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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Day of the Year

…After the snowfall, the temperature had fallen and everything had frozen. The branches of the trees resembled crystal menorahs. Candles were ignited in them by the setting sun and then extinguished. The blue snow sparkled with diamonds. Early stars twinkled in the sky. Somewhere, a dog bayed.

From The Manor, by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Snow falls, melts, vanishes, returns. We pass this way but once. What will we leave behind to say we were here?

Monday, December 29, 2008

In, Not Off

This is one of my favorite spots along M-22, different every day, beautiful in every season.

I was on the fence last night about whether or not to come to Northport today or to take my customary Monday off, after a festive dinner out at the home of friends, where the Hanukkah candles burned cheerfully for the close of the long holiday, but since we’ll be closed for three months, and since the days remaining are fast diminishing, and since so many people have come home Up North for the holidays, I thought I’d come in for at least a little while, and the decision has worked out well.

First, I zipped up the blinds in the front window to see Jon and Tegan gazing plaintively at the CLOSED sign! I flipped it around to OPEN, and they came right in for a good browse and a couple of Christmas cookies and a book for Jon. Their visit got the day off to a great start.

Next, since the first of the 2009 seed catalogs had arrived in the mail and opened with a brief welcome letter that began “Poet Celia Thaxter’s An Island Garden has been my enduring gardening inspiration,” I hurried to the garden section to see if I had that book. No, it wasn’t there, but Bill McKibben’s Hope, Human and Wild (St. Paul, MN: Hungry Mind Press, 1995) jumped into my hand and held me captive for about an hour. The story of the city of Curitiba in Brazil, a city I’d never before heard of, is mesmerizing, itself an inspiration for urban planners, architects and people around the world who care about making and keeping living environments livable. Just that was worth having come to my own bookstore! I may have put every book on the shelf, but I can be as surprised and delighted as any browsing customer by what I find here, and that’s one of the joys of having a bookstore.

Then our poet friend Al Bona stopped in, and he and I turned to the new issue of the new Dunes Review to compare impressions, both of us very impressed by and admiring of the poem “A Waltz for the Lovelorn,” by Todd Boss. The poem’s rhythm and internal rhymes and word choices are masterful. We turned to read Michael Callaghan’s interview with Boss and found more quotable lines to share, e.g., “A poem should be greased like a dream.” Al was so excited that before leaving he purchased a copy of Yellowrocket, the poet’s first book.

Later: It's been a busy, lively, very enjoyable day, with lots of books sold and many good conversations with friends. I made coffee three times, which is a good measure of foot traffic. In keeping with the holiday losing-track-of-what-day-it-is, this Monday felt like a Saturday.

The plan for the rest of the week is: Tuesday, 10-4; Wednesday (New Year's Eve, 10-???; Thursday (New Year's Day) CLOSED; Friday and Saturday (Jan. 2-3), 10-4. December sale prices will remain in effect through Saturday, Jan. 3, but after that don't count on dropping in again until April. During our winter vacation, I will be working on my -tween novel, aiming to have a complete 21-chapter draft by the end of March, but I'll continue to post to the blog roughly once a week.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In the Woods Again, At Last

Rose leaves command little attention in the summer, but against the snow they are impossible to ignore. So much snow has melted that Sarah and were able today to take a long overland hike. The world was full of wonder.

The beauty of a nearby wooded hill is an everyday sight but one I never take for granted. It never looks quite the same two days in a row, either.

Inside the woods, sheltered from the wind and surrounded by trees of all sizes and ages, one cannot help slowing down to look longer and more closely. Giant beech trees tower overhead, but miraculous fungi the size of a fingernail are just as alive.

