surprised me: Nancy Turner lists GONE WITH THE WIND as one of the most important books in her life, the first adult book she read (and I would LOVE to know what an eight-year-old made of that story!). Stephanie Mills also loved GONE WITH THE WIND. Maybe I was too old when I read it. None of the characters seemed to learn or grow, and that frustrated me. I'll take Sarah Prine over Scarlett O'Hara any day.

Is every girl a princess or a pioneer? In girlish dreams, I was always a cowgirl. "What about a gypsy princess?" David asked. "Princesses just wear jewels and sit around. They don't get do anything!" Really! Who would want a life like that?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Busy, Romantic June

Happy anniversary, Lisa and Gary! Best wedding wishes, Tegan and Jon! June is a beautiful wedding month, and I’m sure Mackinac Island is a dream wedding locale, but so was Shady Trails camp outside of Northport, with Grand Traverse Bay as backdrop to the arbor framing bride and groom. My own romantic memories are of the Kalamazoo County courthouse and wildflowers I picked that morning in the woods to carry for my wedding, after which we went home, changed clothes and worked happily around the yard, and every year when the white clovers bloom, I remember early days together.

But it’s busy as well as romantic in June, and once again Sarah and I were outdoors before sunrise. My job was hanging laundry and taking a hoe to the garden rows, while hers was to run around and burn off some energy before our day in the bookstore.

NORTHPORT NEWS: Yesterday I finally found time to leaf through the local newspaper David had picked up three days earlier. Lo and behold! An article about a farmers’ market right here in Northport, starting this coming Friday and continuing every Friday through September 5. Glorious! The hours of the Friday market will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost for a vendor booth is $10 for one time or $90 for the season. (Call 386-5188 for more information.) A farmers’ market is something I’ve been wanting to see in Northport for years, and I certainly hope the community will support it on a weekly basis so the tradition will continue every summer.

NORTHPORT CALENDAR: Do NOT forget that this coming Tuesday is the first of the summer Tuesday night series at the library! Come at 7:30 to hear Porter Abbott speak on narrative, to join in the discussion, and to socialize afterward with punch and cookies. That’s at the Leelanau Township Library on Nagonaba Street, between the post office and the harbor.

And now, though the last few pages of THESE IS MY WORDS call to me, it’s really time to put some effort into my bookstore history for BookWomen. Anyway, the longer I take to get to the end of the first book about Sarah and Jack, the longer I can stretch out living in their story.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Surrounded by Art (and Books)

I'll wait until next Friday (Gallery Walk Day) to post photographs of the Painted Horse Gallery, but it is pretty much open for the season, as of this morning, thanks to Woodruff Palmer, artist and gallery owner, who painted up a storm this spring and worked this past week to hang his own paintings and the beautiful abstract watercolors of his father, Donn Palmer. Mary Beth Acosta has new paper collage work on exhibit, and David Grath (who also has his own gallery over on Mill Street) has new paintings. Bonnie Marris and Mary Fuscaldo will be bringing in new paintings very soon. We still have work to do in the gallery, but by a week from today (Friday, June 27) we’ll be ready for the first Northport Gallery Walk of the season. All this work, and the solstice, too!

The bookstore has its own art wall. True to the “You never know” nature of bookstore life, today has been full of surprises, and one of the nicest was a visit from Donna Wilson, sixth-grade teacher at Northport School, who brought a couple of small story quilts done by her students. She and I hung them on the bookstore wall. She will bring others from time to time, so we will be changing this ongoing display, giving all the kids in this project a chance to have their work on display.

The story quilt idea comes from Faith Ringgold, African-American artist and Caldecott honor book author. Each of her art quilts combines painting, quilting and story-telling. In the process of creating their own story quilts, Northport students (working with their art teacher) learned how to sew and wrote their own stories to incorporate into their quilts. The viewer can read each story right from the quilt.

Donna Wilson arrived at Dog Ears Books today just as Helen Sica and I were deep in appreciative discussion of the doors project down at the harbor, which Helen (grandmother of one current Northport student and one recent graduate) had just seen for the first time. The students at our small school add to the life of this community out of all proportion to the size of their classes. What would we be without them?

A late afternoon customer came all the way from Williamsburg for a used paperback copy of STILL LIFE WITH WOODPECKER, by Tom Robbins, after calling to see (1) if I had the book, paperback, used, and (2) if it had the right cover illustration. “It’s gift,” he said, “and I bought a brand-new copy at [large chain store to remain nameless here] but it just didn’t feel right. This is perfect!” To clarify: he hadn’t made the trip from Williamsburg for the book but had called and made the trip from Traverse City, so it wasn’t as crazy as it sounds. Anyway, it was a gift--clearly from the heart.

