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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Our Long, Long Trail, Part II

Steins

Steins again

As we near and finally cross the state line from New Mexico into Arizona, I feel my smile will crack my face. When we pass the first little Arizona ghost town, Steins, one we have ever only seen from I-10, the sight of it makes me want to laugh out loud. The peaks of Dos Cabezas are visible from the edge of New Mexico, too, if you know where to look. Happy sight! Though the naked eye's spotting of them would not mean much in a phone or camera image.

 

Arriving at the cabin midday on Tuesday (five days after leaving our Michigan home), the Artist immediately set about the mundane tasks of reactivating electricity and water while I carried bags and boxes in from the car. Peasy watched our every move intently. Did he experience the same comfortable familiarity I felt? Everywhere I looked were dear little pockets, such as the little desk holding my field guides, watched over by a 2021 horse calendar whose pages I eagerly turned from May to November. Of course, there was sweeping and dusting to do, but it was a pleasure, part of making myself at home again in the cabin. 




One small part of the happiness of unpacking was finding my camera, which I was certain I had brought along but hadn’t been able to find on the trip itself, reliant on phone alone for images along the long, long trail west. And so, unaccustomed to carrying the camera, I neglected to take it out with me on Wednesday morning, when Peasy and I met our friends, Therese and her dogs, for a long-awaited reunion, but here is a phone image from Friday’s get-together that we can pretend was from Wednesday.


Friends! Reunion!


And then the rains came! First sprinkles, as I was working in the backyard to clear it of four-foot-high weeds that had grown up into a forest during the summer. Then a downpour! And then a text came from Therese: “Rainbow alert!” I found it the most spectacular rainbow I have ever seen (though it’s possible that rainbows fade in memory and that others in the past have been equally spectacular), stretching full and bright from one end to the other, with a fainter second rainbow arching above the first. Oh, for a wide angle lens! As it was, Therese captured by far the better image from her house.





Therese gets the rainbow prize!


Thursday. Thanksgiving! Before going to dinner with our neighbors, I began a list of things I was thankful for, and with each item added I thought of five more. As my friend Juleen and I have often agreed, each of us can say truly, I am a lucky woman! I was that day and still am supremely grateful that the Artist and I and our little special needs dog are all still alive and together and here for another winter in Dos Cabezas, seasonal retirement for the Artist and me, homecoming for our wild desert dog. And I must say that Peasy clearly remembered not only Therese’s dogs but Therese herself and showed not a shred of nervousness when he approached her fearlessly for a treat from her hand! Like a normal dog!


Dinner with neighbors on Thanksgiving was lovely, the beautiful holiday table overlooked by a piece of art over the mantel by our hostess, her COVID project. Feathers and birds are souls we lost, winging their way to heaven by way of the peaks of Dos Cabezas.




Again on Friday, this time without a planned rendez-vous, Peasy and I encountered our friends once more down in the wash -- that is to say, Peasy and Molly found each other on the range, which always means a lot more exercise for both of them -- and thanks to that chance encounter, also, I was invited to help set up the Christmas “tree” in the little cabin down the road that will be the scene of a holiday arts and crafts sale this coming weekend. 

 

Pine trees do grow at higher elevations in Cochise County, Arizona, but down here on the high desert floor the favored plant for a Christmas tree is the dry stalk of a century plant, Agave americana, which you’ll remember is a member of the asparagus family. First we measured the space between floor and ceiling and sawed the bottom of the stalk to accommodate the space. Then we set up sawhorses on the porch to string the lights – a new experience for me (I’ve only seen the finished product until now) but one my friend Therese has done many times before. A bucket weighted down with rocks and sand holds the “tree” in place, and it will look even more beautiful decorated with ornaments. 





