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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Delightful Surprise Along the Road of Life

We had glorious sunshine all day long, bookstore visits from friends, and, at the end of the bookstore afternoon, on our way to dinner, a serendipitous encounter in Peshawbestown with the Budweiser Clydesdales, causing my already full cup to overflow. I was not alone. People of all ages, two to ninety-two, were wide-eyed and thrilled.

We all watched the eight-horse team disassemble, one horse at a time, and load into their elegant trailers, beauty, grace and strength united in these beautiful animals, each of them perfect from head to foot –

Whether seen from the back and from the front –

In harness, out of harness, or loaded for the road.

Run away to join the circus? What about running away to become a teamster? Could Sarah do the job of this Dalmatian, I wonder? She would look awfully cute up on the wagon seat!

Quiet Sunday Miscellany

Despite an earlier forecast involving rain, Sunday morning was sunny and beautiful here in Leelanau Township, Leelanau County, northwest lower Michigan. Breakfast pancakes at home were delicious with the seasonal topping of organic Balaton cherries, and a cross-county cruise from the Gills Pier neighborhood to the Omena neighborhood before coming up to Northport was a long, restorative cloud-gazing opportunity. It’s the last Sunday in August, already feeling like September, but there have been a surprising number of people in Northport, nonetheless. Some couples who usually wait until after Labor Day to travel have probably started early this year, thanks to cool weather and a late holiday date.

One more night remains of Music in the Park. Friday, September 4, the Leo Creek Band will entertain. Deck chairs and steamer blankets—doesn’t that sound cozy? Come prepared!

The Northport Farmers Market continues into and through September, Friday mornings at the depot, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

And already the plans for the Fall Festival in Northport, scheduled for Saturday, October 17, are coming together. The horses and wagonette are booked! And the first restaurant has come forth with its special for the Festival Menu list: Stubbs Sweetwater Grill will offer fresh Lake Michigan salmon with wild rice and garlic mashed redskins for $15.95 and fresh baked Michigan apple pie à la mode for $5.00. Yum! A menu of specials will be made up in advance, and we’ll leave it up to visitors (and locals, too, of course) to choose where they will go and what they will enjoy.

On a completely different topic, have you ever wanted to find a book you had as a child but can’t remember the title or the author’s name? Try this site.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Movie Recommendation

Swans can look haughty and regal, or (scroll to end of post) swans can be a laugh riot, but there are swans on this post only because (1) I had the pictures, and (2) the photos were taken in Suttons Bay, which is where I want to send you if you’re anywhere in Leelanau County this week. Go see “Julie and Julia” at the Bay Theatre! Cover your ears during the previews (the sound during previews is always WAY TOO LOUD), and then sit back and let yourself be thoroughly entertained and delighted. I’m afraid to say more for fear of sounding giddy, but I wasn’t the only person coming out of that theatre wiping tears of laughter from my face. There! No more! Go see the movie! (Yes, I’ve got the book at Dog Ears.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dandelions, Late Season

One recent morning, the heavy dew sparkling on every blade of grass drew my eye to the ground, where I saw that each dandelion seedhead was sparkling, too. From a distance they looked pretty. Up close each one was a magical kingdom.

A week ago, the seeds of this head reminded me of porcupine quills or tiny arrows or feathers from pow-wow regalia.

Many, many years ago I read a poem comparing dandelions to gypsy girls. The poet may have been Russian, but I've looked and looked over the years without success. Does anyone else know that poem? I would very much love to read it again.

Amy-Lynn up in Cow Bay, Nova Scotia, has been looking closely at hydrangea blossoms, which inspire her thoughts on how we look at other people and how easy it is to miss their individuality and beauty.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Behind Bars

This is the old county jail in Leland, Michigan, preserved as a monument to history. The evening I was taking these pictures, a man and woman strolled up next to me, and the man told me that he and his friends had often spent nights in an empty cell as teenagers, just for fun, back when his grandfather was in charge and his grandmother cooked meals for the inmates. The past couple of days, reading a book I have mentioned once already in a previous post and will discuss further below, I remembered these images from earlier in August and thought what a contrast the old brick jail provides to the new, high-tech, high-security county facility. Modern times have reached Leelanau County. I should say before going further that I have not visited the new jail and know nothing about living conditions there or programs offered. I only know that, in general, jails have come to be seen as a “growth industry” in struggling economies. Full jails provide jobs. “Follow the money.” But what of life inside jails and prisons, behind those many locked doors? What goes on there? And what happens when prisoners are released back into society? The cost of incarceration, as conducted in our country in recent years, is enormous, and money is only the beginning of the cost. If I were teaching Contemporary Ethical Dilemmas again this year, one title on my required reading list would be Dreams From the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption and One Woman’s Fight to Restore Justice To All.

