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Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It’s been a very cold, rainy winter in Florida. Bad for the beach but good for writing and reading. A friend from Northport e-mailed to ask my favorite book of the winter’s reading, and I looked over my list to see how I could possibly choose one from all the rest. Deciding to limit my choices to fiction narrowed the field considerably, so, yes, the book title in today’s subject heading belongs to a novel, not the book on literary interpretation by William Empson, though Empson’s work was clearly a springboard for Elliot Perlman’s literary tour de force.

If you weren’t an English major, don’t let that worry you. And don’t be scared off, either, by the heft of the novel’s over 600 pages or the fact that the story takes place in Australia. Sense of place is pretty much irrelevant to Elliot Perlman’s The Seven Types of Ambiguity, and the story moves along quickly, kaleidoscopically, narrated in turn by different characters, each in turn “central” to the drama of his or her own life. While all accounts are given retrospectively (passages of dialogue sometimes repeat from one section to another, although the surrounding text differs according to who is narrating), not all are told from the same moment of time. Instead, each narrator not only adds a different perspective but also overlaps facts already presenting and moving the story forward with new facts to a conclusion we never glimpse in advance.

The one character most appropriately identified as “central” to the overall complex narrative is Simon. Simon idealizes the era of literary interpretation that brought forth William Empson’s work on ambiguity in poetry. He also idealizes the girl he loved during his university years and has never forgotten or replaced. When first we meet Simon, however, through the eyes of his psychiatrist, we see a young man who has lost his bearings and seems to have nothing better to do than drink himself to death.
Was he looking out at the street through the venetian blinds when reason momentarily turned away from him as though it had become as tired of him as he had himself? Reason has always been an early riser. It’s always the first to leave.

What constitutes a tragedy? A crisis? Depression or other mental illness? Who is responsible for anyone’s misery if not the miserable person?
We spend our time watching things like this happen in other people’s lives and attempting to divine what it is they have done to bring in on themselves. So when it happened in his life, Simon was ready to accept that he had brought it on himself but he didn’t know how he had done it.

The psychiatrist is addressing Simon’s former girlfriend not long after the event that marks the beginning of real crisis for all concerned. The reader is not told, at the beginning of each section, who is speaking and which character the speaker is addressing. Alex, the psychiatrist, urges Simon to think about the ambiguity of human relationships. Simon objects. It is harder for the reader to resist, given the novel’s structure. We cannot avoid puzzling over the relationships among the characters in this novel.
How can anybody not take something personally? As soon as you take it, it’s personal.

Angela, for example, or “Angelique,” as she introduces herself to Simon’s parents and their friends, emphasizing the fact that she earns her living as a prostitute. She is in love with Simon, thinking of him and referring to him as her boyfriend for as long as she can maintain hope that he will become what she wishes he were to her. Simon is to Angela what Anna is to Simon. Will there be no one, we wonder who will idealize Angela in turn? Might Simon learn to? Alex?

The author has a few sociopolitical axes to grind, and they are not terribly subtle. It’s pretty obvious that Simon’s diatribes against managed medical care, deconstruction and the decline of Western civilization are strongly shared by Perlman. That’s all right. The story is not harmed by the author’s passions, and the surprises are come right up to the end, along with the questions:

To see ourselves as others see us. To see others as they see themselves. Which is more difficult?

When is anyone a “lost cause”? Who among us can see the future?

So that’s it, my #1 winter read. I only fear I have not recommended it highly enough.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Other People's Work, Our Pleasure

It was beautiful weather for Saturday’s art fair in Tarpon Springs. You know it’s Tarpon Springs, by the way, when there are sponges on display on your way into the art fair. “At last, Florida weather!” everyone was fervently exclaiming.

The park along the “bayou,” is more manicured than the conceptual bayou I picture in my mind but quite lovely and the perfect venue for the occasion. An art fair in a swamp would be inconvenient, to say the least, and here we had warm sunshine, we had sparkling water, along with the restful shade of many old trees. It may well have been the most pleasant art fair I have ever attended, outstanding on all counts—organization (including maps), park setting, quality of work displayed, food vendors, etc. There were even volunteer booth-sitters so that artists could break away when necessary.

