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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Dear Friends, Nearby and Faraway

Moist, misty, marvelous
Saturday morning is here, overcast, softly rainy, still, and with this rain, my freshly mown grass will need mowing again in a couple of days. It might have needed mowing that soon, anyway, of course, since spring is when grass grows most wildly after its long winter sleep, but at least I am saved by the weather from trying to mow this morning the last areas we haven’t gotten to yet. I can use a little break. I am trusting the rain to soak my straw bales this morning, too (on days two, four, and six of their conditioning cycle, they don’t get fertilizer, only water), so that’s another chore not needing to be addressed immediately.

Some of Thursday's progress
The other day at a local coffee shop, the barista asked in the course of our conversation, after I’d admitted having spent the winter in Arizona, “So you come here for the summer?” Come here for the summer? Like a summer person? “No, we live here,” I  said gently, “but some winters we go away.” The way I figure, it’s about one in three winters we’ve been gone, two winters out of three we’ve toughed it out in the farmhouse. One way we rationalized going away is that we generally save money by living somewhere else when the snow is flying in Michigan. One January plow bill of $1,000, added to heating costs, convinced of that. But I will admit that, much as I have loved winters for most of my life, much as I longed for years to go all the way to the Arctic — Michigan winter in those years was not challenging enough to my soul, despite paralyzing blizzards — I’ve reached a point in life where I love being warm. And not just any kind of warm, either: I love being in the sun.

“If you’re not careful, you’ll turn into a wrinkled old tortoise,” the Artist cautioned me. “And what about skin cancer?” he added, to strengthen his case. 

I told him I would be indoors, in the bookstore, all summer while “everyone else” (a slight exaggeration) would be at the beach, and those April days in the high desert were my substitute for summer days at the beach. No water, of course. No waves. No fresh-fishy smell of the Great Lakes. (I love that fresh-fishy smell!) But over the winter I grew to love the smell of dust and cows and was not pining to be anywhere but where I was. 

Home now in Michigan, outdoors yesterday morning, mowing and gardening, I thought at ten o’clock how warm the day would already be back in Cochise County, Arizona. It would be time, if not to seek shade, at least to stop working hard in the sun. One woman who grew up on a ranch told us she and her siblings had been rousted out of bed at three a.m. in the summer. Three o’clock was breakfast time, so they could get their work with the cows done before the heat of the summer day. There are ways around the limitations of climate, adaptations, and not all of them involve fuel oil or electricity. Rather than simply dash between heated houses and heated cars, winter in Michigan makes more sense with a lot of warm clothes, from good boots to earmuffs and mufflers, layers that make outdoor exercise possible. Enjoyable. Exciting! As for the desert, I have never been a fan (really — really, no pun intended!) of air conditioning, and there’s no air conditioning the range! So getting up in the dark to work and napping through the early afternoon makes sense to me. 

I won’t be doing a lot of napping this summer in Michigan. It’s the 25th anniversary year of my little Up North bookstore, and I’ll be focused on business and working every day. Since retirement is not an option for me, I’m fortunate to be still in good health and also to have the kind of work that, like farming, lets me be my own boss, even if “my boss” sometimes works me harder than I would like!

And so, the plan: I’d promised to be open by Memorial Day weekend, “if not sooner,” and so I will be, but I’m also going to have the bookshop open today, Saturday, May 19, with a — here’s the surprise — big one-day sale of everything in stock. I’ve got my flowers planted out front and made my first pass through the shop with broom and dustpan, and it’s too wet a day for you locals to stay home and mow your grass and plant your gardens, so come on down and see me on Waukazoo Street. Everything in stock, including all new books, will be 25% off today!

Thanks for the sidewalk comment, Erika!
One of the challenges of a bookstore, whether the business deals in new books or used or a combination of the two, is inventory control. Dear Prudy Meade of Leelanau Books told me that years ago, when I was just starting out, and I think of her often when I’m pruning my stock. Books have to go out to make way for other books to come in. Hence the periodic purging, and hence today’s sale. 