I've left music out of the title of this post but am hoping "French Road Connections" will soon do justice to last night's dream concert, the 15th anniversary performance of the Leelanau Children's Choir and Youth Ensemble. David and I had front row seats. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Margaret Bell, director for 15 years, said the first choir had only eight students. Since then, over 300 have passed through its ranks. What an achievement! What good fortune for Leelanau County!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June Pace Feels Like Summer

Suddenly, everything is green. The woods are dense and dark. Sunshine returned today, and everyone's spirits lifted. Life is too busy already, though, with so many things going on every day and evening that the luxury of lazy porch reading seems like an impossible dream. Nonetheless, I did take THESE IS MY WORDS: THE DIARY OF SARAH AGNES PRINE, 1881-1901, ARIZONA TERRITORIES, by Nancy E. Turner, to bed with me last night and read until I fell asleep. Have decided that is my fiction pick for this month of June. Nonfiction pick is GRASS ROOTS: THE UNIVERSE OF HOME, by Paul Gruchow. Not that I'll probably have it together to choose a single fiction and single nonfiction book for each month of the year. That would be just way too scheduled.

The friends who led me to cheesecake in Traverse City last week found their way to Northport yesterday, and we shared a #2 pizza at the Eat Spot. Artichokes and gorgonzola are a brilliant combination.

It figures that when I picked up an illustrated book on Abraham Lincoln, it would open to a two-page image of “Some of the Books He Left Behind." Why does this picture tug at the heart so?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Which Way to Go?

This cheery basin of blooms comes to you courtesy of Lisa Drummond, proprietor of By Chance or Design Antiques. Lisa’s shop is on Nagonaba Street, across from the post office. She has a nice, playful way with flowers that I appreciate, and everything in her small shop is something she’s chosen personally with care.

BookWomen journal out of the Twin Cities has asked me for a history of my bookstore as part of an ongoing series they’ve recently launched. My deadline is the end of the month. I’m well along but not sure I’m telling the story in the most interesting way. I’ve been working on the eccentric philosopher and business angles, but is that what women readers, many in book clubs, would find most interesting? Perhaps more about my customers over the years or books I’ve helped launch or … or … ??? I’m open to ideas, if anyone has any to send me, but do it fast!

It’s finally official: the Painted Horse Gallery, Siamese business twin to Dog Ears Books--one entrance, one set of business hours, often only one person on hand to make sales for both places—will be open for the first Gallery Walk of the Northport 2008 season on Friday evening, June 27. Only nine days away! According to my marine radio forecast, warmer, drier weather is supposed to move in starting tomorrow, so we’ll hope for a beautiful Gallery Walk evening a week from Friday.

Another date to mark on your calendar is Friday, July 11, when Bob Underhill will be at Dog Ears Books to greet the public with his new book, CATHEAD BAY. I’ll have a time for that event when it gets closer, but we’re thinking evening there, too.

Don’t forget Leelanau Children’s Choir and Youth Ensemble this Friday! As for July 5, there are so many events scheduled for that day that I’ll save them for a separate posting.

I’ve been escaping the rainy, not-warm-enough weather this week by immersing myself in 19th-century Western homesteading, rhe first book of a fiction trilogy by Nancy E. Turner, THESE IS MY WORDS: THE DIARY OF SARAH AGNES PRINE, 1881-1901, ARIZONA TERRITORIES. It's a busy week, but I’m almost halfway through THESE IS MY WORDS, which tells you how many other things I’ve been neglecting. “Reading,” though, my sister tells me, “is part of your job!” Really? It’s not just a guilty pleasure, a self-indulgence? I just love it when other people see my choices in a noble light!

When you hear “self-indulgence,” do you think cheesecake? A couple of friends and I indulged ourselves in Traverse City a week ago Monday at Underground Cheesecake in its new location on the old state hospital grounds, now called (if I have this name right) Grand Traverse Commons. Fascinating complex--great historical renovation going on there. One of the great things about living Up North is how many wonderful half-day minivacations one can find close to home. That means a lot to those of us who work all summer!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Down to Earth Again--and Then to Town

I'd like to call this picture "Penitent Pup," but that would be a lie. Sarah may be chastened, but she repents of nothing. It wasn't enough to be put through her Sit, Lie Down, Stay, Come paces and then to run around joyously and get soaked nose-tip to tail-tip (her dog-mom got soaked toes to knees) in tall, wet grass. No, it wasn't enough, because if there is deershit to be found, a dog will find it, and the finding will be instantly up close and personal. Good thing Bruce is opening the bookstore this morning! It's laundry time again at our house, and even Sarah's collar is in the wash.


