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Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Much Time Do I Have?

“How do you find the time to keep up a blog?” one friend inquires. Another asks, “Where do you find time to make jelly? To draw? To read so many books?” I answer, seriously, that I make the time by not doing housework, and that’s pretty true most of the time. Of course, with that kind of management plan—if I can call it such--when David and I have company coming, we both rush around in a frenzy, trying to make up for “lost time,” i.e., time we’ve “lost” by living in our creative moments as much as possible rather than attending to the daily maintenance tasks that would make our panicky bursts of housework unnecessary.

Other people live differently. Some find time for creativity by keeping themselves organized on a daily basis and keeping their lives orderly hour by hour. Better? Different. There is more than one way to live creatively. Is our way more stressful? Would we make life easier for ourselves if we were different? Well, the thing is, we’re not different kinds of people. We are who we are.

When I was in graduate school, my fellow students were shocked to learn that I typically went to bed at 8 or 9 p.m. and slept soundly while they were burning the midnight oil and grinding on into the early hours of the new (still dark) day. They, however, slept until noon! I started the semester by setting my alarm for 6 a.m., and as time went by, and I was tired earlier in the evening and went to bed sooner, I found myself waking and getting up and at my books at 5 o’clock, then 4, then 3 a.m. My fellow students and I were working the same number of hours—just different hours. Up at five o’clock this dark fall morning, I’ve got a load of laundry going while working on this new blog post. The quiet time before sunrise when the rest of the world (even Sarah) is still asleep feels delicious, as well as productive. And no, I don't set an alarm clock. Only did that when I was teaching.

I don’t know anyone on earth who has more or less than 24 hours a day to live, do you? Some of us have to make a living within the 24-hour timeframe, and “taking care of business” means fewer unstructured hours, but the richest person on earth still has only 24 a day and can’t buy more. And how many days does anyone have? No one ever knows.
...But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near...

- Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
Another friend, whenever I see her, always apologizes for not reading my blog more often. I wish she would stop, because this is one of the many things I like about blogging: unlike telephone calls or e-mail or texting (I don’t do that last and had to restrain my typing fingers, the conservative linguistic little rascals: they wanted to put scare quotes around the word!), blogging is completely noninvasive. It doesn’t make demands. It’s just “out there,” to be visited if and when anyone cares to visit. You are not asked to hit a “like” button. There is no obligation at all.

On the other hand, as the Meg Ryan character said of her bookstore in the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” this blog is “personal,” a representation not only of my bookstore but also (because my bookstore is way more than a job) my life—my concerns, opinions, values, and how I choose to spend my time. It’s no secret that I make time for reading, and since I have a bookstore, now in its 20th year, my love and work regularly come together. Enough of my friends also love books that I hope they’re interested enough to drop in now and then to read about books I’ve found worthwhile. (And yes, my stories, too.) But whether you’re a regular follower or just dropped in today for the first time, whether you know my physical bookstore in Northport or live in a faraway country on the other side of the globe, thank you for visiting and reading! These mysterious, invisible encounters warm my heart.
“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” 
– Film: “Back to the Future”
The recommended book this week is My Grandfather’s Blessings. To learn a little bit more, follow this link. To pick up the book, page through it, and talk to me about it, stop by 106 Waukazoo Street.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Final Visit to the Burger Shack

[If you haven't read the nine preceding stories, you will find them on one of my pages in the right-hand column. This final story will only have its full effect if you read the other stories first and know who the characters are--although, believe it or not, I had not even thought of Ryan and Suzie or a story like this until the other nine were all written, and when I started writing this one I had no idea it would bring in the others. The question is, does it work? Let me know.]

Success Story©

      Ryan and Suzie always made it work, in more ways than one. As script doctors, the Mackenzies were good at what they did. As a couple, they had more fun than most.