I did very little reading on the road west, but here are the last books I finished reading in Michigan before we set out on our cross-country trek:


159. Pride, Christine & Jo Piazza. We Are Not Like Them (fiction)

160. Gubbins, John. Profound River (fiction)

161. Roy, Anuradha. An Atlas of Impossible Longing (fiction)

162. Damrosch, Phoebe. Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter (nonfiction)


The book I began reading on the road and now find myself halfway through, reading voraciously, is titled Unbreakable, its author Richard Askwith. It is the story of a woman "who defied the Nazis in the world's most dangerous horse race," an unbelievable brutal steeplechase in Czechoslovakia, but her story begins well before World War II, and her love of horses, matched by her feminism, makes this a gripping story, to say the least. 


Meanwhile we are here. Enjoying reunions. Settling in. Acclimating to the altitude. Recovering from our long, long journey.








Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Our Long, Long Trail, Part I




It was Sunday morning in Tucumcari, New Mexico, when that old song started playing in my head. I think it was Sunday morning, anyway. The days tend to jumble together at times on the road. 

 

We don’t try to make a lot of miles on our first two days, because on Day 1 and Day 2 we have family destinations, and once we reach those towns, we go no farther. Arriving in midafternoon daylight, we settle into our temporary digs at leisure and meet family in the evenings.




Day 3, however, is different. And as the Artist wanted to cross the Mississippi at St. Louis (ugh!) rather than Hannibal this time, so that we could grab an expressway (ugh!) angling southwest, it was not my favorite day of the trip. All I can say is that if you mustcross at St. Louis, where the tangled knot of criss-crossing high-speed roads makes going around Chicago look like child’s play, doing so early on a weekend morning (Saturday, in our case) is probably as good as it can get, and it would also be much more difficult if the driver were alone and had no navigator. The rolling pastures of Missouri are beautiful, but my eye was drawn continually to the old road paralleling the expressway. On expressway, I always feel as if I’m on a conveyor belt: there is no slowing down or stopping to, for instance, photograph an interesting sight. Of course, that is the whole point of expressways. Keep rolling nonstop!

 

Here is a further thought I had about expressways. They are, in the best designs, thoroughly rational. Logical and rational from an engineering point of view, that is, which is another part of the problem (for me), related to but distinct from their nonstop nature. Threading the convoluted knot of St. Louis, for instance, one loses any sense of direction. Where is east, and where is west? North, south? These interchanges did not grow organically from earlier roads that took the place of footpaths that developed along animal trails, and the gap between the organic and the rational is enormous, a difference of kind rather than degree. They are really two different worlds, one we follow with our body’s animal senses, the other a system our minds must bend and twist to follow, ignoring those same animal senses.

 

I am a book person. Life in the slow lane is my preferred mode. The trail from Michigan to Arizona is a long one, however, and we were not traveling as tourists. In Illinois there was no time to visit the shrine (as I think of it) to the memory of Mother Jones or to explore the Cahokia Mounds, and speeding through Missouri the whole point was to reach Tulsa by nightfall. As I say, it was the most difficult day on the road for me.


Our view of Tulsa


Day 4 arrived. We departed Tulsa. By the time we reached western Oklahoma, the land began to open out to wide, long horizons, and my heart began to lighten and lift and expand. Forget about right and left brains. For me it is my heart that has at least two different homelands, Michigan Great Lakes and Western rangeland and mountains. There in western Oklahoma and on into and across the Texas panhandle, we were on the high plains. I always think of a friend who lived for years in South America and shared with me her romantic notion of the altiplano. Shoulders straighten, eyes search the horizon, lungs expand and take in great gulps of air. 






Despite the Artist’s dedication to expressway speed, he was happy to detour off the road so we could revisit Vega, Texas. Years before we had had a pleasant lunch at the little bakery café across from the courthouse square, where the rancher husband was filling in for his baker wife, who was off on a catering job elsewhere. Then the stop got lost in memory’s shuffle, and search the map as we might, we could never remember the name of the town or find it again on our travels. But that was because we had developed a different route, one that took us through Kansas and down through only the smallest slivers of the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. But this time, on the road first taken, we found Vega again. It was Sunday evening, so not surprising that the café was not open, but it was satisfying to see the little town again and remember our earlier encounter and a walk with Sarah after that lunch. Memories don’t have to be spectacular and full of fireworks to be important.