Richard Peck, the Newberry-winning children’s author, was in the bookstore when I got there, along with a couple of other children’s book authors, all of them having found their way north from Leland to Northport. What a surprise! Peck left with a copy of one of my favorite books, Van Loon’s STORY OF MANKIND, the very first (1921) Newberry winner. Our visit was cut short, as I had the annual Friends of the Library meeting to attend. I do still have tickets for his talk tomorrow evening in Leland, and the $20 family ticket is a real bargain. The event is aimed at fourth-graders and up. Individual tickets for adults and children are also available.

Down at the township library on Nagonaba Street, before voting unanimously to re-elect the two officers whose 2-year terms were up and who were willing to serve another two years each, we were all held spellbound by a slide and video presentation by Hank and Patty deYoung of their recent trip to Tanzania. Moving and spectacular! I asked Patty if she and Hank would be willing to present the show again this summer at the Painted Horse Gallery. I can think of a lot of people who would love it but who missed today’s meeting at the library.

My small official role was to announce the speakers for this year’s Friends of the Library summer series. The series kicks off Tuesday, June 24, with Porter Abbott, author of THE CAMBRIDGE INTRODUCTION TO NARRATIVE (2nd ed.), who will introduce the theme of this year’s series, story-telling. We’ll skip 4th of July week--already crowded with events, and I’ll list as many as I can very soon. On Tuesday, July 8, Kathleen Firestone will talk to us about “Stories for Our Grandchildren.” John Mitchell on July 15 (“Leelanau Boat Stories”) and Elizabeth Buzzelli on July 22 (“Scaring Ourselves with Stories!”) take us to the end of the month, when on July 29 we’ll have poetry night, this year themed as “Stories and Fragments in Verse.” DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED OF POETRY NIGHT! It’s great fun! Anyone who has written at least one poem is welcome to participate in the round-robin reading, and we welcome a large, appreciative audience. Starting time on Tuesday evenings in the series is 7:30 p.m., and punch and cookies are served afterward.

Before returning to the bookstore, Sarah and I took a quick harbor tour. George Carpenter will be taking a group of artists out to South Fox Island soon, and I was relieved to see (since David is one of the group) that the ‘Lightkeeper,’ their transportation for the expedition, is a sturdy-looking craft. The bank of clouds hugging the eastern shore of Grand Traverse Bay looked as airy as whipped cream. As always, too, the doors called me. A door standing out in the open has such magic. For years there was one in a little grove of trees out on Coast Guard Point in Grand Marais, and David and I still speak of it when we walk out that way, though the door itself is gone. And that's the closest to a deep thought you'll get from me today.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some Bright and Beautiful Things

Early to Northport to join the group of volunteers planting barrels of flowers for our village sidewalks. Sarah met her first Portuguese water dog, Abby. David gave himself a Father’s Day “county cruise” down to Cedar to visit various friends he hadn’t seen for a while. The early part of the bookstore day was lively (with friends, families, customers, book- and dog-lovers) but had quieted down by the time David got to town late in the afternoon. Sarah and I had only moments before returned from a walk along the creek, where the Canada anemones and buttercups (both in the same family, ‘ranunculae,’ the little frog flowers) are blooming, the latter alongside still-blue forget-me-nots and a few of those bright little wild geraniums (cranesbill?) that add a ‘pop’ (as the landscapers like to say) of magenta to the mix.

Home early enough to get Sarah out for a run before dinner, I didn’t mind at all when rain started falling on our way back to the house. I was, in fact, happy that the gentle patter continued long enough to give David and me an excuse to do some cozy, after-dinner porch reading before the sun reappeared and called us to outdoor work. I finished CREATION, the novel about Audubon in Labrador. As I turned the pages, Michigan songbirds were making music in the background. (They are still singing now, after sunset.) A short chapter near the end of the book changed the scene from North America to London, England, where Audubon's printer worked under incredible pressure (some subscribers to the bank were canceling their orders, to the artist's dismay) to produce the huge plates, 30 by 40 inches, for the original elephant-folio edition of BIRDS OF AMERICA. I thought of the Russell Chatham documentary we saw at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City. Print-making is an incredibly complicated affair, equal parts creativity and engineering.