Sunny Schwartz was a young girl on the south side of Chicago at the time of the Richard Speck murders. Speck was, she writes, the first true monster she remembers. She rode her bike to 100th Street and arrived just as a gurney with one of the murdered nurses’ bodies was being brought out. Then fear struck, as she realized the killer could be in the crowd on the sidewalk.
For me, for my neighborhood, for Chicago, there was a before the Richard Speck murders, and an after. A shift happened at that moment in our behavior, in the way we saw the world. On my street, we locked our doors for the first time. We feared strangers. We were suspicious of our neighbors.

Many individuals stand out from the crowd in this book. There is Martin, her first inmate client when she enters the San Francisco jail as a law intern. Martin, the child molester who disgusted her because he showed no remorse. She made him read a book on rape and write a book report before she would agree to work with him. There is Tanya, hardest-shelled of women in the SISTERS drug recovery project. “I don’t like sitting in a group and talking about my problems,” Tanya complains until someone else’s story gets through to her. There is Marcum, an ally for reform, and there is Jean O’Hara, “the frail, white-haired grandma from Pleasanton,” whose daughter and grandson were murdered by a stranger but who finds the strength and courage within herself to tell her story to prisoners, to reach out and take their hands, to treat them like human beings capable of change. Schwartz writes about herself, too, but even when she does, we are seeing others through her eyes. And always, from the beginning, she is trying to understand.

There is a popular view often expressed--that by committing a crime, the perpetrator has forfeited all claims on society and stripped himself of his humanity. So, are prisons unsafe? Do prisoners rape, beat, even kill each other? Why should society care? Why should those who have so flagrantly disrespected society and other citizens be treated with respect? An eye for an eye and then some! So goes the spiel. You’ve probably heard it, too.

But let’s get back to money, just for a moment. When presented with a description of a safer, more humane prison system that is also more cost-effective, some Americans feel the more humane system is not punitive enough. In other words, looking at retribution, rehabilitation and public safety as reasons for incarceration, they are willing to jettison cost savings, rehabilitation and public safety in favor of retribution. I have heard these extreme punitive views expressed in my community college ethics classes, and here is a passage from Dreams From the Monster Factory that reminded me of those students:
Most people, I think, believe that prison or jail should be a horrible experience. People don’t think of it as a deterrent so much as just deserts. “They” hurt “us,” therefore “we” should hurt “them.” For years politicians have won elections by promising to take away cable television and weight rooms and anything seen to make prison cushy. We have a culture where jokes about prison rape are made out in the open. The prevailing wisdom is that prisoners deserve to be treated like animals; they should fear prison and suffer while they are there. Anyone who has spent time working with prisoners knows this has largely come to pass. What most people don’t realize is the consequences of making prisons a living nightmare. Most of the inmates I’d worked with ... felt punished, but not many of them took responsibility for their crimes or felt any remorse. ... In fact, everything about the system of prosecution and defense is set up so that criminals get into a habit of denying their responsibility. Every step of the way between the arrest and the trial, people accused of crimes deny everything, or keep silent. It’s what their defense attorneys tell them to do. After their trial, if they’re convicted, many don’t change their mind-set. ... So criminals someone or something else.... They are usually full of rage when they are released, and less prepared to function as citizens, the predictable products of the monster factory.

Given the hard, undeniable facts of dysfunctional families, abusive backgrounds and continuing temptations to use and sell drugs and commit crimes, what can be done to encourage prisoners to turn their lives around and become well-adjusted, productive citizens? Victimized families need healing. Society needs protecting. And taxpayers need their taxes to go toward programs that will make society safe and encourage its citizens to be productive rather than disruptive.
Five years I’ve been at it, toiling away in my small corner, fighting and fighting and fighting, trying to get the money for my programs, trying to give the prisoners a chance to become better people. “Why do you want to help those people?” And my answer was always the same: I didn’t want to help those people, or at least, not just those people. I wanted our community to be safer, I wanted to banish fear and violence, and the only way to do that, it seemed to me, was to work with the people causing the fear and violence, to try to get them to do something different.

As a romantic pragmatist, I am always drawn to the possibility of redemption, and I am impressed by Schwartz’s emphasis on redemption that goes beyond individual offenders. The aim of RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project), Manalive, and other restorative justice programs is nothing less than the redemption of a broken society. But the impetus for nation-wide change will only come if the general public can be brought to see that everyone wins when prisoners turn their lives around. I’m hoping this book will be a step for many. Read it, talk about it, pass it along.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rain Date Turnout

Masses of clouds hung on through the early morning, making for dramatic skies over Woolsey Airport, but the fly-in took place, proceeding according to Plan B. Postponing due to yesterday’s rain meant fewer planes today, but planes there were.

There were also antique and collectible cars.

There were horses.

There were kids and dogs.

Of course there were pancakes and cherry topping, and as the morning wore on, the clouds grew fewer, the sun brighter, the crowds bigger.