Faraway friends, I know you won’t be able to drop by in Northport today, but I appreciate having you drop by Books in Northport. It’s important for me to keep in contact with you, too. I live in Michigan. Michigan is my home. But Arizona, where we own no property and have no family, has somehow become my second home, a second heart home, and I miss all of you out there. So welcome to Michigan! You’ll get a good dose of it here on my blog, along with book and bookstore happenings. 

Another cup of coffee. Helen, thank you for the mug with first lines of well-known works of literature! It will keep you in my thoughts every morning!

Reminder to local Leelanau friends: Today only, Saturday, May 19, all books in stock, new and used, 25% off. Rainy days are excellent reading days!

From one bookseller to another: Good morning, Helen!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Back Home and Back tto Work

Michigan — lush, verdant, overflowing! Has there ever been a greener spring? To be fair, Missouri and Illinois greeted us with spring vistas on our way home, and earlier, even before leaving the southeast Arizona ghost town cabin where we spent the winter, hadn’t we been thrilled to see the mesquite sprout green leaves and to see — at last —and to smell — a chinaberry tree in bloom, a treat that had been eluding me, teasingly, for years? 

If only you could smell the blossoms, too!
Taking our leave of Willcox, Arizona, we followed Fort Grant Road, one last time, up to Bonita, turning onto that beautiful, beloved mountain road through the Stockton Pass to where it joins the highway to Safford, and to my delight, near the end of the twenty-mile stretch, staghorn cholla were blossoming. I didn’t dare look for wildflowers on the much more challenging mountain road between Globe and Apache Junction, because I was at the wheel, but before the day was over, we had reached Carefree, north of Phoenix, where towering saguaro was in flower. And then somehow, in what seemed no time at all, though we had stayed two nights with my friend in Carefree and cruised slowly and wonderingly through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, and though we whiled time away pleasantly in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and McLean, Texas, as if we had nothing but time and would never come to its end — somehow we found ourselves in Oklahoma, with green-leaved trees and choruses of singing birds greeting us at the state line. We have returned more than once to Santa Rosa and now have added to our list of “towns in which to spend more time in on future trips” Globe, Arizona, and Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

From Osage County courthouse steps lead downtown.
Missouri was beautiful. North from Cuba on narrow, winding, charming little state road 19, blossoming tree dogwood and spreading green colonies of mayapples along the way invited us to linger, but dogwood was delicately lovely in Springfield, Illinois, too. We had crossed the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers, and now came the Vermilion and the Kankakee as we made our way north through Illinois (staying four nights with family) to southern Michigan, where the dogwood was not fully open but already lovely and redbud clearly queen of the spring. Maybe once before in my life I’ve seen so many spectacular redbuds, but that was long ago. The St. Joseph River, our own little Paw Paw River, the still-beautiful Kalamazoo, despite what it has suffered: our way home to northern Michigan is always marked by rivers, and we cross each bridge as we come to it.

Northern Michigan does not have the dogwood of the southern woods of our state, and redbud trees Up North are few and far between, only one planted as a landscape accent, not clouds of them growing wild, so north of Grand Rapids that role was taken by pin cherry’s flowering branches. Mayapple colonies persisted as far north Newaygo County. As we drove north, it was as if we were traveling back in time to the beginning of spring, finding the season less advanced the nearer we approached home, as if held back for our return. We stopped along the Pine River to stretch our legs and delight in the warm, sunny day, to walk along flowing water — our feet releasing a heady, familiar perfume from pine needles underfoot — and to take deep, happy breaths of Michigan air.

This historical marker is worth reading.
 And finally came, of course, welcome glimpses of trillium in the grass at the edges of second- and third-growth woodland.

Home at last, having imagined knee-high grass in the yard, we were pleasantly surprised to find it not yet terribly out of control … to find daffodils blooming … to realize we had not missed cherry and apple blossom time, after all. One neighbor’s apricot tree, the first to flower on the highway between our place and Northport, held its pretty flowers against the blue sky, but most of the orchards at our northern end of Leelanau County had yet to blossom and are only just now coming into their brief seasonal glory.