The last light of day was exquisite.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sunshine Between the Clouds

Sarah and I were up and out of the house today before the sun had cleared the treetops. Our early overland ramble gave me plenty of time to get laundry hung out on the line before going to Northport, where I found the creek high from last night’s rain, Edie Joppich’s Bay Street Gallery looking bright in the morning light, and a fun new Japanese vehicle parked across the street from Barb’s Bakery.

At the bookstore, the first book that comes to my hand is a volume of essays entitled MINDFULNESS AND MEANINGFUL WORK: EXPLORATIONS IN RIGHT LIVELIHOOD (ed. Claude Whitmyer; Parallax Press, 1994), and my first association with the title is Paul Gruchow’s observation that one might say it was “inefficient” for him to make his living as a writer (although he manages to do so) if one were to apply to his work the same standards generally applied to food production. Getting a better-paying job and leaving book-writing to people like John Grisham would make more sense, from such a point of view, because Gruchow could buy Grisham’s books for much less than what it costs him to write his own and have more money left for other things. I love this analogy. It points up the whole absurdity of the argument that “it doesn’t pay” to have a garden and grow your own vegetables. If doing what you love isn’t more important than making money as much money as possible, what on earth will all your money buy? What are you working for, anyway?

Meaningfulness, on the other hand, can’t be measured, rightly or wrongly. The cover illustration of M&MW, based on a painting by 13th-century Chinese artist Chih-Tê, shows a grinning, robe-garbed figure (peasant? monk?) leaning on a hand-made broom. The orientation of the collection is Buddhist, but after glancing down the table of contents, I turn to “Amish Economics,” by agricultural writer Gene Logsdon. I first read Logsdon in the 1970’s and more recently met him at a Great Lakes Booksellers book fair in Dearborn, where he was signing his then-new book, ALL FLESH IS GRASS. I was as excited to meet him—“in person!” I excitedly told my friends afterward—as most people would be to meet a film star.

It’s good, Logsdon’s essay, and I browse through a couple more before deciding that, since I have found my own life’s meaningful work, “inefficient” though it may be from the narrowly economic perspective, it is time to return to the novel I started last night, in which John James Audubon is the main character and the setting the Atlantic coast of Labrador. Canadian author Katherine Govier captured my attention on the first page, and I’m devouring the chapters. The only mystery is why it took me so long to open this book: the dust jacket is so lovely I’ve been moving it around the bookshop for weeks, reluctant to hide the cover away between other books on the shelf. Govier takes me in a sailing ship in 1833, along a coast still being mapped for the first time, during a few months of Audubon’s life left sketchy by his published writings. “A gap is an opening, a window, an opportunity,” writes Govier, inviting us through to Audubon’s Labrador as she has imagined it. CREATION has been called a “novel of ideas,” and, in truth, episodes of passion and scenes of murder are presented only through the characters’ memories and conversations. But what a lively presentation of ideas! There is not a single dull page. One feels the wind, the wet slipperiness of the rocks, tension between characters, ecstasy over birds in flight, guilt, ambivalence, and the self-importance of “secrets” guarded in men’s hearts.

I’m adding a new blog to my list of links: How could I resist a site called “Dog Ear Diary”? And the blogger loves dogs and horses as well as books, so it’s a natural addition.

Friday, June 13, 2008

GRASS ROOTS and My Village

I live out in the country but spend my days in the village of Northport, doing my daily errands on foot, taking breaks from the bookstore to walk my dog, seeing friends all the time. Here is a family taking advantage of our sunny Friday morning to head down to the marina park. We’re all very fortunate not only to be in a village but in friendly, convenient and pretty little Northport.

Following up on a comment from Susan Och the other day, I began reading Freeman Tilden’s book on our state park system and learned that the vision for a nationwide system of state parks came about in 1921, in part as a result of pressure on the national park system. One aim was to provide campgrounds for motorists. Another was ‘recreation,’ a vague term Tilden thinks needs not be defined, saying, “I will gladly dispense with definitions in exchange for more good public reserves where the thing itself may be found” (THE STATE PARKS: THEIR MEANING IN AMERICAN LIFE [Knopf, 1962]). In some parks ‘recreation’ is fishing, boating and so forth; others emphasize history; the reason for still others is preserving tracts of wilderness. ‘Recreation,’ like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

We are fortunate to have both Leelanau State Park and Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore in our county, along with a growing number of public access trails maintained by the Leelanau Conservancy, but I’m thinking that Susan’s focus, really, is more on the township and village level, and I found a book much more general in nature, addressing questions far beyond ‘recreation,’ that may help her and the rest of us think about what kind of future we would like to see here on our home grounds. Paul Gruchow’s GRASS ROOTS: THE UNIVERSE OF HOME (Milkweed Editions, 1995) starts off like many a book on rural meditations, though he addresses more directly objections that he is appealing to ‘nostalgia’ or ‘romantic’ notions. ‘Nostalgia’ originally meant homesickness, he tells us, and the broad notion of a ‘romantic’ life is that it is lived with principles. The history of his growing-up and of his small Minnesota township make for interesting reading. It is, however, 80-some pages into the book that he develops ideas I see as relevant for talk of “Future by Design,” especially if we aren’t just talking about “streetscapes” for our villages but thriving, full-service communities providing employment for young families.

