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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year's End

The flip of the last calendar page of the year is a challenge with some weight, and this year’s close feels particularly fraught with challenge on all fronts. What to say? What to expect? We all have our hopes and dreams, projects and commitments. After days of soul-searching and page-turning and waiting for inspiration, I think I will simply close out Books in Northport 2009 with an image and a moment of silence.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Warm Places

Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning, Congo pink. Any morning, every morning. Blossomy rose-color birdsong air streaked sour with breakfast cookfires.

- Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

Yes, I am finally reading this book that everyone else read over a decade ago. The equatorial climate beckoned. Also, I’d mistakenly left Friend of Kafka at home.

With so little color outdoors in the northern hemisphere as the end of the year draws close, it’s no wonder that candles and baking, along with books, come naturally to the fore. My bookstore is a bright, cozy oasis in Northport for a few more days this season, but it is not the only one. The warm light of an agate lamp in the window of Nature Gems is a comforting sight.

Barb’s Bakery, still open, still draws morning crowds, and Sally Coohon’s shop, Dolls and More, uses its expanded space to good effect, providing work room for sewers, quilters and knitters. Anyone looking to pursue one of these projects in a congenial atmosphere, with expert help at hand, will find “Sally’s store” a warm and welcome refuge from winter cold and solitude.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting Around

I have a lot of cold, cold pictures for today, showing our drive home yesterday. For those of you who came to this site looking for something to read, try this:
Anyone who claims that readers can’t and won’t and shouldn’t own their books are bent on the destruction of the book, the destruction of publishing, and the destruction of authorship itself.

- Cory Doctorow, “How To Destroy the Book,” from his speech on copyright at the National Reading Summit, transcribed by Jade Colbert.

And now go read the whole article (Part I and Part II) and have food for winter’s thought. Preview hint: it's about electronic readers and the "books" you can read that way but never own or pass on to your kids.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Days, Leelanau

What is the image above? Clearly too regular to be a frost pattern, but frost may have been the inspiration for this old outhouse window, though it’s not as elaborate as the bathroom window on the house where I grew up, which was much more like the frosted window I photographed at our farmhouse last week.

Cold air, ground icy underfoot, but the Sunday sun brought a warm glow, made warmer still where it struck a bright red canoe and, in the background, the red frame of a garden trailer.

Sun on snow. Warm or cold? What do you see?

Now it’s Monday, and winds are Arctic again. Not only Lake Michigan but even Grand Traverse Bay waters are whipped into whitecaps. My land observation of the morning is that snow devils I’ve seen (along the road, in fields, on roofs) all seem to whirl counter-clockwise. Do they spin clockwise on the Antarctic continent?

On the reading front, having recently made my way to the end of two long novels, I treated myself to something easier and more contemporary. Allegra Goodman’s Kaaterskill Falls was a world I lived in for only two days, but those were two wonderful days in another world, and closing that book I turned to an old book of short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
...I raised the window shade and sat down and looked out into the night—black, impenetrable, without a moon. A few stars ran along with the train for a while and then they disappeared. Then it was swallowed in the darkness and another group of stars began to follow the train. I was turning with the earth on its axis. I was circling with it around the sun and moving in the direction of a constellation whose name I had forgotten. Is there no death? Or is there no life?

- Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Cafeteria,” from A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970)

I've taken food inspiration from Goodman and Singer, too, and am planning to make a sweet noodle kugel to take to New Year's Eve. It's so delicious but really needs a big crowd to finish it off in one evening.

Now, time for a Northport quiz: Where am I?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Odyssey of Life: More on Patterns

“Every reading of Ulysses,” writes Bernard Benstock,
...prepares us for a rereading, as we carefully stow away in our minds the bits and pieces that form various patterns which are assembled and reassembled. Ulysses exists simultaneously as the sum of it parts, that larger design that conjures up Homer and Dante and Shakespeare, Dublin topography and Irish history, and the inner design that concerns itself with fictional people and their lives. Yet, the constant that remains beneath cosmic significance and stylistic innovation is the story of Molly and Leopold Bloom, and of Stephen Dedalus, and of numerous minor Dubliners as well. It is a story skillfully told, although often obliquely told, and a story always worth retelling.

- Bernard Benstock, James Joyce (NY: Ungar, 1985)

I particularly like the opening line in this passage: “Every reading of Ulysses prepares us for a rereading....” As for the matter of patterns, Joseph Campbell had something profound to say regarding this book and human life in general. See if you agree:
There is a relevant thought expressed by Schopenhauer in one of the most wonderful of his many wonderful writings, ‘On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual.’ He observes that, whereas while living our lives we may regard the occurrences of many events as largely accidental, when we approach the end of our days and look back, our whole lifetime shows an order, as though composed like a novel by an author with a hidden plan. All that formerly seemed to be the product of mere chance is recognized in the panorama of years as having been required for the orderly unfolding of a structured plot. All those miscellaneous parcels come together surprisingly. Schopenhauer compares this not unusual experience to the effect of the once popular toy known as an anamorphoscope, whereby a picture, broken up and scattered on a page in such a way as not to be identifiable, is brought together by a conical mirror to compose a recognizable image.