David enjoyed talking to other artists, two or three painters and one photographer in particular, and we found several favorite booths in the show, almost always agreeing with one another’s choices. Tampa artist Bruce Ferguson’s mangrove paintings; paintings of Florida and northern scenes, both rural and urban, by Edgar Reims of Maine; photographs from the Himalayas by Marius Moore—these were some we lingered over and praised. There was jewelry, glass collage, pottery, ceramic tile and metal sculpture, with art for every sensibility from the whimsical to the sublime. The marketing efforts of various artists, I couldn’t help noticing, ranged from relentless, nonstop self-promotion to napping behind the scenes. Such a varied, colorful and fascinating scene!

There were also food booths and live music.

“What do squirrels make of art fairs?” That was one of David’s questions. Probably, I thought, they’re most interested in food opportunities outside their normal daily experience. “Heaven has come to us!” I could imagine the squirrels chattering to each other, passing the word from tree to tree. Food was not my #1 concern, but it interested me, too. What do you think I chose for lunch? What would you have chosen?

Back to the art. I awarded my personal, private “Best in Show” award, decided only in the last half-hour before we began the long trek back to our car, to wood turner John Mascoll. If I were a woman of means, I would be bringing one of his pieces back to Michigan with me. Their simple, spiritual elegance took my breath away.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nice Work If You Can Get It

I’ve thought a lot this winter about workspace requirements. Painters and fabric artists need more room than writers, which I guess is a pretty self-evident proposition. (Every time David and I make a big book buy and load the van with heavy boxes, he says that he’s going to be married to a stamp dealer rather than a bookseller in his next life. That’s postage stamps. Low weight, big bucks.) But painters are not restricted to one-size-fits-all canvases. One Michigan woman I know painted and sold exclusively miniatures for many years, work designed to fit on the walls of dollhouses, while James Rosenquist here in Aripeka works up to billboard size. David has been very happy with the space he's had to work in this winter.

Michigan friend Judy Rantz has been enjoying this sunny winter corner room in Suwannee, Florida,

while her husband, Gene Rantz, is a bit cramped in the house but also has a garage studio and the whole great outdoors in which to do his painting.

I realize her space looks smaller in these pictures, but I’ve only shown one wall of her space, whereas their sleeping room was doubling as his painting studio.

Writer friend Trudy Carpenter, on the other hand, whether at home in Northport or on vacation in the Florida Panhandle, needs only the space occupied by her laptop computer. There’s a wonderful book I’ve seen that is photographs of writers’ desks, studios and offices. Must be nice! On the other hand, who really needs that much room to put words on paper or "recordable medium"?

When we are at home in Michigan, David doesn’t try to paint in the house we live in but keeps a separate studio, where he can spread out his canvases and other equipment and not worry about making messes, but in Aripeka our working space, his and mine, is integrated into our living space, a blending made possible by the size of the house’s largest room. Windows add to a feeling of spaciousness, extending the visual field into the outdoors. Also, since this large room—most of the house, fact--formerly functioned as a carpentry studio, the floors are unfinished plywood and can’t be hurt by paint spills. Neither do we bother to sweep them every day, a big savings of time. The whole space is really more “studio” than “house.” What does it say about us that we are so comfortable living here?

My workspace is completely movable. Most often I write at what is also our dining table, with light from the big south window coming in over my left shoulder...other times curled up in a corner of the loveseat, under a bright floor lamp...or (the strangest, to David’s eye) I stand at the kitchen counter, where I can glance out the windows or over toward David at work on his desk or easel.

Along with physical space, the element of time has had lots of room in it for us during our Florida winter. While we’ve been here, there have been few demands on our time other than those dictated by our hunger or restlessness or Sarah’s need for exercise, and none of those are clock appointments. Laptop or yellow pad, keyboard or rollerball, I do most of my work in the early morning, before either David or the sun is up, while he tends to work more in the late afternoon or early evening when I’m getting dinner or doing dishes or reading, and we both shift easily in and out of work mode, as the spirit moves us. We are happy seeing each other at work and don't feel jealous or excluded, and we don’t have to find the time to go somewhere to get to our work because it's right here, structuring our life.

As in Michigan, we live frugally. Our winter great luxury is time. So, as much as we miss home and friends, bookstore, orchards and roads that wind through dunes and woods, it will not be easy to bid farewell to winter’s meditative, productive pace. To have it for a while is great good fortune, regardless of the weather.

More specifically, while I'm not sure of the number of paintings David has finished, I have drafts of ten stories and a prologue, with one story still in the rewrite stage and the epilogue yet to write. Counting words last night, I came up with over 28,000. After last winter's writing meltdown, I'm feeling very good about what I've been able to accomplish here since January.