“What We Teach Rural Children” is a chapter to open the eyes and straighten the back of any reader with a concern for education and the future of farming and rural communities. Here are some of the lessons he says we teach, albeit inadvertently: that industrialization is an escape from hard labor on the land; that to have any kind of meaningful future, young people must migrate to cities; that any professional person who returns to a small town practice must not be very good at what he or she does. The following chapter, “Guerilla Warfare,” continues these themes with specific ideas of what will not work and what might, all guided by the author’s basic insight, which is so important that I want to quote him at length in a separate paragraph:

“Moral arguments carry persuasive weight to the extent that they appeal to the good of the whole community. The task in moral terms is not to benefit farmers but to benefit society as a whole. The strongest moral argument against our present system of agriculture [which has been bled dry of the ‘culture’ that farming used to possess, as he argues earlier in the book] is not that it hurts individual farmers—although it does—but that it tends toward totalitarianism: the system concentrates wealth and power to the disadvantage of most citizens, urban as well as rural, and does so at an accelerating pace. In a food system increasingly dominated, as ours is, by transnational conglomerates with economic monopolies, urban consumers have few meaningful choices about what they will eat and whom they will support with their food dollars; rural producers have fewer choices about what they will grow, how it will be grown, and where it will be marketed; and urban and rural communities alike lose power to influence businesses to make decisions that work to the general social, environmental and economic good.”

Gruchow thinks a frontal assault on this well-entrenched system of corporate production and marketing is unlikely to succeed. His vision instead is that of growing local alternatives to render what he sees as a “totalitarian” system “irrelevant.”

Farm markets, CSA’s and home gardens are in this sense “guerilla” tactics, and Gruchow has others. The last of his twelve numbered points harks back to the previous chapter: “We could teach our children rural history and rural culture.” Not, however, I want to urge, as something quaint and over-and-done-with but as something kept alive by some, revitalized by others, and valuable to all of us.

As I was coming into town this morning, I saw two young girls crossing the road to the horse farm. I thought about Jacob, home from college for the summer to work on cherry harvest. I remembered my grandmother’s flock of chickens and her milk cow, my grandfather’s raspberry patch and kitchen garden, my other grandfather’s pride in his backyard tomatoes, the way my mother pinned sheets to the backyard clothesline. I want to honor this way of life and continue to incorporate it into my own. This is how, Gruchow says, we have a home, a history, a culture.

Late afternoon postscript: Having come to the end of the book GRASS ROOTS, I want to say just a bit more about it. The passage I quoted four paragraphs up is typical of one of his styles. The book in its entirety, though, has at least four styles, and Gruchow's meandering but purposeful narrative--a footpath, not an expressway--takes the reader from Memory through Ideas and Strategies, finally to Poetry. The poetry of the final chapter will, I'm sure, trigger memories in readers' minds, as it did in mine, taking us back to the beginning of the path again. For each of us, then, our memories should generate our ideas and strategies and poetry. This is a gem of a book.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wolverine Weather

MY MAIZE AND BLUE DAY, a new children’s picture book by Old Mission resident Sonja Richards and illustrated by Pauline Vialle (the same duo who brought us THE COMET KID, a kids’ story of fishing that parents and grandparents love, too) is this week’s featured new book in at Dog Ears. Purchase a copy at the store and fill out an entry form for a drawing to win two tickets to a 2008 University of Michigan football game! What fun, eh? (I’ll be mailing entry forms to the author, not pulling the winning form myself, in case anyone wondered.) Plenty of people around town sport maize and blue, and I hope they get their names in the goldfish bowl for the drawing, but anyone from anywhere who buys the book is eligible for the drawing. All Dog Ears copies are signed by the author, too, as are copies of THE COMET KID.

