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Friday, December 28, 2012

What’s It Like In Your Field?

Do you have to dress up to go to work? The first words I read this morning were from the last essay in The Tenth Muse. Here is the author describing the look of field geologists at work:
Field geologists do a lot of walking, climbing fences, fording creeks, running from domestic animals, and other activities that take their toll on personal experience. Even freshly washed clothes, an uncommon garb, are seldom ironed and usually bear numerous stains and battle scars. The geologist is invariably sunburned and thirsty, and in situations where showers are a rarity, is commonly sweaty and dirty, as well. ... In Victorian times the same problem [geologists not looking like scholars] is said to have existed. ...
Didn’t Thoreau say we should beware of enterprises requiring new clothes? When I read these words of Parker's, I feel a rush of warm fellow feeling for the sweaty geologists, and I remember a different group of unlikely scholars, the philosophers, and how at home I felt with them after realizing that—unlike the economics and political scientists faculty, who stood around between classes discussing their retirement benefit packages—philosophers outside the classroom were still chasing down questions about, say, the mental life of dogs. These, I thought then, are my people! They also tended to wear the same rumpled clothes day after day.

Writers who work in their pajamas, truck farmers with grimy knuckles, artists whose clothes attract paint drippings as a magnet attracts iron filings—in their fields of endeavor, the work is what counts, not the appearance of the worker. These are my people!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What I Like Is Sometimes (But Not Always) What Others Like

The late Prudy Meade of Leland, founder of Leelanau Books, was famous for her spot-on book recommendations. That will never (sigh!) be my legacy. (1) I am not a fast thinker (my husband says I “grind exceeding slow”); (2) I’m never up-to-date on the latest bestsellers (however many shades of whatever, I haven’t read it); and (3) I am only too aware that what excites me as a reader may well elicit nothing but yawns from some of my closest friends. When on occasion I do make a recommendation that hits the mark, my delight probably exceeds that of my happy customer. So on December 26, my first two bookstore customers brought joy to my heart.

The first person in the door on Wednesday wanted a book I’d written about on my blog (an indirect recommendation) and happily, at my suggestion, added Donald Hall’s String Too Short To Be Saved to his purchase, along with one of my new Dog Ears Books book bags. I am thoroughly confident that he will not be disappointed in either book (especially the Donald Hall), so that felt good. Then the very next customer came for a second copy of Iron Hunter, autobiography of Chase S. Osborne, our most colorful Michigan governor and the only governor ever elected from the U.P.,  a book I’d recommended to her two days earlier as a gift for someone on her list. The recipient was so enthralled that he couldn’t stop raving about the story, and everyone else in the family wanted to read it right away! Luckily, I had another copy in stock.

In the midst of December anxiety this year (surgery, storms, and power outages, to name only a few), I went on a binge of escapism, reading three Alexander McCall Smith novels back to back. I’m still escaping but in smaller doses now, a chapter or two at a time in a book of geology essays by Ronald Parker called The Tenth Muse: The Pursuit of Earth Science. How can I convey the comfort I find in reading geology? Rocks don’t care. They have no needs or desires of their own and cannot suffer pain or hurt feelings, and neither do they heed ours. Rocks award no prizes, mete out no punishment. They have stories of their own but do not—cannot—clamor to be heard in their own voices, and that lack of argument is restful, even when the subject of an essay is volcanic eruption. There are eruptions, yes, but no wars.

If rocks do not argue, however, geologists sometimes do, and Parker’s essays touch from time to time on controversies in the field. His own theory of energy buffers flew in the face of the old gradualist dogma. The laws of crystallography were overturned by the discovery of a fivefold symmetry “forbidden” by said laws. But while graduate students have nightmares, and academic careers rise and fall, those of us outside academic geology departments can remain calm and unruffled while surveying outbreaks of heresy, defense of orthodoxy, heated debate, and outcomes that make or break academic careers. It’s somewhat akin to reading of philosophical and military conflicts in medieval China.

Then there are the lovely, intriguing thoughts. Parker writes of the “safe” world of crystallography, the “security” to be found in its laws, and he finds it significant that the study arose in the West, where symmetry has always been held in high regard.
We see it in architecture, poetry, politics, and machines—indeed in almost every element of our lives. The angles between the edges of paper are universally 90 degrees, and it is unthinkable that it could be otherwise. The size of the [right]* shoe is the exact mirror-image duplicate of the left, even though with most of us the right foot is larger than the left.
Many friends who think they know us would probably be surprised that David, the artist, is the lover of symmetry, while I, the bookwoman, prefer asymmetrical balance. I think people would expect the reverse of the two of us, but I felt much more at home in the next paragraph of Parker’s essay on crystals:
Objects in the Zen world should lack symmetry, just as the natural world lacks symmetry. Left is not the same as right any more than yesterday is the same as tomorrow. ... A bowl from a German factory is perfectly shaped, with no variation from the circular cross section at any cut parallel to its base. A Japanese raiku bowl is intentionally made asymmetrical by being picked out of the kiln with tongs while the hot silicate mass is still plastic. Each Western bowl is, ideally, just the same as every other. 
... Each raiku bowl is obviously unique, just as each carrot or tree or person is unique.
Two memories emerge as I re-read these lines, pausing with delight and repeating aloud, “Left is not the same as right any more than yesterday is the same as tomorrow,” my mind’s eye glancing fondly in Henri Bergson’s direction. One is a memory of the small museum buildings just to the east of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. At least, I am remembering them as two. Perhaps they are one building with two separate exhibit rooms, but that is really beside the point. The first large exhibit space contained crystals. I explored each case and dutifully admired the colors and facets, but they left me unmoved. In the second exhibit space were fossils of prehistoric mammals, and I shiver now to remember my feelings as I gazed on the remains of an ancient proto-mouse. A fellow creature! It lived and breathed, “saw sunset glow,” ate and procreated and died. I could feel for the animal fossil.