Weeki Wilds and a Newly Salty Dog

One of my fond Florida wishes came true over the weekend. Friends invited us to come out with them on their small boat for an excursion up the Weeki Wachee River, not only as far as the Upper Deck (restaurant and bar), which as far as we’d gone on a previous trip, but up past the houses, into the wilds of the Weeki. (Sarah got to come, too—her first boat trip!) We began in Hernando Beach, went out in the Gulf of Mexico to Bayport, and at Bayport nosed on up the river, first over water we had traveled a few weeks earlier and then into new territory. It was glorious!

We weren’t the only ones with thoughts of a river trip that day. There were canoeists and kayakers and swimmers and at “Hospital Hole” (so-called because it’s so deep it frequently sends inexperienced novices to the E.R. with “the bends”) there were divers in scuba gear. It was Saturday, after all, and the weather had finally turned warm, so everyone wanted to be out. But the farther upstream we went, the more we had the beautiful, wild river to ourselves.

There are cypress trees of all sizes along the upper Weeki Wachee, their mossy, knobby “knees” and thick, tangled roots continually beguiling even to our long-time Floridian friends. Rain lilies bloomed on the soggy banks upstream, and where we stopped for our picnic I found freshly unfurled Jack-in-the-pulpit.

We saw turtles, one of which obligingly continued to pose for me rather than plopping into the water at our approach.

We also saw manatees, one of the most difficult of animals to photograph, because they are underwater except for brief rolls to the surface (when you least expect it) and because their form is as close to shapeless as it’s possible for a mammal to be. I submit the following as evidence:

The farther upstream we went, the narrower became the spring-fed, sand-bottomed river and the heavier the overhanging foliage. The springs are the source of the river, which means its temperature is a steady 72 degrees year-round, but Gulf waters penetrate the river deeply, so that its level fluctuates with the tides. Thus regretfully, we turned somewhere short of the springs and let the tide help the engine carry us back to the Gulf of Mexico. We were all pretty tired by then, anyway. But what a fabulous adventure!

How did Sarah do? Pretty well, after her initial Dog-Overboard. She did, I admit, jump ship in the Gulf on the way out, probably nervous about being in a boat, but after the panic of finding her feet didn’t touch bottom she was glad to be rescued and ready to settle down and enjoy the trip. Here are the stages by which one freshwater dog accommodated to saltwater boating. First, happy exhilaration (wind and sun and friends),

then relaxation,

and finally exhaustion.

Come to think of it, that about sums up the day for the human boaters, too. Having so much fun on a daily basis would be unthinkable! Working is a piece of cake compared to boating. Unless you're a shrimper and have to do both at once, and what's that like, I wonder?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ireland When You Least Expect It

Wednesday, yesterday (the weather today’s the same) brought a grey, cold morning, with clouds threatening rain. Not the morning I’d hoped for, but that didn’t keep me from writing, and for that two dogs deserve a little credit.

Weiser had stayed overnight. Wise is demanding when he wants in late at night and can bark for hours on end outside the door, making reading, movie watching and sleep all equally impossible. Once indoors, he goes instantly into bedtime mode and is no trouble at all. Having him here gave Sarah a good pre-dawn play session, and when she needed to go out (and he was ready, too), I got an early start work start to the day, rather than sleeping in, so it all worked out well.

But before fully waking up, I was already at work. (This, I think, is one of the many advantages of starting the day without an alarm clock.) An idea for the final story in my short story cycle in progress, the tying-together story, was taking shape in my sleepy head, so that before my eyes were open and before my feet hit the floor I had the two main characters and the opening lines of the story. That, for me, is when it’s important to get up and get to work, while “genius is burning,” as Jo March used to say, and today the dogs helped, reinforcing the voice of the muse. I worked right through David’s getting up and walking over to the store, stopping only when friend Sandra stopped by for a visit. By then I’d pretty much reached what my father always called “a good stopping place,” and when David returned and asked what I wanted to do with the day, I told him I needed a little library research time.

No books on screenwriting in the library in Spring Hill (I’m not writing a screenplay; my two new characters are), so we set out for the main library of the county system, over in Brooksville. Flowering shrubs along the way brightened our path, but we were already feeling good. At the library, cruising the 800 shelves, I happened on a book of plays by Ray Bradbury, who introduces one section of his plays, set in Ireland, by admitting that his seven months there (writing a screen adaptation of Moby Dick, no less) were not a happy time, what with “the poorness and the rain and feeling sorry for myself in a sorry land” (Ray Bradbury, On Stage: A Chrestomathy of His Plays), and he thought he would never write anything about Ireland. Several years later, however, his “secret mind,” his “interior eye,” the “subliminal eye” that had been taking in more than his conscious self realized at the time, began flooding him with stories calling out to be written, stories and plays with Irish settings and Irish characters.

