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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back to Paris Again

On a monochromatic day like today, borrowing color from the past seems only sensible. I've been borrowing literary color, too, crossing the Atlantic for it.

Sometimes after I finish two or three books I’d been living inside, so to speak, for a while, it’s hard to settle on the next. That’s where I was the night before Thanksgiving. Tried a murder mystery by a popular writer whose work I’ve enjoyed before but found he just didn’t fit my mood this time. Took up a novel by a favorite poet-essayist and gave it a few chapters before folding that hand, wondering why she had been so unwilling to let the characters speak for themselves. I did want another novel, though, and at last committed to Left Bank, by Kate Muir. Only after I had described this novel in e-mail to family members as “fun” did I realize the strangeness of such a description in talking about a story that has a young child suddenly disappearing, possibly kidnapped, in the first chapter--hardly the stuff of comedy! But as the author shifts into chapters of flashbacks, mercilessly skewering Parisian obsessions with film, fashion, food and philosophy (also satisfying my memory-laden fantasies with scene after scene in the Sixth Arrondissement), I find it hard to believe anything terrible has happened or will happen to bright, independent little tomboy, Sabine. We’ll see. I decided to save for reading aloud to David tonight the chapter which has Sabine’s mother, the Texas-born French movie star, filming on location in Picardy. He’ll love that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Celebrating Blessings

These little sweethearts at Scotts’ Animal Rescue Farm have reason to be grateful. Don’t we all? Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Continued from Yesterday (or, This I Believe)

I began writing this as a comment replying to Gerry’s comment, but it got so long it seemed to deserve a separate post. This is what comes of having Bruce in the bookstore while I’m working on book orders (really!) at home! The article under discussion is from this week’s Northern Express.

Gerry, I’ve been musing on your phrase “romanticize forgiveness” and wondering (1) what that would mean, (2) if it’s bad, and (3) if I do it. But maybe my position will be clearer if I don’t attempt to answer those questions directly, instead just saying what I believe.

As a pragmatist, I believe in what works. My philosophical preference is for solutions that work, in contrast to ideologies that don’t (and that tend to drive people to polar standoffs). As a romantic, I believe there is beauty in the world--in people, in very ordinary corners of daily life, as well as in magnificent scenery—and that love has real power to change hearts. Putting together pragmatism and romanticism, I believe that love, listening, caring and forgiveness work much more often than most human beings--me included--put them into practice.

From earliest childhood, I have found forgiveness one of the biggest challenges in life, and I don't think I'm alone. It is so much easier to be outraged, to take a stand on the moral high ground and hand down judgments, to harden one’s heart against those whom we see as wrongdoers. Ideologies justify this stance. Pragmatism argues against it, simply because it leaves everything as it was rather than changing the world.

Many years ago I stumbled by accident on an enormous insight. It was in the days of long telephone cords (remember those?), and mine had taken a lot of abuse, as various people in the household, in search of privacy, had pulled the cord around corners and through doorways, twisting and stretching it until the wires inside the plastic finally gave way. This was also in the days when the phone company came to the house and fixed things on their dime. (This is probably hard for young people to believe, but it happened.) So, anyway, there I was at home with a harried phone company employee working over my phone and becoming, it seemed, more and more angry by the minute. Soon he was practically shouting about people “purposely destroying” phone company equipment. He had a particular axe to grind against “welfare mothers.” I was not a welfare mother but wondered what that had to do with anything. What if I had been? And why would anyone destroy their own phone on purpose? Was this man crazy? He was so loud and threatening, and I was so frightened at being alone in the house with him, that I moved to the other side of the dining room table so as to have a big piece of furniture between us. He quivered with rage, I shook with fear. And why we were such deadly enemies, I had no idea! Where had this furious battle come from?

As I say, the next move was not one my conscious mind recommended. Unlike Vogl, I did not think through the situation to reach a decision. In the heat of the moment, pressed to the wall, cornered, desperate, I heard words come out of my mouth before I knew they were there: “You must be having a really bad day!”

He collapsed like a punctured balloon. His dog had died the night before. The phone company had guys working double and triple shifts, trying to keep up with all the students moving into dorms for the new semester. It all poured out. Gradually, both of us stopped shaking. Crisis averted. That strange, surprising episode has stayed with me over the years. He needed to have both his grief and his hard work recognized by another human being. That was all it took.

I don’t even remember if he apologized. When I tell this story, people often ask the question. No matter how overworked and grief-stricken he was feeling, they say, it wasn’t my fault, and he shouldn’t have taken it out on me. All I can say is that I was not the conscious target of his behavior and that the two of us somehow broke through the emotional impasse. Neither of us deserves “credit,” really, if anyone wants to give a moral score for the incident. Who cares? We got past anger and fear to sympathy and understanding, and I’m pretty sure he went on with his day more relaxed than he’d been before our encounter.

Forgiveness can’t be a blank check extending into the future, and it isn’t up to me to forgive a wrong done to someone else. I also don’t buy the recent idea that forgiveness has nothing to do with the person forgiven but is only “about” the forgiver (I’m probably wandering far afield here—forgive me!), as in “I forgive you because I’m getting on with my life, but don’t expect me to have any further contact with a slimeball like you!” That’s forgiveness? I don’t think so! I think you and I would agree, Gerry, that a sincere apology and change of heart are often preconditions, if you will, when the stakes are high, but I also suspect you believe, as I do, that people’s hearts can be opened to make apologies and amends if they are approached in the way Vogl approached her neighbor.

I’ve said that I believe in this kind of approach but that it is difficult for me to practice. The effort is much more than it took in adolescence not to keep “envying girls with nice noses” (Amy’s burden in Little Women, remember?). There are books that help me, both in the reading and the re-reading. I need a lot of reminders. But there’s nothing like having real-life models. Vogl looked to Martin Luther King, Jr., and to Barack Obama. Vogl herself has now become such a model for me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

(Book) Leaves Rustle with Romance

Grey, cold, windy and slushy are the days of this early Thanksgiving week. Only Sarah’s need to exercise could draw me out of the house yesterday, but there were beauties to be found, even in such weather. The box elder is my least favorite tree. Nevertheless, its “keys” looked beautiful yesterday, as did this winter-abandoned wasp nest.
What if someone has not a romantic bone in his body? (Not a problem in our house!) “Nay, if he is not to be animated by Cowper!” That’s how I remember the line from Sense and Sensibility, uttered by the very “sensible,” i.e., as we would say today, sensitive Marianne, sister to the character we would label “sensible,” i.e., the one with both feet on the ground. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811. Villette, by Charlotte Brontë, came to the public in 1853, and Anthony Trollope’s The Golden Lion of Granpère in 1872. All three works and their authors fall within the sprawling literary period known as Romantic, but these writers’ voices do not have the same accents at all. They might almost have sprung up in different countries, though one must have at least a tolerance for romanticism to enjoy any of them.