Here’s how it is. No screenplay gets to the big screen unchanged. That’s a simple fact of life. So after everyone had put a finger in, after all the would-be cooks had added their odd bits to the broth, stirring and seasoning it into a total hash that wouldn’t hold together on a plate, that’s where Ryan and Suzie entered the scene. They were the ambulance team, if you will, arriving to put everyone and everything back together so the cameras could finally roll. They never said “No,” and they never said “can’t.” They listened, they worked, they got paid.

      Now it was their turn.

      What script doctor doesn’t want to be an original writer? This pair had talked through many screenplay ideas over the course of their marriage. They would fall into it naturally, right after finishing a rewrite, to sweep their minds clear, or late at night on vacation or, later, on the road going to visit the kids at college. One of them would begin with a character or a scene or a bit of dialogue, and give it to the other, and in the back-and-forth that followed their own ideas flowed and built, along with their enthusiasm. It was such fun! “Someday,” they told each other, “we’ll make our own movie.”

      Well, now “someday” had arrived. They had put away enough to form their own small production company and finance a year away from other jobs. They had given themselves that whole year to write the screenplay, and when they were happy with it, they would try to raise money to make the picture, but any doctoring of the script, at any point along the way, would be theirs. If the first picture wasn’t a complete flop, maybe they would make a second, but right now they weren’t looking any further ahead than their first independent film, and here they are, far from Hollywood, hunkered down in Rocket’s, nearing the end of their first draft.

      “So we’ve got everyone here in the same neighborhood. Recap?” Ryan gave Suzie an expectant look.

      She looked down at her notes and began. “Becky, the girl who works the counter, is there, at work. Cheryl, the mother-grandmother, is hanging out by the counter, talking to Becky and watching out the window for the school bus, and her husband is still sitting in a booth, talking nonstop to some stranger. (Doesn’t matter who. We don’t even need to see the other person.) The little dog isn’t in sight yet, and neither is the school bus. Kelly and her kids are getting ready to leave, and Eva and Frank Hayes are having another cup of coffee.

“Bob, the fat man, is out in the parking lot, squeezing into his car. Joe and the other boys are walking along the highway in the direction of the gated community—that is, right to left onscreen.

“Wes, we’ve got him coming out of Eleanor’s fan showroom across the highway, the little showroom in front of the manufacturing plant. And Mallory, of course, has vaporized.” Suzie paused and frowned. “Can we really do that? Does it fit with the other stories we’re weaving together? Just because we came up with him first doesn’t mean we need to keep him, you know.”

Ryan nodded. “I know. He doesn’t really interact with anyone else, does he? He was really a trial run to get us into the location. Yeah, we might have to write him out—but let’s not worry about him now. What about Eva, though? We’re keeping her?”

Suzie flipped through the pages of the long yellow legal pad in front of her. “She’s still weak. Not her as a character—she’s a strong character--but her story is weak.”

The two of them turned to stare out the window, Ryan gazing across the highway and Suzie’s eyes sweeping the parking lot, both of them looking at cars, imagining Eva and trying to think of a complication to punch up her part. Ryan tried to think what kind of car Eva was driving. Then, where was she going next, and why? They had written out the scene at the house for sale, after deciding on the big car crash in front of Rocket’s.

“If Joe isn’t going to get to the house,” she said now, hesitantly, thinking out loud, “do we even need Eva? Their paths won’t cross.”

Ryan’s eyebrows went up. “Do you want to try it without her?”

“Well, we don’t want to waste time right now on a character we might not use in the final version. She can always go back in. Agreed?”

“I like her, though,” Ryan objected.

“Well, you liked the woman who vaporized Mallory, too, and we didn’t do anything more with her!” That female character had been entirely Ryan’s invention. Suzie had thought all along that the ending to Mallory’s segment was wrong for the movie.

Ryan winked and laughed. “Maybe we should bring her back! Maybe we should lose Red Ice Eva and get back to the Bombshell in Black!” Then he stopped himself. “Nah, nah, nah! Not now! We’re getting distracted. Huh? Okay, I’m getting distracted! We need to get this big scene pulled together. Mallory and Eva are on probation, and everyone else is in. So run it down again?”