My interest in the book was dramatic form, but there on St. Patrick’s Day a science fiction writer gave me Ireland.
The church has put her on her knees, the weather drowned, and politics all but buried her, but Ireland, dear God, with vim and gusto, still sprints for that far EXIT.

“And, do you know? I think she’ll make it.

So wrote Ray Bradbury in 1962. I think Ireland's come a long way since then.

P.S. Today’s temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit: 50 in Northport, MI; 54 in Traverse City, MI; 59 in Aripeka, FL. ????????

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Indoors on St. Paddy's

It’s the second cold, grey day in a row. That’s another week of Florida cold, though winter is almost spring, and everyone here is more than ready to be warm. Ah, well. Not today. Lovely seashells on the table, however, remind me of the beautiful, not-too-long-ago, sunny--albeit cold--walk on the beach of St. George Island, a cheery thought to inspire me to count my blessings.

I rewrote one of my short stories on Monday morning. It works so much better that it’s like a brand-new story, and all it took was changing from a third-person omniscient narrator to a first-person point of view, letting one of the characters talk about another and, in doing so, reveal much more of himself than the eye-in-the-sky had revealed. Well, I say "all," but you understand that there was quite a lot involved, though the story practically wrote itself once I restarted in the right voice. That was gratifying. A less successful session followed yesterday morning, with the one last story that isn’t measuring up still not cured of its weaknesses or given any definite direction, but today I made great headway in what will be the final story of the cycle, the one that ties the others together. I like it. It’s surprising. It’s different.

Now from house to library, where I need to do a little research, but--the books I need are not available in Spring Hill or Weeki Wachee, so we will “have to” drive to Brooksville to get them at the main library there. Great! An excuse for a little county road trip!

The weather is still crummy, but the rest of life has taken a turn and is going more my way.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Little Bit of History Fell Out

David loves Henry Miller. He loves Miller’s writings about his life in Paris, and he loves his irreverence on every subject. Miller loved life and managed to live it to overflowing, while remaining completely his own man, never kowtowing to money or other authorities. The other day I picked up for David a little paperback copy of one of Henry Miller’s novels, and out fell this carefully preserved aerogram.

The aerogram was inside a copy of Plexus (or was it Nexus? I get the titles mixed up and don't have the book beside me here in the library) and came originally from a Swedish publisher, Miller's books stilled banned at that time in the U.S.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1964 overturned earlier obscenity rulings, and Miller's entire "Rosy Crucifixion" trilogy was published in the United States in 1965.

The text of the publisher's letter to the American book customer regretfully notes that Miller's earlier novel, Black Spring, written in Paris, was no longer available.

That was then. Now Henry Miller is everywhere, shelved with literature, held up as an icon. Could he ever have imagined it himself? Would he have cared? Take a look at some of the links. The guy could certainly wear a hat with distinction.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Books and Old: Two Florida Bookstores Revisited

Yes, we visited both of these bookstores earlier in the first decade of the new century and were happy to find both still alive and well this year, though U.S. 41 Books, south of Brooksville on guess-what-highway, formerly a father-son operation, is now solely in the son’s hands. Since owner Gary LeBlanc took care of his father during a long siege of Alzheimer’s, he’s pretty much been on his own as a bookseller for a long time but told us that his dad came to the bookstore every day for as long as he could. “It’s what kept him going.” Gary now writes a weekly newspaper column on Alzheimer’s caregiving and will have a book on the subject out this spring. But look at my bag of books! Nine treasures—and only nine because I pulled the reins in on myself!

Downtown Books in Apalachicola sells new books, along with associated items like beautiful notecards and an unexpected sideline—knitting! When first we met Downtown Books five or six years ago, it had only recently opened for business, so I was happy to see it still there. We stopped only briefly this year but long enough for me to find a treasure of a Florida book and to exchange good wishes with the bookseller. Independent booksellers usually wish each other well. It’s one of the delights of finding oneself in this small pond as storm clouds gather and the water’s surface is whipped into tall waves!