Night found us in Tucumcari, New Mexico, with the moon rising huge and burnt orange as we ventured out for a bite of supper. 

 

Day 5. The burnt orange moon of the night before was pale white in the morning. “It’s a long, long trail a winding,” sang my heart. We were not yet in Arizona, but my heart felt it had reached its Southwestern home, and the Artist too was relaxed now and felt we could afford time to look around a little before pushing on. I asked only that we find the train station, since my only photograph of it the year before had not satisfied me at all. I also spotted an intriguing building that the Artist turned back cheerfully for me to photograph, agreeing that it was worth taking time to see. Those scenes are here.

 

Mesalands! Need I say more?




Then breakfast in Santa Rosa – dear little Santa Rosa! I am always happy in that little town. There are still many sad relics from the vanished glory of Route 66, but I was thrilled to see the movie theatre on the courthouse square showing films and looking all spruced up and lovely. The grocery store, too, seemed to boast a new and cleaner look. “You see? It’s coming back!” The Artist finds me “something else” in my love for Santa Rosa. 






 

And by the way, should you happen on an onsite notice that the Santa Fe Grill in Santa Rosa is “permanently closed,” please note that it is NOT. The owner died, and the restaurant was closed for a time, but heirs have now re-opened for business. Good news for travelers and locals alike!




And oh, from Santa Rosa – no more expressway but the old, long road (one white-knuckled experience was enough to teach us to fill the gas tank before taking the road south) through beautiful open country dotted with dark green one-seed juniper and dusty cholla. Through Vaughn and Corona and Duran. On our last pass through Duran, we explored one side of the highway, promising ourselves to explore the other the next time. And it turns out there is much more to Duran than we had realized. We explored all the way back to the three cemeteries (two ranch families each have cemeteries of their own), and I searched on my phone for some of the history of Duran -- very interesting! 




 

Tularosa, Alamagordo, through the mountain pass, and on through Las Cruces and Mesilla. Had we not lingered to poke around in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa and Duran, we might have completed the trip on Day 5, but the slower pace was rewarding, our fifth day a happy day of relaxed driving, and it felt fine to stop for the night in Deming, knowing we would arrive in Dos Cabezas with plenty of daylight for our settling in.




Friday, November 12, 2021

Of Prayer and Fishing


 

Tying flies brings the composure of prayer. It is a composure that begins in the fingertips. The composure of angling is different, where equanimity comes through the eyes, the angler concentrating on her float or her fly, anticipating the take. The composure that comes from tying flies does not begin in sight. It begins in blindness….

 

…The anchor of the well-tied fly is the thread, and the anchor of the tranquil mind is the tension in the thread. No matter how scattered my spirit becomes during a day of wayward winds, the tying of flies gathers it together. Tying readies it for prayer.

 

- John Gubbins, Profound River

 

Such are the satisfying ruminations of a 15th-century gentlewoman, narrator of John Gubbins’s novel Profound River, a character whose lack of dowry helped her decide to enter the Order of St. Benedict in a convent near the town of St. Albans where she eventually rose to the rank of prioress. 

 

The fictional Dame Juliana is all the more fascinating in that her character is based on (although some doubt has been raised) an actual person. Called the “Mother of Fly Fishing,” the historical Juliana Berners, born in 1381, invented and perfected during her lifetime the art of “fysshing wyth an angle,” using that art for years to feed her sisters in the convent. (You see which side I am taking in the historical controversy!) Her written work on the subject, moreover, her Treatyse on Fysshing Wyth an Angle, interposed in the treatise on heraldry in The Boke of St. Albans, published by Wynken de Worde (who had apprenticed as printer to the iconic William Caxton of London), was the first printed book in the English language on fishing, and the entire book was probably her work.

