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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This Too Is Michigan, Up North, Country

My usual take on country living is unabashedly positive. The noise of orchard sprayers and tractors, the odor of fresh manure being spread on fields, the long walk from the house to where the driveway ends at the road, and all the rest of it seems a small price to pay--actually, except for the sprayers, I usually count all these things in the positive column, and even the sprayers I can rationalize as a good, since they are ongoing evidence for agricultural continuity in the neighborhood—in return for privacy, being able to hang laundry out on the line, having room to grow flowers and food and wide open spaces to explore with my dog. And on sunny June days when the first wild roses are blossoming, it’s all heaven on earth in my book.

In line with my romantic pragmatist philosophy, one area in my bookshop (two, actually—one new, one used) is devoted to country living and subsistence farming. I’ve listed several of those books recently and probably will again. The most recent arrival in the subject category is Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese, by Brad Kessler. It’s always important to remember, however, that not all bookstore browsers are wannabe farmers, and it’s also important to keep a sense of humor, so I also have on hand a hot new title from southwestern Michigan (Saugatuck area), At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life, by Wade Rouse.

So today, to acknowledge that other side of the Up North country living coin, we admit that skies over Grand Traverse Bay can sometimes be dark and stormy, and, on a darker note, that life can be violently cut short.

Not for the faint of heart, this post with its image of sudden death. Usually one does not stop for the death of an unknown other of a species not one’s own--the deer had not collided with my car, after all-- but there she was, lying in the wet grass along the side of the road between Omena and Northport, still so beautiful, and its eyes still so bright, as if she might suddenly recollect herself and scramble to her dainty feet, sway a little, shake her head to clear her brain, and leap away into the underbrush. That didn’t happen. I got out of the car for a closer look, feeling that I was bearing witness both to beauty and to death. You were here, lovely one. Someone took notice.

Doubtless the deer had been hit by a car, as often happens, though the close-up doesn’t give that impression. It’s one of the hazards of driving in these parts, and insurance companies figure the cost in terms of vehicle damage, human death and injury, not harm to deer. That is, deer on the roads are seen as dangerous to drivers and passengers of motor vehicles. That’s the perspective. For me, the beauty of the deer in our midst more than repays the risk, but I wonder how the animals would assess the danger. If they could calculate, would they conclude that our gardens and orchards and fields of alfalfa and corn outweigh the risk of tons of dangerous metal hurtling through the landscape?

This is life Up North as June comes to a rainy finish. Summer sun should return by week’s end, in time for the Fourth of July.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bookseller's Country Weekend

Saturday’s book signing came off splendidly! Good crowds, good sales, lots of happy faces. Here’s a picture of Hillary Porter greeting members of her admiring public.

Then that evening it rained, and how lovely to be at home with raindrops pattering on the metal roof of the porch, reflecting with satisfaction that I wouldn’t have to water the garden with a hose that night. This morning, across the hills to the west of St. Wenceslaus (rectory at right), Lake Michigan was startlingly blue, and wildflowers along the roads were blooming their heads off. Coreopsis always reminds me of an old friend, gone now, and his annual “Longest Day” party out at Cherry Home: every year as we drove out north of town to thirty, Porsche-yellow coreopsis would be rioting along the roadside. But the snow-white daisies, stained-glass blue of spiderwort and innocent pale pink roses also deserve attention.

Today’s was a morning of magic and bliss, rain-scoured skies and refreshing breezes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dream Days: Clouds and Book Review

There are plenty of events and activities and plenty of work to fill the dream days. Thursday night was a trip to Interlochen for the annual book sale and to pick up a box of Aaron Stander’s new book, Deer Season, fresh from the printer to the author to the bookseller’s hands. Tomorrow, of course, is the long-awaited book signing with Hillary Porter and her young people’s novel, The Colors of Beech Hill. So, we are busy, busy, busy, but there was still time last night to become lost in the clouds.