Good day: finding a quirky, independent bookstore along the road. Great day: finding treasures for sale in the bookstore. Best day: meeting a friendly, welcoming, knowledgeable proprietor to help with book purchases and share joy of life. These two Florida bookstores both measured up to the highest standard.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Entire World Reorganized While Bookseller's Back Was Turned

Not a lot of pictures in this post, but there are some great links to check out, unless all the rest of you are way, way ahead of me, which wouldn't be a huge surprise. Well, here's my confession:

Not only was Brontosaurus given a new name (I received this shock a decade ago and haven’t recovered from it yet), I now find, by accident, that the entire world of living organisms was reorganized while I wasn’t looking. There is a big new superdivision called a “domain,” including everything with nucleated cells. We (human beings), other mammals, fish, birds, trees, mushrooms and even plankton are now neighbors in the domain called eukaryota. All of us have special cells that contain a nucleus that in turn contains genetic material (chromosomes).

The problem that gave rise to the new classification is one we all (old enough to have learned these things under the old system) encountered in our first introduction to the classified world of living things. It came with the in-between organisms, those with characteristics of both plants and animals but not clearly one or the other. (This is an illustration of the general problem with the human propensity to divide everything into either/or, but I will resist that digression for today.) What to call them? Where to put them? Sharing motility with animals and sometimes chlorophyll with plants--in short, being a little bit country and a little bit pop--they now have their own kingdom in the new domain. They are protists, neighbors in our new joint domain.

Back to eukaryota, the domain at large. That name, from a couple of Greek words, is variously given in English, depending where you look for the answer, as “true kernel” or “true nucleus.” Since one authority gave the second word, charmingly, as “nuts,” I have decided to think of the domain as “good nuts.” The other guys, those without the good nuts (actually, they are without nuts or kernels at all), take in bacteria and viruses and such.

Often resistant to change, I find I like this new, expanded neighborhood. As one of my graduate school ethics professors said, as we moved from consideration of human rights narrowly described through broader civil rights and equality for women to animal rights, “Let ‘em all in!” The only problem is that it plays havoc with the classification I memorized back in freshman year of high school. That’s okay. I can adjust.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quick Trip, Slow (Bookish) Thoughts

It was a weekend trip in length, though Monday to Wednesday, and wonderful it is how much excitement can be packed into three fleeting days. Some of it I’ve already covered, some will get squeezed in here, but I do have other fish to fry today. Literary fish. The pictures, such as Sarah and Cricket below and shots of Apalachicola (where we had lunch on Wednesday) further down, are little tastes of our trip up along the Nature Coast, through the Big Bend and in the Panhandle.

We arrived at George and Trudy’s rental house on St. George Island in time for a celebration. Trudy had just been notified, that morning, that she had won first prize in an online short story contest. We congratulated her winning entry before hurrying to read it (suggest you do the same), and she gave us some of the background that led her to this dark but poetically rendered piece of short fiction. As in Suwannee, with Gene and Judy, it was good to talk with friends about creative work. I admit that George and I drove the others almost of their minds the next morning with our relentless pursuit of up-to-date biological nomenclature, but I’ll leave that for another post. Out sidewalk luncheon was enhanced by the presence of our dogs. A perfect day!

Back in Aripeka, sheltered indoors from torrential rains pounding the Nature Coast on Thursday and Friday, burying the roads here (we’re only three feet above sea level) in temporary lakes, I set aside both the novel and the biography I started reading on the road to catch up on several weeks of the New York Review of Books. This publication is not one I usually read from front to back. The first review of fiction to capture my interest was of a novel titled The Art Student’s War, by Brad Leithauser, a novel the reviewer, Cathleen Schine, contrasts to previous work by the same author. Set in 1946 Detroit, The Art Student’s War is the story of a young girl who finds her “war work” in drawing portraits of wounded soldiers, and Schine identifies in the writing an old-fashioned idealism that mirrors the city’s image of itself. So many people I know grew up in that old Detroit and are still nostalgic for it that this book is one I’ll need to order for the bookstore this spring.

Anything by Jason Epstein is guaranteed to be worth reading, and next I stop on a page with the intriguing title “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future.” That’s good, because this winter I’ve been neglecting a lot of the day-to-day decisions and changes in the book world at large, figuring that I’ll catch up later on whatever lasts and won’t have wasted my time on ephemeral trends. It is all so unstable right now. Or, as Epstein puts it,
The resistance today by publishers to the onrushing digital future does not arise from fear of disruptive literacy, but from the understandable fear of their own obsolescence and the complexity of the digital transformation that awaits them, one in which much of their traditional infrastructure and perhaps they too will be redundant. - from “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future,” by Jason Epstein (NYRB, March 11, 2010, LVII, 4)

Indeed. Who wants to be rendered redundant? But wait, I’m thinking, redundant isn’t the same thing as obsolete, which is what we really all hope to avoid becoming. Hmmm.