The last book we had been reading aloud at bedtime, John Hildebrand’s Mapping the Farm: The Chronicle of a Family, had brought us from Arizona back to Michigan: the story ends in springtime, with plans to put in crops for another year. We came home to find the straw bales for the modest garden I’ll have this year ready to be wrestled into place, and I got them positioned the very next day, because even without livestock or field crops, our country life and village businesses make heavy demands on available time and energy, especially as the latter quantity seems to decrease significantly each year. 

But we are home again and back to work after a winter of leisure, and Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, and there is much to do between now and then — planning, mowing, planning, cleaning. In Northport I’ll be weeding out storage areas and ordering new books for the shop. Expect many announcements in the weeks ahead, the first of which you’ll find here. Just don’t expect a new post every day, because even my to-do list, as I told a friend yesterday, has to-do lists of its own right now, and when it’s too dark to mow grass, I’ll be reading Rachel May’s An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery until my eyes cannot remain open one more minute.

The bookstore will definitely be open Memorial Day weekend. If I can get enough done by this Saturday, I'll put out the OPEN flag. Time will tell....

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Traveling Around Home — Any Takers?

They do things a little differently in other places
My sister handed me a book the other day that she thought I might enjoy and/or add to my used inventory at Dog Ears Books. The title is Bucket List Adventures: 10 Incredible Journeys to Experience Before You Die (I always think that’s the best time to do things, don’t you?), and while as I turned pages, I realized that author Annette White’s idea of travel adventures was much more ambitious than my own — Tokyo, Costa Rica, Jordan, etc. — some of her ideas on how to travel struck a chord with me. For instance, this section heading, “Immerse Yourself in the Culture.” 

When many arrive to a foreign destination they make the mistake of visiting without ever really leaving their own world. They choose the route of being a tourist looking from the outside in. … They are spectators…. 

… The deepest travel happens when you integrate into a community by actively participating, opening yourself to interact with the locals, and understanding the way they live. This can be as easy as actively participating in their rituals, eating traditional dishes from the region, or learning the history that makes the city [sic] what it is today. 

White has much more to say on the subject, but that was enough to get me thinking. I thought about eating octopus seviche in the Yucatan, trying cheese on my grits in Savannah, cheering the junior rodeo contestants in Willcox, AZ, and walking in the washes of Dos Cabezas with a ghost town neighbor. If you’ve followed Books in Northport this past winter, you know we made many good friends in Dos Cabezas, but even three years ago, as strangers, we made it a point of to explore the whole of Cochise County and to learn about its history and natural history, as well as attending public events from art shows to rodeos.

Letting down personal barriers, going beyond one’s own cultural comfort zone, meeting strangers on their own ground and on their own terms, listening and learning and looking to understand — it doesn't have to be as big a deal as crossing a swinging rope bridge over a yawning chasm.

Let me address the simple grits with cheese in Savannah. How much simpler can travel get? The outdoor restaurant was busy that late morning, and our server had probably been running ragged for hours. He was formal and attentive but distant, just doing his job. He asked if I wanted cheese on my grits. Automatically I said no, then stopped and said, “Wait! Is it good that way? Do you recommend it?” He said yes, and so I said I’d try my grits with cheese. Such a small "adventure," hardly meriting the name, wouldn’t you say? As it turned out, I did enjoy grits with cheese. But the food was secondary to my happiness when I thanked the waiter for his recommendation and saw his face break into a smile for the first time. We had broken through to each other and, for a moment, connected. Even if I had hated cheese on my grits, I would have be glad to order my breakfast that way for the sake of the waiter’s smile.

During our ghost town winter, we met people who live very differently from the way we live in northern Michigan — those who carry guns on their hips (only one neighbor but a nice man), those who hunt (as do some of our Michigan friends, though we don’t), and those who are happy, for one reason or another, with the political direction our country is taking these days (which we, I admit, are not). I will emphasize that there is no more unanimity among Arizonans than there is among Michiganians. Nevertheless, we were on Arizona turf and not looking for arguments. We were the aliens, the strangers, visiting and trying to get to know another (diverse) culture. 

So now, looking back at the Southwest from the familiar Midwest, I wonder how it would be if more of us approached each other at home as if we were travelers in a new land, listening rather than arguing, trying to understand, extending a hand in goodwill rather than standing back with arms crossed tight against our chests. 