--And now, at the eleventh hour, here's a late-breaking book review from Columbus, Indiana:

The Colors of Beech Hill by Hillary Porter
Reviewed by Liam Greven, Age 12, Columbus, IN

“The main character of this book is a boy named Nick. He is around my age and lives in Northport, Michigan. He is having problems with a bully, which makes him quit his baseball team. To get away he goes to the top of Beech Hill and discovers his sister’s old tree fort. He finds a new kid named Tony there and they become friends very quickly. Also, Nick’s dog Sport plays a big role (which is fun for those of us who like dogs). Tony comes up with a great idea to end his Nick’s problems, and he tells great stories about the place he used to live, Colorado. Throughout the story, Nick deals with some tough situations and some sad ones. You might say that his life has been a bit tragic so far. There are also some political things in it that make it more complicated. I don’t want to give up too much information, though!

“This is an extremely good book that is a little sad, and also happy. It is not a very hard book to read I didn’t think, but it was fun anyway. I would also call it thoughtful, plus it gives a great way to deal with bullies. I enjoyed it very much. You will too!”

Thanks, Liam! Wish you could be here with us tomorrow!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Feel Like a Kid and See Like a Kid, Read Like a Kid

Wednesday morning was unusually busy at Dog Ears Books. We had visits from four teams of summer school explorers. The Small But Mighty, Fox Islanders, Bald Eagles and Crazy Cherries were spending the early part of the day exploring Northport on foot, and the bookstore was one stop along the way. After a brief introduction and time for the kids to explore, each team voted on a book to buy for their school library. The first team was the bounciest, the last pretty subdued, but I think the increasing heat of the morning was responsible for that difference. Anyway, faithful volunteer (read ‘angel’!) Bruce Balas, himself a veteran teacher of 25 years at the American School in London, was on hand to help sort things out, and every team departed with their chosen book and map of Leelanau County, with no backpacks left behind. Fun for all!

Having the kids visit on Wednesday and looking forward to Hillary Lang Porter’s book signing on Saturday has me thinking about children’s books. If you look at my “Books Read” list, you’ll see that right above (i.e., after) Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldiers comes Louis Slobodkin’s Circus April 1st—and now I realize that I have to add David Small’s That Book Lady to the list, too. Reading (sometimes re-reading) children’s books from time to time refreshes my spirit and keeps me, I hope, from becoming philosophically stale. Oh, who cares! It’s just fun! I like the picture books, and I like the chapter books, too, the ones you can live in for a while, inhabiting the characters’ world. Porter’s The Colors of Beech Hill is one of the latter, its story set right here in Northport, where the author graduated from high school in 1989.
The ruts in the dirt road made it hard to keep up the pace, and I ended up walking my bike up the last section of the road to my favorite spot. On a clear day up here it seemed like you could see the whole world. To the west on Lake Michigan you could plainly see both of the Manitou Islands, way out to Beaver Island, then across the northern part of the bay to the town of Charlevoix. Much closer in you could see the Point, Gull Island, even down to the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula. The trees on the top of this hill were growing so much that there would probably come a time that Old Mission was hidden from view, Billy Winslow said, but not yet. The best part is that you can’t see any buildings at all, not one in the entire landscape. It was like no one had built a house yet, no cherry processing plants, no barns, and no little village next to the water. The trees cover it all up. -- from The Colors of Beech Hill, by Hillary Porter

Since I didn’t grow up in Northport or in any small town, it’s only vicariously that I’ve ever had the experience. (That, by the way, is the same way I’ve had horses—vicariously, through reading.) I’ve noticed, though, that people of every age in Northport, all of them hard workers, still manage to keep a child’s delight in the changing of the seasons, local events and festivals, and all manner of magical, ephemeral moments. No one ever seems to tire of spying a fawn half-hidden in tall grass or a fox crossing the road, loons or cranes, geese or hawks overhead, the parade of blossoms or the progress of the orchards.