Austen and Trollope, it is true, both expect their heroines to marry: marriage is the only respectable path for the young female population in their novels. Alongside this similarity, however, enormous differences reign. Marianne is ruled by passion and, proud of her submission to feeling, does everything possible to encourage herself to emotional heights and depths. Perhaps in Marianne the author was gently ridiculing what she saw as Romantic excesses. Elinor has strong feelings, too, but they are deep and steadfast rather than stormy, and her pride is in concealing them from the world’s pitiless gaze. Most of Trollope’s characters are cut from Elinor cloth. The temporarily star-crossed lovers in The Golden Lion of Granpère are no exception, but we know from our first introduction to George and Marie that they are destined for one another. In fact, the only question that carries us through the narrative, the only excuse for the novel, is: how long will Fate toy with this young man and woman before conferring happiness upon them at last? Austen’s Marianne did not have such a pat resolution to her tempestuous love affair. That she will be happy, that she will even live, is far from a foregone conclusion as we read the novel. In fact, it is Trollope alone, the one man in this authorial trio, whose work (one sees the same pattern in the Barchester series) conforms to the happily-ever-after formula. Life is more complicated in the eyes of the women writers.

The characters of The Warden are infinitely dear to me, I must admit, as are all of Austen’s fictional cast, but for complexity of character Charlotte Brontë is unmatched. Even very minor characters, such as the servant Rosine, are individuals rather than types. It is in her work, also, that women are most independent financially and that outcomes of love affairs are most in doubt.

When Lucy Snowe, the protagonist and narrator of Villette, sets out to make her way in the world, she is under no one’s protection and has her living to earn. By turns retiring and expressive, guarded and daring, Lucy’s unique character partakes of both Marianne’s and Elinor’s and adds layers of contradiction to both. There is love interest in her story, but for a long time it is only the love of others that Lucy observes quietly from a distance. Dr. John, when she meets with him again in the town of Villette, seems almost a deus ex machina come to her rescue, but we are right not to forget the child Polly’s devotion to him, and Polly’s reappearance is hardly a surprise. Where Trollope oversimplifies with his endings and Austen with social constraints (almost never does a servant have a name or speak a line), Brontë manipulates her plots with coincidences that strain credulity. (Never mind. We forgive them all.) Gradually the literature professor--ugly, meddling, unbearably dictatorial—supplants the doctor in Lucy’s heart, his own heart revealing generosity and kindliness that lay hidden there along, but the reader is no surer than Lucy herself that love will prosper in Lucy’s life, and we remain in doubt to the last page of the book. Life is uncertain, Brontë keeps reminding us, and human beings can be very changeable.

Do you know your own heart? How, then, can you ever possibly know another’s? Brontë’s characters do come to know one another, but Fate is still more complex, with individual destinies at least as often crossed by accident and turned by the will of others as they manage to go straight to their heart’s own aim.

My own pragmatism is romantic at heart. I do believe in the miracles that can be wrought by kindness, the magic done by love. Here is an important article, telling how the writer dealt personally with what has been a very painful episode in local politics.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Couple Glances Backward

Yes, those are socks on the clothesline. Nearing the end of Villette, I'm not ready to write about that book yet and have no other big inspirations, so I'm posting a couple of images from weeks (months?) past. Outdoors is wet, heavy snow. Indoors, chicken soup is simmering.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday to Savor

The morning opened well, cold but windless. Cold and snow are so much easier to accept without fierce, bitter wind! Gaps in the clouds gave early hints of possible later sunshine, a promise fulfilled by afternoon.

La fête de Mac Thomas s’était très bien passé! Our advance publicity was wonderful; the weather smiled on us; people trekked from near and far to visit with Mac and purchase his book; and it was a very congenial crowd, thus a nice afternoon party. Mac had stories to tell to match everyone’s interest, and the time sped by. The event had been planned and advertised for two hours, 2 to 4, but it was 5 o’clock before we wound things up, a happy success.

Among those coming from outside Northport were:

Mary Bush from the Business Helper in Suttons Bay, who did a lot of work on photographs for the book –

And Barb Tholin and Charlie Wunsch (with son, Ellis) of Edible Grande Traverse magazine.

It was good to drive home in the last light of the day, looking forward to an easy supper of (planned) leftovers and a cozy pack evening.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Goings-On About Town

Mac Thomas book signing, Sat., Nov. 22, 2-4 pm. This Saturday is an author event at Dog Ears Books, a visit and book signing featuring Northport’s own Grafton McCready “Mac” Thomas, and I could not be more thrilled with the coverage the Leelanau Enterprise gave us in this week’s paper. Mac is on the first page of the second section, two photographs (one mine--guess which one!) in color, with boxed text giving details of his bookstore appearance and a long interview article by Amy Hubbell continuing to an inside page. True to form, Mac has another letter to the editor in the first section of the paper this week, expressing thanks for local medical care. Oh, to be that sharp at 93 years of age!

Holiday Open House, Saturday, Dec. 6 until 8pm. Lisa Drummond came by the other day on Chamber business, and I believe I already mentioned the tree lighting on December 6. Today Stephanie of Funky Mama’s and I had a chance to confer and agree that we will do our holiday open house on the evening of the tree lighting. Stephanie is planning to be open until 9pm. I’m only committing to 8pm and hoping, as mentioned before, for milder weather than we had last year--the night David thought we wouldn’t make it home at all!

16th Annual Madrigal Christmas, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5th & 6th, 7:30 pm. This beautiful event featuring the Leelanau Children’s Choir and Youth Ensemble will take place once again at the Northport Community Arts Center. Tickets are available at Dog Ears Books. Obviously, I’ll have to attend the Friday performance. We certainly wouldn’t miss it for the world!

I think the Christmas concert up at school is the following weekend but will check for sure on that.

Bruce was back at the helm yesterday, after two weeks in California. Who says northern Michigan does not exert a powerful magnetic force, even at this forbidding time of year? With Bruce at the bookstore, I had a chance to lunch with friend Sally Coohon of Dolls and More, and that also gave me a chance to hang out a while in her additional new space, where the old pharmacy used to be.