Then there was the summer a friend happened to mention that her kitchen lacked a good wooden salad bowl. My weekend flea market trips took on the flavor of a mission, and finally, having examined and rejected any number of possibilities, I bought my friend not one but two wooden salad bowls. Each seemed perfect to me in a different way, one in the regular, Western way, and the other in the imperfect Zen way. “So I bought them both.” Her husband immediately judged the regular bowl to be the better, saying of the other one that it was too heavy at the base and had a sloping rim. “I know, I know--.” My friend smiled at me and understood without explanation.

Despite his love of symmetry, David shares my fondness for animal bones and recognizes what I treasure in irregular oddities. He finds me rather an oddity sometimes. When I turn to geology as escape reading, he shakes his head and laughs.

I’ve looked into the remaining pages of my current book and see, to my great relief, that there is nothing there on fracking. It isn’t that I’m sticking my head in the sand permanently, you understand—I’ve faced and will face again this important geological and economic issue—but for now it’s holiday time, the last week of the year, with long, cold nights and short, chill days, and I’m thrilled to see, coming up in the very next essay (am reading about salt at present) a reference to those “Chinese paintings with a mystical-looking land with towering, steep-sided hills rising above a flat plain.” Oh, boy! Yes! We have seen that landscape in travelogues and marveled to realize that it is realistically represented, not stylized, in the Chinese paintings.

This is what I call very relaxing reading. There's a lot to be said for aesthetic distance.

[*There was a typographical error in the sentence, with "left" appearing twice and "right" not at all, but the intended meaning was clear in context.]

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday Greetings From Up North

The favorite movie of one of my girlhood friends was “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1955), starring Judy Garland. My friend was so good at “telling” movies that I couldn’t figure out for years if I’d seen this one myself or just heard the story from her. We’ve all heard the song, though--“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with music by Ralph Blane and lyrics by Hugh Martin. Anything Judy Garland ever sung had a poignant quality, don't you think? It was something about the vulnerability in her eyes and the courage in her voice. But there have been different versions of the lyrics to this song over the years, and that's interesting, too. 

Life isn’t always easy, and a lot of people struggle with pain of one kind of another. Holidays are no exception. What to do about it? To “hang a shining star upon the highest bough” is one way to defy sadness, but it is a gesture of a moment, whereas to “muddle through somehow,” putting one foot in front of the other, doing all the little, ordinary things that have to be done day after day--that is a beautiful and deep kind of bravery.

Wherever you are this year, and whatever you are growing through, with family or on your own, I wish you at least moments of heart-lightness. And here's your song:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas 
Let your heart be light 
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight  

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay 
Next year all our troubles will be miles away 

Once again as in olden days 
Happy golden days of yore 
Faithful friends who are dear to us 
Will be near to us once more  

Someday soon, we all will be together 
If the fates allow 
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow 
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Plans and Holiday News

My plans, of course, are always subject to revision, but despite the beginning of what has been forecast as a 36-hour storm, I have made it to Northport this morning, and the bookstore will be open at 11 a.m. Yes! We are here, we are local, and we are OPEN! Schools are closed, and the roads are bad enough that I wouldn't be keen to drive to Traverse City today myself.

Then what? Will we be socked in at the farm tomorrow, or will we make it to Northport again? I'm hoping for the latter and that the bookstore will also be open all weekend--Saturday until 5 o'clock and Sunday until about 3. Then on Monday, Christmas Eve, I'll have my Emergency Last-Minute Gift Wrapping Table set up for customers who waited until or got caught short at--well, you get it.

For the rest of today's post, I want to share an e-mail I got from Traverse City author Jerry Dennis, most recently at Dog Ears Books with artist Glenn Wolff to sign copies of The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes. Here is their latest public offering, in Jerry's words:

I’m happy to announce that Glenn Wolff, Chad Pastotnik, and I have teamed up to produce a second edition of our classic limited-edition broadside, “The Trout in Winter.” The first edition of 60 came out in December 2000, quickly sold out, and is now highly sought after. This new one, signed and numbered in an edition of 65, has some new features, including Glenn’s engraving of a stonefly nymph in the lower right corner and Chad’s gold ink on caps and typographical tweaks. The text itself is unchanged (read the story of the notorious “e’s” on my blog. The price is $225 (plus shipping). Please feel free to contact me with any questions. 

For more information you can also visitn Deep Wood Press and/or go to Glenn’s Facebook page for a gallery of photos of us at work on the project. 