So go barefoot for a few minutes today. If you’re near the water, go wading. Lie in the grass and watch clouds. Read a book written for young people and cherish the child who lives on inside you.

Or, to put it another way--and to give me an excuse to post more flower images--be partly cultivated, like the elegant iris, and partly wild, like the happy hawkweed. Am I stretching my point too far? These shots were taken Tuesday evening, St. John's Eve.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Poems I've Been Waiting For

No one who grows up completely can be a poet, and no one born middle-aged can write poetry successfully, but a man (or woman) can do it with one eye, as long as the heart remains childlike with wonder.

I never have enough of Jim Harrison’s poems, and the wait from one book of his poetry to the next always feels much too long, but the most recent stretch of waiting is over at last, rewarded with In Search of Small Gods, and I am deeply moved by the simple, unpretentious language of these poems and the power that such simplicity affords. Like a shot to the heart, each one hits its mark. After reading only one or two I must close the book, breathe deeply and quietly, and give myself time to recover before going on.

The poem below may or may not be “representative” of the collection, but except for this one I will leave the delight of discovery to those who will take the book in their hands. That this book exists fills me with gratitude.
"Child Fear”

Sour milk. Rotten Eggs. Bumblebees.
Giant women. Falling through the privy hole.
The snake under the dock that bit my foot.
Snapping turtles. Electric fences. Howling bears.
The neighbor’s big dog that tore apart
the black lamb. Oil wells. Train wheels.
Dentists and doctors. Hitler and Tojo. Eye pain.
School superintendent with three gold teeth.
Cow’s infected udder, angry draft horse.
School fire. Snake under hay bale. Life’s end.

That your dead dogs won’t meet you in heaven.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Opening a Book at Random, #2

What is “petrified lightning”?
Petrified lightning is a popular name for fulgurite (Latin fulgure, lightning), which consists of siliceous tubes formed vertically in loose sand by the passage of lightning. When lightning strikes sand a temperature of several thousand degrees Fahrenheit is created and the particles along the central part of the path are volatilized, driven out and fused into a tube with the interior surface glossy and smooth as glass. Such tubes extending to a depth of thirty feet or more have been found, and occasionally they are three or four inches in circumference, although generally they are smaller. As a rule the thickness of the walls is not more than one-thirtieth or one-twentieth of an inch. Sand hills unprotected by vegetation are constantly shifting[,] and not infrequently petrified lightning tubes are left projecting several feet above the surface. Sometimes the tubes are branched and a large number of them together creates the weird effect of a glass forest. Fulgurites are also occasionally produced by lightning running through a wire or cable buried in sand. Tubes resembling natural fulgurites have been produced in the laboratory by discharging electricity of a high voltage through powdered glass or sand of the proper composition.

From A Book About a Thousand Things (1946), by George Stimson

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pictures from Saturday Morning

Around the homestead on a foggy morning, everything was peaceful and quiet.

In Northport, in preparation for the Lighthouse and Maritime Festival, the harbor was full of hustle and bustle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

All Manner of Goings-On

It was the day of the Farm Market down by the harbor parking lot. Woodruff Palmer, artist and owner of the Painted Horse Gallery, came in to sign his new paintings, and his wife, Bonnie Marris, brought “Baby” Shane, Sarah’s new puppy friend, for a visit. Dusty (the collie) came, too, of course.

Besides dogs, more new books arrived today and yesterday at Dog Ears: Jim Harrison’s new book of poetry, In Search of Small Gods; Planet Backpacker: Across Europe on a Mountain Bike & Backpacking on Through Egypt, India & Southeast, by Robert Downes of Traverse City; Insects of the Great Lakes Region; and, in keeping with expansion of the homesteading section, Backyard Poultry Keeping. A new book on raising goats will be coming soon.

