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Friday, July 20, 2018

Another Beautiful Up North Day

Sunny Flower
I won’t well today on how the summer days are flying by, because you all know that. Instead I’ll say what a beautiful day it was here in the Leelanau on Thursday. Sunny and warm without being too hot. A light breeze, just enough to be refreshing. Hay being baled and stacked, people at the beach, gardens blooming the hearts out. 

For me, it was a noteworthy day in a couple of ways. First, I bought a new camera. Second, I hosted my fifth summer TEA event, with the every-delightful Lynne Rae Perkins and Anne-Marie Oomen as this week’s Thursday Evening Authors. 

The camera is another Canon, this one the new Rebel SL2, and I highly recommend the Camera Shop in downtown Traverse City for all your photography needs, whatever they may be. Shopping there is a most satisfying experience. I enjoyed every minute of it. Thank you, Molly! Stopping back at the farm and proceeding on to Northport, I paused here and there to experiment with the new camera and its various settings, though it will take weeks before I become completely familiar with it. 

Bruce at the helm

Mary Kent's flowers
An added bonus to the shopping trip was my purchase of new batteries and a roll of b/w film for a beautiful old camera bequeathed to me by a friend after her husband died. Back to film? Molly at the Camera Shop told me young people are going back to film, in the same way I have found young people going back to print books. Interesting parallels there.

Anne-Marie Oomen and Lynne Rae Perkins
TEA was pure pleasure! Anne-Marie and Lynne Rae had not planned ahead of time how they would share the stage and were, in fact, still working out the details as I was introducing them, but anyone who was there can tell you that they did a stellar job. It was as seamless as if they had done it many times before. Freshwater, saltwater, Lake Michigan, Atlantic Ocean, prose, poetry: readings and stories and answers afterward to questions were treasures added to my bookseller’s store of memories, as were the engaged and appreciative faces in the audience. It is such a treat to me to see friends gathered in the Artist’s gallery to enjoy my bookstore guests! There were several writers in the audience this week — Kathleen Stocking, Sarah Shoemaker, and next week’s scheduled TEA guest, Dennis Miller.

Michigan writers light up my life!
And afterwards — I slipped off my work treadmill entirely when my event guests invited me to have a beer with them at the Mitten. We sat at an outdoor table, and I had a dark stout and poached some of Lynne Rae’s poutine (they called it something else, but French fries, gravy, and cheese will always be poutine to me) and listened to stories of Iceland and vowed to read Independent People this coming winter, and I felt as if I were on vacation. Most of the day had been busy and productive, and I enjoyed zipping around getting other things done while Bruce tended the shop for me and David set up the gallery for the evening. The author event was a joy. Then to relax for an hour like a tourist without a care in the world? Ah! What an all-around rewarding day was my nineteenth of July!


Anne-Marie Oomen

Lynne Rae Perkins

Bill Perkins

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Arizona Dreaming

Time to Make Hay!
Here in the dark before dawn of another summer day, well before the hour when I will be caught up in another round of hurried errands and tasks to be accomplished before a full day in my bookstore, followed by yet another evening of insufficient attention to the work of house and yard (one load of laundry brought in from the line and folded and gardens watered, but bathroom and floors passed by and no grass mowed), here in the still, quiet solitude of the long porch with only two lights at this end, obscurity beyond, I think of the differences between my summer and winter lives. Climate, geography, culture, history, plants and animals — from Michigan summer to Arizona winter, there is little similarity. And yet, for me, the most salient difference is that of time. 

Since I am neither retired nor in a position to hire help, either in my place of business or at home, it is only by waking in the dark and neglecting housework that I make time at all (I don’t find it sitting around waiting for me: I must carve it out with deliberation) for reflection on time’s passing, or, more accurately, my hurtling passage through time. “How’s your summer going?” people ask. I tell them it is a blur. When the season winds down, the question will be, “How was your summer?” and my answer again will be, “It was a blur.” Against the blurred, high-speed background (blossoms to fruit to harvest in the blink of an eye), a few moments will remain. The fox at the side of the road, hungry baby robins, delphinium spikes vividly, royally blue in the evening sun. Moments that stopped my hurry, life holding out a gift. Here, look. See? 