One of my favorite northern Michigan plants, the highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is blooming now. Here is a view of one just south of Omena, with the bay in the background, but you’ll notice it on many of the back roads of Leelanau County. Every year I covet these shrubs for our home grounds, and every year the season gets away without my having acquired any, but when the next June comes I enjoy the wild ones all over again. LANDSCAPING WITH NATIVE PLANTS OF MICHIGAN, by Lynn M. Steiner, gives it a good review. Maybe I’ll score a couple from a local nursery this month! I love viburnums in general in all their variety. The old ‘Chenault’ I planted in the old corner Dog Ears location (Mill & Nagonaba) is still doing well.

In my home gardens, it’s iris time. My favorites are the small, delicate, deep purple Siberians, but I have large bearded iris in many colors, gifts over time from a gardening friend, and they have their own blowsy, overblown charm, these painted ladies of my higgledy-piggledy garden.

Finished FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON this morning. The ending was not a surprise, as the early chapters gave hints of what was to come, but while it was very sad, in many ways, to see Charlie regress, especially to see the window close between him and Alice, in another way, while Charlie’s early life lacked intellectual depth (as will his later life), and the high period of his mind soared far above what most of us will experience, the general arc of his life is but an exaggerated line mirroring our own. We all come from darkness into the light for a brief period of bloom.

A couple back from six months in Florida complained yesterday about Michigan weather. Ha! If they’d been here all winter, they’d think this June beautiful, rain and all. My gardens are loving it! It's what I call Scottish weather, remembering the fabulous gardens of Scotland, where I was cold the whole week, and my feet were never dry, but the towering foxgloves made it all worthwhile. Here and now, viburnum does it. And no, it's not nearly as cold and wet in Leelanau County as it was in Scotland, either.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Third, Fourth, Fifth and More

Today in the bookstore I started telling a friend that our veterinarian had been giving me the—I stopped, suddenly unsure. “Third degree? Fourth degree? Fifth?” I put the question to those present. One woman browsing in the foreign language section swore it was the fifth, but no one knew where why degrees came into it at all. I could have pulled out a dictionary or e-mailed Michael Sheehan at Wordmall, but Googling was quick and easy, and Answer Bank told me that the correct degree was third, that the phrase came from Masonic ritual, third-degree being a level of rigorous examination coming after first- and second-degree mastery. That left us, however, not knowing what to do with “fifth,” and my friend suggested the “Fifth Estate.” No, I had that one down pat: the press is known as the Fourth Estate. “What are the other three?” David asked. I had church and nobility but had (God help me!) forgotten the commoners. These three were the official Estates General of France, as the Ancien Régime was organized prior to the Revolution. “’Taking the fifth’” was David’s suggestion for rounding out our 3-4-5 discussion, and that, I’m glad to say, stumped none of us. At least we’re not ignorant of our own Constitution.

(This is the kind of topic typically addressed in blogs, isn’t it? Every once in a while I have to do something typical. But now, moving on….)

What do you do when you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep? I got up and pulled a book off the shelf: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, by Daniel Keyes, thinking I had never read it. Well, it turned out that I recognized the story, but it’s been so long that I don’t remember what happens, and diving into it seemed like a good way to use unplanned time awake before dawn.

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON reminds me of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, by Mark Haddon, in that both authors create narrators whose minds work very differently from the minds of most readers. Haddon’s young male protagonist is autistic, while 32-year-old Charlie Gordon is retarded until he undergoes the same operation that turned a laboratory mouse, Algernon, into a genius maze-runner.

The reader meets regarded Charlie first as a retarded person (the mouse beats him at the maze, time and again), then witnesses, through Charlie’s written “progress reports” to researchers and his later, more personal private journal entries, the growth not only of his intellect but also his awareness of himself and others. Until he got “smart,” Charlie didn’t realize his co-workers at the bakery were making fun of him but thought they were his friends. (They reject him when his intelligence surpasses theirs.) When he goes to one of the researchers for help with a moral dilemma, he is dissatisfied when told he bears no responsibility. “But I’m not an inanimate object,” he objects. The researcher says, “I meant before the operation,” but Charlie replies, “ I was a person before the operation.” The difference is that “before the operation” he didn’t realize when others were not treating him as a person, deserving of respect. It’s a difficult realization.

As I say, I don’t remember what happens in the story but will find out (again) as I continue reading. One of the pleasures of forgetting is being surprised all over again.

The mental processes of young Christopher in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT do not undergo radical transformation. The limits and gifts he has at the beginning of the novel he has still at the end. The difference is not in his brain but in, if you will, his spirit. With every traditional coming-of-age story, the character must meet challenges and move forward into independence, and Christopher’s biggest challenge is autism. The hurdles he clears in the course of the story give him confidence for a future no one else in his life had been able to imagine for him.