“We’ve got the Bob, the fat man in the parking lot, Wes across the highway, the boys walking along the side of the road, and everyone else in the Burger Shack. The boys are going in the opposite direction they usually go to get their school bus. The bus for the little kids will come from the right, from the direction of the expressway--.”

“Is this confusing? Joe’s little brothers and sisters didn’t take a school bus, and up to now we only had high school kids on a bus.”

“I know! Make this a private school bus! Like, from a church school.”

“Jenny can afford to send her kids to private school?”

“No, that doesn’t work, does it?”

“Never mind. How about this? The kids are going on a field trip--.”

“No, we’ve established that Cheryl has been watching the school buses for days.”

They fell silent, looking around and out the windows, looking and reflecting on the scene.

“So maybe we need to go back and have Joe’s brothers and sisters get on a school bus, too? It could come a little before the high school bus. Maybe Cheryl notices that Joe and his buddies are going in the wrong direction and that they missed their bus on this particular morning.”

“Do we need to have her notice that?”

“It emphasizes the way she’s been taking in everything that happens every morning around the Burger Shack. Remember, she’s the one who’s most aware of her surroundings. Hyper-aware.”

“True. Okay.”

Ryan: So everyone’s in place for the big crash scene.

Suzie: Establishing shot coming in from the highway. Then we move in on each character and smaller part of the scene, one at a time.

Ryan: Dog first or bus?

Suzie: Dog, I think. Trotting along the side of the fan factory, opposite Burger Shack, Stopping to sniff. Takes a pee. Then bus but only from exterior. Kids’ faces in the window. Driver has a cup of coffee.

Ryan: It’s a sunny morning.

Suzie: It’s a sunny morning. Joe and Miguel and Ed and Diego are boppin’ along the highway, headed away from our focal center. Here they are, here’s Wes, here’s the dog. [Draws a diagram for Ryan to look at.]

Ryan: The grade school bus is still coming from our left.

Suzie: Sound?

Ryan: Muted. Muted conversation inside the Burger Shack, muted traffic noise outside.

Suzie: A little --muted bird sounds?

Ryan: Good! The boys are walking in the same direction the bus is traveling, but they’re on the other side of the highway. Won’t they be too far--?

Suzie: For the bus, yes. But okay, the dog runs out, the bus driver brakes suddenly and loses control--.

Ryan: The bus veers into the opposite lane, and traffic scatters, and the cars behind the bus--.

Suzie: Yes. And the ones coming from the other direction, too.

Ryan: --The other drivers all react in panic and set off a chain reaction. That’s when one of the cars--. Or maybe a truck! Better yet!

Suzie: The truck driver hasn’t seen the boys, and he tries to pull off the road to avoid the bus.

Ryan: Wouldn’t they be killed? The truck would hit them.

Suzie: They don’t have to be killed. Say it isn’t a semi, just a small delivery truck. The audience will see the truck go off the road and expect the boys to be killed, but they don’t need to be, remember? It’s just one of those unplanned, freakish ways that Fate intervenes. Joe thought the worst thing that could happen to him was being picked up and put in a foster home after his parents were deported, but without this accident to stop him he was headed for something a lot worse.

Ryan: [His voice dissatisfied] It still feels contrived. Joe is saved by Fate before he can commit B&E, Cheryl is stopped and doesn’t  kidnap her grandkids, Bob gets to be a little hero (well, a big hero!), and the dog will  probably be licking little kids’ faces as they tumble out of the bus, all unharmed. Why don’t we just have the Hand of God reach down from the sky?

Suzie: [irritably] Kelly is still pregnant, Wes still has two wives, Eva hasn’t figured out what to do with Frank Hayes yet, and Bob is still fat! Some lives are changed, some aren’t. What’s so unbelievable about that?

Ryan: And you don’t even want the dog killed?