One of my winter projects in Arizona was studying Spanish, and for weeks I made good progress. Then an unexpected, though brief, hospitalization threw a monkey wrench into my routine, and I never did get back into it with the same discipline. No matter. I really did have enough of the language to order my Sonoran hot dog in Spanish. Only timidity held me back. Why? Why so timid, self? I was disappointed in myself. Finally, however, at the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a nice man stopped to admire Sarah and began speaking to her in Spanish. My opportunity! “Se llama Sarita,” I told him. His daughter’s name was Sarah. I admitted that ‘Sarah’ was my dog’s name, too. 

It was only a moment, like the waiter’s smile, but that moment made my day. Could we do more at home to make each other’s day? I’m going to try to keep that in mind over the season ahead. 

Dare to cross the bridge?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Stops and Thoughts Along Life's Roads

When our pack is on the road, obviously we don’t stop in every single little town along the way. That would be impossible even when if we always eschewed interstate routes and took nothing but two-lane highways, because what if there were a little town every 20 or 30 miles? It would take forever to travel just from Northport to Grand Rapids! But you know I am a big fan of both two-lane roads and small towns, and we’ve seen quite a few of them in the past several days.

From Arizona to Missouri (and beyond, but we’re only as far as Missouri at present), many towns bypassed by interstate highways and left to die on the vine beat the drum for old Route 66. After all, if they were on that old road, they’ve at least got that to spin, though it won’t bring enough business to revitalize all the boarded-up restaurants and abandoned, derelict motels once so lively with families on the move. Because the interstate wasn’t the only element of “progress” working against the little towns. Cars became faster and covered more miles a day. Motor homes became popular. When one era segues into another, changes don’t occur singly. Instead, each one brings on others, resulting in a landslide effect.

Willcox, Arizona, was passed by when I-10 came along, and the passenger train that roars through doesn't stop at Willcox any more, either. Most people never see more of Willcox than the gas stations and fast food joints at the interstate exchange. One of my friends from Tucson said that’s all she had ever seen, and I told her she must take Rex Allen Drive, old Hwy 186, to the “old town” across from Railway Park. There are four wineries with tasting rooms within walking distance of the park. There is a movie theatre. There are new shops this year that weren’t there three years ago. The Rex Allen Museum is worth a visit even if you’re not a fan of Western movies and draw a blank when someone says the name “Rex Allen” to you. And anyway (my ace), Willcox is, after all, the gateway to the Chiricahua National Monument! So slow down, stop, stay a while!

Then there is Santa Rosa, New Mexico. I’ve written about Santa Rosa before, too, so I won’t repeat everything I’ve written before. You can follow the link to read my take on Santa Rosa and/or go to the town’s website to see what they find noteworthy about themselves. 

While I don’t want to repeat myself too much, however, I have to say again (now that I’ve brought it up) how utterly charming I find Santa Rosa, and I’m pleased to report that this time around, to my great satisfaction, the Artist felt the magic, too. We drove around town, as we have developed the habit of doing (this is our third or fourth visit), admiring stone walls and adobe brick homes -- driving by one of my favorite little houses again, too -- and speculating on that. I commented that Santa Rosa, though obviously struggling economically, has all kinds of potential and a lot of already actualized lovely features. Besides its Route 66 history (which is, after all, hardly unique to Santa Rosa) and beautiful old civic buildings, the little town is naturally blessed with the Pecos River, El Rito Creek, spring-fed Park Lake, and the famous Blue Hole, an artesian well popular with serious divers and fun-loving families alike.

On this particular trip, we came through Santa Rosa on a warm, sunny day and found both Park Lake and the Blue Hole swarming with happy people. Both places were such a pleasant scenes, it was hard to tear ourselves away, and we have still never made it north of town to the Santa Rosa State Park, where the really big lake is. If we hadn’t been making our way east in a window of clear weather, following tornadoes the week before, the Artist said he would have liked to stay and spend a couple of days in Santa Rosa. “We’ll have to come back,” we said to each other. The next time I’ll have a bathing suit with me, for sure! And I hope we're there when the corner cafe on courthouse square will be open, because the old business was closed on our first visit, on our second time through (in January) we were a few days too early for the new Grand Opening, and this time we were there on the wrong day. But Santa Rosa, we shall return!