Tomorrow, the Lighthouse and Maritime Festival and Fish Boil! All here in Northport!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Still Excited

Yes, I did open Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance at various points yesterday, sampling from pages throughout the book, browsing and nibbling hungrily as if I’d arrived "starving" at a dinner buffet table after skipping lunch. Now it’s the next day, and I’ve settled down to begin at the beginning. Here is one of the author’s recurring themes, as stated on page 10:
When I realized that everything was going to change, I was at first afraid. Because I thought, if my government or public policy of other choices weren’t going to fix everything, what could I possibly do? What hope was there, if I had to take care of myself, if my community had to take care of itself?

But when I started looking for solutions that could be applied on the ordinary level of human lives, that involved changes in perspective and pulling together, the reclamation of abandoned ideas and the restoration of strong communities, I began to feel hopeful, even excited. Because I realized that when large institutions cease to be powerful, sometimes that means that people can start being powerful again.

This is a book about the sustainable good life, about priorities that can and deserve to endure, about a positive scenario for our children’s and grandchildren’s future on earth, and I’m dizzy with excitement about this book. Here’s an astonishing statement to answer anyone who thinks only large-scale public projects can make a dent in energy savings: “More than 70 percent of our emissions are tied directly or indirectly to home life and purchasing….(Astyk, 29). Compare that broccoli from California, grown with chemicals, transported cross-country, kept refrigerated until bought, and transported to a private home, usually by automobile, to broccoli from your own or a neighbor’s garden, and the difference is striking.

Another point made early in the book is the way gender, race and economic status affect the way possible changes in energy use and conservation are imagined, making almost invisible what takes place in the traditionally female realm of domesticity and subsistence gardening, as well as the reality of poor people around the world, not only those who live “on the land” but also those in large urban areas.
Peak oil is a women’s issue. Climate change is a racial issue. Justice is everyone’s issue. And so is the Home Front.

There was a book a while back, The Philosopher’s Diet: How to Lose Weight and Change the World, or how you can make changes in your individual “private” life that contribute to the wellbeing of the entire planet? That’s part of Sharon Astyk’s message, too.

I can't write more tonight. I need to read instead.


Sometimes when a new book order comes in, I’m too excited, almost dizzy with excitement, to settle down to start anything on page one, and that’s how I feel this week, especially about Sharon Astyk’s books, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front and A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil. This woman has all the credentials. She’s a good writer with an academic background who also walks the talk. I found her online, via No Impact Man via French Road Connections, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on her books. To go along with them I also ordered The Backyard Homestead and Backyard Poultry Keeping and re-ordered The Art of Simple Food and Gene Logsdon’s All Flesh is Grass. Wendell Berry’s The Gift of Good Land came in an earlier order.

It’s just coincidence that Depletion and Abundance has bright red cherries on the cover, but I’m taking that a sign. These are books for Leelanau County. We have the land, the rain, the clean air, and all we have to do is roll up our sleeves and get to work. The sight of my garden this morning had special significance as I looked forward to reading Astyk. She’s right up my alley in another way, too. “Am I Romanticizing Poverty?” reads one section heading late in the book.
The answer is, I suspect, a little bit, in the sense that I don’t think anything is served by saying, ‘Your future and the future of your children is drudgery and misery.’ I think it is certainly possible that I elide some difficulties—or rather, that I prefer not to focus on them. Some of that is the optimist in me. And part of it is that ultimately most of the things that will necessarily get harder aren’t the things I value most. That is, I suspect our physical loads will get heavier. On the other hand, I suspect that will be good for my overall health and wellbeing, so I choose to look at it as mostly a positive.

A couple pages later is this—
Do I romanticize subsistence agriculture? Maybe a little. I like farming, and someone who doesn’t might not agree with me. And I tend to think that if we’re going to have to do something (and I have little doubt that we will have to), we might as well go into it excited, treating it as an opportunity to optimize and improve our lives, rather than as a tragedy to be endured.