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays to you, Jerry, Glenn, and Chad! You all do beautiful work!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Fog of Causes

Into the fog we go again.
While David was in surgery on Thursday morning, a good friend of ours kept me company in the waiting room. This friend is a cardiac nurse and gave me some advice about back problems I’ve been having lately: apply ice, take anti-inflammatory medication, wear a good brace to support the back, and, yes, think about investing in a good mattress. I told him I’d tried the ice a couple evenings, to no effect whatsoever, and he replied that when he tells someone to take aspirin, get bed rest, and drink a lot of fluids, the person is quite likely to report a few days later that he followed the advice about fluids but ignored the rest. “You can’t just do one thing,” he said. “You have to do it all. It all works together.”

When we human beings think about cause and effect, it’s all too easy for us to envision oversimplified schematics, such as a pool cue hitting a cue ball that hits another ball that goes into a pocket. Even the physical world of pure material causes is seldom that simple! And as for that pool cue—wasn’t someone guiding it?  And so, looking beyond the pool table at the larger realm of human behavior, a complex and confusing welter of dreams, fears, resentments, desires, hopes, and intentions, is it any wonder we want to simplify the picture? But simplification distorts and falsifies reality.

The cue ball had no choice. It offered nothing other than insufficient material resistance to the cue that struck it and no resentment whatsoever against the ball it struck. A purely causal explanation tells the story. Human beings are different. We are intentional beings, partly but not fully conscious of our own desires and aims, and there it is. If we had no intentions, material causes would explain us, and there would be no “behavior” at all. If we were fully conscious, completely aware of all our intentions and emotions, we would behave very differently from the way we do. But that’s not who or where we are. We move through a fog that obscures our own motives as well as those of others, and often, searching for simple explanations, we tell stories that serve only to generate more fog.

Much is hidden, and we see little.
Whenever there is a tragedy such as the recent school shooting in Connecticut, the same sadly predictable, two-sided debate questions are hurried onstage. Is our violent film industry to blame? (Sides form up in yes or no lines.) Is America’s love of guns the culprit? (Debaters say yes or no.) Easy access to deadly weapons? Or maybe it’s violent video games or untreated mental illness or drug addiction or divorce or one-parent families or parental neglect or parental abuse or bullying from others or social isolation or post-traumatic stress?

How can we think only one identifiable “thing” is to blame? We all know individuals, maybe even ourselves, who have suffered from or participated in any of the possible “causes” listed above but have not gone on a rampage of violence. So we say, no, bullying doesn’t explain it, because I was bullied as a child, too. Or we say, no, guns cannot be at fault, because everyone in my family hunts, and none of us would ever kill another human being. Or, no, we can't blame violent movies, because I’ve seen plenty of them, or no, it can’t be divorce, because my parents were divorced—and on and on and on. Everyone is ready to point to a cause, and there’s always someone else ready to argue that what is identified as the cause is insufficient.

Human status: "It's complicated."
I would feel more hopeful about a solution if there were more indications of awareness that the reasons and explanations for these horrible tragedies come from many directions, from time to time converging (to schematize) on a vulnerable point, a desperate individual. Can we not imagine that while every contributing cause is insufficient it itself, together they gain strength? And so, every contributing cause may be significant, even though insufficient in itself?

It isn’t enough to try only to stop bullying in schools or only to put tougher restrictions on purchase and ownership of weapons or only to intervene in troubled families or to take any single line of remediation, ignoring other sources of harm. On the other side of the coin, it is naive and unhelpful for anyone to say, “No, it isn’t my bullying or cruel teasing or gun manufacture or violent film production or violent video game creation or sales of weapons or sales of violent films or games or music or my not bothering to know my neighbor or my avoiding eye contact with people I meet or my rush-to-judgment of others’ motives and overly confident faith in the purity of my own-------.” On and on and on.

As long as I live, I will probably be enough a child of the Sixties to believe that “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” We children of the Sixties, like the children of every other decade, surely made our own contributions to this problem. The question is, can we stop pointing fingers and come together to explore possible solutions? Can we find our way into the light together?

Seeking clarity....

I have been thinking and thinking about how to say this, and here is what I think I want to say: If the last straw had been the first, it alone would not have broken the camel’s back, but each and every straw the camel was asked to carry would have contributed its weight to the final result. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Our Precious Time: Families, Together and Asunder

Visiting Indulgent Friends 

Early Friday morning I began composing a cheery post for my blog. David’s imminent homecoming and the indulgence of Sarah’s volunteer dog-sitters toward their canine guest was the occasion for me to put together my thoughts. Here’s what I’d written:

Sarah had her first overnight away from her folks. That’s right, our little five-year-old dog has never before been away from both of us at the same time. If David and I were not traveling together, Sarah always went with the traveler or stayed home with the stay-at-home, but usually it’s been all three of us on the road. She has never been in a kennel since that one night at the Humane Society before we were lucky enough to find her and snatch that four-month-old puppy up before anyone else.

Look at that picture again. She looks pretty comfortable, doesn’t she? It didn’t take long at Bill and Sally’s house for Sarah to find Bill’s favorite chair and appropriate it for herself. He could have ordered her down and onto her comforter on the floor, but he got out his camera instead. Is this girl spoiled, or what? She gets away with it, too.