 

The town of St. Albans in the 15th century, as the author has his narrator describe it, depended largely on what we in northern Michigan today would call tourism, although in that earlier time and distant place the tourists were pilgrims. Having come often long distances to view and pay their respects to the bones of St. Albans, Britain’s first martyr to Christianity, once in the area they had perforce to be lodged and fed — and they were also plied with plenty of drink and religious memorabilia for sale. Pilgrims and sheep, we are told, were the backbone of the economy of St. Albans, and Gubbins brings a welcome liveliness to complicated details of religious, secular, and royal claims to property and independence.

 

But it is the passages on fishing and on Dame Juliana’s personal history and reflections that rightly take center stage -- lengthy and enthralling riverside scenes as the prioress makes endless minute observations on hatches and weather, effects of light on water, and the habits of insects and fish. The language is specific, and we are transported far beyond the page to the out-of-doors of centuries ago, a world so changed in some ways and yet changeless in others. Dame Juliana has seen many changes in her own lifetime, in the natural as well as in the political world, and so the author has her musing generally on faith and earth’s abundance -- “Our sense that we belong in the world is more ancient than our faith”— and reflecting on the world’s “extravagant generosity,” all of it taken as gifts from God. 

 

Our ancestors counted on the annual runs of thousands upon thousands of salmon, wilderness forests forever rustling with coursing deer and boar, soaring flocks of geese and ducks blotting out the sun, gushing pure springs of water, and so many other signs of God’s interest in us. …Such signs bolstered our ancestors’ faith in the divine….

 

Dame Juliana speculates on how the diminishment of such plenty, which has evidently already begun in her lifetime, may affect a human sense of being at home in the world. She sees religious liturgies built up in compensation for that earlier sense of belonging and importance. 

 

When these signs [of God’s interest in us] dim and disappear, when air and water threaten us, when wilderness forests are leveled to a bleak horizon, then our sense of security will disappear altogether. And we shall overtax our faith to salve our profound loneliness.

 

Some might find the character’s musings on a diminishment of nature as evidence of “presentism,” a sin historians commit when they inject sensibilities and ideas from their own time into events long past. In a lesser writer, the accusation would find a readier target, but such are the obvious intelligence and independence of the narrator Gubbins has created that we readily accept her taking a longer view of history than would most of her contemporaries. There is the matter of the audience for this book, also, which Gubbins no doubt considered. Published in the United States in 2012, and in Utah, part of what once seemed, to some, America’s “limitless” West but now a region where the limits of natural resources are only too obvious and subject to competing interests, the novel's passages on diminishing plenty are entirely appropriate. 

 

Descriptions and stories about hunting and fishing have always lent themselves to metaphor. When Juliana tells us, “Difficult fish are the angler’s best master,” because the angler’s mind tends to see patterns and seek predictability, whereas “each river, each pool in that river, and each and every fish” offer individuality, we can be fairly certain that the lessons she takes from the old trout under the bridge will serve her well in resisting the abbey’s greedy desire to rob the convent of its independence.

 

Serendipity put this novel in my path. I can account for it no other way. And as I read, fly-fishing friends past and present come to my mind, along with gardeners and hikers, artists, pilgrims, those who practice meditation in one way or another, devout religious friends, and, finally, anyone who appreciate not only history but also beautiful writing. And joy. 

 

My day courses with feeling. I would never banish a one, and as a follower of Holy Benedict, I am not asked to banish any….

 

The hours with their psalms order my affections. Countless small joys – the breath of the morning breeze carrying the fragrance of roses, the moist smell of a riverbank, soft drops of rain on my face, our voices changing as one the hour’s psalms, the smiles on my sisters’ lips, a well-turned stitch, a countryside shrouded in fog, a heartfelt prayer – all become a river of feeling, transforming by the hour my deepest affections.

 

Nature not to be mistrusted or felt as alien, but to be loved as a river of gifts. As Wendell Berry has written, it all begins with affection. 