A customer in the bookstore one day, a man perhaps the age of my own son, asked me what I would be doing in January, and when I mentioned Arizona, he was scornful. “Chicken!” was his parting shot as he went out the door. Well, I have many Michigan winters under my belt. I have known two years when all five of the Great Lakes froze over. I have gone through winter power outages, once for four days, in an old farmhouse. I have kept my bookstore open through many frozen months, though it made absolutely no financial sense whatsoever to do so, and one year the bookstore served as winter coffee shop for the village, no other business in town inclined to provide the desired social outlet for year-rounders’ cabin fever. In short, you could say that I have paid my dues, but there is so much more to it than that. I have loved the beauty and challenge of my Michigan winters, from January 1967 onward and have hundreds of photos taken over the years to remind me of them all.

However — again I beat this tiresome drum — I am not retired, and so the travel rewards that others reap in retirement (or, while still working, as summer vacation) I take now in annual winter installments. “Summers off!” we graduate students used to remind each other, anticipating academic careers. That was a path I left those friends pursuing without me, and now, as they retire one by one to golden years of leisure and I continue to work, as they fly and sail through the summer from one continent to another, stopping at islands in between, I whisper to myself from time to time, “Winters off!” 

Anyone, though, who thinks I love southern Arizona only as an escape from Michigan blizzards sells me and Arizona short. Tourists and summer people from Chicago and St. Louis do not come to northern Michigan in summer only to escape the heat, after all. They love the world they find here, as I have come to love the high desert of the Southwest. Leaving aside for a moment the wondrous details of horses and cows, ghost towns and dust, mountain roads and dry washes, and without getting, I hope, too metaphysical in a Kantian or even a Bergsonian kind of way, I love the space and time of my Arizona winters. Our winter cabin is small, but it is essentially one large room, and that room is not crowded or cluttered. There is plenty of space for yoga stretches. And outdoors my view stretches to mountains in every direction. The very emptiness of space is the luxury of it. And the same is true for time. So few demands! Time to dream, to explore, to read and write, or simply to be — out in the sun, looking off down the wash for cows or wildlife or up to the mountains to do nothing more than watch the light change.

And still more. Not only space and time but an alternative history I might have had. Born somewhere else, to a different family, growing up on a ranch — in the high desert I come as close as possible to imagining that other life, the one I never lived. It feels almost within reach…. I would have been placed in the saddle when still a toddler. Before adolescence, I would have been rousted from sleep in the dark to help my parents and older siblings move cattle before the heat of the day. Throughout my school years, I would have competed in rodeo events and by this time of life have earned a deeply creased and brown face attesting to years lived in the sun….

I love my Michigan life — verdant hills and sparkling waters, talented writers and devoted readers, green fields and woods and back roads from Indiana to Ontario. Michigan has been very good to this Dakota-born, Illinois-raised transplant. But life’s brevity, as I see it, demands of me that I laminate possibilities like layers. “You’re living my dream!” people have said to me in my bookstore over the course of twenty-five years, and they love getting close to that dream, visiting it from one summer to the next. It’s a life they can imagine themselves having lived. And that is the spirit I take to Junior Rodeo in Willcox, Arizona, where my heart thrills to see young cowgirls living my dream — the other one, the one never made real. Underneath the bookseller, there lives a cowgirl, a rancher, a farmer.

The dreams we work to achieve, the realized dreams that others see, define us to the world, but the dreams that persist in us simply as dreams, whether anyone else sees them in us or not, are very much a part of us, too. Don't you feel that way about yours?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Busy and Challenged

Having murdered my camera by leaving it out in the rain (so maybe not murder, because not intentional), I am not 100% satisfied with the substitutes I’ve tried. Neither of the Artist’s little cameras nor my own new smart-aleck phone does what I used to do so easily with my Canon. Meanwhile, every week brings another Thursday Evening Author, which translates to another camera challenge. We did have a good time last week with poet Richard Gilmore Loftus, though, even if my photographic documentation leaves something to be desired. 

I’m camera-challenged in the outdoors, too. The baby robins with their characteristically hungry open beaks opening this post aren’t bad, but I would have liked a better, i.e., sharper, clearer image of their earlier sleepiness, seen here in less-than-optimal detail.

But on with the show, camera or no, because as bulletin board and counter attest, the summer beat goes on at Dog Ears Books, as it does everywhere Up North.

This Thursday will be very special, with not one but three authors joining us for TEA at 7 p.m. When Lynne Rae Perkins and Anne-Marie Oomen agreed to share the stage, it looked as if Anne-Marie’s co-author would not be available, but now poet Linda Nemec-Foster’s calendar has cleared, and she will be with us, too. (Linda was last here in 2014, when thirteen Michigan poets helped us celebrate the 21st anniversary of Dog Ears Books. How the last four years have flown!) So, two books, three authors — both books and all authors fabulous and pure Michigan! Please come if you can. You won’t be sorry!