It has been a very anxious five weeks for us, waiting for David’s scheduled surgery. We stayed overnight at the Munson Manor Hospitality Inn the night before, applauding ourselves for the wisdom of that choice, which freed us up from having to drive into town in the dark in what would have seemed (and did, anyway, even in town) like the middle of the night and took away the worry of possible severe weather and dangerous road conditions. Not that the weather was dangerous, as it turned out, but in December, in Michigan, you never know. And when you already have enough to worry about....

Now all is well. The surgical procedure went without a hitch (there were a few stitches, but not even many of those), and we are all together again at home. This is all the Christmas present I need. My cup overfloweth.

I wrote all this in anticipation, before David was actually home. He was discharged as expected later yesterday morning, and he and Sarah were both happy to see each other again. We were all happy to be together at home once more, but then David wanted to rest in bed and listen to the radio. That’s when we heard the horrible news. Our weeks of anxiety were put into perspective, and our happiness appeared in sharp contrast to the agony and heartbreak of families.

Life happens all around us. It happens relentlessly, unceasingly, all at once. It is—overwhelming. In the best of cases, we have it for only a very short time, on loan. Not to be taken for granted, it is—everything. Who has words today?

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Holier-Than-Thou" Becomes "Greener-Than-Thou"

As a bookseller and a lifetime lover of the printed word who also takes earth stewardship seriously, I have thought and read a great deal on the subject of the environmental impacts of books in various formats. Sadly, most of what I read fails to present a full consideration of the relative costs of print versus electronic books. The scant half-page in the Winter 2013 issue of ForeWord magazine is, I’m sorry to say, hardly an exception to the usual run of superficial and incomplete additions to this vitally important discussion. I’ve written about this beforebut the topic doesn’t go away, so here is a more current response to the specific recent article.

Aimee Jodoin’s “How Green Is Your Library?” gives a few figures for the carbon costs of printing books on paper. None are given for e-books (one is simply asked to assume that they are less), and there is no consideration of how long printed books last, let alone any acknowledgement whatsoever that books can be printed on anything other than paper. Anyone serious about this question cannot ignore William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. McDonough and Braungart’s thesis is that products can and should be designed for the life of their component materials, and physical copies of their book exemplify the feasibility of their thesis. Failure to take account of this way out of the dilemma presented so glibly in the popular press, when put forward in a magazine dedicated to books, is indefensible.

Jodoin states that “carbon emissions from both the production and use” of e-readers versus books makes the electronic devices “the more environmentally friendly choice for those who read more than 23 books per year.” This claim (others I’ve read put the figure at 100 books per year) is made despite “the typical lifespan of a year and a half” for an e-reader. I doubt very much that the skewed comparison takes the reading of used print books into account, but the omissions do not end there. No consideration is given to (a) the lifespan of a printed, bound book; (b) the number of readers any single printed book may serve in its lifetime; (c) rare minerals needed to produce electronic devices, along with political and working conditions in countries where these minerals must be obtained; or (d) the mountains of electronic waste generated by devices with a “typical lifespan of a year and a half,” to mention only obvious questions that come to mind without painstaking research. Signal towers? Privacy? Make up your own list of concerns and see how long it gets.

Yes, I am a retail bookseller, but I chose my work much more out of love and on principle than from any dream of riches. If I were ever to retire someday from bookselling, the future I see for myself as far as books is concerned is that of continuing to buy, borrow, and share printed books, both new ones and those that have been around the block a few times or have been loved and shared for a hundred years. If any of my paper books fall irretrievably to pieces, I’ll either keep the pieces for what they contain or tear up the pages to add to my compost pile.

An entire paper could be written on any of the points I raise here. Nevertheless, I hope I have made clear that I find the environmental case against print books inconclusive at best. At worse? Downright specious.

Okay, one last word here. Wouldn’t it be great if we human beings, the current dominant species on earth, could all work to keep our planet livable and beautiful without looking down on and dissing each other all the time? I confess that I was instantly put off simply by the title of the magazine article I’ve criticized here. You think you lead a green life? It seemed to sneer at me. You’re an old fogey, polluting the planet with your business and personal life full of old-fashioned books! So yes, I was instantly on the defensive.

And yes, I realize that newspapers and magazines—themselves print media, let us not forget; pot calling kettle black?—face tremendous fiscal challenges these days. Getting in readers’ faces and being controversial sells copies. In the war for readers, and in a time when reader attention span is diminishing (some say because more and more readers are scanning screens instead of taking in pages), an attention-getting headline is probably much more important than depth of treatment. I get all that.

I realize, too, that I am, in a sense, biting the hand that has fed me a few snacks, if not meals, because I’ve written a handful of paid reviews for the magazine in question. The publisher and editor are intelligent, hard-working, and charming people, women I call friends. I like and admire them very much, so make of that what you will. They have gone public with their point of view, and I am simply doing the same with mine. We’ve got a disagreement here, and intelligent people can disagree.