Postscript 11/12/2021

 

In this morning’s wee dark hours I came to the last page of the novel, Profound River. Going on to pursue the author’s fascinating essay, “Who Was Dame Juliana Berners?” at the end of the book, I found myself falling back asleep and reawakening several times, as happens so often in my early dark reading; during my waking spells, however, I was closely focused on the essay (which, by the way, won a national award from no less than the British Studies affiliate of the American Historical Association), happy to have such a strong argument for the historical reality of the author’s strong character. So that was all good. 

 

A glossary precedes the historical essay, and following it is a single page of suggested readings. – And then comes the final “About the Author” page, where I learn to my delight that “John Gubbins lives with his wife, Carol, alongside the Escanaba River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan”! (I guess if I'd read the Acknowledgements at the beginning of the book I would have known this from the start.) He lives in Michigan! Surely we have friends and acquaintances in common! Suddenly I am overcome, thinking of so many dear friends, living and dead, but all of them alive and lively in my heart and mind. 

 

Did my friend, the late Chris Garthe, know John Gubbins?

Then, too, there are more books by John Gubbins, including one very recent, and that is always any writer’s best gift to readers.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Escaping the Most Beautiful Autumn?

The hills are alive with gorgeous color.

It’s official: my seasonal retirement is underway, now that Saturday, October 30, my last official bookstore of 2021, is in the rearview mirror. It was a fantastic season, both in the bookstore and the gallery, we are deeply grateful to everyone who made it so, and now we’ve been getting at projects long postponed -- such as, for me, my “blackstraw” jam (a mix of black raspberries and strawberries, fruit from earlier months that’s been in the freezer all this time) and, with the remaining raspberries, a fruit syrup that will be delicious in Italian sodas as well as on ice cream and waffles.


Tamarack in wetland woods glows gold.


As beautiful as was October and as lovely as November yet continues to be, however -- and is this not one of the mildest and most colorful fall seasons northern Michigan has ever seen, or is only Leelanau County so blessed? Gaylord, over in the middle of the northern mitten, had almost a foot of snow last Tuesday! -- my days have not been all light-hearted bliss.  Social strife and politics afford sufficient fuel for anxiety and heartache, but quite honestly it’s my dog whose fate occupies my nighttime waking hours. We have met with a special trainer and consulted our vet about medication and hope to hear soon what vet and trainer together think about Peasy’s chances at rehabilitation. I have minimized his problems here in my blog, but believe me, it has been and continues to be a difficult path forward, involving many sleepless nights. Little guy has no idea how many people he's never met are pulling for him! If only he could be as sweet with the rest of the world as he is with me!


My boy loves his outdoor world.


Each of us is the center of her or his experience. There is no getting around that fact. For me, the social and political climate of the last decade have been such a source of agony that I explain my obsessive focus on one little stray dog against this larger background. How can I not take refuge from intractable national and global problems in one very personal issue that will – perhaps -- with all my determination and a wide, winning smile from Lady Luck -- show itself to be meliorable (and did I just make up that word?). The other side of the coin is that it's no wonder to me at all that a dear friend with Stage IV cancer has no emotional energy whatsoever to worry about politics. But what a wonderful example of positivity she is, and how we have enjoyed our five fabulous "special Sundays" together this fall! Love you, Mel!


Precious times together with human friends!


At any rate, these nights in the wee dark hours my coping strategy is frequently a retreat from insomnia into the world of fiction, and here are the books I've read since my last post:  

 

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (#151 on my list of books read this year) furnished our old reading circle with plenty of food for discussion, and those new to the novel were very glad to have read it, while I was glad to have read it again.

 

The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce (#152), was a lighter novel but more than I expected. 


Then there was Paradise (#153), a work by this year’s Nobel prize winner, Abdulrazak Gurnah, and I’m still trying to figure out what to make of the ending. Have any of you read it? What did you think?

 

For several of the early chapters of Jay McInerney’s The Good Life (#154), I wondered why I was reading the book at all. Was it a roman à clef, and should I have been picking up on all kinds of Manhattan gossip? Either the book deepened as it went along, or the time I invested in it heightened my appreciation.