Postscript 7/17: Now it appears that Linda will not be able to make the date, after all, but I know we will be sufficiently entertained and delighted by Anne-Marie and Lynne Rae, so keep that date circled!

Monday, July 9, 2018

They Come From Near and Far!

Saturday evening and Sunday morning I was busy getting ready for the annual visit from my mother and sisters.  Living in Illinois, they look forward to the cooler temperatures of northern Michigan for their July getaway and the chance to dip their toes into Lake Michigan. They stay at Sunrise Landing, and we spend evenings at the farmhouse, so I had had floors to sweep, grass to mow, groceries to buy, and meals to plan. Italian sodas, smoked trout paté, a big pan of burritos; vanilla ice cream, brownies, strawberries; brioche buns from 9 Bean Rows for our hamburger night. That much seemed like a good start. I’m so glad the weather is neither punishingly hot nor disappointingly cold and rainy for my family’s time in Leelanau, yoo. We’ll enjoy our mornings and evenings together before and after my bookshop days! And my delphinium blooms are certainly ready for company.

Too bad my family has to leave on Thursday morning and will have to miss the Dog Ears Books TEA with poet Richard Gilmore Loftus. Richard’s new book, Dress Whites, received a review from Kirkus that must have put him over the moon! Read it here. While living in New York City a while ago, he published chapbooks of poetry, was published in literary magazines, and gave a few readings which I for one will be eager to ask him about. (Where in Manhattan did he read? When? What kind of audiences did he have?) I know he has New York stories to share, including some about famous neighbors. And how many guys do you know who dated a candy cane in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker”?

Before Manhattan, this poet lived in iconic Greenwich Village (the dream of my adolescent years!), and he has also lived and traveled in Ireland, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, and Rwanda, doing volunteer teaching in the last two countries. He worked as IT manager for Delta Dental (he calls Delta his Medici), has built wooden boats, and is presently making his first violin. 

Loftus has Up North bona fides, too. Having noted that my blog often stresses authors’ northern Michigan roots and connections, he assures me that he has “spent much time, much of my life - winter, summer, spring, and fall - in the Manistee, Glen Arbor, and Traverse City environs. In that regard, I am pretty sure my credentials are in order.” 

So you see that at the same time I’ve been getting ready for a family visit, I’ve also been gearing up for my next TEA guest, because every week has a Thursday in it and thus another guest to Thursday Evening Authors. 

Richard Loftus will be with us this coming Thursday, July 12, beginning at 7 p.m. I like his poetry, and I think you will, too. So now, in anticipation, I’ll tantalize you with one of the poet’s own statements about his writing:

“I have a desire to convey well in words the beauty I've been privileged to witness. We shall see. So far, it's been an interesting and rewarding journey.” 

An interesting life and gratitude for it. Great combination! I am grateful for and enjoying every day this week and also looking forward to Thursday.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Inspired to Take a Different Road -- Slowly

We are now in “high season.” This very week was 4th of July and, of course, still is Cherry Festival in Traverse City. Cherry harvest is a little late here in the northernmost part of Leelanau County, due to an unusually cold April. We’ve certainly had warm weather lately, though, and the summer people and tourists are swarming to restaurants, shops, tasting rooms, and beaches. High season is the busiest time of year for almost everyone in Leelanau County. 

But Kim Schneider, my July 5 TEA guest, must have inspired me, because on Friday morning I jumped the traces for a modest morning adventure. 

After hanging laundry out before sunrise, I made it to the farm market before official opening hour (most of the vendors ready for business), did bank and post office errands, and then took myself, with Sarah, out for a slow drive to Peterson Park and a stroll around the grounds for — hard to believe — my first visit of the year. Peterson Park looks different with the old dead trees taken down and new little trees of various species planted. Probably a lot like the early days, one third-generation local observed, except that this time a monoculture planting was avoided, which bodes well for the park’s future. With more open area, the views are longer and wider. There is a shaded picnic shelter and also tables in the sun, so take your pick. Whenever I go up there in the morning, with coffee or without, I think what a lovely vacation breakfast gathering spot the place would make, especially on summer Fridays. Fruit and croissants from the farm market, fresh coffee, maybe cook up some bacon and eggs on one of the park grills. 