Suzie: Audiences don’t like seeing dogs killed. You kill a dog in a movie, and it goes one of two ways, noir or melodrama. Now we can’t suddenly shift into noir at the climax of the film, and we were never aiming at melodrama. I mean, cue the strings! I don’t think so! This movie is about ordinary people and the small events that turn their lives in one direction or another. And anyway, if the bus driver were just going to hit the dog he wouldn’t have--.

Ryan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay.

Suzie: But what about Bob making the 9-1-1 call? Wouldn’t Wes be the quick thinker?

Ryan: Seeing the school bus, all the kids, puts Wes into kind of a trance. Kids are his soft spot, his Achilles’ heel.

Suzie: But Eleanor’s kids—

Ryan: --Aren’t on that bus, no. Her business is here, not her home. No, but Wes, he’s got a lot on his mind.

Suzie: And Bob, he’s getting to his car, anticipating the highway, looking ahead, but he’s not in yet, and he looks up.

Ryan: So here we are. And this scene is so important! We need to make the smashup feel realistic and important but not a cliché.

Suzie: Right. So this is where we get close-up shots, with no sound, of all those little details. That’s what people always say they remember from these events.

Ryan: But first, the scream.

Suzie: Yeah. Cheryl is talking to Becky, but she’s watching the highway at the same time, and she sees the bus, and she sees the little dog, and she screams!

Ryan: And the scream is like the switch that turns off all the sound. And, and, and while she’s screaming—silently now—we see everything Cheryl sees, the whole scene through the front window of Rocket’s.

Suzie [eagerly]: Then! Farthest away, first. Becky?

Ryan: Sees Cheryl screaming, the bus sliding.

Suzie: Frank Hayes.

Ryan: Sees a little sports car flying toward the Rocket’s sign, about to crash. Eva?

Suzie: Eva hears Cheryl screaming and looks up at Cheryl, then down at the chrome napkin holder, where she sees a reflection of the school bus turning over.

Ryan: That’s good. How about having Cheryl’s husband oblivious to the crash?

Suzie: Yes, I think he would be. He’d be rushing toward his wife, stumbling over anything in his way.

Ryan: Kelly and her kids. This one’ll be hard.

Suzie. Yeah, it’s not really one but three. Justin, I think, will see tires rolling in all directions.

Ryan: Tires?

Suzie: I just thought of it. But I guess there wouldn’t be tires flying off all the crashing cars and bus and stuff, so how about the truck we talked about, having that carrying a load of old tires?

Ryan: Sure. And you’re right, that’s just the kind of thing that would grab Justin’s attention.

Suzie: So what about Robert and Kelly, the mom?

Ryan [with a shrug]: Kelly can’t see anything but kids’ faces in the bus windows. Robert, now. How about if he just sees his mother’s face. He’s never seen that look of shock on her face before, and it affects him so powerfully he can’t look away. In fact, he sees only her eyes and knows that she doesn’t see him at all. It might be hard to get across.

Suzie (admiringly): That’s great! We can do it! And that’s everyone inside.

Ryan: Bob has his car door open, but he sees the accident before it happens. He grabs for his cell the instant the bus leaves its lane. He’s already talking—we don’t hear him, but we see him on the phone--.

Suzie: Then he sees.... I know! Can he see kids’ backpacks landing on the side of the road? No, that’s too obvious. –Oh, this is good! One little girl’s bright yellow beret!

Ryan: I don’t get it.

Suzie: That’s because we have to go back into his story--.

Ryan: The girl at the party!

Suzie: Wes?

Ryan: Okay, this is weird, but how about if Wes sees a plane overhead. He’s in his trance, and way up over the whole scene is this jet, almost too small to see.

Suzie (nodding): Because he’s caught up in his own web of deceit and wants out of it. Okay, Joe’s our last one. What does Joe see?

Ryan: Everything happened so fast he didn’t take in any of it until he’s on the ground, his leg broken, and he sees the two keys on the ground, just out of his reach.

Suzie: So he couldn’t have put them in his jeans pocket, or they wouldn’t--.

Ryan: Right. He had to put them in his jacket pocket. Now his jacket is torn half-off him, and the keys are on the ground, and that’s all he can see before he closes his eyes.