I feel more alive myself for having spent half an hour here, climbing over logs and stumps and spying an occasional clump of moss, bright green against the snow. And Sarah? Oh, my, yes!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Revisiting a Couple of Old Friends

“Have you read this?” The question is reasonable (unlike “Have you read every book in here?”), but sometimes the answer is no. My reasons for ordering new books for stock vary. Occasionally a new book remains unsold long enough that I forget why I ordered it or even that I have it—and then when it comes into my hand, by chance, it becomes a new discovery. This morning, for example, I plucked from the shelf What Does It Mean To Be Human? Reverence for Life Reaffirmed by Responses from Around the World (NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000). The responses ranged from the didactic to the poetic and kept me turning pages and reading, but I did not remember what had first brought the book to my attention until I closed it again and saw that one of the three listed compiler/editors was Frederick Franck. Ah, that explained it!

Frederick Franck first came into my life through his book Simenon’s Paris, put in my path by the Kalamazoo Public Library but not entirely by chance, since it was, I’m pretty sure, shelved in the section containing travel books on Paris, only a dream of mine back then. Simenon’s Paris--and I have taken it down from its place on our home bookshelves this evening to look through its pages again—was, for me, the entrance into a magic kingdom. What Franck had done was to take various sketches and drawings he had made over the years, all over Paris, and put them together in a book, subsequently searching through the works of Georges Simenon (many of the Inspector Maigret stories) to find a passage that fit with each drawing. The order of events is important. He did not create the drawings to illustrate passages in the books but made the drawings first and then put the passages to them. And just as Simenon’s writing captures Paris, puts the reader there, in the streets, on the metro, etc., so Franck’s sketches did the same. I lost myself in the book, words and images, over and over again.

Many years later I discovered Franck’s classic, The Zen of Seeing (never out of print since its original publication), and its sequel, Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing. Franck had wanted to meditate but found he could not sit cross-legged, eyes closed, doing nothing, and empty his mind. It didn’t work for him. When he was drawing, however, the meditative state came naturally. He was no longer thinking, no longer centered in himself, in his ego, but had left himself behind to merge with his subject. If part of the magic of photography, as I wrote recently, is leaving behind language for (nonverbal) perceptions of balance, how much more satisfying, ultimately, is the meditative state one enters when attempting (my own attempts deserve no more name that this) to draw a landscape or a simple still life. A month from now, I will have taken up again the delights of meditating with pencil in hand, and much of the inspiration for daring to do so I owe to Franck.

There was another old friend for me today, though, finally brought by Santa and left in my post office box this morning. It was Palmer Brown’s The Silver Nutmeg (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1956), a much-worn ex-lib. copy but one I could afford and possessed yet of its charming illustrated dust jacket. So there I went, through the still water with Anna Lavinia to the other side of the pond—and the tingle! Not having held a copy of this story in my hands since grade school, I am happy to report that it has lost none of its charm. Every sentence of the story, every poem and song, and every drawing (by the author) moved me as effectively today as it had in the fourth grade. How unfair to children of the 21st century that this book is not available in reprint!

It was a strange day, foggy from morning ‘til night, and so warm that the fields to the north and south of our driveway were bare earth by late afternoon. The words of the overnight forecast, however, included “blast,” as in “cold blast, so our false spring will probably be gone by Sunday morning.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Am I Doing Now?

Many winter evenings, after dinner, the members of our household are triangulated in the warm central room of our old farmhouse—David in his green chair at the right angle, reading light on book or magazine; Pamela across from him, laptop in lap; and Sarah in my yellow leather reading chair, at the other end of the hypotenuse from me. Knowing that his two daughters are among my frequent e-mail correspondents, David may ask, “Anything from the girls?” If I’m tapping away at 100 wpm, however, his question is more likely to be, “What are you doing?” and to say I’m “writing” is no answer at all. “Writing an e-mail” or “working on a press release” or “revising a chapter” gives him information. Or I might answer, “Blogging.” We both laugh at the awkwardness of the word, but we’re becoming accustomed to the usage.

Someone else near and dear to me (you know who you are!) is less tolerant of the term. “It’s a website! You’re writing!” Did I say it wasn’t or I wasn’t? But while all blogs are websites, not all websites are blogs, and words that help clarify distinctions are not the sort of linguistic tinkering that gets my Irish up.