 

Women Talking (#155), by the Canadian writer Miriam Toews, was a story the author imagined after reading of an actual event. True to its title, the novel was almost exclusively conversation among illiterate women in an isolated rural religious community trying to make the biggest decision of their lives.


Anne Lamott's Blue Shoe (#156) was my first foray into her fiction, but I couldn't help wondering how autobiographical the story was, although the central character was not a writer....

 

After all that, seeking cuddly comfort, I turned to Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake (#157), a children’s story, with illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush, who also illustrated my beloved books about the Borrowers. Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes, Palmer Brown -- I always find comfort in these children's books, which are also books from my own childhood.

 

-- Then came Mary Elizabeth Pope’s The Gods of Green County (my 158th book read in 2021), a truly spell-binding experience and an early reason, already, for me to look forward to re-opening in May 2022, when I can press this book into the hands of customers looking for a fiction recommendation. 

 

That the evil manipulations and outright brutality of the novel’s villain (I think it’s fair to call the sheriff that) take place almost exclusively “offstage,” reported only second- or third-hand by other characters, seems altogether appropriate. It keeps the story's focus on Big Earl and Coralee, Leroy and Cole, and the young boys, Little Earl and Caleb. Other characters who seem minor early in the novel, come into their own as the fictional years go by. And always we are surrounded by the flat cotton fields and woods of Arkansas. Here, for instance, is Coralee:


...Sometimes I felt like I lived in a world of fields and trees and spirits when everyone else lived in a world of bricks and clapboard and bodies. Maybe that is why I never could make conversation. There were rules about who talks first, and for how long, and about what, and also when it was your turn to say something funny. I never could get the knack of it. 


Coralee and Big and Little Earl will insinuate themselves into your heart, I guarantee.


Nearing the last few short chapters of The Gods of Green County, I almost succumbed to disappointment (will not say why, because I don't do spoilers!), but the remaining pages did away with any incipient negative judgment, and I closed the book with deep satisfaction. Not only can Mary Elizabeth Pope “tell a story,” she has shaped her novel in such a way that everything that happens in her characters’ lives seems inevitable – and it all brings us home in the end. Catharsis achieved -- something rare so far in 21st century literature.

 

Pope did a reading at Dog Ears Books years ago from her collection of short stories, Divining Venus, and a memoir essay, “Downshifting, included in Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs from Michigan, edited by Michael Steinberg, tells of her summer job at Barb’s Bakery in Northport, so perhaps you met her at the bakery or the bookstore or both. Whether or not you did then, you will not want to miss The Gods of Green County. Really!


Friends past and present gathered together


So even in “escape,” you see, I have not been wasting my time. I’ve been getting out in the sunshine and under cloudy skies, too, as much as possible, enjoying the beautiful Michigan autumn and the companionship of a dog who doesn’t love the whole world (as did Sarah) but who does, at least, demonstrably love the Artist and me. And I am doing the best I can to deserve the love of them both.


That clueless heartbreaker!


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Paying Homage to a Lowly Native Tree


 

A tree is a place, not an object, it’s an island in the air

where our sight may live awhile, unburdened

and free from this heavy, earthen body.

 

-      Joseph Stroud, “Homage to the Black Walnut in Downtown Santa Cruz,” in the collection titled Below Cold Mountain

 

Fall is a good time to pay tribute to trees in general, particularly here in the northern Midwest as tree foliage loses its chlorophyll and blazes with bright colors for a few short weeks. 


When I look back over the years, I see that many different tree species have obsessed me in different seasons of my life. One year (while reading Swann’s Way) it was hawthorns, in the field and in books. I could think of almost nothing but hawthorns for months on end. Another year it was old apple trees – and everywhere I looked, I saw them. Many autumns have seen me swooning over the varied colors of ash trees, from butterscotch yellow to deep plummy purple, while during many winters in the woods I’ve been entranced by paper-thin, almost transparent beech foliage hanging on against winter’s wind and snow. I love the catalpa that appeared out of nowhere one year as a mere stripling in our backyard, now a stately tall tree that flowers for us each spring, and I also love its modest Arizona cousin, the desert willow, which is not a true willow at all but another member of the small genus Catalpa.