Sarah and I didn’t take the rustic stairs down to the beach. (That much time we didn’t have.) Peterson Park beach, though, is my favorite place to send people who want to hunt along the shore for Petoskey stones. Kim Schneider asked people who came to her TEA event for their suggestions of ideas she could add if 100 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die goes to a second edition. (Would an enlarged second edition have to be called 150 [or however many] Things to Do, etc.? I don’t know.) I’d definitely have Peterson Park on my list, and my other suggestion would be the pow-wow in August in Peshawbestown, an event I sometimes find difficult to fit into my calendar — so much going on all summer! — yet whenever I get there, the chance to relax under the trees and watch the dancers brings peace to my spirit. I call it “that pow-wow feeling,” and it’s another way for me to slow down and simply be here. Important to take advantages of quiet moments and hours along the way, isn’t it?

Back in town, I did my last pre-opening errand on foot, pausing on the corner of Mill and Nagonaba to appreciate what I've always called my "lipstick" roses. I rescued the bush when I was working in a friend's garden business and one client wanted all his old roses dug out and replaced with new hybrid teas. Unable to throw these old-fashioned darlings on the compost pile, I put the bush in my car instead to take up to Northport and plant next to my bookstore, back when Dog Ears was housed in the little bark-covered building on that corner that is now the home of Porcupine. They bloom still, my lipstick roses, with their brilliant shade that reminds me of the lipstick my mother used to wear when I was a little girl. 

My mother's lipstick, working in my friend's garden business, the early days of my bookstore -- to me, all this history is contained in these colorful blooms. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Time Also to Think

The image above (not a very good one) doesn't show this morning's sky. I referred to the moon over the barn on June 30 but was unable to upload my image then, so here it is on July 3. Sadly, I remain unable to upload the image from Fleda Brown’s TEA event at Dog Ears Books. The moon was on my phone, Fleda on the Artist’s camera. Technical challenges continue. 

But each night continues to give way to another day, and up at 4:30 a.m. on this day before the 4th of July, I picked up a book set aside a year ago or more, about halfway through, The Physicist & the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time. One reason I set it aside was my inner editor’s constant carping: I wanted more smoothly flowing sentences, cleared of unnecessary obstructions, and I found repetitions annoying, jumbled chronology confusing. My other reason was more personal: Since first making the acquaintance of Henri Bergson’s work, I have loved him, and to read an account of the “controversy” during his lifetime, controversy fomented by interested philosophers, scientists, and journalists who pitted him against Einstein as if the two were boxers in a ring — well, it was just too, too sad. Bergson and Einstein had very different concerns,  therefore different thought objects, definitions, and arguments, and neither was vitally interested in the other’s chief concern. How does a downhill skier compete with a figure skater? Skiers will judge for one, skaters for the other, ¿claro?

Philosophy stimulates thought in ways different from the stimulation of fiction. My mornings this summer more often begin with novels, but life used to be very different. Back in graduate school days, all my mornings began with philosophical arguments. One night, I recall, I slept not at all, so furious was I with Bertrand Russell’s clumsy attack on Bergson, whom he had completely failed to understand. I spent that night spent writing furiously, arguing with one dead philosopher for his failure to comprehend another! 

During my first year of graduate work, in fact, the only way I could go to sleep at all most nights was to turn to the familiar novels of Jane Austen. I had all of them lined up at the head of my bed, so that when I reached the last page of one I could pick up the next, working my way to the end the line and then starting over at the beginning. Jane Austen was a comfort. Bertrand Russell was not. 

But mornings — ah, it is not such a bad thing to have one’s mind jolted awake by thought in the morning! And today it occurred to me long before sunrise that while certain philosophers have criticized what they disdainfully call “the god’s-eye view,” a perspective they say human beings often try to assume but can never realistically inhabit, the “subatomic view” is just as much outside human experience. Solid objects are not solid, the physicist tells us. Solidity does not exist! Accepting that there are gaps and spaces between atoms, what has this to do with life as we live it? With the “too, too solid” nature of our bodies and floors and the earth itself in terms of our experience (though we gardeners know healthy living soil to be full of earthworms and fungi and bacteria — anything but “rock solid”)? My question is, why is the subatomic view to be preferred? Why is it any more legitimate than the view from heaven? If one of those perspectives is suspect for being outside our experience, surely the other is, also.

Then, unbidden, an image of a doe and fawn comes to my mind. Not bothering their heads with philosophy, they stand motionless by the side of the road, the fawn obedient to its mother’s signals. Be still. Watch me. Listen. Follow me when I let you know it’s time. In some ways we share a world with deer, and in other ways we inhabit very different realms. Venn diagrams, our lives are, intersecting only at one edge, forming a delicate lentil of overlap. 

After a while the sky to the west takes on a rosy tinge, reflecting sunrise, and Sarah and I stroll out into the grass. She takes off like a shot toward the barn. Must have seen a rabbit. Thing is, she often doesn’t see the rabbits if they don’t move.