Suzie: And as he closes his eyes the screen goes black.

A brief silence ensues.

Ryan: But you don’t want to stop right there?

Suzie: We’ve discussed this a hundred times. It’s what action movies do nowadays. The only dénouement is the silence after the gunshots. No! Again, like the dog thing, that’s not what we’re doing!

Ryan: Agreed, agreed. I don’t think it’s quite the same, though.

Suzie (reluctantly): It isn’t the same, I grant you that. We could end there. But how about if we talk through a different ending and then decide?

Ryan: What we talked about before was having a series of very, very short scenes set later the same day. If we do it that way, I’d like to see each one pushed aside by the next, sort of like the audience is waiting at a railroad crossing and watching a passenger train go by. Each car is replaced by the next, with people in the windows they glimpse for a moment and will never see again. [Suzie smiles, amused.] I know, passenger trains, part of the past! Look it as an homage to passenger trains. I think it works.

Suzie (still smiling): I think it works, too. Well, then, how about if we go backwards? Start with Joe, the last character we saw in the crash scene?

Ryan: Easy! He’s in a hospital bed with his aunt and uncle at his bedside, telling him it was always arranged for them to take the kids if anything happened to their parents. Push.

Suzie: Wes?

Ryan: Nah, nah, the backwards thing doesn’t work here. We need to save Wes for last.

Suzie: Or next to last.

Ryan: Right. Bob!

Suzie: Alone in his dining room at home, his high school yearbook on the table in front of him. Kelly and her family?

Ryan: I’m giving you this one. It’s your feel-good scene!

Suzie: Well, doesn’t it make sense? Those children’s lives, so fragile? She can’t get the scene out of her mind, and suddenly she’s sure it’s a girl child she’s carrying--.

Ryan: We can’t see her thoughts. What does she do? What does she say?

Suzie: She kisses her husband good-by as he’s leaving for work, and she clutches at the front of his shirt, pulling him back again when he pulls away to leave, and she says--.

Ryan: “Didn’t you once say you wanted a daughter?”

Suzie: Cheryl and her husband are in their motor home. They don’t look at each other. They’re not talking. The husband is the one looking at the map.

Ryan: Significant. Eva—let’s have her out with friends.

Suzie: Right. Center of attention, telling the story of the crash. Becky can be lying on her bed, staring up at the ceiling.

Ryan: Now Wes. We see him in the boarding area at an airport. We don’t know where he’s going, but he’s dressed differently.

Suzie: How?

Ryan: I don’t know yet. I don’t know where he’s going. Finally--?

Suzie: The little dog took off when the crash occurred. He ran—to the woods or the expressway? Out to the country. We see him trotting along a dirt road, looking purposeful, stopping here and there to sniff and pee.

Ryan: Camera rolls back. Credits.

They look at each other and say together: We’ve got a movie!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Warning: Another Burst of Enthusiasm Coming Your Way

Cricket and Sarah--Together Again

There’s one thing you’ll never hear me say, and that’s “Oh, you have to read [whatever]!” No, there is nothing you “have to read,” as far as I’m concerned. My recommendations are for books I found worth reading, and you can take them or leave them without offending me.

Recently I fell upon a used hardcover copy of a book that I could hardly put down until I’d read through to the end, and immediately I sat down to make out a book order including several copies of the paperback edition. My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, by Naomi Rachel Remen, is a collection of stories from a medical doctor who counsels patients and families dealing with chronical and terminal illness. Much of her wisdom she received early in life from the grandfather who died when she was seven years old. How lucky Rachel was to have such a grandfather! How lucky the rest of us are that she has shared him with us! But that is only the beginning. She also learned from her own chronic illness and from the illnesses and losses and grief of many people she met over the years in her practice, and all of this feels very important to me right now.

