Saturday, August 21, 2010
It was a quiet morning following a stormy evening, and as soon as I realized that sleep would not return I got up to reheat coffee and pick up a book. (Always, when I put a mug of yesterday’s coffee in the microwave I think of Barry, a fellow graduate student at the University of Illinois, and the expression on his face when I admitted to this habit; it was as if I’d told him I served scrambled eggs on used carpet squares.) The book I opened so eagerly was Into the Desperate Country, the first novel by Jeff Vande Zande, yesterday’s visiting author at Dog Ears Books. Jeff’s story quickly plunged me into a cold, swiftly flowing river, where it was night, the air full of white mayflies, the woods of silently moving deer. And there were trout.
A few chapters in, my reading interrupted by David’s readiness for reheated coffee (yes, we share that sorry vice), I got online to check e-mail and found a heart-warming surprise. Someone who’d been Googling the Michigan adventure writer James B. Hendryx found a blog post I’d written and sent me a message with a question. “You mention meeting a decade previously a Hendryx collector and his wife. I just wondered if that might be my parents....” Well, yes, it was, and reading the message I remembered not only her parents but also her dear grandmother, my old neighbor in Traverse City many years ago. That is, the mother of my morning’s correspondent was the daughter of my old friend and neighbor—which is only important to me, the daughter and the granddaughter, but it was very meaningful to me.
The coincidence has to do with fishing. Here I am, reading a first novel by a talented young writer whose stories often involve fishing Michigan rivers, a writer I met and hosted only yesterday (when he came to Dog Ears to read from his most recent book), and this morning’s e-mail brings a connection to another Michigan writer who loved to fish northern waters. James Hendryx could lure his wife only as far north as Suttons Bay to live, but they and my old neighbor’s daughter and son-in-law made many fishing trips farther north, into the U.P. and Canada.
Michigan, dear Michigan! It changes and changes, and always (as Bruce Catton wrote so poignantly in Waiting for the Morning Train) it changes faster than we can adapt to the changes, whether it is the passing of people or of wilderness, but so much of what we love is still here. The Pigeon River is recovering, Jeff Vande Zande says, from a fish-killing release of dammed silt and warm water two years ago. That was good to hear.
It was also good to hear Jeff read yesterday, to listen to the way he answered questions from a small but very attentive audience, to begin reading another book by him this morning, and to realize, once again, that Michigan fiction is still in very good hands. We have treasure here: woods and waters and wonderful writers.
The fishing goes on, the stories go on. Yes, Virginia, there is an Up North, and there are many wonderful books about it, too.