Sally’s yarns and fabrics and threads always look appealing and are especially so peeking out of the antique wooden drawers and shelves that furnish her classroom annex—or “The More Shop,” as she’s going to call it. “Some people don’t like dolls,” she admits. And it’s true, she has always had so much more than dolls!

Get a load of this beautiful new flannel fabric Sally just got in. PJ’s, anyone?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Big Change in the Weather

In the abstract—just thinking about it, that is—winter doesn’t have the appeal for me that it used to have. Driving is harder, for one thing. David tells me our secondary roads in the county are only going to be plowed one lane wide this winter. It's a cost-savings measure and probably makes sense. Still--. [NEXT DAY'S NOTE: The Enterprise reports that plowing will NOT be reduced in Leelanau County this winter.] Everything seems more expensive or more difficult or both in winter. But that’s in the abstract. Getting outdoors, even on a cold, windy, gloomy winter day, usually brings about a change in my attitude, and it doesn’t take much to do the trick. Snow on pine branches can be sufficient.

To find color in the landscape, one must look harder. Hidden away at the back of a field, on the edge of a small wetland, these Michigan holly berries are bright on the darkest day. Sarah is a bright spot for me, too, both emotionally and visually. Seeing her run happily lifts my heart and makes me laugh, and her orange shirt (or, more often, simple red neck scarf) makes her easy to spot against the dun and white scenery.

Winter as reading time is hardly my personal discovery. It’s so satisfying to be cozy with a book in this season of long nights and short days. Villette is holding my interest, but having left it at home on Tuesday I had to pick up something else, and my hand fell upon Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor's Tale. Am I the last person in the Western world to read this already classic graphic novel? I wonder how fast other people read this sort of book and how much time they spend looking at the pictures. I find I’m reading pretty fast and not paying attention to each panel (correct term?), but from time to time I’ll look back at the entire page and “catch up,” as it were, with the images that are as much a part of the text as the words.

Note to anyone who wants to look: “Down Autumn Roads,” “Glorious Day,” and “Day After” are all posts to which I’ve added images after the fact. Generally, it feels good to be able to post pictures here again, as well as to update my Dog Ears Books welcome page. None too soon, either, with holidays speeding towards us. December 6 at 6pm, has been set as the day and hour of the Christmas tree lighting in Northport. Many of us will stay open late that night, offering refreshments and holiday sales. We can only hope the open house evening does not close with a blizzard of last year's proportions!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Here are three to start with, going back to September and October:

Corner of field and orchard above the wooded kettle--

Seedheads of the little grey coneflower on picnic table bench--

And closed (bottle) gentians that were blooming Columbus Day weekend.

I'll be going back and adding pictures to Election Day and a few other posts, as time permits, but here's my favorite fall picture, from that happy morning after the election results came in and the morning sun was hitting the orchards on the west side of Novotny Road:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book and Radio Day

We watched a movie last night, "Pieces of April," a very original and charming, though hardly traditional, Thanksgiving story, and afterward, when I picked up Villette, David asked if I wanted to read aloud for a while. His timing was perfect, as I was only opening the book to the first page. We were both interested enough in the introduction for me to read, he to listen to, a bit of that before embarking on the first chapter. Neither of us, after all, has read this novel before. -- And has it, do you think, infected my style?

Not much happens in the early chapters, especially to young Miss Lucy Snowe, so most of what we covered last night had to do with the friendship between 16-year-old Graham and strange little six-year-old Polly, Lucy Snow serving only as observer and narrator. Today, however, I am got past (there! that sounds 19th-century, doesn't it?) Lucy's time with Mrs. Bretton and her subsequent post with Miss Marchmont, and she is crossing the Channel, with no destination in mind beyond that of the boat that carries her. Suddenly, with no home and no definite prospects, she is full of life! Between Miss Marchmont and the Channel, there was London, where Lucy stayed only briefly but long enough, it seems, to thaw from her cold, buttoned-up former self:

"Having breakfasted, out I went. Elation and pleasure were in my heart: to walk alone in London seemed of itself an adventure. Presently I found myself in Paternoster-row [here a footnote at the bottom of the page reads: ‘The street in London, north of St. Paul's Cathedral, famous in CB's day for its publishers' and booksellers' shops. The Chapter Coffee House, where the Brontës usually stayed on their rare visits to London, was situated in this street.'] -- classic ground this. I entered a bookseller's shop, kept by one Jones; I bought a little book -- a piece of extravagance I could ill afford; but I thought I would one day give or send it to Mrs. Barrett. Mr. Jones, a dried-in man of business, stood behind his desk; he seemed one of the greatest, and I one of the happiest, of beings." - Charlotte Brontë, Villette

Naturally, I love it that Lucy's first day of adventure and excitement took her to a bookshop!

Here at home, we have breakfasted, talked to a friend in Florida, dusted and vacuumed, put laundry in process, and I have homemade applesauce simmering in a double-boiler. There is music on the radio. Sarah is on the porch, watching for squirrels. (If her friend Kona comes visiting, I'll go outdoors with them and supervise a play-time.) We're all enjoying our day at home.

I do need to get out to the garden yet this afternoon to plant chard seeds, my variation (it will be experimental) on the early winter planting of spinach recommended to me by a friend for an early spring crop. -- I forgot to say that there is snow on the ground! Just enough to make the deer-hunters happy, I'm sure, and to lighten the atmospheric effects of a cold, damp, cloudy day, not too much to prevent my planting.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Opening Day and Book Review

Was it the opening of firearm deer season that made everything indoors so quiet today? David came home reporting that he had been alone at the bar at the Happy Hour Tavern (where the regulars usually gather late each afternoon), and except for Susan's usual Saturday morning visit to the bookstore and Tom's having driven all the way up from Cedar for a signed Jim Harrison (The English Major), I would have said Friday and Saturday had been switched around this week, judging by yesterday's steady business and today's dearth of same. Whatever the explanation, it was another confirmation of the time-honored retail wisdom, "Ya never know."

Late in the Dog Ears day, after finishing the Kuttner book, I selected tonight's bedtime reading from fiction of the 19th century, bringing home Charlotte Brontë's Villette and Anthony Trollope's The Golden Lion of Grandpère, my choices probably influenced by our recent viewing of the 11-episode film version of "Jane Eyre," adapted from the novel. The Golden Lion, surprisingly, is set in France, in the Vosges mountains, so it will be different from The Warden (my favorite Trollope), but I'm hoping for the same kind of characterization and dialogue, and the setting should add to the enjoyment.

Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), $14.95 paper

Kuttner's fundamental idea is twofold: first, that nothing short of Roosevelt-style government programs will pull our country out of the present financial crisis; second, that President Obama has the opportunity to lead us through a transformative period. Kuttner's grasp of history and economics work together throughout the book to make his case. Here are a few excerpts:

With reference to a statement by Representative Barney Frank, chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, pointing out that markets are great innovators and should not be discouraged in this role, Kuttner writes:

"Despite my esteem for Representative Frank ... I begged to differ. Some innovations, I testified, are worse than no innovations. The country would have been far better off if financial engineers had not invented some of the toxic mortgage products that went on to poison markets. It was government's job to keep these harmful ‘innovations' from the public."
[p. 102]

"At the same time, not all stimulus programs are fiscal. For the longer term, there is a good argument that raising taxes on the very wealthy and spending the money on old-fashioned public works or investments in energy independence, science and technology, or college aid would have a net stimulus effect, even if the deficit impact were neutral. The reason is that every penny would be spent, whereas the nontaxed incomes of the very wealthy might be saved, moved abroad, or invested in nonproductive uses such as diamonds, gold or pre-Columbian art." [p. 127]

Writing of free-market ideologues who would brook no government interventions in the economy:

"The business geniuses who brought America this wisdom are now humbled by events. Their allies and enablers among financial economists based convoluted theories on the general premise that financial markets were entirely self-correcting. These economists are roughly in the position of pre-Copernican astronomers who hung elaborate models on the premise that the sun revolved around the earth. They should seek honest employment." [p. 132]


"The men and women currently in charge of the executive branch, deep believers in laissez-faire, have no coherent theory of financial regulation, so their separate emergency measures lack policy coherence. In their hearts, they oppose what they are being compelled to do in a crisis. And so we still have a system that privatizes speculative gain and socializes the risks [with government bail-outs]." [p. 138]


"Wall Street welcomes the bailouts; it still resists the regulation." [p. 142]

Regulations put in place under Roosevelt need to be brought back, Kuttner argues, adding, "It should not have been necessary a second time." [p. 142]


"The debate about ‘free trade' versus ‘protectionism' is a false one. The fact is that all trade depends on rules. The real question is: Whom do the rules benefit? And which rules might be more symmetrical?

Kuttner is NOT anti-market. He advocates neither the abolition of private property nor state ownership of the means of production. What he argues FOR (among other things) is the reasonable regulation of financial markets. Just as free speech can exist alongside laws prohibiting yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, free markets can thrive in an environment that protects consumers, citizens and the financial institutions themselves.

Is anyone's mind likely to be changed by this book? Perhaps. It may be that we have seen enough of the current financial crisis--though no one thinks we have seen the worst yet---that minds are opening to facts they would have shut out in happier times, as well as to reconsideration of recently rejected policies. One issue I had to rethink while reading this book was the "Deficits are always bad" assumption, which entails balancing the budget before doing anything else. The kind and timing of deficits make a difference, Kuttner says. To cut taxes and slash programs in a recession will only prolong and deepen the bad times, worsening the financial situations of individuals and families at every level.

Recently a man said to me (we had never met before) , waggling his finger in that elementary-teacher way, "Truth is always simple. Lies are complicated." I don't remember what prompted that little homily, as we had been discussing energy policy, but I didn't buy the truth-simple, lies-complicated statement then, and I don't buy it now. Any "always" or "never" statement is simple, excluding counter-examples or tough cases. Does that mean "always" and "never" statements are probably true, while "nuanced" statements are nothing but prevarications? I don't think so.

A global economy is complicated. The recipe for extricating ourselves from the current crisis can't possibly be simple. What's great about Kuttner's writings on economics is that he doesn't just lay out page after page of "Ain't it awful?" bad news. He offers positive, workable alternatives. This is important stuff.

Footnote to this title and publisher: Margo Baldwin, president of Chelsea Green Publishing, was able to deliver this book from copy editor to readers in three weeks, a "transformative" publishing event. Hats off to all concerned.

Postscript: Reading back, I see that the passages I have chosen are more critical than constructive, with the exception of the explanation of benefits to be derived from the right kind of deficit, but I leave it to others to read the book for themselves. Kuttner's policy prescriptions, taken out of the context of surrounding facts, historical and present, would only invite rejection from those not already convinced.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Travel Close to Home

It was a busy, social, interesting Friday day at Dog Ears Books, from the moment I arrived, sliding in a couple of minutes late after a morning of errands. Cherry farmer friend Gene was the first customer in the door. He was there to pick up a new book on the oil crisis, and, as usual, we talked agriculture, too, getting into pigs, sheep and chickens. But Gene doesn't want livestock. "I like my freedom too much," he says. Gene has done a lot of traveling and has a passport so full of visa stamps it makes me feel as if I've lived my whole life at home. More travelers followed on Gene's heels. Gerry and Barb had time to visit over coffee, and I got to hear about Gerry's recent trip to Malawi before they left with a couple of new books for their grandchildren, and when Nick and Helen stopped in to pick up their order, they took me on a vicarious trip to the opera, recounting their experience last Saturday at the State Theatre, where the Met simulcast is the new TC rage.

Ed brought disappointing news: the new guide to Michigan roadside plants that he and his wife, Connie, collaborated on won't be ready for a December book launch, after all. Printing delays. So we will do the party in spring (we would have done a second one in the spring, even if we'd launched this winter), which is a more logical time for the book, anyway. Before he left with a new-to-him (used) Civil War book under his arm, Ed gave me a synopsis of the trip he and Connie made this past September through New York State and Massachusetts and up into Maine. (Massachusetts! Maine! I've yet to see either.) Finally, retrieving her new copy of Roads to Quoz, Mary reminisced about a bicycle road trip she took in the 1930's, at the age of 17: five teenage girls, on their own, cycled for two weeks through lower Michigan, staying at hostels for twenty-five cents a night (whatever happened to that old Michigan youth hostel system?) and sending penny postcards home to their parents every day to assure them that all was well. What an adventure!