That is the way this novel is composed. Throughout its pages appear the scattered figures of apparently tawdry, fragmentary lives, to which the magical composing mirror is the title of the novel itself: Ulysses. This applied, the apparently trivial, accidental incidents are seen as reflexes of the archetypes of classic myth: epic destinies of heroic quest, metamorphosis, and fulfillment.

- Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce, ed. Edmund L. Epstein (NY: HarperCollins, 1993)

That mention of an anamorphoscope tantalizes. Not a kaleidoscope, a toy whose name we recognize, but something from the past, a device, a toy, with rather the opposite function—not to break up but to bring together what has been broken up, a pre-existing unity.

Order, unity, disorder bring in, necessarily, the question of necessity. Are there, as determinism claims, inflexible laws beneath our level of awareness ordering our every action? “Backwards necessity” (not, please note, “backwards causation”) casts light from a different direction: It is not that laws determined my being here, now, as I am, but that my being here, now, as I am is only possible because of the path I have taken in my life. Henri Bergson, in the early pages of Creative Evolution, uses the analogy of a portrait painter’s work:
The finished portrait is explained by the features of the model, by the nature of the artist, by the colors spread out on the palette; but, even with the knowledge of what explains it, no one, not even the artist, could have foreseen exactly what the portrait would be, for to predict it would have been to produce it before it was produced—an absurd hypothesis which is its own refutation. Even so with regard to the moments of our life, of which we are the artisans. Each of them is a kind of creation. And just as the talent of the painter is formed or deformed—in any case, is modified—under the very influence of the works he produces, so each of our states, at the moment of its issue, modifies our personality, being indeed the new form that we are just assuming. It is then right to say that what we do depends on what we are: but it is necessary to add also that we are, to a certain extent, what we do, and that we are creating ourselves continually. This creation of self by self is the more complete, the more one reasons on what one does. For reason does not proceed in such matters as in geometry, where impersonal premises are given once for all, and an impersonal conclusion must perforce be drawn. Here, on the contrary, the same reasons may dictate to different persons, or to the same person at different moments, acts profoundly different, although equally reasonable. The truth is that they are not quite the same reasons, since they are not those of the same person, nor of the same moment. That is why we cannot deal with them in the abstract, from outside, as in geometry, nor solve for another the problems by which he is faced in life. Each must solve them from within, on his own account.

We do not trace an already existing pattern but create our own by choosing, acting and living. At the end of Joyce’s novel, Leopold Bloom seems to have decided that he will remain true to the pattern of his married life, with all of its disappointments and limitations. Stephen Dedalus has rejected both his father and a willing substitute father (Bloom), choosing instead of journalism or music a creative literary career all his own, with an ambitious object: “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).

And Molly? Is there a pattern to Molly’s life, and how and out of what has she created it? Her husband is proud of his wife’s voice and the career built on it. Men through the city of Dublin admire, as does Bloom, her physical charms. Through the book, we see Molly through the eyes of her admirers, and it is only in the very last chapter of Ulysses that we are admitted to her interior life. One question that might come to a woman reader’s mind (e.g., mine) is, Is this soliloquy believable, or is it a man’s fantasy of a woman’s thoughts? Someone else asked, Did Joyce understand women? Steve, our group leader, has an answer to the second question, which indirectly answers the first: “He understood Molly.” This is not, after all, the mind of abstract ‘Woman’ but of one very particular woman. And we believe Joyce’s portrait of Molly, as we believe in all the characters in this book.

--But Sarah thinks I've gone on long enough, so I'll stop here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Season's Greetings

May your days be merry and bright--

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last-Minute Frenzy

“Oh, no! I didn’t get a present for my dog mom and dad! I’ve got to find something they’ll like!”

“They have plenty of books and paintings. I’ll bet I can find something completely different if I dig here under the snow.”

“Maybe a nice field mouse would make them happy? I know they don't like to find them in the house, but maybe a cute, snowy one...?”

"That's it. I give up. They'll just have to be happy with each other and me. We'll have Christmas Day at home together, with cuddling on the bed and romping in the snow and whatever treats they've laid in for us, and I don't think we need anything more."