Epstein locates the double-edged sword in the promise of a digital future:
That the contents of the world’s libraries will eventually be accessed anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age.

True, Epstein is focused on publishing, not bookselling, but the concerns of dear self (in my case) always flit from the first, whenever mentioned, to the second. Digital texts and physical books are an example of the best kind of redundancy, like life preservers on a well-built boat.

In this same issue of NYRB is a three-part essay by Tony Judt, who never lets me down. The first section, about his solitary travels by rail as a young boy with no destination in mind, says something that will resonate with the most fortunate among us: “I love trains, and they have always loved me back.”

Who wants to travel faster than the speed of light?
Being always felt stressful—wherever I was there was something to do, someone to please, a duty to be completed, a role inadequately fulfilled: something amiss. Becoming, on the other hand, was relief. I was never so happy as when I was going somewhere on my own, and the longer it took to get there, the better. Walking was pleasurable, cycling enjoyable, bus journeys fun. But the train was very heaven.
- from “Historian’s Progress: In Love with Trains,” by Tony Judy (NYRB, March 11, 2010, LVII, 4), with my emphasis added to the third sentence

I always find it annoying when someone proposes to me a route different from the one I have planned because with the alternate proposed route I can “get there faster.” Speed and efficiency are essential on the way to a hospital emergency room and not to be rejected on the way to any kind of scheduled event, but what have they to do with travel? (Or with reading, for that matter?) Life will be over all too soon. What is the sense of hurrying through it?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Excitement Fills the Air!

It's palpable. That’s Sarah’s excitement, shimmering in the quiet sunrise air while the rest of the house sleeps on, except for the two of us. My little dog-girl is always ready for action and is now staring at a closed bedroom door, the door to the room where her friend Cricket sleeps. When will Cricket get up? When will dog-girls get to go play off their leashes again, as they did yesterday, running in and out of the ocean, intoxicated by freedom? It was Sarah’s big pay-off after a long day in the car.

But I’m excited, too. Sleep overtook me last night after only a few pages of Walter Mosley’s The Long Fall, and this morning sleep fled early. We are on St. George Island! Trudy and I will take another walk on the beach this morning! Meanwhile, as I creep about making coffee and trying not to make noise, since it’s barely seven o’clock and no one else will want to be up for at least an hour, I’m thrilled to get online and find that Jessica from Devonshire has identified the jellyfish I posted yesterday. We’ve never met, but somehow this morning the ocean that separates us seems more like a link, a bond, our (temporarily) common ground. Good morning, Jessica!

On Monday, driving up from Aripeka to Suwannee, we detoured way out off the main highway to Cedar Key for lunch and a walk around town. This little painting and sign in the public library caught my eye and made me smile.

Perhaps the quote is too small to read in the picture. It says, "I have always imagined that paradise would be a kind of library."

I love Hwy. 19 as it goes north from Weeki Wachee, past Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge, up through the “empty quarter” of the Florida Nature Coast, all wild and rough around the edges, but it’s a joy, too, to leave the highway behind and take the smaller state roads that branch out to the Gulf. And then to turn off a state road onto a small county road. Off the edges of the county roads sandy two-tracks beckon. Where do they lead? If not for mortality and the limitations it imposes, I would follow each and every one.

But it was a genuine pleasure to reach our Monday destination, the winter home of Northport friends, and to see redbud in bloom in a vase on their table, as well as all along the road from Old Town out to Suwannee. Good to be with artists and to share thoughts on the life we have all chosen, off the beaten path.

More friends and more joys awaited our arrival on St. George Island on Tuesday.

While David and George took the dogs for some off-leash fun, Trudy and I had a chance to stroll the beach at a snail’s pace, stopping every few steps to pick up shells or wonder what we were looking at, such as yesterday’s jellyfish. Filling my pocket with shells, I couldn’t help noticing and remarking that shells are much lighter than stones and rocks. Back home, a walk on the beach at Peterson Park weighs me down something fierce, but here on the Gulf I could stop and pick up shell after shell, hardly noticing the additional weight.

We also gave plenty of attention to the brave, handsome little shorebirds. These terns are perhaps the handsomest—at least, the most striking.

The drama of light and cloud was the perfect final act to our seaside promenade.