There were dog visits, too. Shelly came by with Jake, Stephanie and Boomer dropped in, and Bonnie and Dusty stayed to be social for a while. So I didn't have a chance to finish Obama's Challenge yet (did get a couple more chapters read), but all the vicarious travel was great, and hardly anyone left the shop empty-handed. Conversations and sales--an unbeatable combination! Sarah was as good as she could be, too, considering we'd had a busy early morning of errands and no time for her usual run. She was, however, really ready to head for the orchard and stretch her legs at closing time.

Every day the orchards look different from the day before. There are more cherry leaves on the ground than remain on the branches these days, and real winter is not far off. It's a bit of a shock to see next year's buds already prepared for spring. (The reproductive life of mammals is concentrated in the early middle years of life. Not so with trees. In the orchards, the buds of the oldest trees and the youngest are indistinguishable.) So hardy these tiny buds must be, though they look so small and vulnerable and unprotected.

Protection. Safety. Tomorrow is the first day of deer season--the gun season, that is. (Bow season is over.) Time to wear blaze orange or at least bright red in orchards, woods and fields. Sarah doesn't yet know that she'll be wearing a child's orange shirt with the sleeves off.

There was a short article in today's Record-Eagle about feral pigs. Sangliers!!! What next?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"So what?"

The "So what?" question came up again this morning, and since I brought it into the conversation and then failed to make its relevance clear, here's my after-the-fact attempt at clarity. Those looking here for descriptions of Up North scenery may want to skip reading today's post: the weather is wet, dark, cold and dull.

The original issue brought forward over coffee was one of blame in a small domestic incident. Who was more blameworthy, the wife inquired, recounting her story--she or her spouse? A general opinion was solicited, and then David, sitting next to me, pressed me for a "philosophical" opinion. When I asked the original story-teller what hinged on the fixing of blame, David took this to be an evasion of the question. "But that is my philosophical opinion," I tried to explain. "If neither is angry at the other, and both are sorry, what's the point of blaming?" (I'm paraphrasing myself here, of course, and may not have made even this much sense on the spot. Susan, did I?)

I think I have already written somewhere about my friend who looked at anything happening in her life as a lesson sent to her from "the Universe" and who objected, when I said there was no pragmatic difference between our beliefs, since both of us looked for what we could learn from whatever happened, though I had no belief that the Universe had a lesson plan written out for my benefit, "But one of us has to be right, and one of us has to be wrong!" Why? Her belief in a Plan, my lack of belief in a Plan, had the same consequences. One man may try to lead a good life solely because he wants to avoid hell and get into heaven, while another man may try to lead a good life because he believes it's the only life he'll ever have. Pragmatism looks at the choices people actually make, the way they live, not what they say they believe about ultimate reality. Beliefs can be important insofar as they support us in the way we choose to live. They can have, that is to say, pragmatic value. But that's about all we can know.

For years I told my philosophy students that "So what?" was a very important philosophical question, and now I'm realizing that the esteem in which I hold this question is part and parcel of my own pragmatism. One of my graduate school professors has written on the topic, and perhaps Professor Wallace's review of Martin Benjamin will shed light on this philosophical position. Wallace uses an example to elucidate: Here is a new problem in medical ethics. Earlier medical practitioners did not face this problem, so we cannot look either to precedent or to the ideas of Truth held by previous ages to tell us what to do. What will be the consequences of resolving this problem in one way rather than another? That is how pragmatism looks at life. It looks not at life-in-a-perfect-world or life-as-we-think-it-should-be, but life as it is. That is not to say that a pragmatism must live without ideals or principles--far from it. It is, however, to say that a pragmatism looks for answers that work and will reject an ideologically-driven agenda that cannot produce results.

[I am having a problem inserting a link that will get me to the page, so after three failures here's the address:]

The implications for politics are obvious and enormous. In the 1950's there were Communists who clung to the party line despite horrors taking place under Communist rule. There are still, here in the United States, people so wedded to the idea that the free market must brook absolutely no government interference that they would deliver us to a Hobbesian State of Nature rather than see financial markets regulated again or health care insurance provided rationally. The notion of a "mixed" economy is abhorrent to ideologues on either side. Pragmatism introduces a little common sense into these debates, cutting through ideological battle lines. The best survey I know of this history is given by Cornel West in his book, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism.

Yes, West did use the word 'evasion' in his title! I stand by pragmatism as a philosophical position. Those who define philosophy narrowly as metaphysics dealing with "eternal" things will deny that it is philosophy. (In the same vein, they will deny philosophical status to phenomenology and other views.) To that I will say only that no philosophical concept is more contensted than 'philosophy' itself. Some of us believe that philosophy is a way of thinking rather than a body of thought. Of course, that belief serves pragmatism, but find me a philosophical position that does not privilege itself. So what? Judge by their fruits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Small Stuff, Plus a Schedule Change

David and I had a goof-off Monday, which made for a catch-up Veterans Day Tuesday for me. My after-dinner reading on Monday was The World of Jewish Cooking, by Gil Marks. Strange how one's mouth can water after a perfectly satisfying dinner. I've had hamantaschen on the brain lately, those little filled, soft-dough cookies I ventured to make only once in my life (unlike bagels, which I made on a regular basis for a few years long ago), and there they were, along with so many other tempting dishes and their cultural history. [Note to self: buy red lentils!] Later I fell asleep (after we had watched several episodes of "Jane Eyre" on DVD) reading Deer Creek Raft, by E. H. Lansing (illustrated by Marc Simont) a young adult novel published in 1955, and woke this morning thinking about the creek and river and pastures in that book and about the creek and the millpond in Northport and the woods and fields I've been exploring lately. Finishing the book over morning oatmeal, I read the pasted-in flyleaf (ex-lib. copy of the book) and saw that Mrs. Lansing once worked at Macy's. When, I wondered? Was she there at the same time as Emily Kimbrough? I'll have to look back at the latter's book on her Macy's days to find out. But about creeks, fictional and actual. A creek, much more than a large river, seems to have the power to carry adults back into childhood. Exploring the intimate, small-scale geography of my township, anyway, makes me feel still, in some ways, if not young at least not-old, especially with the energetic and irrepressible Sarah as my companion.

Coming up next in my reading world: Obama's Challenge, by Robert Kuttner; Roads to Quoz, by William Least Heat Moon. I've dipped into the latter; the former only arrived this afternoon at the bookstore.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: Grafton "Mac" Thomas will be at Dog Ears Books to share stories from his life and to sign copies of his book, Confessions of a Maverick Minister, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 22. This is a week earlier than originally scheduled, so it will be a challenge to get the news out. If you see this, help spread the word. Thanks.