Seeing the world through the eyes of another person is one of fiction’s great gifts. Seeing the world through the eyes of Charlie and Christopher enlarges our own worlds, as well as our sympathy for others. It’s also a reminder of how much courage some people need in what are for the rest of us quite ordinary situations. So much of what we take for granted is wondrous, miraculous.

Tonight the world is washed clean by the rain, the light clear, colors singing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A View is Where You Find It

Lake Michigan views are not the kind of real estate typically owned by booksellers and artists. Not “owned,” as in “from the picture windows of their houses,” that is. Many of David’s beautiful paintings, though, are in homes with lake views, and we can visit a view stretching out across Lake Michigan by hiking across field and orchard and uphill to woods’ edge from our tucked-away-behind-the-hills farmhouse. If I were a kid, I’d head up to the edge of the woods with book in hand, where I could glance away from the pages from time to time to enjoy the blue of the Big Lake. Maybe I should try it, anyway, one sunny, dry evening, when the current rains are rained out. But would Sarah be content to lie by my side? Maybe if she had a good run first and then I read aloud to her?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dream Day in the Bookstore

Once in a while, along comes a day in my bookstore that is like a day in someone’s dream of having a bookstore. Saturday was like that.

Morning brought out-of-town book customers, including children who enjoyed commanding Sarah through her paces for treats, and then an impromptu salon, of which the topic was Leland history, special focus: Fishtown. Susan Cordes usually stops in on Saturday mornings to pick up a book order, have coffee with me and discuss our respective dogs. Susan lives in Northport now and is a school board member but grew up in Leland (her family owners of the Leland Mercantile) and graduated from St. Mary’s School in Lake Leelanau before going on to a teaching career. Yesterday while she was here, along came Amanda Holmes and Dan Stewart. Holmes, author of the award-winning Omena history, OMENA: A PLACE IN TIME, is now administrative director (or something like that) of Fishtown Preservation, a huge job but one for which she is ideally qualified, with a Ph.D. in folklore and natural gifts of diplomacy and charm. Finally, completing the circle, arriving so fortuitously his entrance seemed almost on cue, came Nick Lederle, year-round Fishtown resident. “My house,” he says proudly of his remodeled two-story fish shanty across the river from the Cove restaurant, “is the most photographed house in Leelanau County.” Nick Lederle and Susan Cordes are cousins, members of families going back four generations in Leland. Amanda could hardly take notes fast enough! David and I had been telling her for months that she had to meet Nick, but this was the first time they’d gotten together. And it happened in Northport! (“The gym’s neutral territory!” cries a character in the musical “West Side Story.”) Well, that was a great session.

As the satisfied Fishtown discussion group filed out the door, I was happy to greet an old friend coming in. It was Richard Fidler, whom I first met when he visited my Traverse City bookstore on Union Street in 1994. Retired now from teaching, Richard has turned his scientific research mind to the study of local history, and the Grand Traverse Pioneer and Historical Society has published his book, GLIMPSES OF GRAND TRAVERSE PAST: REFLECTIONS ON A LOCAL HISTORY. Richard’s book has a great cover design and wonderful photographs, and I was drawn into the stories as soon as the book was in my hands. I still haven’t come to the part explaining the saying “A view of the bay is worth half the pay,” and Richard was surprised I didn’t know the old white oak on Washington Street, but I look forward to reading every word of GLIMPSES.

It was three o’clock, but the literary day wasn’t over yet. Before the end of the afternoon came a rare visit from author Stephanie Mills, of whom Jim Harrison wrote (for the cover of her most recent book, TOUGH LITTLE BEAUTIES), “Stephanie Mills has always been on the cutting edge…as one of our leading social critics.” I was honored that a highly self-aware environmentalist like Stephanie would drive to Northport to bring me a selection of her books, two of them newly reprinted by New Catalyst Books. TURNING AWAY FROM TECHNOLOGY: A NEW VISION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, a book edited by Mills, with contributions from Wendell Berry and Susan Griffin, among others, is one I hadn’t had before and am glad to have in the bookstore now. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ECOLOGY? (1989); IN THE SERVICE OF THE WILD: RESTORING AND REINHABITING DAMAGED LAND (1995); and EPICUREAN SIMPLICITY (2002) are also now available again at Dog Ears Books. We were enjoying our conversation so much, I stayed half an hour later than usual, and we promised each other another visit soon. This picture of Stephanie Mills shows her signing books with the fountain pen she calls her “word processor.” Does she have a computer? We’ll save that revelation for a later post.