At the end of the day, after all, how any of us feels about anything is beside the point, because the degree of harm done to the earth we leave behind for succeeding generations will come not from how we felt, but from our actions and the consequences of those actions. So all greener-than-thou, one-upsmanship aside (here I picture the Paleolitic diet folks and the vegans carrying big signs, wearing printed t-shirts, and yelling at each other), what are the facts? It’s a serious question that deserves more than a few glib paragraphs.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Future Is Spring, and It's On Its Way Now

Very welcome mail

Director of corporate communications for Monsanto, Phil Angell, summed up his company’s take on the issue in a report by food author Michael Pollan for New York Times Magazine in 1998: "Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." - New York Times, 1998, quoted here.
Hurrah! Hooray! My first seed catalog of the winter has arrived, the big, beautiful Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds 2013 Pure Seed Book. Right away in the early pages, before even getting to the seeds, I find a 2-page spread on news of GMOs. The piece was reprinted from the Summer 2012 Heirloom Gardener magazine, so if you don’t get the seed catalog, look up the magazine to read the entire article.

GMOs are not like cigarettes or atomic testing, in that we’ll have to wait years to find out that they’re not good for us. The results of this experiment on environmental health are already coming in, and they’re saying once again, “Don’t mess with Mother Nature!” Genetic modification of seeds is NOT the “same” as plant and animal breeding or cross-breeding, either. Yes, humans have developed new strains of plants and animals for ages through selective breeding and hybridization. This way of producing new varieties is doing what nature does in a more focused and intentional way. Genetic modification is entirely different.

To modify a plant or animal genetically, cell walls are invaded, and genetic material from species that would never have interbred with the host are inserted—sometimes even animal material into plant cells—along with all kinds of chemical suppressants. The lethal cocktail is designed to make insure survival of the invaded cell and to make it resistant to chemicals that will later be applied to soil and plant to “help” it fend off weeds and pests.

Mouth-watering images of real food
Weeds and insects have not been successful on earth because they give up when threatened. When the environment, natural or manipulated by man, tries to kill them, their evolution speeds up, and so it has done to combat the threat posed by GMOs. More than 40 varieties of new plant diseases have evolved to meet the chemical threat, and insects are evolving, too. Meanwhile, animals fed on GMOs—lab animals, livestock, and pets--are developing all kinds of problems, including infant mortality, immune disorders, and higher death rates.

Europeans have been less than enthusiastic about GMOs from the start and are still trying to come to terms with the new biotechnology. Here is the European Commission's definition of GMO, by the way:

GMOs are organisms with artificially altered genes to change their characteristics in some way.
To date the most well know but also controversial application of GMO technology is related to food crops, for example food crops that are altered to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant.
But GMO technology is also used for biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs and experimental medicine.

 Russia recently said no (enough troubles without needing to import more), and  Zimbabwe has said no to food aid containing GMOs, saying “You cannot use the Zimbabwean population as guinea pigs.” So far, Americans have allowed themselves to be used as guinea pigs, and they roll over and play guinea pig in the name of scientific and entrepreneurial freedom, willing to endure real harms and to put future generations at risk in the name of an abstract good that most of them will never share. We don't even require labeling on our food that would indicate what products contain GMOs.

I call the good abstract because, as the article points out, “GMOs give no consumer benefit.” The benefit is to the companies producing seeds that are protected by patent, seeds that cannot be saved from year to year, so that farmers switching to GMOs are more and more dependent on chemical companies for each year’s seeds, herbicides, and pesticides.

I believe strongly that the health of Americans relies on the independence of farmers and their ability to produce healthy food, but the article in my beautiful new seed catalog is upbeat and happy, because what with more and more countries saying no to GMOs, and what with the disappointing results on them coming in, it’s hard to see how even their corporate producers can hope to rake in profits much longer. And of course, if profits vanish, so will the deadly products.

We all, of course, have a very personal stake in this. This is a case of bad news for a corporation being good news for the future of the earth and its inhabitants. Hope! The thing with feathers

Earth's bounty, ours to cultivate
David asked me, "Are you going to become a crank in your old age?" I told him I'd be no crankier than I'd been at age 18. Someone else asked me if I weren't crankier than David. No, we get cranked up about different issues (with some overlap, of course), but I am (and he is, too) basically much less cranky than in our youthful days. We are readier to understand and to forgive or to shrug and accept a lot of things. Not all, though. By no means all. We are neither of anywhere near Zen master stage.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How It Will Be This Year

Warm, dark morning
Warm enough for bare feet
Moonlight through black walnut branches early Tuesday. Dark fading to light behind the eastern woods. Morning in my world—another strangely warm morning, unseasonably warm, given that it’s the first week of December. The other day I saw lilac buds at a neighbor’s house looking as if they were preparing to open--not a good sign if the orchard trees follow suit. But all we can do about the weather is to take what preparations we can for severe storms and then wait and see what comes.

In other areas of life it’s possible to do more. The local committee calling itself “Best for Kids” will once again host a Holiday Bake Sale and Bazaar at the Willowbrook Inn this coming Saturday to benefit the Leelanau Children’s Center. In addition to cookies, cakes, candies, and holiday breads studded with fruit and nuts, there will be vendors offering all manner of handmade craft items and local food products. The sale will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mill Street.

Dog Ears Books has had a table of books at the bazaar for the past two years, but this year we are participating in a different way. Instead of trying to guess ahead of time what kind of books might be popular as holiday gifts, I’m opening my entire store to benefit the Leelanau Children’s Center. My “annex” to the bazaar will run both Saturday and Sunday, for the convenience of workers and vendors who will be busy at the Willowbrook all day Saturday.