There, you see? She is another romantic pragmatist!

Hanging my laundry on a clothesline to dry in the sun and breeze is a luxury, not a hardship. Having a neighbor cut our meadow to feed fresh greens to his cattle makes me feel like a contributor to their welfare. I can get cranky about people who live in the country and let autumn olive take over their unused fields, but focusing on that negative won’t change their minds or practices. “Brighten the corner where you are” went the old Sunday school song we learned as children. Corny? Yes, but good advice, nonetheless, and I’m starting in my backyard and in my bookstore. Beautiful Leelanau! It can only be more beautiful as more fields go back into production as pasture, orchard or cropland.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Focus on the Week at Hand

Early Tuesday afternoon, while the shop was quiet, I finished reading Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. Phew! Acknowledgements are placed, in the new undistracting and unpretentious manner, at the end rather than at the beginning of the book, and I read those, too, unable to tear myself away from the lives of these men. The first U.S. cavalry charge of the 21st century—who would have predicted it? Even now, when people pick up the book at Dog Ears I have to correct the impressions of some who think it is fiction, and a person like me, without military experience, is left stunned by the bravery required of soldiers.

My own little Leelanau Township world is very peaceful, for the most part. There are always one or two minor, ephemeral controversies brewing in small towns, but I’m choosing to focus my mind on the buttercups blooming down by the creek here in the village and in the popple grove at home, too. It’s also iris time again. And the hammock is up—not that there will be much time to use it, but a hammock, like a canoe, deserves to be taken for at least one test run in June, before summer gets too hectic and then slips past altogether.

Here at Dog Ears we have the bookstore rearranged for the summer season, with thrilling paperbacks by “guy” authors like James Patterson and Lee Child now adjacent to murder mystery shelves. Jim Harrison’s new book of poetry, In Search of Small Gods, and At Least in the City Someone Would Hear You Scream, by Wade Rouse, should arrive this week, and by the end of the week I’ll also have exciting new homesteading books to review and shelve.

Add in the Leelanau Children’s Choir and Youth Ensemble concert on Friday night, hopes for good weather on Saturday for the Lighthouse and Maritime Festival and Fish Boil, and there are plenty of topics to take up mental energy. Oh, and the Business Tour today, from 4-6 p.m., much of the reason for the early week rearranging….

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"What Are Friends For?"

The person who uttered these words wasn’t really asking a question, but if he had been it would have been this: "Do you 'cut deals' under the counter to your friends by selling to them at lower prices, off the books, and not charging sales tax or reporting the sale?" Call me a chump, but I don’t. I never have. Sometimes, so as not to sound too holier-than-thou, I just tell people who ask the question outright that I’m not smart enough to keep two sets of books, and that usually closes the topic. Those of us in business in our little village occasionally (not always) discount to one another, but our deals are on the books. The buyer pays the sales tax, which the seller reports and files and pays to the state.

My answer to the question that wasn’t really asked, “What are friends for?” is that, when it comes to business, friends support friends’ businesses. They don’t ask friends to cheat and file fraudulent tax returns. I value my friends and customers. Many of my customers are friends. Long-time friends who support my business by also being my customers—how can I ever say enough in gratitude for these folks?

More broadly speaking, what are friends for? To join in and contribute to our joys and successes, to sympathize with our inevitable failures and losses, and to give us the opportunity to do all that for them, too. Friendship is caring, and along with Nature's beauty it's what carries us through the rough spots.