A few years back, I had a call from an instructor at the Interlochen Arts Academy. Easter vacation was coming up, but some of the international students were staying on campus, and this instructor was putting together a holiday field trip for them. Would I be open on Sunday? Well, not usually, except between Memorial Day and Labor Day. How about Monday? No, that year I was taking both Sundays and Mondays off, and Bruce was still at his Florida winter home. The man on the other end of the line sounded so disappointed that it struck me that David and I had no real plans for the day. “Sure!” I told him impulsively. “I’ll be here on Sunday for you.”

The students came on Easter Sunday. The day was sunny, and I made lots of coffee and put out bowls of jellybeans, mixed flavors. We had the radio tuned to the Interlochen station, which pleased the students, who lolled about in the leather chairs and on the floor, petting our old dog, sight-singing from sheet music, and showing each other passages in books they’d found. Everyone was relaxed and happy, especially me. At last, after a couple of the most fulfilling hours I’ve ever had in my own bookstore, they lined up with their purchases and thanked me for being there.

Such are examples of bookstore dream days. But here’s the thing—you never know when one will come along. Another thing—besides the whole dream days, there are dream hours and dream encounters, and any day the bookstore is open, the dream may suddenly spring to life. A book-lover from Chicago, writers from Woodstock, a librarian from Portage or Ann Arbor, poets from here and there, kids who love books and dogs, men and women eager to share with me the names of their favorite authors—the list could go on forever. Old friends, new acquaintances, regulars and one-time visitors: who will walk in the door next? Of my bookstore and David’s gallery, we like to say, when musing on what a day will bring, “You never know.”

Today it’s raining, and the streets of Northport are pretty empty, but you never know….

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Graduation, Northport Style

There’s nothing else in the world to compare with Northport graduation. Last year’s class was a big one, 23 graduates. This year’s Class of 2008, by contrast, was 11 strong--six handsome young men and five beautiful young women. It seems such a short time ago they were goofy, adorable little grade school kids. Now they’re going out into the world on their own.

What makes graduation different in Northport?

Like almost everything else, it’s a community event. With such small classes, there’s no need to restrict seating to family only; instead, anyone is welcome. Because the school is right in the village (up the hill from “downtown”), everyone knows at least some of the graduates, kids who have been playing and walking and, more recently, driving and working in town for years. They have made their mark on all of us. As Barbara McCann said, in her commencement address, here in Northport, “It takes a child to raise a village,” and all these kids have made contributions to our village life.

Since the whole K-12 school is small, young children are involved in Northport graduation, too. This year the second- and third-graders sang the national anthem at the beginning of the ceremonies. Later, little Minaal Campos and Logan Adams were the flower-bearers, handing each graduate a pink Asiatic lily from the basket they carried. (Graduates presented their parents with white gerbera daisies.) Young barefoot girls in the bleachers behind my seat (high enough to get good pictures, at the end of the row by the door where there was a nice breeze) scrambled up and down from time to time to get a closer view. Maybe they were imagining their own distant graduation evening.

Each year the graduates, many of whom have known each other since kindergarten, say how close they are as a group. Remember, we’re not talking about a class of 1200-1500 kids but a class of eleven. In a larger school, any student might have ten close friends. That group of friends, however, would probably be quite similar in terms of ethnic background, family income, academic achievement, extracurricular interests, future aspirations, etc. In a small school, the potential friendship pool is limited, and an entirely different dynamic is at work. Some people think only large schools can prepare young people for the “real world,” but most adults don’t get to select every individual in their work group or neighborhood, and a small school is solid preparation for learning to get along and work together as a team with different people. “We’re like a family,” the graduates always say.

After the ceremony, after all the graduates had been hugged in the reception line by half the town, people started strolling downhill to the first of several weekend graduation parties. Yes, on a beautiful June evening (thunderstorms and tornadoes alike non-events, to everyone's great relief) we could walk up to the school and walk down to the first party afterward, where some of the 2007 graduates, back in town for the summer or at least for a visit, had tales of their first year away at college. Here in Northport, you can come home again.

So today, hats off to the Northport Class of 2008—

Ryan Keith Blessing (valedictorian)
Octavia Celeste Buss (class president)
Edward Ricardo Gonzalez
Erik Christopher Johnson
Benny Lopez, Jr.
Amanda Marie Luna
Sophia Sica Mosher (salutatorian)
Rose Nimkiins Petoskey
Jason Roman
Elizabeth Margaret Garthe-Shiner
Basil Edward Stowe

We wish you all future success and happiness! And keep us in your hearts, as we will keep you in ours.