You see, my bookstore is in a small village, and in a place like this, with a large population of retirees, there are always familiar names on the community prayer list. Often the obituaries in the county newspaper are for, if not friends, family or friends of friends. Another timely coincidence came when Kathy Drue over at Lake Superior Spirit posted some thoughts on grief that I read when halfway through Remen’s book. My only problem is—where to begin? I want to quote the entire book! Every short chapter (some only two pages), every page, every paragraph, every story and observation is a gem.

Early in her first few chapters, the author makes the observation that we are given many more blessings than we receive. What? I had to read the sentence several times over before continuing. Family, friends, strangers, nature—all offer us blessings on a daily basis that we may be too distracted to notice, let alone open our hearts to receive. Sometimes we realize and acknowledge and are grateful in retrospect, and it is then that we have truly received the blessing. So it may seem paradoxical that Remen believes blessings are not something “given” by one person to another, but as she sees them, they are not “help,” nor do they “fix” problems. Being blessed has more to do with being seen in one’s most essential goodness and wholeness.

Does all this sound vague and uncomfortably touchy-feely? Are you put off by it? Many of Remen’s medical colleagues over the years have been resistant, but those who opened broke through their resistance found the rewards priceless. Where to begin?

Well, there’s only one way I can think to resolve the what-to-quote question, and that is to quote nothing. My decision is very deliberate. I opened this book and read through it never knowing what the next page would bring. I had the joy of discovery, sentence after sentence. Why would I deny that joy to other readers? It would be a different kind of joy to talk about the book’s stories with people after they’ve read it, and our own stories would quickly come into the conversation. Already I imagine very meaningful discussions.

Have I piqued your interest? And how do you relate the two dogs to a discussion of blessings?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Point, Place, and Parade (One of Each)

This is the third and will be the last installment of my 2012 vacation chronicles. (What is that sound? A collective sigh of relief?) Do you remember the definition of a geometrical point? It has location but does not take up space, as I recall. Some very small towns on two-lane highways feel almost like points rather than places, as if you could be at a named point without being in an actual place, because the town itself seems to take up no space. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration, since the smallest country store or post office or gas station covers a certain amount of surface area, but you know what I mean, right?

And yet the geographical town I’m calling a point has, in addition to surface area on the earth, a historical past, as is evident to anyone with eyes open. This old former school building did not pop up overnight. Besides, any town on the old railroad, lying not far south of the forested Lake Superior shore, would have been a lively place a hundred years ago.

Even these days, Shingleton, Michigan, is lively in its own small way. There are families at work in their gardens, young people on bicycles, and chickens in backyards. The automotive repair shop (which we came to know well this year) does an extremely good business (and good work, too). 

There’s a restaurant where you can relax with a hot pasty or a full dinner while your vehicle is being worked on. An interesting Up North feature of the restaurant is what I learned years ago to call a “Russian” heating system: wood is burned a furnace some distance from building and ducted in underground. To my mind, this is a very attractive method of heating with wood, as the danger of fire and the smoke smell are pretty much eliminated from the building you want to heat. In this case, it was also pointed out to me that since the wood furnace also heats all the restaurant’s water, not having the heating system in the restaurant means not adding unnecessary heat—restaurant kitchens get hot enough--to the building in summer.

Marquette, home of Northern Michigan University, is a town in another league altogether. It is the Ann Arbor of the Upper Peninsula, the amenities of sophisticated urban life housed in old historic buildings. For me, no trip to Marquette would be complete without a visit to Snowbound Books. Coming back to our designated rendez-vous spot, I shot a few architecture photographs, never guessing that David was watching me from a bay window above the old movie theatre. Wonder what the future of that theatre building will be.

One year we made our return trip from vacation on a Sunday and happened on the last of the big semi-trailer trucks on display along the main street of St. Ignace. We were too early to see most of the big trucks this year, but when we detoured into the downtown for lunch at Bentley’s Cafe we were surprised—and I was delighted beyond measure—to happen on a long, long parade of “antique” farm tractors. 