Veterans Day note: The cemetery was cold and damp this morning, and not a live visitor did I see--very different from the crowd that gathers on Memorial Day to remember veterans. This time of year, it seems, here Up North, we keep the vigil more in our hearts and minds than graveside. Also, it may not be traditional, but besides my Army Father and Navy uncles, I also think gratefully of my CCC uncle and all those outdoor workers did during WWII to make this country more beautiful. Thanks, Uncle Jim!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Celebration Sunday (First Snow)

It's the beginning of winter at the same time that it is, I feel strongly, the beginning of a new American era. At our home this morning, we launched the season and the age quietly, in our domestic way, with blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, bacon and coffee while listening to "Prairie Home Companion." (I think Garrison Keillor was too hard on his [our] generation, but that's another story. The music was wonderful.) After getting a pot roast started in the big cast-iron pot, we braved the weather to go outdoors with Sarah. Bitter-cold wind drove snow across the open field, but Sarah didn't care, and David said gamely, "It's exhilirating. That's how I'm going to look at it." Good attitude! It was good, too. Still, I'm happy to be indoors again, and my thoughts keep straying to apple pie....

But I want to fix this whole past week in my memory--the whole range of feelings, colors of the season, books I've been reading, conversations, sunshine, rain, snow--all of it. There have been so many tragic national and world events etched in memory over the years, but won't all of us remember Tuesday night, too? Where were you when you heard the news? Once again, the world will never be the same, but this change has made it brighter.

"Nothing sharpens a traveler for the road better than the grindstone of home, and never have I arrived home but with great relief nor have I set out except with eager anticipation." -William Least Heat Moon, Roads to Quoz

Sometimes, when all is well with the traveler's world, a completely unfamiliar place can feel like home; when confidence is high, it is possible to feel that the whole world, the earth itself, is home; and in those times, the small corner one inhabits with a "permanent" address can be all the dearer, too.

Here's a somewhat long passage from Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which I include because I have been re-reading the novel this week and also because parts of it have been more relevant to me in the re-reading than they were the first time around. At least, I think they struck me more forcibly, but perhaps it is only that in the heightened feelings of the past week, all words of wisdom seem to have more force than usual.

"When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person."

There are those who would take these words literally. I do not, and yet it still has meaning for me. What good can I accomplish in this situation, and how can I respond openly, with kindness? In Robinson's novel, the old man writing the letter to his young son writes immediately after the paragraph above, "I am reminded of this precious instruction by my own great failure to live up to it recently." That is the good, I guess, that we can find even in our failures--a reminder of what we want to be.

Then, from "America the Beautiful," lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates, here are my favorite verses:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!


O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!


There is nothing about this song that I don't prefer to our present national anthem and any other patriotic song I've ever heard mentioned as a possible new national anthem. The vision of the geography of the whole country is there in Bates's words, praise for its high ideals and gratitude for its history, along with an awareness of the distance still to travel and a fervent petition for guidance. And what could be more singable and more stirring than Samuel Ward's melody? There is pride in "America the Beautiful" but no hubris.

It has been a beautiful autumn, the transition into November unusually mild and colorful, the days like a series of gifts. Even the cherry farmers say that the color in the orchards this year has been extraordinary. It hasn't been only a few isolated trees or orchards, either, but block after block, acre after acre of rich orange gold. Now the wind is stripping off the leaves, and half the trees are already bare. Corn harvest is underway, too, so soon those fields will be nothing but stubble. But it is all good, and the wheel of the seasons turns without slowing. This is a very good time. I feel so privileged to be alive, here and now.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Open Letter to William Least Heat Moon

Dear WLHM:

With your first wonderful best-selling book, Blue Highways, you leapt onto my favorite authors list, long before I became a bookseller. I won't list all my reasons for loving that book, because I loved everything about it except--Michigan got short shrift. One brief, bad experience in Mt. Pleasant, and you skipped out on all the rest. No wandering (or moseying) along the shores of Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior, no visits to small towns from the Indiana line to the Keewanaw, etc., etc. All these years later, whenever I take Blue Highways in hand or speak of it, I mourn the exclusion of almost all of Michigan. Call me provincial. You do great honor to American provincial life in general and to other regions in particular. Why not us?

Now I'm looking at your new book, Roads to Quoz, and thinking, whatever other delights it surely has in store for me, what a shame WLHM did not even set foot within our borders. Here are journeys from coast to American coast, and we have been as completely bypassed as if we were Ontario. Our farms and forests, roads straight and winding, eccentrics and straight types--beautiful rivers, lakes almost beyond number, a population as diverse as the world's (well, almost!)--have all been ignored. I could weep! It isn't only (though it is partly) that everyone loves to read about themselves; it's also that we are not New York or Miami or the Grand Canyon or Hollywood, and it's easy for foreign visitors to the U.S. to fly right over Michigan on their way from Manhattan to Chicago, and they are missing so much, and you could have introduced them to a few bits of it, and--well, can you tell I am keenly disappointed?

Years ago, looking through a travel guide to the state of Maine, I remarked to my husband that it would take a lifetime to learn intimately all the varied regions of that large northern state as well as I feel I know Michigan. Now of course I don't expect you to spend 40 years here, as I have, but how about three months? Or how about a mosey around the Great Lakes (I'd go into Canada, too, if I were you; it's what I do being me), with an extended period exploring our state's two peninsulas?

If you (or you and Q) were to come next August and wander through to the end of October, you would find adventures and sights well worth your time. I could provide you with a reading list (begin with Bruce Catton) and even a few suggestions as to roads and points of interest, but you hardly need me or anyone else to tell you, William Least Heat Moon, after all, how to travel two-lane roads. All you have to do is cross the state line, entering from Indiana, Ohio or Wisconsin, and ride around. You'll be glad you did. And I can't wait to read about the trip.

Yours sincerely,
P.J. Grath
Dog Ears Books
106 Waukazoo Street
Northport, Michigan 49670

P.S. If by any remote chance you should actually see this letter, please look at some of the older posts on this blog for images of Michigan. This past September would be fine. I'm hoping to be posting new pictures by next week.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Day's Gifts

Expecting rain (and we did have a little overnight), I was pleasantly surprised when the day dawned clear again this morning. Not even cold yet, either, although icicles and snowflakes are showing in the short-term forecast.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, was a calming book with which to read myself to sleep and with which to begin the day. The main character is a calm, steady person. That trait alone might be boring, but in this old man it is joined with a deep joy and appreciation for all aspects of life on earth. "I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again." Anticipating death and rebirth into a bodiless, incorruptible heavenly life, yet he loves human existence and the whole "fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing...." Over and over, day after day, close to the end of his life on earth he notices wondrous details of it--acorns falling thickly through the leaves of a row of oak trees, the shimmer of light on a child's hair, or the particular, comforting sound of the latch of a door closing.