It was a slow day today at the bookstore (the crowds obviously having raced to Traverse City for big sales at big stores), so I had a chance to do some reading. Bill Moyers, in his new book, Moyers on Democracy (NY: Doubleday, 2008), a collection of speeches he gave from 1986 to 2007, writes about threats to freedom from many sources. Among the dangers are government secrecy, national policies driven by ideology, and the failure of journalists to do their job (relying instead on carefully crafted government statements, studded with red herrings). Language per se is not one of his main targets, but he can take aim at it now and then, when necessary.
Day after day, the egalitarian language of our Declaration of Independence is shredded by sloganeers who speak of the “death tax,” the “ownership society,” the “culture of life,” “compassionate conservatism,” “weak on terrorism,” the “end of history,” the “clash of civilizations,” “no child left behind.” … We have all the Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which words conceal reality[,] and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth.

‘Shredded’ is a strong, precise word. ‘Orwellian filigree’ calls up a host of associations (and the paradox there is surely intentional). Moyers is a master of language, and he pulls no punches. The phrases he skewers aim to reshape thought to the speakers’ [intentional plural] own ends. I have written elsewhere of my contempt for the phrase “politically correct” and for terrorists’ who “claim responsibility.” Are they planning to stick around and clean up the mess, rebuild infrastructure, heal families and communities? The boasting of criminals has nothing to do with responsibility.

Back to the less inflammatory term, ‘blog.’ My own use of language (unlike my politics) tends toward conservatism, but slow as I am to adapt new usages, still I recognize the fluid and constantly evolving reality of language. Any hope for fixity or purity in language is misplaced. Language can do as much as it does because it is flexible, because in its heart it is inherently ambiguous, and because there is no fencing it in and stopping its growth.

On the way home tonight, we stopped at Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern for a bit of post-holiday conviviality. The lights and wreaths and garlands inside were festive, and the colored lights outside shone on icicles hanging from the eaves. Tomorrow, perhaps, the rains will come, but for tonight it’s still winter.

And what am I doing this evening, right this minute? Once again, I’m blogging!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Greeting, Everyone

Wishing one and all a very merry, Michigan-hollyberry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Later on Christmas Eve....

I hadn’t intended to post twice today, but what a day it turned out to be! Soft, wet, thick snow, reminiscent of a gentle, noiseless blizzard in a paperweight, arrived like magic throughout northern Leelanau today. Whole counties may have fallen under the spell, for all I know, but the scenes in and around Northport and from there to our house, without even crossing the township line, were more than enough for delight.

Fortunately, weather did not deter friends or last-minute shoppers, and Dog Ears Books was lively most of the afternoon. Among our visitors were Chris Garthe and his first cousin once removed, Geoffrey Robson, associate conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, seen here inspecting an old French horn from Funky Mama’s that has clearly seen better musical days.

With the Leelanau Conservation District closed on Christmas Eve, Susan Cordes found time for us, and she and David enjoyed an impromptu meeting of the Leland Genealogical and Amateur Historical Society. When those two get together, the Leland stories flow like wine, as does the laughter.

M-22 wasn’t too treacherous for our return trip home. The scenery was distractingly beautiful, but fortunately that isn’t much of a problem, what with a delicious lack of road traffic in our neck of the woods. “There’s no one behind me, so let me know when you want me to stop,” David said, and I rode with window down, camera ready.

At last, home before dark, Sarah and I went over the fields, up between Claudia’s woods and Bruce’s orchard. By the time we came in, the little dog had more big balls of snow frozen into her furry pantaloons than she’s ever had before, and my jeans were wet to the knees.

So, practically a perfect day. A snowfall this beautiful can only elicit smiles and exclamations--no complicated thoughts. The effect lingers into the darkness, and I feel very contented and simple-minded. It is enough to be warm, to be fed, and to look forward to a cozy pack time tonight, a quiet holiday tomorrow.