I used scare quotes above because only a small percentage of the tractors appeared “antique” to my eyes—something to do with my age? Still, all major American makes were represented, and the parade (which, oddly, was taking place in a distracting manner alongside normal road traffic) went on and on and on. After escaping traffic and parking the truck, we scored the window table at Bentley’s and had a ringside seat for the rest of the long parade.

What more could a returning pair of vacationers ask? Memorably delicious sandwiches (I highly recommend the B-n-N whitefish) with hot, crispy potato chips thinner than any I’ve ever had before in my life, and, under a sunny, blue sky over the Straits of Mackinac, a parade of tractors! The scene could only have been improved if (1) there had been only tractors and no cars going by; and (2) if there had been a few horses in the parade. But those are only observations, not complaints. 

Maybe "near-perfect" makes for the best souvenirs, life presenting itself directly rather than being represented in ideal (and therefore unrealistic) form.  A tractor parade was certainly a welcome change from personal automotive crisis.

And now it's back to the books!

Monday, September 17, 2012

September Dreaming

Agate Beach, Grand Marais, Michigan 
“What do you do up there?” people sometimes ask when they hear we’re going to the U.P. again. We are not summer campers or winter snowmobilers, so how do we pass the time on vacation? Basically, we walk and talk, drive and look, read, draw, dream, and share our dreams. Obviously, one of the places we walk is on the shore of Lake Superior. Wind gusts, breakers crash and pound, and beautiful stones are tumbled about with each succeeding wave.

Looking west
Looking east
When we’ve had enough of exciting wind and waves, we retreat up the beach to behind the treeline. One morning found us at a sheltered picnic table, David with his book and I with my sketchpad. Another day it was old fishing boats that had us dreaming. Arbutus used to fish out of Naubinway, but it was Vagabond that stirred David’s imagination this year. While I was busy with my camera, David was mentally refitting a fish tug to serve as a live-aboard studio cruiser.


H-58 between Grand Marais and Munising is a paved road now, and we have mixed feelings about that. It’s much easier on vehicles and drivers. On the other hand, one no longer has the general feeling of traveling through and into the past--except that this year, during a “pit stop” for Sarah in an old, logged-over area, I stumbled upon something I’d never seen before. 

How, in the old days, did you “get your bearings” in the trackless forest? Here’s how:

That made my day! Of course, there's a lot more to the story, and here is just a sample:
Bearing trees are a special kind of witness tree which the surveyors notched, blazed, and scribed in a standard way to facilitate the relocation of the survey corner should the wooden corner post or corner stone be lost or moved. The surveyor was required to note for each bearing tree: 1) its type (~species), 2) its diameter, 3) its distance to the corner, and 4) its azimuth or “bearing” from the corner and hence its applied name. These are the actual data associated with an individual bearing tree that ecologists use. Witness tree is a broader term that includes trees that were marked on line or near the corner, generally without the required distance and bearing notes required of a true bearing tree. Thus true bearing trees, line trees, and generic witness trees were distinguished in the field with appropriate inscriptions (BT, LT, WT respectively) and are distinguished in the notes as well. Bearing trees were required at both the standard corners of the rectangular survey grid and at points on the survey lines where the surveyors were forced to meander around impassable areas such as lakes .  The NHIS Bearing Tree Database Contains only records of true bearing trees at the standard survey corners

For the rest, go to the Minnesota site where I found the information above. Sorry I could not find anything directly bearing on Michigan's current data collection project. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Not Exactly the Vacation We Had Planned

Our peaceful destination
Slower pace
Grand Marais in Alger County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, our getaway home-away-from-home, is usually a quiet, peaceful place in September. We head up over the Mackinac Bridge as soon as possible after Labor Day (not on Labor Day, when the Bridge is open to pedestrian traffic, and anyone who wants the five-mile adventure can walk over the Straits of Mackinac, while motorists turn off their engines and wait for the walk to end), and on the shore of the beautiful little harbor we sigh deep sighs of contentment at the prospect of doing very little for a few days other than lazily enjoying ourselves. 