That reading prepared me for the morning's adventure with Sarah, out in our new, semi-wild exercise ground, down the faint two-track through the remains of an old orchard (remaining leaves bright yellow in the morning sun), through dry grass and weeds bleached almost colorless, sunlight outlining fuzzy sumac branches with glistening halos.

Robert Underhill's third murder mystery is here and on the bookstore shelves. (Actually, it's on the table right by the door, so no one will miss it.) This one is set in Ann Arbor, on the university campus. Death of the Mystery Novel, Bob has called it--though somehow he himself is continuing to write mystery novels, and what are we to make of that? The setup guarantees laughs, when the chairman of the English Department, believing that sales of popular fiction is the surest guarantee of literary quality, inaugurates a series to honor best-selling contemporary genre authors, writers of murder mystery and horror titles. What might be called an unfortunate series of events begins when the first visitor dies after dinner with the faculty. Deaths continue, each bizarrely mirroring something not of the murderer's but of the victim's literary signature. I tell Bob he has a "devilish" sense of humor; he insists his humor is "mischievous." As to how the string of crimes is finally solved, my lips are sealed, though I'll be very interested in what other readers make of the ending.

In a more serious vein, today's book order going out (books to arrive next week) includes a new title from Robert Kuttner. He went out on a limb with this one, predicting the subprime crash before it occurred and also betting that Obama would win the election. Obama's Challenge addresses many serious issues ahead for the United States, along with Kuttner's advice on how to handle some of them. (He is an economic writer whose books I have discussed before; use his name as a search word above to see where.) To sweeten the deal, this book is out in paperback right off the bat! I don't know if that was to sell more copies fast or so the publisher wouldn't lose too much if the course of history had taken another direction, but I'm happy to be able to carry this timely book in affordable format and look forward to reading it myself. Kuttner always makes good sense, in my opinion.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Getting Back on the Horse, Part II

Another glorious October morning. Our last of this beautiful stretch before cold sets in? Maybe. All the more reason to soak up every bit of sunshine and warmth today.

A few cloud wisps in the south and west were bright pink before sunrise. Sarah and I were out early. I felt I had to revisit yesterday's scene today, since it would be harder to go back the longer I waited. Proprietor gave me her usual warm greeting. I told her I'd felt bad about leaving the way I did but that pursuing argument felt not only frustrating--frustration often needs to be endured--but, worse, counterproductive. She listened (she's a good listener) and saw right away what I meant about argument escalating rather than resolvingconflict. "But when you left, he stopped," she said. "Nothing anyone said had an effect on him, but that did." So then I felt not quite so bad about having left. Still, I told her, not arguing is only the negative part of the challenge. The positive challenge, the one that is much, much harder for me (and you know that's hard if I tell you that my mother always said I'd "argue with St. Peter himself"), is to practice kindness in such situations.

Reading Obama's March 18th speech on race helps a lot. Hearing the happiness from all over the world helps, too.

Getting Back on the Horse, Part I

Rather than try to expand yesterday's posting after the fact and risk losing whole chunks of it (editing new posts on David's computer, I suffer many a slip), I'm starting over today. Negativity, chronic cough, isolation--these were the--fiends?--that sent me to bed early last night. ("Torpor and sloth, torpor and sloth, these are the _______ that spoil the broth." These are the WHAT? Cooks? Anyone know?) I needed to re-read Marilynne Robinson's Gilead for a discussion group, and lying still and not moving kept the cough at bay. Up early in the dark this morning, I found the supportive comment of Brooklyn's beloved Book Nerd, along with a couple of private e-mails from family members. Then, what a treat! A brief comment appeared from Neige, the young college student in China whose blog, "Pays de Neige," has been such a lovely window for me into her world. Neige blogs in French (which is how I happened to find her blog), and the comment she left me in English is brief, but it made my heart sing: "America is a beautiful country." So thanks to Neige and Book Nerd, I am feeling once again the "joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart" and am resolved not to let anyone take it away from me. We are going to have, as a Norwegian bachelor farmer friend of mine likes to say, "a grownup for president"! We are going to have a man in the White House who sees his constituency as all Americans! It's morning, it's morning!

I do want to add a postscript to what I wrote yesterday. It wasn't that the negative remarks went unchallenged. I and others challenged the false religion claims, for example. Other remarks that were neither claims nor epithets were harder to meet. "Oh, I didn't mean it that way" was the reply when a speaker was called on some oblique utterance. But no, no one was simply looking the other way and pretending not to hear. Voices were raised, and fingers were wagging (on all sides! in that scolding gesture that seems second nature to our species. So that's another good thing, I guess. Freedom of speech includes freedom to judge and respond to the speech of others. How often Americans hamstring themselves with self-imposed gag orders (to mix metaphors shamelessly), thinking they should not allow themselves the freedom to criticize anything said by anyone else, since we all have "freedom of speech"! Huh?

Well, I hadn't expected it yesterday, didn't see it coming, was blindsided and laid low emotionally, but that was only temporary. I'm up again today, and I'll get back up every time, as long as I have breath. Not giving up is part of the answer, but how we move forward is crucial, too. Positive energy...kindness...joining hands....

When I googled "Election Euphoria" this morning, I got a lot of results about the stock market falling and euphoria "fading" as "reality" sets in. (As if only bad stuff is real, I think to myself.) Well, that's putting a lot of meaning on one day's slide, as the market has been nothing lately if not volatile, with no discernible long-termtrends. It takes huge jumps, the gamblers sell to consolidate their losses, and it plunges again. Too much temperature-taking, I say. For most of us, daily life is a bit more predictable than a Dow-Jones graph, and, anyway, we have more to do than chart that over which we have no control. Tao vs. Dow.

More later.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

{Images added 11/18/2008; was taken 11/5]

Euphoria, by its very nature, is short-lived. Still, I'd hoped to enjoy it for more than the first couple hours of the day. Awake early this morning, listening to results that hadn't been in after the McCain and Obama speeches we waited up to hear last night, I couldn't wait to dive into the day. And I wanted to celebrate, so I chose a coffee venue I expected to find congenial to my mood.