Gifts of the Season, Here in Northport

Northport is a quiet little village. It does not blaze with lights--at any time of year--and even when folks come “home for the holidays,” as they do, the streets are hardly thronged with shoppers. Holiday spirit, however, abounds, eddying gently through the streets.

As dark sets in, the lights come on the big tree at the T intersection of Waukazoo and Nagonaba, and smaller trees in shop windows cast light out onto the sidewalks. And long before dark, people have been picking their way through the snow and ice, in and out of the shops, delivering packages of cookies and picking up last-minute gifts.

Marjorie brought rosemary shortbread yesterday, and Julia came in with a package containing something so delicious-looking (and –smelling!) that I’ll have to get her recipe. Jan Hunt brought us a beautiful and generous assortment of goodies, including truffles made from her late husband Bob’s recipe. Bob was a reader—that’s how we met. Marjorie and Walt, Julia and John, Kathie (who always has dog treats for Sarah in her pocket) and so many, many others. David and George had a sit-down over coffee yesterday, closely supervised by their dogs--because Sarah has dog friends, as well as human: Cricket visited yesterday with George and Trudy, and Shelly pops in with Jake almost every day.

This is our life. In this season of lights and gifts, the friends I have made because of Dog Ears Books are gifts beyond measure.

Thank you all for being in our life! Best wishes for happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Varied Menu

Today’s topics—so far: (1) my morning; (2) Dunes Review; (3) books that welcome you back. There is a progression here, moving from present irritations to new pleasures to old friends.

Trouble with the van, so David wanted to take it up to the garage, which meant Sarah and I would go in the “little” car. Got it loaded, but Sarah had taken off to find her friends (our neighbors’ dogs) and wasn’t interested in car or leash. In the midst of dog pandemonium, the loose right lens fell out of my glasses. Yes, of course, into the snow. I didn’t dare move from the spot. Soon there were three adults scraping around in a small area, like archaeologists at a dig, while Becky held Sarah’s leash and kept the other dogs at bay. Miracle! The lens was found! Okay, David would take Sarah in the van and wait for me at the top of the hill to make sure I got out all right.

Back to the little car, loaded and warming up. Put it in reverse and stalled out. Started again and stalled out again. Not wanting to flood the engine, I got out and started out up the hill for the second time that day. At the top, no van! David and Sarah were out at the very end of the driveway, by the highway! I jumped up and down, waving my arms like a crazed scarecrow in the wind. No response. Well, sorry, I was not in the mood to walk all the way out to the road. Turned around, went back to the little car, got it started—and at the top of the hill came bumper to bumper with David, coming back to see what was going on with me. He backed out, let me lead the way, and off to Northport we went. I had to keep my right eye closed (lens was safe in my pocket) in order to navigate.

Dogs, glasses, cars—what next?

But the morning turned around in Northport, where the post office had six copies of the new Dunes Review for me. Northporter friends Al Bona and Marie Bahlke are both among poets published in this issue. I love the cover, too. My first thought on seeing it was, “It’s somewhere in the old state hospital.” All that old, thick, crackled paint separating into raised pieces like colored tiles. There are some new names inside, too. It’s a handsome issue.

My third topic for the day is one I’m stealing from the “Shelf Awareness” newsletter. What books “welcome you back” every time you pick them up and begin to re-read? Many of the ones that leap to my mind initially are young people’s books, ones I read as a young person: Wind in the Willows (which led off the SA piece); The Little Prince; The Black Stallion and all the other Walter Farley books; The Borrowers and The Borrowers Afield; Anne of Green Gables; The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet; Little Women (despite the formulaic writing, the characters come alive); Mistress Masham’s Repose (which I did not discover until adulthood); The Silver Nutmeg—the children’s story, not the novel—and if only it were available in reprint! And how many more came to mind this morning that have escaped me at this moment!