Back on the Big Road (sigh!), we made it all the way to McLean, Texas, by the end of our driving day. When we arrived there were no cars in the parking lot and a sign on the door telling us what phone number to call. "What if they don't take dogs?" I asked, then answered my own question: "They'd be fools to turn us away!" 

As it turned out, however, we got the last available room! A wedding party had booked the rest and would arrive after the reception. David asked if it would be a raucous evening but was told no, they were a religious family. And indeed, we had a calm, tranquil stay. 

What a sweet little place! The room was huge, towels enormous and soft and thick, and the in-room coffee pot made twelve full cups! We sat outside in the last light of the day and felt perfectly content. “This is perfect,” we agreed. 

In the morning we made our way downtown for breakfast, and we did find a restaurant open and started our day with a hearty meal. There was also another little combination cafe/store, a regular grocery store, one gas station, and a museum (not open on Sunday morning).

But oh, the empty storefronts! What a heartbreak! I remember Northport’s dark days and how woebegone everyone was, and it was nothing like this!

Before leaving, we bought gas in McLean, as we had in Santa Rosa, although we knew it would probably be cheaper at a big interstate exchange, because we wanted to do our part, and as we made our way down the road, we brainstormed ideas for revitalizing small towns across America. We had some good ideas, too. But I wonder. Are we dreaming of a past that will never live again, an America our grandchildren will never know? A place with vibrant small town life from coast to coast and border to border? I have a lot more to say and write on this subject, but now it's morning and time to get back on the road again.

Friday, May 4, 2018

So, So, SO Much to See!

My eyes were wide open from the day's start, when Sarah and I took a walk around Carefree, and I took note of blooming saguaro. Then my friend wanted to take us on a tour of Stagecoach Pass, where the houses are built right into the rocky side of Black Mountain. Holy cow! It’s as if people set about building houses in Cochise County’s Texas Canyon! The architects and builders must really know what they’re doing to do these jobs that look, on the surface, close to impossible. When we said good-bye to my dear friend (our lovely hostess), we left on the Carefree Highway west and then north on expressway in the direction of Flagstaff. 

Although on I-17 we found ourselves at elevations of between 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level -- a little scary -- we elected to stay on that road rather than leave it for Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. The latter is a beautiful drive, but we had already enjoyed it three years ago. Also, it’s so popular that there’s almost nowhere to slow down, let alone stop, on the winding two-lane road. And anyway, the views along the faster road were still spectacular, in a different way, in every direction. 

One thing we’d forgotten was snow-covered mountains north of Flagstaff, so when they appeared in front of us, we were as amazed as if we’d never seen them before. 

Flagstaff is at over 6,000 feet in elevation, and the San Francisco Peaks to the north top 12,000 feet.We were so mentally exhausted from the drive and the eye-popping views that it didn’t seem at all crazy to stop and get a motel at 2 p.m., and the view from our very reasonably priced motel room, as it turned out, was dramatic, too. 

After a little rest break, we set out to explore, because downtown Flagstaff is fascinating, too, with stunning old buildings and lively sidewalks and alleys.

 We peeked into galleries, perused restaurant menus posted on windows, and then --

Bingo! Old books! And the door (left) was open!

Proprietor Hugh Fogel, whose business card calls him 'Creative Director,' has owned Starrlight books only since September. (I didn't ask and haven't investigated but wonder if the former owner was named Starr) He has been told that summertime is "the season" in Flagstaff, but now in early May, Flagstaff is like Northport, Michigan, with chilly air wafting through fragrant pines and junipers, a time of anticipation for tourist town small business. Well I know that feeling!