For those who would like a little something more and haven't found it yet, I'll be at the bookstore until 2 p.m. tomorrow, but after that I can't help you until Saturday. I'll be busy getting ready to celebrate with David and Sarah.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ephemeral Patterns

Everything is temporary!” That’s one of my favorite movie lines. It’s from “Moonstruck,” and it’s the father’s response to his daughter’s defensive answer to his earlier question that the pinkie ring she’s wearing does, too, constitute an engagement ring because it’s temporary. Frost patterns on winter windows are obviously temporary. Can you see, through this second shot, the outline of our barn?

It is my earnest resolve that the chaos on our dining table be temporary. Last night I looked at it and thought, “I’m as bad as my dad!” After we kids had left home, he began treating the dining room as his office and the dining table as his desk. I’m afraid David and I are prone to the same bad habit, but it seems kind of a cheerful clutter over the holidays, whether it’s cards come in or going out, cookbooks and bowls (last week) or whatever.

Businesses often outlast their locations, with no pattern to the changes. Here’s another peek through the window of the new Nature Gems location, where I noticed this morning they have put up a Christmas tree, though the move from the corner is far from complete.

At the bookstore, I’ve limited wrapping clutter—no apology!--to one table, and I sort of like the look.

What do my scenes of chaos have to do with patterns? Antipodes, antitheses. Make of it what you can or will. There isn't much pattern or order to my thoughts this week. Recent big accomplishments, however, include finishing Stendahl's Le rouge et le noir (in time to add it to my 2009 list of books read) and reaching the last chapter of Joyce's Ulysses. I thought of saving that chapter for New Year's Day but then realized it couldn't go on this year's list if I did that. So I'll give it to myself as a present on Christmas Day. Molly's soliloquy! What a gift!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunshine on Snow, Trees on the Brain

Sunshine today, sunshine in the forecast for tomorrow, snow for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We’ll see. Weather prediction is, after all, always a “We’ll see” proposition in Michigan.

One bit of Northport news is that Nature Gems, the Petoskey stone shop (they also have other rocks, stones, minerals and objects made from same) run by Marshall and Mary Collins for so many years, is moving again, leaving the corner of Mill and Nagonaba for a space two doors east, the building most recently occupied by the Northport Bay Dog and Cat Company, which has now moved to Shabwasung Street. The little bark-covered building on the corner is the cutest place in town and the most visible location, but there’s just something about having heat and plumbing that’s mighty attractive!

Now that Stendahl is behind me, I was able to pick up something more recent and finished this morning Annie Dillard's last novel, The Maytrees. I say "last" because it's her most recent book but also because she has said she'd written enough books and planned to spend the rest of her life reading. Is this possible? Can a writer decide to stop writing? The Maytrees is a poet's novel. It is lyrical and distilled and sneaks up on you gradually, leaving you dazed at the end.

Holiday plus sunshine make a combination too distracting for me to settle down to a serious essay of my own today. I can direct you to one, though, and it’s important. Bernd Heinrich, author of one of my all-time favorite books, The Trees in My Forest, had an opinion piece published in Sunday’s New York Times. The topic is carbon offsets, and it is Heinrich’s thesis that “offsets don’t magically make carbon emissions disappear. Worse, relying on them to stem global warming may devastate our forest ecosystems.”

Heinrich comes at this question armed with knowledge both scientific and practical. Biologist and landowner, he has managed his own forest land and studied it scientifically for years with students from the University of Vermont. This is not someone talking off the top of his head. Here are a few bits from his piece for those who don’t want to click on the link:
Trees are often called a “carbon sink”—implying that they will sop up carbon from the atmosphere for all eternity. This is not true: the carbon they take up when they are alive is released after they die....

Beyond that, planting more trees is decidedly not the same thing as saving our forests. Instead, planting trees invariably means using them as a sustainable crop, which leads not only to a continuous cycle of carbon releases, but also to the increased destruction of our natural environment.

...[T]he [1997] Kyoto delegates decided that there would be no carbon-reducing credits for saving existing forests. Since planting new trees does get credit, Kyoto actually created a rationale for clear-cutting old growth [my emphasis added].

...A forest is an ecosystem. It is not something planted. A forest grows on its own.

...[I]f you want to plant a specific species of tree (for lumber or for offsets, you’ll have to apply an (petroleum-based) herbicide repeatedly over its lifespan.

...In the end, what was originally intended as a mechanism for slowing global warming has created huge economic pressure for ecocide. And there will be no objections from easily duped bleeding-heart “environmentalists,” who absolutely love tree planting because it sounds so “green.”

All right, that’s not a topic I can wrap up with ribbons and bows for you, but it hit me as important enough that I didn’t want to forget to bring it up.

Now, back to cookies and music....

Monday, December 21, 2009

After-Party Home Stretch

This was our road to town on Sunday. There was enough snow to be beautiful but not enough to make driving treacherous (in our township, at least). I'd been in a tizzy at home on Saturday evening. We will not have enough cookies. No, there will be way too many. Not enough, too many, not enough, too many. ("Food anxiety" was the knowing diagnosis of one friend in whom I confided. Apparently I'm not the only one who experiences it.) Back and forth went my monkey mind all night, unable to settle on one foolish worry or the other. Everything turned out fine.