Adult novels A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith, welcome me back time and again, as do all of Jane Austen’s books and anything by Marcel Pagnol. Even murder mysteries can have this quality: I think of those by Agatha Christie, Harry Kemelman and Georges Simenon.

As I carried this question further, it seemed to me that even “difficult” books can be welcome-back books. Why else would I have re-read Joyce’s Ulysses so many times? And while I never expect to drag myself through all of Proust, I’ll certainly revisit the first and last volumes. Aristotle and Marx, Shakespeare and Homer—don’t they belong here? Bergson, for me, and de Toqueville. Too many poets to name….

It’s no wonder there’s not enough time to keep up with new books. Old friends keep calling me back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hello Out There!

Greetings from Sarah on another snow, Up North day! She does such a pretty, polite "Sit!" when I have food in my hand.

Heard this morning on the radio someone saying what she’d learned from the current financial crisis: “I’m pretty much on my own.” We all learn that truth eventually, in one way or another. One friend said she learned it on the infamous September 11. Some find the lesson in the breakup of relationships, others on the battlefield.

The other side of that coin is first feeling all alone and thinking no one cares, then learning that someone (sometimes even many people) do care, and that’s just as true. Truth here, as so often, is in paradox. It’s true that we’re on our own, and it’s true that we don’t have to be as rugged in self-sufficiency as we sometimes believe. People do care.

One day past the solstice, two days into Hanukkah, with Christmas three days ahead, David and I both thought we might have a lot of last-minute shoppers at the bookstore, since the weather is so treacherous, but the streets of Northport are practically empty. (Never underestimate the determination of small town residents to make their way to the nearest large town!) On such a day, a small occurrence like a comment on my blog from Salt Lake City is heart-warming. At least in the virtual world, someone has noticed that I’m here!

It was good to have artist friend Debra Ebbers drop in around noon, too. She brought her lunch, I heated up lentils from home, and we each had a red leather chair for our visit, in honor of which I'm posting this picture of some of Deb's palettes, in use at her studio last Wednesday evening.

Snow is still falling. The forecast is for it to continue through Wednesday and for the sun to shine on Christmas Day. Though I often long for chickens and horses (we have the room!), I probably would not enjoy making all those trips out to the barn this time of year to do chores.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

And Then--No Surprise--More Snow

It’s been a day of blizzard--wind mainly from the west but enough gusts from the north to close up our driveway and keep us home. I walked up to the neighbors’ house once, and when I turned around to walk back down the hill, my footprints and Sarah’s had already been covered over by new, wind-driven snow.

More dreams last night, these set here in Leelanau County—Waukazoo Street, Alpers Road, M-204—but peopled with characters from Mildred D. Taylor’s Logan family stories. In one dream, Sarah was big enough that I could ride her, bareback, like a horse, guiding her with bridle and reins, ordering her “Up!” a roadside embankment to put distance between us and evil-intentioned pursuers.

When I reach the last page of a book, even if the main character has died, I usually wonder, “What happened next?” and this has been especially true for me with Mildred D. Taylor’s nooks about the Logan family. I woke this morning to finish Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and to think about young adult fiction for most of the rest of the day, on and off--not while outdoors with Sarah in the wind-driven snow and not while cozily perusing Eating By Color, a new cookbook, gift from a friend, but quite a lot. I thought about “happy endings,” which is what led me to thinking about endings in general and how Taylor’s novels don’t so much end, in a contrived or any other way, as much as they reach a point where this one certain part of the story fades off, though you know the larger family life goes on, and you just hope there will be another book to pick up the threads again. Cassie’s story is one of collision with very harsh, cruel reality. The saving grace for the girl, though it doesn’t change the larger world, is her family, and we want to know what happens next in her life. What I most feared for the family had not occurred by the last page (though plenty of terrible things did happen), but I want to know that it never came about. Not then and not later.