Here’s how it will work:

There will be a table at the Willowbrook for Dog Ears Books, but at that table, instead of books, will be cards for shoppers to bring to the bookstore. (I’ll have a few at the bookstore, also, for anyone who doesn’t make it to Mill Street.) New books and used books, notecards, posters, and calendars—on Saturday and Sunday, anyone making a purchase at my bookstore and filling out a card can direct 20% of dollars spent on anything I have in stock to the Leelanau Children’s Center. My hours on Saturday will be 10 to 5; Sunday hours 11-4.

I’m hoping that holiday shoppers will be encouraged by the wider variety of bookstore inventory this system will make available for the benefit. You can find book treasures in your own hometown, support local business, and support a good cause, all with one visit to 106 Waukazoo Street on Saturday and/or Sunday, Dec. 8-9.

Another reason to stay in town after the Willowbrook closes is that the lights on the big tree on Nagonaba Street will come on Saturday evening. (Do you remember last year?) And of course, if you’ve gone to the Leelanau Children’s Choir and Youth Ensemble Madrigal Concert on Friday night, you’ll already be primed for holidays.

By late afternoon Tuesday the wind was coming from the north again, as it should, and air temperature dropping. Winter is coming back, and that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. (Don't stop here--there's another paragraph following the photo!)

Warmer light, much colder air--can you feel it?

Personal P.S. I must say--. (There’s no “must” about it; you’re being self-indulgent. So what? It’s my blog!) There are lots of times when publicizing local events, even my own bookstore events, diverts me from what I’d rather be writing about if I consulted nothing but the Writer Within. Reality, however, dictates that the Writer Within be nourished by the Bookseller Without and the Community Member-at-Large. Publicity, public service—today they’ve had their turn. In my next post, however, the Writer Within and the Bookseller Without will collaborate, as once again the blogger lets loose with a passionate opinion. Please stay tuned....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mystery Poet Strikes Again

Collection of mysterious mail
It has been months since a mystery poem arrived in my post office box. The first one came in February, a second in April, and the third in June, seeming to set an every-other-month pattern. Then no more, and after a while I stopped expecting another. It’s a tribute to our local postmaster that I received these at all, as the address on them did not include a p.o. box number, the official requirement for delivery.

a beautiful old stamp
On Friday, November 30, the post office box held another piece of mail from the anonymous poet, another small piece of lined paper folded to become its own envelope, bearing various stamps, address and enclosed poem typed on a manual typewriter. The stamps this time are five in number: an 8-cent American flag stamp, 6-cent Leif Erikson, 15-cent coral reefs, 15-cent USA Olympics 1980, and—my favorite—a beautiful, deep blue, landscape format 3-cent commemorative depicting the arrival of Lafayette in America in 1777.

But it is the poem inside that is the real prize. 

an exquisite little poem
Previous poems were on the subjects snow, honey, and the firefly. This new one is titled “Tell Me.” It is so lovely it bears repeating:

Tell Me 

who does not dream 
what Night already knew 
how the willows laugh 
when Moon finds the cloud 
where Sun hid her pearls 

Friday, November 30, 2012

There’s Energy, and Then There’s “Energy”! Ideas, Peeps?

Wind howling around the old farmhouse as cold morning light slowly banishes outdoor darkness. Much has happened since Aaron Stander’s visit to Dog Ears Books. There was a trip to Traverse City on Sunday to see old friends; a long, cold Monday in the bookstore while the crew worked to dismantle and remove the old furnace and install a new one; another trip to town Tuesday for an appointment, with lunch at Oryana afterward; power going out again at home on Wednesday and new furnace at the shop not working up to capacity; parade of furnace crew on Thursday, bringing in parts to finish up the job. Ups and downs. Pleasures and setbacks.

Wednesday was a discouraging day for me, despite Bruce’s help at the bookstore. I’d had in mind all kinds of housework projects at home, with washing my hair on the agenda, too, but after the housework. And then—? No power! No hot water! Cap pulled down tight on my head as we took refuge with a pizza in a brightly lighted public place!

I still say we are lucky. A friend out East tells me her sister was without heat and electricity for a week, got it back for a day, then lost it again. Some people who lost it with Sandy still don’t have power back. What are they doing? How are they managing at all? Many must have homes in cities, even apartments many flights above the ground. No, we are very fortunate. I knew that on Wednesday but still felt tired and discouraged, because we have other issues we’re dealing with these days besides power outages and a balky furnace.

But Thursday morning, for some unaccountable reason, I felt better almost as soon as I was on my feet. It was a sunny morning, and the temperature was warm, but that isn’t always be enough to bring my chin off the floor when life gets me down. What did it, I think, was a magazine David found in the free stack at the library, the place where patrons put their personal subscription magazines when they’re finished with them so that other people can take them home to read. Actually, David picked up several magazines, but among them three issues of one in particular that he thought I would like and that I love, love, love! It’s called “Acres USA,” and it’s been around for over 40 years, and I can’t understand how I didn’t know about it before now. I devoured it along with pizza on Wednesday evening and started feeling better and more energized with every page.