The images today are of my beautiful new begonia, "Apple Blossom," purchased at Northport Nursery, now owned by S&J Landscaping. Thanks, Stephanie and Jim!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Opening a Book at Random, #1

If I could sing, I would sing the banana. It has the loveliest leaf I know. I feel intemperate about it, because I came upon it after our passage through a wood which could have been underground, a tangle of bare roots joining floor and ceiling in limitless caverns. We stood looking at the banana plant till our mind was fed with grace and light. The plantain jets upwards with a copious stem, and the fountain returns in broad rippled pennants, falling outwardly, refined to points, when the impulse is lost. A world could not be old on which such a plant grows. It is sure evidence of earth’s vitality. To look at it you would not think that growing is a long process, a matter of months and natural difficulties. The plantain is an instant and joyous answer to the sun. The midribs of the leaves, powerful but resilient, hold aloft in generous arches the broad planes of translucent green substance. It is not a fragile and dainty thing, except in colour and form. It is lush and solid, though its ascent is aerial. There is no green like that of its leaves, except at sea. The stout midribs are sometimes rosy, but the banners they hold well above your upturned face are as the crest of a wave in the moment of collapse, the day showing through its fluid glass. And after the place of dead matter and mumbled husks in gloom, where we had been wandering, this burst of leaves in full light was a return to light.

From The Sea and the Jungle (1930), by H. L. Tomlinson

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time to Travel and Time to Work

These are the long days, the lengthening days, the days of late spring or early summer (depending on your point of view), and time for some of us to go into high work gear while others go on vacation. That’s okay: our playtime will come later, and right now Nature is working hard, too, making flowers, forming fruit, producing young. Here is a promise--raspberries soon:

My first work of the morning is outdoors, at home, watering gardens and hanging laundry out to dry in the sun. My only peony should open sometime today. Before I go home to see it this evening, there's an afternoon at the bookstore, continuing with some of the always-ongoing rearranging of books. Where to put them all? Which ones need to move? And where?

This Saturday is the Wine Festival in Leland. We're only one week away from the Friday, June 19, concert at the NCAC in Northport featuring the Leelanau Children’s Choir and Youth Ensemble, and the day after that, Saturday, June 20th, is the Maritime and Lighthouse Festival and Fish Boil in Northport, so if you’re anywhere near Leelanau, it’s time to start marking your calendar for the season’s big events. If you’re traveling far from Michigan, I have another idea to share. The item below appeared in my “Shelf Awareness” newsletter on Thursday morning.
The Gainesville Sun observed that "local book stores are alive and well--and destinations for area book lovers and collectors" in its report on regional used and rare bookshops.

"I still have customers who want to pick up a book and open it before they buy it," said O.J. Brisky, owner of Brisky's Books, Micanopy, Fla. "I also have customers who stop by when they are driving south in the winter and stop by again when they are heading north in the spring."

This article reminded me that a lot of people will be setting out on summer travels and that it’s a good time for me to give a reminder about bookstores David and I discovered or revisited on the road this past winter. Before that reminder, I should first note that you have to get off the highway and go into the town centers to find these and other small town gems. You won't find either small town America or independent bookstores out in Generic Big Box Expressway Land.

Okay, here they are, the winners, our bookstore discovers, from South to North:

Rainy Day Editions in Inverness, Florida

Poe House Books in Crystal River, Florida

O. Brisky Books in Micanopy, Florida

A Novel Experience in Zebulon, Georgia

Well Read and Well Fed, in Americus, Georgia

Viewpoint Books in Columbus, Indiana

Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers, Michigan

Stray Dog Books in Three Rivers, Michigan

When you stop in and browse and buy, before you leave tell the booksellers that Dog Ears Books in Northport, Michigan, sent you their way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June Evenings

“As I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.” Omen, prophet or--bird?

David was relaxing in the bedroom after dinner Tuesday evening when he heard tapping at the window and, pulling back the curtain, thought he saw a young owl flutter and fall to the ground. He alerted me. I went outdoors to see what I could see, held aside the tall grasses and snapped. “Not an owl,” I reported to David. “I think it’s a kestrel.” We scrabbled around the house for the field guides to verify the identification before I went back out to get a couple more pictures. The kestrel, described as “gentle” and as the “most colorful of raptors,” is probably the only hawk I would be able to identify before I looked up its picture. (This one was young and unsure of itself, eying me dubiously, apparently unaware of my thoroughly innocent intentions.) Guide to Bird Behavior (Stokes Nature Guides series), by Donald & Lillian Stokes, tells me where to look for kestrel nests, but I won’t go out of my way to stalk them. Having one fall into our life for an evening was serendipity.