Next in my book stack, though, the one I hope to begin reading aloud to David later tonight, is In the Shade of Spring Leaves: The Life and Writings of Higuchi Ichiyo, a Woman of Letters in Meiji Japan. One of the raves on the back of the book says "brilliant local color, elegance of style and deep insight into society's urban fringe dwellers, particularly women and adolescents." Ichiyo lived from 1872 to 1896. I am impatient to enter her world. Will it be warm or cold?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Here Comes the Sun!

Sun stand still! Not really, but it's not a bad time to pause and remember that days start getting longer as soon as the solstice mark is passed. Yesterday ended with these clearing skies and dramatic sunset.

Then came Saturday morning, beautiful frost--and how many minutes to frostbite? Never mind, the orchards sparkled in the sun.

This picture is for my sister, Deborah! She and her husband, Joe, and their two dogs stayed at Krikat B&B when they visited last summer. Deborah, here's what it looks like in the winter. I've been watching and waiting to catch the red barns in bright morning sunlight. The horses are wearing their winter blankets, enjoying being outdoors despite the wind chill.

Ooh, the ice in the harbor! Not yet frozen solid (with the bubblers, can it freeze solid?), it is forming sloshy, slow-bobbing pancakes. The ducks don't mind at all.

And the BAND PLAYED ON! They come so early in the morning, though--next year I am going to issue formal invitations to friends and customers to be on hand first thing in the morning for holiday music the Saturday before Christmas! The coffee pot will be full, cookies will be piled high, and we'll invite the band inside!

One more band shot, looking right into the sun, but showcasing Deb Wetherbee, who showed only her back in the other photo.

It was a lovely, bright day, full of light and friends and shoppers and conversation, but I won't say more tonight, because I am deep into the third chapter of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and don't want to do anything but curl up under the covers and read.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Painting by David Grath

Waking this morning from a dream of antique stereopticon slides and an old charter fishing boat renovation (the connection was vague in the dream, too), for some reason I started thinking about books in terms of warm and cold. Sarah, realizing I was awake, came to tell me she needed to go outside, and my train of thought did not get much farther, but the idea is that setting is not the deciding factor, nor is genre. A book might be tragic or comic, set in the Arctic or in New Orleans, be a murder mystery or a multigenerational epic, and those facts about it would not tell you what you would only get from reading it. Maybe, like beauty or color, the temperature of a book is as much in the reader (the beholder) as in the story. Does this make any sense? Do you have a favorite book that is blanket and fire to you all in one? Have you read a book that chilled you through and through, regardless of its subject matter? Not necessarily chilled you with dread—it might lower your own internal thermostat like a cooling breeze. I don’t know if this idea will go anywhere, but I’m throwing it in the ring.

The image today is one of my husband’s paintings, a view of South Fox Island seen from the Leelanau peninsula. It was a comment from yesterday that made me think of posting this image. The person commenting wrote that the way I feel about doing photography is the way she feels about painting, and I guess that goes for me, too, and is the reason philosophy of art was so painful to me. I’m more than willing to analyze arguments, but please don’t ask me to analyze art! Immersion, identification, not intellectual distance, please! This painting warms me.

Besides photography and painting, sometimes for me—when I am far from home and have no obligations—there is drawing, approached in the manner of Frederick Franck as meditation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Balancing Light and Shadow

One of the things I love about photography is that, unlike reading, writing, talking, bookselling and teaching (a personal and incomplete list, that), it is nonverbal. Words can be beautiful, can be magic, but it’s good to be able to take a vacation from them, too, once in a while, especially when a single word can dominate my thought for months at a time, bordering on obsession. One year that word was ‘balance.’ Well, with my camera I am not thinking about balance but working to achieve it wordlessly. Big difference. One way the mind goes round and round in its squirrel cage; the other way, the mind takes a backseat or even a little meditative nap, leaving eyes and hands in charge. The old 35mm demanded that shutter speed and aperture be balanced, something my digital camera’s automatic program does now, but that still leaves dark and light, detail and empty space and overall composition to be considered. Not thought about, mind you, but seen to and adjusted for.