The articles are long and go into important matters in depth. That’s so satisfying and encouraging that it gets my brain pumping and thinking again of the future in two positive, proactive ways, and I am very excited. First, what I’m reading affirms my sense of stewardship for the little piece of Michigan land that is my home, and all kinds of ideas sprout up as I consider the future of our land. That will take shape slowly over the long term. More immediately, I really want to take the small percentage of my store inventory that is new books in a more focused direction, expanding offerings on organic food production and ecological self-sufficient living.

With that in mind, I welcome suggestions. Gardening, greenhouses, seed starting, small orchard production, poultry and livestock, woodlot management, wind and solar energy, appropriate technology—what would you like to read about or make accessible to more people in northern Michigan? I’ll be making a list and unveiling the new collection in early summer, so please send me your ideas. Better yet, if possible, stop by and talk to me about them. Our summer farm market in Northport has grown into a beautiful thing, and I would like the books in my bookstore to complement the food at the market and the lives of the people who grow it. Taking that direction with books will also complement my own plans for future plans at home.

I have a third idea brewing that I’ll reveal after the first of the year if I decide to go ahead with it, but all in all, while bookstore viability becomes more and more problematic in today’s virtual world, I am not ready to hand in the towel yet. And though country living and outdoor work take more of a toll on a body no longer 20-something, I’m not ready to give that up, either. That’s my “bottom line” determination. Stubborn? Yes. But also full of happy anticipation!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nothing Like a Good Guest

Author Aaron Stander at Dog Ears last Saturday
You know you've got a good guest author when he shows up for a two-hour book signing on a day the furnace isn't working and isn't a bit fazed. He's an Up North guy. He's dressed for winter. (See wool pants and pullover sweater in photo. See space heater by his side.)

The hand that wields the pen
The guest author brings his own pen, and it is a fountain pen charged with real ink--brown ink, the color used by his fictional mystery-solving character, Sheriff Ray Elkins of fictional Cedar County, a place that might well remind readers of Leelanau County.

Pen in action!
Aaron's newest book, sixth in his series, The Cruelest Month, is a story set in early spring, but here he is (above) signing the second title for a customer. Earlier novels are Summer People, Color Tour, Deer Season, Medieval Murders (prequel), and Shelf Ice.

Serious tools
You know you have devoted workmen in Northport when they show up on a moment's notice on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and work for a couple hours in a freezing cold furnace room. Alas, the old furnace does not come back to life! The crew will come back on Monday to install a new furnace, but meanwhile the obliging guest author stays an extra hour. Talk about going the extra mile!
A lot of people were with family over the long holiday weekend, and I'm sorry some had to miss Aaron Stander's visit, because everyone who came had a chance not only to have a book signed but to pump the writer with questions about his creative process and hear wonderful stories that have not yet worked their way into his novels. It was great! Once again I was left to reflect on the generosity of working writers, giving of their time to readers, fans, and booksellers. 

P.S. to story: The furnace crew did return on Monday, and the new furnace is installed and putting out heat, so everything is toasty and cozy again at Dog Ears Books. 

Timely reminder: The Leelanau Children's Choir and Youth Ensemble Madrigal Christmas concert is coming up on Friday, December 7. It is the 20th anniversary of the group directed by Margaret Bell and featuring schoolchildren from all over Leelanau County. The concert will once again take place at the Northport Community Arts Center, and tickets ($15 adult; $5 student) are available at Dog Ears Books, as well as from Leelanau Books in Leland and The Painted Bird in Suttons Bay. 'Tis the season!

Tree is leaning slightly but cheery

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Surprises Seasonal and Unseasonable

Thanksgiving Day sunrise
Aaron Stander comes to Dog Ears Books in Northport today to sign his latest Sheriff Ray Elkins mystery, The Cruelest Month, and wouldn’t you know that while the power was back on this morning, the phone was still out? No internet at home! Well, plans can be changed with the weather and its exigencies, as the last few days have plainly demonstrated. Weather today in Northport? Power? Phone? Time will tell!

Let’s start with the morning of Thanksgiving Day. Beautiful sunrise! Oatmeal or waffles for holiday breakfast? Hardly a question, is it? A friend and I had divided up the items to be prepared for dinner, and she would be bringing dressing and dessert, along with yams, so my part of the feast did not require a pre-dawn start. Instead, my holiday morning was waffles with David, a walk with Sarah, a little radio with David, a dog bath for Sarah (she is so good about baths!), and then the dive into cleaning!

After settling Sarah out on the front walk, drying in warm sunshine and enjoying a beef bone reward, David dove into cleaning along with me, which always makes for a more thorough and more interesting and surprising job. Lots of surprises! It was good to get so much done. I just had not planned on doing quite so much.

We had the door to the front porch open to the outdoors. It felt like September! At David’s urging and on his inspiration, we moved the indoor dining table and chairs moved out onto the porch, and took the leaves out of the big porch table so that it became a small square and could move to the indoor dining area with the smaller captain’s chairs. (Should it be captains’ chairs, as there are two of them, because doesn’t that indicate two captains? Hardly the case at my house, or I would not be moving all this furniture!) The change in tables necessitated a change in lighting, with various lamps tried here and there until Goldilocks herself would have had to agree that it was “just right!”