Catalpa in Michigan

Catalpa flower

Desert willow in Arizona

Beginning to flower


Speaking of true willows, the family Salicaceae encompasses the genus Populus, those species I call (after their name) the “people trees,” and this is how Burton V. Barnes and Warren H. Wagner, Jr., introduce them in Michigan Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region.

The genus Populus belongs to the willow family, and the aspens, cottonwoods, and poplars resemble the willows, especially in flower and fruit characters.

 

Flowers on pendulous catkins (delicious little word!) are pollinated by the wind, and leaves flutter in the breeze like whispers of a conversation just far enough away that the words cannot be distinguished. Aspens, balsam poplars, and cottonwoods inhabit very different ecosystems, but it is the lowly aspen, known locally in northern Michigan as popple, that occupies my mind this fall. Populus tremuloides, our popple, is Colorado’s aspen. Westerners (without our beautiful maples) rhapsodize over their aspens, while we here pretty much take our popples for granted, but this year I can’t stop thinking about them and combing the Leelanau roadsides with my eyes, hungry for popples.







 

As 2021 has been a record mushroom year, it seems only fitting to note here that Michigan’s largest living organism is a fungus growing in the Upper Peninsula that covers over 30 acres, but another reason I mention the U.P. fungus is that it has something common with our popple trees. You may think you are looking at a grove of individuals, but it’s far more likely that the trees you see all arise from a common underground, nearly indestructible root system (try to get rid of popples sometime!), which makes the trees genetically identical clones of one another and all physically interconnected. See the explanation and some fabulous photographs of aspen out west here. Within their genus, Barnes and Wagner tell us this about popples: 

…The aspens are boreal and northern species, adapted to a cold climate and either moist or dry soils. They reproduce abundantly by seeds under the right site conditions. Aspens are also adapted to fire and sprout profusely from roots when their trunks are scorched and killed.
 

Is Utah’s Pando aspen grove the largest popple clone in the world? Colorado has challenged the Utah clone, but these things are difficult to measure. 

 

My late Uncle Jim, a veteran of the Civilian Conservation Corps, had my undying admiration for his ability to identify trees in winter, when there were no leaves to match against field guide illustrations. Overall shapes of trees helps (the few remaining elm trees in the landscape stand out easily with their vase shape), and bark is another big help. The bark of Populus tremuloides is 

Thin, creamy white to yellowish green [when young], smooth, becoming fissured and gray [with age] with long, flat-topped ridges at the base of old trees or trees in deep shade.
 





Popples don’t care much for shade (the old ones you'll find there have no doubt been overtaken by other encroaching species), so you’ll often see them at the outer edges of woods and forests, clustered together like a herd of shy young deer, nervous about venturing too far out into the open. My advice today, though, is to take note of them before the wind has completely unclothed them for the winter. Individually they may not look like much, but in groups they are graceful and lovely, especially when the sun catches their dancing leaves, and these sweet little native trees are worthy of our Michigan attention.






Books Read Since Last Listed

 

148. Rashid, Mark. Lessons From a Ranch Horse (nonfiction)

149. Mosley, Walter. Walkin’ the Dog (fiction)

150. Mowat, Farley. The Dog Who Wouldn't Be (nonfiction)

 

Currently reading: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

 

 

Peasy News

 

Next week, the first week of my annual seasonal retirement (Saturday, October 30, is the last bookstore day of the 2021 season), we are taking Peasy to begin some special professional training (training for all three of us), and I’ll let you know how that develops. Pursuing social skills with our special needs dog, as well as addressing long-postponed household projects and issues, means we won’t be leaving for Arizona much before early December, but what needs doing needs doing, and we must needs get at it.


As always, thanks for supporting Dog Ears Books,  thanks for reading, and please feel welcome to share Books in Northport with your friends and neighbors.