Truly, though, what happens with me is that I go back and forth between seeing images and thinking in and with words. I balance, in the French sense, i.e., swing between these different modes of apprehending the world, traveling to and fro on the wings of metaphor, and the word that holds me in its grip this week is ‘shadow.’ On days when clouds hide the sun, even if snow is falling, how still the landscape seems, shadows absent or barely impinging on consciousness! Then the sun reappears, casting objects and their shadows into stark relief against the glaringly bright snow. From each day its beauty. Here comes (came) the sun, brightening our Northport morning. Saturday morning the village will be brightened by the village band and carolers, performing songs of the season at various locations around town, beginning at 10 a.m.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Do You See?

Is there a word that comes to your mind as you view this image? Tell me your word, and I'll tell you mine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Courting Warmth, Now, When It Counts

It was an evening for a big pot of homemade lentil soup, an evening for homemade oatmeal muffins bursting with fat dried cherries from organic grower Gene Garthe, an evening for homemade applesauce from Kilchermans' Leelanau Township apples. Three evenings in one! Dinner over, the armchair calls.

Here’s my confession: I have not yet read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the Newbery Medal winner of 1976, by Mildred D. Taylor. My neglect of the book has not been intentional; I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. For some reason, though—maybe because it was a beautiful hardcover copy that came into my hands—The Land was a book I couldn’t resist. I’m halfway through it now, living vicariously far from Michigan winter. Will young Paul Logan be able to buy the land he’s fallen in love with in Mississippi? Will he first fulfill his dream of seeing the West? Will he ever be united with the appaloosa, as it seems so clearly to me that he should be? And will his friend Mitchell ever settle down?

Making his way through the post-Civil War South, Logan meets again and again the same difficulties that pushed him to leave his Georgia home in the first place. His father was white, his mother African-American and Native American, and Paul does not fit easily into either the white or the black world. His discouragement, however, is never strong enough to deflect him from his ultimate goal. Once he realized that his white half-brothers and not he would inherit his daddy’s land, he was determined to have his own land someday.

Taking a break from reading to check e-mail and find out more about the author, I quickly learn (to my great delight) that Roll of Thunderand most of Taylor’s other writing also center around the Logan family. In fact, The Land, though written after her other Logan books, is a prequel to the others. tells me that “The Logan family has served as the subject of most of Taylor's books, including The Friendship (1987), The Road to Memphis (1990), and The Well: David's Story (1995).” Well, that settles it: I have the pleasure of at least four more Mildred D. Taylor books to anticipate!

Yesterday’s rain was changed to snow as an Arctic wind swept out of the west during the night, howling around the old farmhouse like an angry wolf, desperate with hunger. I heard on the radio not many weeks ago that temperature reports in Alaska are given not only in degrees but, more importantly, in seconds-to-frostbite. “We didn’t have wind chill when I was a kid,” I used to tell my son. Well, we didn’t have a name for wind chill then. But doesn’t the name “seconds-to-frostbite” get right to the heart of the matter?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Sunshine

This Sunday was not sunny, so I’m borrowing an image from yesterday, when the day dawned clear and the sun shone for three hours or so before disappearing again behind the clouds. Can you see the skin of ice in the harbor? The ducks are sitting on the ice (one standing), soaking in the light. When sun disappeared outdoors, I turned to find it on my bookshelves.

Not a little of the sunshine of our Northern winters is surely wrapped up in the apple. How could we winter over without it?

So begins Chapter VII, “The Apple,” of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs. The earliest copyright showing for this work is 1875. The style and allusions are clearly from an age long vanished.

A cellar well filled with apples is more valuable than a chamber filled with flax and wool. So much sound, ruddy life to draw upon, to strike one’s roots down into, as it were.