Meanwhile, as David kept having ideas for more and more changes, I had been wielding vacuum, broom, dustpan, rags, and an array of cleaning products. Piles of discard items, from clothing to kitchen pans, were growing on the walk outside the front door. And somewhere in the course of all this madness a couple loads of laundry had gotten done and hung out on the line, too, and the first load brought in, wet laundry having dried quickly in the sun and breeze of the unseasonably warm day. Oh, let me rake leaves for a while! Attend to my compost!

At last I called “Enough!” and announced an intention to wash my hair and rest my back. The porch had grown ever more appealing, sun-warm and newly arranged and swept clean. A sofa bed down at the south end was calling my name, and I answered the call. For a while my reading was interrupted periodically, as David had decided the porch closet needed to be cleaned out, too, and kept asking me if I wanted to keep this or that. “I’m reading philosophy!” I finally cried out pitifully. At that he disappeared down into Man’s World (basement), where he could putter in peace. Sarah took up her windowseat post, and I was left with my book. My book was so interesting.... At last, quiet....

It was only a short nap, I swear! And after the refreshing break, I had plenty of time to chop red onions, white mushrooms, and morels to be sauteed and added to red quinoa. Cream sauce for the creamed onions was a snap. Cranberry-orange relish had been made the night before. The turkey breast would not go in the oven until shortly before Laura arrived, to give us time for a walk and leisurely conversation on the porch.

“Can you believe we’re sitting out here on November twenty-second?” David couldn’t help remarking as the three of us tucked into almonds, black olives, and smoked oysters, toasting to friendship with glasses of red wine. This was after Laura and I had gone with Sarah for a walk up Claudia’s hill, but outdoors or on the porch, the balmy sweetness of the day continued to thrill. It was a little unexpectedly extra something to add to things for which we were all grateful. Laura and I met first 42 years ago, David and I and then David and Laura in the mid-1970s, and many is the Thanksgiving dinner we have enjoyed together. Once, long, long ago, Laura made duck à l’orange! Her dessert this year was Julia Child’s apple tarte! Lovely, lovely, lovely....

After dinner and a movie, the dark sky was strangely mottled with clouds as we bid Laura goodnight, and during the night the wind picked up speed and the temperature dropped. Friday morning—snow! Bitter, fierce wind! Tall meadow grass bending horizontal and penitential. Barn doors flapping! The front porch issued no invitation to relax on Friday morning!

What next? It was hardly surprising: the power went out. David came home first late Friday afternoon and got the oil lamps filled and the fireplace going. My contribution shortly afterward was fresh candles (from the Pennington Collection in Northport). We had leftover turkey and dressing and cranberry relish by fire-, candle-, and lamplight, and after dinner I read nearly all of A Small Farm in Maine, completely lost in that other world, without the distractions of radio or movie in the background. Then David and I went to bed in caps and robes, entertaining each other with our respective reminiscences of childhood dream hours spent over Sears Roebuck catalogs until we were too sleepy to talk any more. That was nice.

Sometime in the middle of the night the power came back on. The phone, as I say, was still out come morning.

What are the roads like between Interlochen, where Aaron lives, and Northport? What will today bring, and tomorrow? The forecast had something like a 40% probability of more snow both days.

Seasons change as the year cycles around, and then there are stretches where one season is surprisingly tucked into another for a few days. We had a little extra September leading up to and going through Thanksgiving Day, and now November is back. But what does that mean? It hardly gives certainty about any specific day or how plans may have to be altered at a moment’s notice. Is it Michigan? Well, yes, and it’s life, too. Life is change, and change is surprising as often or oftener than it is expected, and it’s good to have jugs of water and candles and matches on hand.

Rosehips at the top of the hill

Monday, November 19, 2012

Unpredictable Flow of Random Thoughts

What accounts for the randomness of thought sequences? Here’s just a snippet of mine this morning:

Small town residents all over America practice a lot of Cargo Cult thinking: If we could just lure enough people here from outside, our problems would be solved! If we build it, surely they will come! Our prayers will be answered!

Every solution to an old problem creates brand-new problems, usually unanticipated or minimized.

Ernest Hemingway would never have made it as a murder mystery writer. Not enough adjectives. Agree or disagree?

If Marguerite Henry were still alive, she would be writing a book about the Australian wonder horse, Black Caviar. How many Americans have even heard the name? And yet this filly won every race she ever won, all 22, including the Royal Ascot in England.

Not only do we hear little Australian news in this country, we hardly know what’s going on in Canada, with whom we share a border from sea to shining sea. What’s up with that? I love Canada! I want more Canadian news!

Please remember that Aaron Stander will be at Dog Ears Books this coming Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. I’ve read all six of his Sheriff Ray Elkins mystery and agree with Elizabeth Buzzelli that this latest one is the best yet.

But before that, it’s Thanksgiving in only three days, and that’s where all our minds are focused. So many blessings, even in the midst of anxieties and concerns. Family, friends, books, dogs, woods, fields, and lakeshore. Love and friendship. Intellectual stimulation and pleasures of the senses. Opportunities to help and give comfort to others. Knowing and remembering that giving as well as receiving is a gift. Soup to nuts. The whole nine yards. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!