An added attraction this year was a garage sale held across the road for the Northport Promise (scholarship program), where I found a book, a picture frame and seven matching water tumblers. As I was walking back to the road to return to the village, more small planes were coming in overhead, and the strains of “Stardust,” featuring the band’s brass section, were wafting over the tops of the cedar trees. It was a quintessential Northport morning.

Even driving south isn’t sad when you’re only going as far south as Northport.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

September Invades August

No, you didn’t miss the fly-in at Woolsey Airport. That event was postponed until tomorrow (Sunday) morning, when the weather is expected to be much kinder to pancakes and spectators of small planes. Breakfast service begins at 8 a.m. Come late, and you'll have to wait in line, but that's not so bad, because you'll be watching small planes coming in for a landing and listening to the band play.

It’s been cool and rainy for a few days now, with an autumn feeling in the air, but, since I associate September with vacation, such weather has me sighing with happy anticipation. Also, I’ve been working on details for the Fall Festival planned for October 17 in Northport, the centerpiece of which will be—at least, as far as I’m concerned--a horse-drawn wagonette. (I believe that’s what the vehicle is called: it holds 8-10 people, depending on their sizes.) To ride around the village at a slow clip-clop sounds like heaven to me, and I hope other people agree. We could have used a tractor, but what’s a festival without horses? More details will be unfolded as we get them together. Maybe we can find something else for those tractors to do....

Friday, August 21, 2009

After the Rain

What do I mean, after? It’s raining again! Not the morning I ordered. Not the morning for a long dog walk or hanging freshly laundered clothes out on the line. Of course, less delightful obligations can still be carried out. (Rats!) Just because Bruce will be at the bookstore this morning doesn’t mean I can lie around the house reading novels, does it? Well, maybe I can get in a little of that, on such a cozy day, obviously designed for reading.

Others who may find the rain disappointing or inconvenient today may take heart, as I do, from these images of last night’s sky over Grand Traverse Bay. We had gone to town to visit a friend in the hospital, and on our way back, as the rain eased up, the rainbow stretching down to Power Island was breath-taking. (Gerry, did you see any spots on your recent trip to the island that might be hiding a pot of gold?) What could be more thrilling? Then, as the sky gradually cleared, I found the billowing clouds and blue sky at least as exciting as the rainbow had been.

These scenes are for my friend Mary--a good omen for you today, I hope, dear friend!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Advocating for a Book

She came from a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, where she grew up rooting for the underdog Cubs. Craziness of varying degrees seemed to run in her family. Even before declaring herself a lesbian, she had convinced her family that she was a “loser.” But somehow classes at a community college in Arizona led to a law school in California that didn’t require a college degree, and Sunny (don’t call her Sandra) Schwartz found her destiny working with jail inmates in San Francisco. Dreams from the Monster Factory is a powerhouse of a book, not only for the raw energy of Sunny’s stories but also for the strong, positive power of her hope and energy:
What do we do with the people who get out of jail and come back to our communities? I know that we can actually use the prisons to make us safer and our communities better. I know it because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen men who have committed horrible crimes defy all predictions, take responsibility for their lives and begin to make amends. Every time that happens, for me, it’s like the Cubs have won the World Series.

Schwartz wants to help victims and criminals alike, but she makes no excuses for anyone. She noticed early on that despite all their differences, most prisoners had one thing in common. She realized this right away with Martin, her first inmate client.
He had no remorse. He complained about jail conditions, complained about his lawyer, felt bad for himself, but never once offered me one word of sorrow for the people he’d hurt, the pain he’d caused.

What will be the key to turn these people around? I’m not far enough into the book to have that answer, but you can bet I’ll be reading full-steam ahead. If I haven’t yet convinced you to read Dreams from the Monster Factory, take a look at Schwartz's website.

I believe that human beings can make society better without changing basic human nature, and every time I find a book that reveals a piece of the puzzle, my heart is lifted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Soothing the Soul or Dealing Death?

What could do both? The waters of the earth!

Morning errands took me to the little unincorporated village of Lake Leelanau yesterday, always a pleasant destination. After stops at the veterinarian’s office and feed store, I made a third at the south end of the Narrows, where one boat was putting in and one or two others passed the dock while I was there, and otherwise tranquility reigned. Why so quiet? Because it was Monday? Because rain threatened?

In one direction, the M-204 bridge and the winding Narrows beyond were visible, while looking the other way I could see the distant, bluish hills of the south lake. All lovely. My favorite views, though, were the nearest, the wind-in-the-willows, close-up scenes. These are waters to soothe the soul.

David and I spent a rainy evening on the front porch reading. Le Comte de Monte-Cristo was my book, and I couldn’t help calling out bulletins now and then. How can one resist when encountering a ringing line such as “La mer est le cimetiere du chateau d’if”? “The sea is the cemetery of the chateau d’If"! Ye gods and little fishes! What an incredible, horrifying, heart-stopping scene! And then I read on until I came to the treasure and had to stop, exhausted from all the excitement. What a story this would have been for Jane Austen's impressionable young heroine, Catherine Moreland!