I am up before sunrise for a first cup of coffee with Henry James, Portrait of a Lady, this month’s selection for our little reading circle, but a long, leisurely morning of reading is not in the cards and will not be for many months to come. First order of business, i.e., work, is the straw bale garden to be fertilized and watered, Day 8 of its 10-day conditioning before planting can occur. Ten days takes us up to the holiday weekend, and I never plant tender vegetables before Memorial Day, so the timing works out well. Sarah comes outside with me, and I supervise her first morning sortie. Happy to be back home and off the leash, she is listening and obeying and wagging her tail.
While I water the bales, a mockingbird sings to me from the trees at the edge of the meadow, reminding me of a morning companion in Dos Cabezas, the mockingbird in the wash. How different the places, how similar the delights of the songbirds! I notice sweet, long-stemmed yellow violets in tall grass, blooming near china-blue forget-me-nots — some pink ones, as well — and I fetch a cream pitcher from the house to hold a small bouquet. When I come home at the end of the day, while I might forget to look in the tall grass, little flowers on the porch table will add to the enjoyment of our evening meal.
Soon there will be a coffee shop interlude, offering me a chance to download and answer the day’s e-mail and check into Facebook. (Doing those online chores only once a day keeps me sane, I like to think.) Later, at the bookstore, I can work on a flier for my June TEA guests. That’s “Thursday Evening Authors,” this year’s guest writer series at the bookstore. I have two lined up for late June, the 21st and 28th, with three slots already filled for July.
My first author, Rachel May, wrote the other book I’m reading these days (besides Henry James), An American Quilt. Since May grew up in New England and went to college in the South, I was surprised and pleased to learn that she is now on the faculty of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. Rachel May fell in love with a 200-year-old quilt, an unfinished piece — a quilt top, really — with old paper backing pieces still (since the quilt was never completed) in place except where brittle pieces of the old paper hexagon patterns had fallen away. The backing pieces held random bits of writing, some a child’s, another from the hand of an adult with business interests, many with dates, and these bits of writing, together with 1830s-era fabrics of the hexagonal pieces, constituted for the author “a treasure trove, an unfolding, every-expanding story with hints buried like a crooked trail to follow….” Then a box of letters emerged from archives to enrich the emerging story, and writer, quilter, researcher, historian, and material culture devotee May gradually assembled the story not only of a family and the enslaved people who served them but also a story of the United States that seldom sees the light — a North made wealthy by trade connections with slavery in the South. You don’t need to be a quilter (I’m not) to find Rachel May’s story fascinating!
There are connections everywhere in the world, if we but look for them. I note that a character in the James novel,
…was the proprietor of certain well-known cottonmills in Massachusetts—a gentleman who had accumulated a considerable fortune in the exercise of this industry.
Caspar, that is, was a Northerner whose wealth had been assured by cheap cotton from the South, produced by the slave plantation system as it existed before the Civil war. James says nothing about slavery and next to nothing about the Civil War, certainly nothing about the reasons for it. He only tells us this about Caspar:
He keenly regretted that the Civil War should have terminated just as he had grown old enough to wear shoulder-straps, and was sure that if something of the same kind would only occur again, he would make a display of striking military talent.
Well, if today is anything like yesterday in Northport, there will be a long walk to the post office, long because the street and sidewalks are still torn up in that block of Nagonaba Street, making any trip to post office or bank — and these are daily village errands, whether on foot or in car — a lengthy detour around along block. (There will probably be time also for a walk with Sarah down by the creek, another place forget-me-nots are blooming in profusion, along with sweet little English daisies in the grass.) But I don’t want to miss the UPS man’s bookstore stop, as I did yesterday! Over the years, I have grown to expect him in the early afternoons. Well, yesterday he must have seen me out on the sidewalk earlier, because he left a note on the door between 10 and 10:30. Darn! It’s my first new book order of the season, and I am impatient for those boxes! It isn’t that I am not working before 11 o’clock, only that there is work outside the bookstore that needs to be done before opening!
Once the OPEN flag was out yesterday, there were visits from old friends, and visitors to town streamed in, as well. Quite shy of the holiday weekend as we still are, there were only a few minutes in the last half-hour of the day that Sarah and I were alone in the store. Northport is certainly livelier than it was a decade ago! But who specifically may come in, and what topics of conversation we may cover, and what particular book treasures my visitors will find on any given day — all that is never the same from one day to the next, so today, like all bookstore days, will doubtless be one of surprises.
Finally it will be time to come home to start supper and water plants in pots and boardwalk garden and relax on the porch for half an hour on the front porch before another evening of mowing. In May and June, the grass grows almost faster than it can be mowed, so work often continues as long as the sun shines. The evening before last, however, having accomplished a difficult and heroic task of physical work directed by the genius of the Artist in residence, we drove to another village in Leelanau County for the evening meal, taking in beautiful scenery along the way. Oh, the smell of horses! — And now this morning, the perfume of blossoming cherry trees, and once again, I feel a vague frustration at not being able to include aromas in this blog, which reminds me of a frequent exclamation when people first walk in the door of Dog Ears Books: “Oh, I love the smell of books!”
The smell, the feel, the sight of books … and the worlds they contain, worlds within worlds. This is my life. Books and bookstore and garden and meadow and the fields and orchards around us, woods and back roads, horses (other people’s), dog (my own), wildflowers (nature’s gifts to all) …. I am at work before the sun is up (often in summer, though not this morning, hanging laundry on my backyard lines) and fortunate to be, while no Superwoman, healthy and strong enough still to do what needs to be done.