Tranquil views
For us it’s the quiet at the end of the road, the peace at the edge of the world--not, of course, for the people working hard to make a living there, but we understand that, too, for we work all summer in a tourist area that others visit on vacation. But September is our turn. So this year, as usual, we looked forward to walking the quiet streets and alleys of our part-time adopted hometown and driving around to other favorite U.P. haunts, maybe, we thought, as far as Copper Harbor to visit old friends up past Ahmeek. That was our plan.

Our first surprise was that Grand Marais was anything but quiet and peaceful this year. The new breakwall project in the harbor had huge double-bottomed tractor-trailer trucks rolling into town hour after hour, and there were cranes and piles of giant rocks on land, barges and working tugboats in the water. Coast Guard Point, where we typically go with books and morning coffee, was overrun with activity, except on Sunday, when the crews took a day of rest.

The other big project in process was the installation of new village water mains, which had streets and alleys torn up and heavy machinery moving around for twelve hours a day. Bulldozers, loaders, buckets, graders, diggers, pavers--you name it. 

The land project was being done by Elmer’s from Traverse City, and we talked to a couple of workers hailing from Kingsley, too, all glad of the work. The people of Grand Marais were happy with the job being done, too, so that was all good. It wasn’t quiet, but we adjusted our expectations. Not for nothing had I been boning up on Buddhism and David immersing himself in the Tao Te Ching!

The other surprise required a bigger adjustment and called on all the Eastern wisdom we could muster up when, on the day after our arrival, our truck began to emit terrible loud noises from the rear end, threatening—at least, so it seemed—to fall apart then and there! Luckily, this had not happened the day before, in the pouring rain and thundering hail, on the two-track far from our destination, where we had taken refuge from a highway no longer visible in the storm, and, also luckily, we have friends in Grand Marais, and our friends have friends and connections, and although the garage 25 miles away couldn’t promise to look at the truck for a full week, another one 50 miles away in Shingleton said they would send someone for it, haul it to their place, and get right to work. They also provided us with a loaner, a pickup truck bigger and badder than ours, so that we looked local as hell.

We look like we belong there
We big! We bad!
So we didn’t get to Copper Harbor, but our vacation was not a disaster, either. It was unexpectedly expensive and shorter and more constrained than had been the plan, but there were beautiful days—brilliant sunrises and softer, pastel, cloudy mornings.

Morning before vehicle crisis--beautiful!

Morning after--still beautiful!
There was lunch at the West Bay Diner with Kalamazoo friends staying on Muskallonge Lake. Do you recognize anyone in these pictures?

New friends greet
Old friends meet
One of them (top photo, far right) is novelist Joseph Heywood, author of the “Woods Cop” mysteries, and I would have liked to have a picture of him with our diner hostess, author Ellen Airgood, but she was too busy and tired to have her picture taken.

There were visits with dog friends old and new. Here is old Hailey, who was young and frisky back when we had our Nikki and they romped together on the beach.

There were walks on the Lake Superior beach for us and strolls around town, an afternoon on Sable Lake (I went for a swim while David and Sarah waited onshore), an excursion to School Forest, a couple of drives to Munising (stopping at the garage in Shingleton on the way) and one trip as far as Marquette—but more another day, with more pictures.

Windy Tuesday on Sable Lake
Someone asked if I read books on vacation and yes, I read three: a novel called The Lost Dog, by Australian writer Michelle de Kretser; a book by philosopher Richard Rorty called Achieving Our Country; and Loren Eiseley’s haunting memoir, The Strange Hours.

There are always windfall apples in September
And we did get our truck back. Well, in a way. Actually, I think of what we drove home as our new truck. It looks like the old one on the outside, but we have receipts to show how many of its inner components have been replaced, including the engine. So, odometer mileage? Not the whole story, by a long shot. I expect my old-new truck to run forever now. 

Atop post office, Grand Marais
Still to come: A walk on Lake Superior, a drive on an old road, an excursion to School Forest, dreaming over old boats, visits to Shingleton and Marquette, and a parade of farm tractors in St. Ignace.