Burroughs moves back and forth between poetic sensibility and down-to-earth facts, mentioning casually that the apple “has been found by analysis to contain more phosphorus than any other vegetable,” then moving directly on to observe, “This makes it the proper food of the scholar and the sedentary man….” Quoting from an undocumented historical source, he passes on the claim that workers in Cornwall in 1801, “a year of much scarcity,” were better able to subsist on a meatless diet of apples than one solely of potatoes. Two pages later he waxes enthusiastic and personal:

How pleasing to the touch! I love to stroke its polished rondure with my hand, to carry it in my pocket on my tramp over the winter hills, or through the early spring woods. You are company, you red-cheeked spitz, or you salmon-fleshed greening! I toy with you; press your face to mine, toss you in the air, roll you on the ground, see you shine out where you lie amid the moss and dry leaves and sticks. You are so alive! You glow like a ruddy flower. You look so animated I almost expect to see you move! I postpone the eating of you, you are so beautiful!

Burroughs mentions a truth obvious to Up North dwellers—that a bowl of apples is as beautiful a centerpiece as a vase of flowers. In our house at present, however, we have a bowl so highly piled with apples that it would inhibit conversation if placed between us. Time to make a big pot of applesauce tonight! After a gloomy day of rain and melting snow, the aroma of simmering applesauce will be 19th-century perfume.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Following Is a Commercial Message....

This is only a sample of new book titles currently on sale at Dog Ears Books in Northport. Many more available titles are not listed here. Walk in the door and take 20% off list price, but remember that I may have only one copy in stock of the title(s) you want, so if it takes your fancy, don’t delay. That's 106 Waukazoo Street, where Dog Ears Books is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10-4.

A Picturesque Situation
If I Am Found Dead
Roads to Quoz
The Last Days in Old Beijing
The Gargoyle: A Novel
For the Love of a Dog
The Other End of the Leash
Be the Pack Leader
The Gulf Coast: Stories From Where We Live
The Great Lakes: Stories From Where We Live
A Place on the Water
The Waters of Michigan
Lakeside Living
Obama’s Challenge
The Audacity of Hope
The Art of Simple Food
Italian Grill
All the Wild Horses
The Wild Trees
Garden Insects
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Liberty’s Blueprint
Team of Rivals
Predictably Irrational
Dark Water

Friday, December 12, 2008

Actually (A Peevish Disquisition)

(To skip the words and get to the pictures, scroll down.)

The French language irritates many Americans almost as much as does philosophy, and it’s undeniably true that while French and English share a huge chunk of vocabulary, they are two different languages. Not to mention les faux amis—the words that look so similar from one language to another that one expects their meaning to be as close as their orthography. Often not the case! So it’s irrelevant to English usage that the French word actuellement means “right now, as we speak, this very moment.” If you are told that your father is actuellement speaking to the principal of the school, it means the two are in conference right then and there. Not so in English. My question: what does ‘actually’ mean in English?

American speakers of English these days often use the word to correct a false impression, substituting a fact, as in “You might think he’s an easy touch, but actually he’s very canny” or “She calls herself shy, but she is actually the most outrageous flirt you’d ever want to meet.” Here ‘actually’ functions as a substitute for ‘in fact,’ and we all understand it as intended. Lately, however, this outwardly innocuous adverb has made insidious inroads into everyday conversation, shedding meaning as its usage spreads. Ask some young person where he or she was born, and the answer is likely to be, “I was actually born in Grand Rapids. I actually graduated from high school there, and now I’m actually a student at MSU.” Did anyone say you weren’t? What has been added by this ubiquitous and now nearly meaningless word? Grump, grump, grump!

Have I mentioned that there’s a sale going on at Dog Ears Books in Northport? That both used and new books in stock (only three exceptions) are currently discounted a full 20%? That we have beautiful gift possibilities for every budget? This is actually true—until the end of December--and anyone already out here in Leelanau Township doesn’t have to drive to Traverse City for these bargains, either. Mercy, think of that!

But now, away with words for as long as it takes to post three pictures from yesterday afternoon, when the sun came out (about 2:30), and the sky stayed clear until after sunset! What a treat for northern eyes and hearts!