Our book ardor, however, had not been cooled by the weather. The cool, high-altitude air was stimulating -- as I say, it felt like Michigan -- and we were stimulated as well by shelves and shelves of old books, with a few new ones mixed in. I bought half a dozen volumes, and the Artist and I will definitely return to Starrlight whenever we are back in Flagstaff. Which inspires me to inaugurate something I should have done in this blog years ago. Here it is:

Booklovers' Travel Tip: Starrlight Books, 14 N. Leroux St., Flagstaff, AZ

Hugh & Carrie -- tell them Dog Ears Books sent you!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Are You Hungry, Too? What Do You Do About It?

Sitting outdoors with sketchpad on my knees, looking up at the mountains, following their lines and shadings with my eyes, and trying to catch their shapes with a soft pencil, I am perfectly content. To fill a page not with words but other, different kinds of marks -- poor copies of the world before me and done for no other purpose than my own pleasure, but somehow it seems a completely worthwhile pursuit. A pursuit in stillness, for the most part, because unlike a camera, which pressures one to capture a fleeting moment in an instant click! my pencil lets me luxuriate in a slowly filling pool of time. Filling? Or emptying? Except for the constantly changing shadows of morning sunlight on the mountains, I would not be conscious of time’s passing at all, but those shadows do shift position, and when at last I close the sketchpad and carry pencils and book into the cabin, it occurs to me for the first time why so many of us turn to drawing, to watercolor, to whatever medium calls most clearly to us as individuals, in our later years. I think it is the general form of the more specific hunger I feel here in the high desert — the hunger for more

“Always at my back I hear/time’s winged chariot drawing near….”

Here in my peaceful ghost town, with few demands on my time, I have had three months of precious freedom, and as this period draws to a close, I seek to prolong each hour. I attempt to be more completely in each moment — and also to unite my consciousness with the timeless presence of the mountains that have been a constant for so many days — by recording with pencil the scene before my eyes. In future weeks and months and years, when I am many miles distant, these simple, rough, quick amateur sketches will transport me back to mornings in the Arizona sun, and I will feel again its warmth on my arm, hear the mockingbird’s song falling on my ear and the distant lowing of a cow on the range. This will be my more, after my season here has expired.

Awareness, though, has been part of my ordinary being-in-the-world for as long as I can remember — hunger for looking, seeing, touching, hearing, and breathing in the aromas of life -- so it isn’t that I am aware of my surroundings only when away from home. When I think of the apple tree in my parents’ backyard, a tree gone now for many years (as I too have been gone from that house), the perspective in my memory is not from the ground but from high in the branches. Springtime blossoms, first hard little fruits, later ripening apples sometimes falling to the ground and startling me from my reveries — all these I experienced and remember from a quiet, leafy perch. And soon I will be back in northern Michigan, walking a dirt road with my dog high above Lake Michigan and noting every shift of breeze, every bird or insect song, every track and trail left on the dusty road by nighttime or early morning travelers — geese, deer, mice, snails. Noticing the world is something I take to be a joyful, everyday duty, because what is the gift of life if we do not take constant notice of it? I take noticing to be part of the practice of gratitude.

And yet there were all those years when work imprisoned me, or so it felt, in a series of offices, and I know that many people spend a lifetime so, because making a living is a necessity for most of us, and despite popular self-help books, “following one’s bliss” is rarely sufficient. To gain money, therefore, we pay with our time. Hence my sudden insight that in retirement so many people seek more than they have had up to that point. For many people, their retirement years might be the first time they allow themselves off the treadmill to look around and see the world. If it is intoxicating to me nearly every morning, how much more extraordinary would it be if I had never had such mornings in my life before?

The second part of my post-drawing morning epiphany about aging was that men and women who take up “art” late in life (and I include myself here) are seeking to extend not just one season’s happiness but life itself. As with the feeling that a sabbatical or vacation or time of travel is coming to a close, so as we age we feel our lives nearing the end. Most of us are not looking to fulfill a lifelong vocation denied for decades: certainly I do not see myself as an “artist,” even as aspiring one. Neither do I feel much need to “express myself” with my drawing. It isn’t myself I seek but the world. What is important to me, and I suspect for many others, is to slow down the clock, to invite the natural world fully into consciousness, and to dwell in and memorialize precious moments before our time for being here is over. 

Does this make sense to anyone else? How do you satisfy your hunger for more? Or do you already have more than enough? I know we are all different....