David took me to town early. Things to do! Clearing snow from the door, sprinkling melting particles (what on earth are they, if not salt?), arranging chairs and cookies and mixing the punch. There were plenty of cookies, as it turned out—more than I would have needed but nothing like mountains of unwanted and rejected refreshments, though there are plenty of homemade gingersnaps left and even some of the yummy butterscotch bars, my first try on those and a big success, if I do say so myself.

Ben Wetherbee came early to set up, also. His guitar music was perfect for the occasion. He made my day and made the party! Whose brilliant idea was it, anyway, to have him entertain? During most of the open house, there was a nice crowd at his end of the room. David kept telling everyone, "That guitar he's playing, he made himself."

A late addition to the scene was a table of beautiful scarves from Flying Cat Beads.

Alice enjoyed showing and selling her wares, and people loved the scarves.

Plenty of people showed up. They loved the music. They ate cookies. They visited and browsed and talked and laughed, and many bought books. It was good to have so many old friends and new under the roof at the same time, and I loved introducing to each other people with lots in common who somehow hadn’t met before.

The only aspect of the event that didn’t get any action whatsoever was the free gift wrap. No one availed themselves of wrapping paper or tags. David told me later that he thought the artful arrangement of supplies might have kept people from wanting to “mess it up,” but at least one buyer admitted she had found a gift for herself (I don't think she was the only one, either), so that didn’t need wrapping. At any rate, I’ll leave the paper-and-tag table as is for the next four days. After all, we could still have last-minute shoppers wandering in who would be happy to wrap their purchases before taking them home to put under the tree. And maybe I’ll put a plate of cookies on the wrapping table, too. Sweeten the deal, as it were.

It was wonderful having so many friends come to the party! Wish all my friends and family could have been there!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Open House

Besides the last-minute reminder to stop in today for last-minute shopping, wrapping on premises, to enjoy a cookie and punch, plus enhanced bookstore ambience provided by Ben Wetherbee's guitar, I really just wanted to put up another image from my Christmas tree. Andy Thomas stopped in late one afternoon as I was photographing the tree and asked, "Are you afraid you'll forget what it looks like?" Well, yes. Not while it's up, but later, when it's no longer there. Every Christmas tree I've ever had has been the prettiest I've ever had, and this one is no exception.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sunshine Makes the Northland Bright

Reminder first: This Sunday (not Saturday, not last week) is the open house at the bookstore. See details at right. Ben Wetherbee will be playing guitar. Still need a couple of last-minute gifts? Never fear, Dog Ears is here!

I also want to note, because so many people have been wondering and hoping, that Funky Mama's consignment shop, next door to the bookstore, will also be open on Sunday. Maybe Saturday, too? That would be good!

Now, the sun! I’d hoped for it yesterday (and it did peek out for a few minutes), but today we have it in full. My morning sortie with Sarah was much more fun (calm, too; no wind) as dawn finally broke over the wooded ridge to our east. "Sunrise” is usually given at a specific time for a specific strip of the globe, but in reality it is very local in hilly regions. Fortunately for me, Sarah is patient about waiting to go out in the mornings. For her, it's always worth the wait, sunshine or no.

Here in town, I found faces full of smiles, and views over the water long, now that the haze has burned off. With zoom, I was able to look out through the bank window all the way out to Gull Island. If you look closely, maybe you can see it, too.

Over on Mill Street the old Willowbrook, newly remodeled, caught my eye, with garlanded bridge over the creek in the foreground. A couple people greeted me--on the sidewalk, at the Barb's Bakery

--with the news that my Reader’s Forum piece had been published in the Leelanau Enterprise. Reader letters and opinions don’t seem to be available online, so you’ll have to buy the paper--not that my view would surprise my regular readers, but I did spell out more implications of shopping locally this time around.

But I heard something very disturbing the other day. A man who had ridden the BATA bus out to Northport from Traverse City said that he’d planned to come sooner, but the first time he set out the bus driver told him there was nothing open in Northport and he might as well get off in Suttons Bay. He did that (and enjoyed his tour of our neighbor village, I’m sure), but luckily for Northport he persevered and got on the bus another day and came all the way out. The Treasure Chest is closed for the winter, it’s true, as is (more recently) the Drive-Through BBQ, but a glance at all the businesses open on the first day of our recent monumental blizzard should be enough to let you know we’re not all in hibernation here. Sheesh! Was it the driver's first day on the job, or what? I mean, we love BATA, connecting us to Traverse City all the way out here, but don't work against us, folks, please!