Dog, rabbits deer. They are closer to my notice and understanding than gods and atomic particles, but even to pay attention to these other creatures means taking a break from the books. Not just “the books,” as in novels and philosophy, history, economics, and such, but “the books” in terms of the profit-and-loss thinking necessary to running a largely seasonal business during “high season.” 

And it occurred to me also this morning that running an essentially one-person business, as I have for 25 years now, is a lot like conducting a second marriage alongside and simultaneously with the first. There is the anticipation stage, preparation for the initial launch (engagement). Then one goes public (wedding), followed by the leap into a honeymoon, the nature of which can never be precisely foreseen, and further surprises of life together. If the business is successful, one year follows another, but none is ever just like the previous, as each brings new challenges to be met. Children? Well, as a bookseller, though my guest authors are adults, I have almost family feelings for the authors and books I choose to promote.

My husband, as friends and regular readers know, is an artist — “the Artist,” I have taken to calling him lately — and so he too has another “marriage” on the side. Art has been his life for over half a century, while I have been married to a bookstore for only a quarter-century. How does that work out for us? Are we jealous of each other’s other partners? In a word, no. There are occasions when one of us, in fact, gives priority to the other’s other partner over our own. At those times we are each other’s support system. At other times, I go my way with the books, the Artist goes his way with painting, and we come back together with new stories to share, and that’s good, too. 

All these marriages — that of two human beings, of one with a business, of the other with his art — also involve many more people. Some friendships blossom and fade, others persist and deepen, but every single one of them has a place in the rich marriage history. 

These are some of my thoughts this morning, before sunrise, when I have time to think, to let my mind roam.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! And don’t forget, our TEA guest (Thursday Evening Author) this week, on July 5, is Kim Schneider. That’s at 7 p.m. on Waukazoo Street, so join us if you can — and bring your visiting relatives! They’ll pick up all kinds of ideas for how to entertain themselves when they visit you.

Photo of long-ago photo. Who remembers that place and time?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mornings Are Mine

[Technical difficulties prevent me from publishing this post with the intended images. When/if I can add them, I will. I particularly regret not being able to show you the photo of Fleda Brown and me at our second TEA. Soon! I hope!]

My days begin in the dark, as early as 3 or 4 o’clock, with whatever book I was reading the night before (or the previous morning, if I happened to be too tired to read before falling asleep). Today my book was an advance reader’s copy of a title due out in the fall, Hard Cider, by Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of the award-winning Even in Darkness. The earlier work was set in 20th-century Europe. Most of the story in Hard Cider takes place right here in Leelanau County. Before settling down to my book, however, I step outside for a minute to admire the moon over the barn. 

The first hint of first light brings sounds of morning’s earliest birds. Are they hungry? I am. Toasted English muffin with cheddar cheese and refried black beans is today’s solution, and I fix a peanut butter kong for Sarah, my early morning companion. She cares nothing for coffee but loves to start the day with a peanut butter snack, after which she looks to me for the last bite of whatever I’m eating. Her expectations are learned, but we don’t mind: we taught her, after all, and her manners are exquisite.

At “quite-light” but still well before sunrise, Saran and I go outdoors, where my straw bale gardening needs watering. As for Sarah, she has important business and exploring to do before she comes back to lie in the grass near where I’m working, continuing to monitor the air with twitching nose.

An old, beat-up plastic children’s sled still functions to move certain objects from one part of the yard to another. Today a box of lettuce seedlings asks for sunnier placement. Then it’s back indoors to throw a load of laundry in. By the time the sun is up, the wash will be ready to go out on the line, and meanwhile another cup of coffee is in order, this time outdoors on our boardwalk, where spires of delphiniums are beginning to open to the warm air.

Poet and essayist Fleda Brown, my second Thursday Evening Author of the season, was a delight, as always! I was grateful to her for making the trip out to Northport from Traverse City, and we both appreciated the number of people who turned out for an evening poetry reading. Thanks to a miraculous and mysterious memory flash, I even remembered to get a photo of my guest and myself together for a change. Thanks to the Artist, a.k.a. David Grath, for operating the camera (his), as well as for the loan of his gallery space for our TEA gatherings.

And now June is almost over! How swiftly the weeks swoop past! Unbelievable. It’s strawberry season already. Coreopsis on the roadside (the “longest day” flower in my associative memory) is already moving over for sweet peas. And Friday mornings are farm market time in Northport, as one day tumbles after another. Can’t miss farm market!

Still, it’s good to have these quiet, sweet morning hours in which to look around and catch my breath.