This evening did not have the thrill of wildlife, but it was pleasant nonetheless. The sun was out, and since I'd gotten my gardening done in the morning I was free to help David with yard work in Leland, at our old house he's now using as his studio. Hard work--but satisfying to do it together and to get it done. Sarah rode home on my lap, her head out the window, taking it all in.

I've brought home J. B. Priestley's English Journey to read later tonight. Is it cheating if I skip immediately to the Cotswolds?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Author on the Northern Map

Look at this week’s Northern Express cover, and you’ll see Bob Butz. Inside is a piece by Anne Stanton, who interviewed Bob on his upcoming book Going Out Green (due out in July) that tells you how to plan your own environmentally sensitive burial. Sounds fascinating, eh? Until we have that book in hand, we’re happy to recommend another by Butz, a widely published outdoor writer for many years, An Uncrowded Place: The delights and dilemmas of life Up North and a young man’s search for home, a book of essays that will ring a chord with many a would-be Northerner, as well as those of us already here. I can’t help choosing ”Fishing with the Boy” as one of my personal favorites from this book. First of all, I remember my son’s first fish, caught in a little roadside lake between Delton and Prairieville in Barry County, Michigan. Secondly, Bob’s son’s first fish was caught at the millpond in Northport during the annual Scott Brow Fishing Derby, the event one local man recalled from his youth as “better’n Christmas.”

A week or so ago I was reading the essay “Mining for Morels,” but today I find myself turning to “Gray Days.” In that piece Butz reminisces about days in the fall, “leading the hoary edge of winter.” We’re months away from hunting season right now, but there’s still something to what he says about overcast skies:

Gray days put me in a mood to try drifting through the woods without a sound, to perhaps for a moment feel as light as a nuthatch perched on the tip of an arrow and, maybe, for a little while pretending to be not altogether of this earth. Gray days remind me of how easy it is to disappear for a while and move with a stillness of body and mind that seems effortless when the forest is rapt with silence, when inside you feel enveloped by the clouds.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Failed Ambush

Our grandson David from Kalamazoo comes up every year about this time with his buddy, also named David. “The Daves,” we call them. They like to arrive at the farm under cover of darkness, set up their camper van and go to sleep without announcing their presence, and for several years our yard was so full of cars and trucks and vans that it was easy for us to leave for Northport the next morning without noticing the extra vehicle. Later the Daves would saunter casually into bookstore or gallery to astound us with their presence, very entertained at having put one past us once again. Now, however, we start looking for them about this time of year, and my David has been clearing our life of redundant vehicles, too, so this year we were able to spot the presence of the Daves in our yard—Tommy came along this year, too—and be ready for them in town. On their way to the Soo, they had time to cruise the bookstore (mystery, botany and economics were the subjects of choice) and to take in Greg Garman’s show of bird paintings and carvings down in Leland with David Grath as their tour guide.

Then they were back on the road, bearing north. Happy travels, guys! Come again soon! Stay longer!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Weekend Aviary

The old art school building in Leland was transformed late Friday night when Leelanau County bird artist Greg Garman set up his weekend show of bird paintings and carvings, a show that continues through 6 p.m. Sunday. Almost all of Garman’s birds are life size (one exception is a simple, subtle watercolor of a bald eagle in flight, prey clutched in its talons), and the carvings are so lifelike they almost seem like a taxidermist’s art. As a viewer I found myself in constant motion, swooping from one piece to the next, captivated by each in turn. The images here only begin to hint at the magic. With a 50% chance of precipitation tomorrow, I'd say a trip to Leland would be a good afternoon plan.