Things began well, then took a downturn when a disgruntled employee--disgrunted over the election results, not her job--arrived on the scene, long-faced and full of dire pronouncements. Well, it's hard to lose. I've been there, and I remember. I did tell her (and was backed up by her boss) that I thought she'd discover in time that everything is going to be okay. Enter a couple argumentative coffee-drinkers. Okay, argument is my home ground. (What do philosophers do? Ils se disputent.) But the desire to celebrate and the desire to argue do not go comfortably hand in hand. I retreated to a corner with the newspaper, still happy over the headline.

The atmosphere, however, from my perspective, deteriorated. Negativity, irrelevant at best (false claim that Obama is a "professed Muslim"--he isn't, but what if he were?), racist at worst (I won't repeat it), spilled out. "Thin ice," I commented to one speaker directly, but both felt perfectly comfortable continuing in the same vein, with or without the approval of anyone else in the room. At last, dawn's spell irrevocably broken, I left for Northport, disappointment sharp in my mouth. Doubtless I should have gone to the Bluebird in Leland last night. The only way to celebrate is with other celebrants. I thought that was what I would be doing this morning, but my forecast was off by several miles.

Other things have bothered me from time to time during the past year, but for the most part I've tried to keep this site positive in tone. So where is the positive in my experience of this morning? Maybe it was a dose of reality, whether I was in the mood for it or not. Those who are frightened will need time to realize that their well-being is not at risk with this new president. As Obama himself said in his victory speech last night, the road ahead won't be easy, and there will be false starts and setbacks along the way. Racism, conscious and unconscious, is still a reality, and it is only one of many divisions among Americans. President Obama is ready to reach across all divisions, and Senator McCain has pledged to do the same in support of President Obama. Both are role models for the rest of us. We need to remain optimistic, to be prepared to work hard, and we need to be kind to one another, even when we disagree.

I'm proud of my country today. I'm happy and hopeful. I'm also keenly aware of the challenges ahead.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Glorious Day, in Every Way

"We turned into a cafe just opening for the morning's business, and I felt that special feeling of well being--the coming in from the cold, the good odors of coffee and fresh rolls, the greeting of the owner to his first customers, the smile of a good waiter taking the order, the panorama of newspapers hanging from their racks, the gleam of the multihued bottles, the polished copper, the brass and wood of the bar, the gloss of the leather seats, the gleaming black and white tile on the floor; each element adding to the total pleasure of the senses. Sometimes one feels this more intensely than ordinarily, and this was such a day for me. I recalled that our people [the Jews] have a blessing for every wondrous thing. It is said a hundred can be recited each day: on seeing a rainbow, on perfumed herbs or flowers, on fragrant trees and bark, on the wonders of hearing, sight, and smell, on hearing thunder, on candles and their special uses, on the immersion of a convert, on spices, on something new, on bodily functions, on circumcision, on good tidings, even on learning of a death.

"I was thinking, irreverently, Why not a blessing on entering a coffeehouse in the morning?"

In the excerpt above, the narrator of Harold Nebenzal's Berlin Cafe is recalling a morning when all was right with his world and every ordinary detail seemed a beautiful miracle. That's how I felt this morning in Northport.

Election Day dawned still, clear and warm. I arrived at my polling place at 7:30, before sunrise, where those exiting at that time said they'd waited half an hour in line. In Leelanau Township we vote at the firehouse (as we did in Leland when we lived there), and I love seeing friends and neighbors come together on Election Day, both voting and officiating. I love marking my ballot. I love our paper ballots in Leelanau Township! And I pretty much zipped through, not even needing my book to pass the time.

After voting, to celebrate having done my civic duty--or, should I say, exercising my civic right--early in the day and to take advantage of time gained, I took Sarah to our newest (and nearest to the polls) dog-running area. (No, not the cemetery!) The sun was just clearing the treetops, the morning stretching and flexing and shouting with light, and the air was rich with that sweet autumn perfume, the odor of the first stages of leaf decay. Sarah ran so fast her ears streamed straight out behind her head! I discovered the largest colony of ground pines I've ever seen. Like the wooded kettle near our home and a forested ridge we've been visiting recently on a regular basis, this too is another new world for us, full of exciting sights and smells.

Even after civic and outdoor exercise, there was time for me to sit over coffee at Barb's Bakery (where I took my book to the back table, joined after a while by David, who laughed with me at the ears-straight-back image of Sarah on my camera), and after that and stops at the bank and post office there was yet time to walk down to the harbor and watch ducks paddling around the now-empty docks. An extra hour of morning sunlight! There's a blessing, for sure, especially on a day like today, as close to perfect as a day can ever be.

Everyone was out and about, all day long, sunshine, Indian summer temperatures and Election Day combining to keep the Up North populace in motion. It seemed, too, that political rancor, often so bitter during the long campaign, was set aside, if only for a day--anger and fear, argument and striving all suspended in the brightness of hope, satisfaction and gratitude. All hope to prevail, of course, and some will be disappointed, but for today people seemed satisfied with their efforts, decisions and actions. And how can we fail to be grateful for all our opportunities and freedoms?

I hope to be able to add some images to this post in the days ahead. Whatever the outcome, the day will be historic, and it may be interesting to see what November 4, 2008, looked like in Northport, Michigan.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Down Autumn Roads

David finally brought himself to finish Cafe Berlin, by Harold Nebenzal, and raved about it so much that now I'm reading it, but that's only at bedtime. This morning the sunshine called us to the open road. Down through Leland and past Little Traverse Lake to Glen Arbor for breakfast at Art's Tavern, then on through Sleeping Bear country, with a winding detour off the highway. Platte River Plains country.

Past a couple of lovely little hidden lakes and into the woods, where oak trees along the trails held leaves the color of root beer candy drops, sun coming lighting them up from the inside as if they were made of stained glass. The roads were almost empty. Astonishing! "Color's pretty much finished" was an opinion I heard from one man yesterday. Oh? There are stretches where trees are bare but many other long stretches of woods are still lemon yellow and burnt sienna, with occasional highlights of red. Trying not to miss a shred of this day, I searched at the same time for an analogy, something more specific than bright vs. quiet, and here's what I came up with:

Imagine a party, with lots of laughter and loud music, even a live band, everyone struttin' their stuff and workin' the room and ridin' the wave! It's a great party. Later on the band packs up and leaves, and most of the crowd disperses, but a few people stay on, and the people who are left sit around on the floor, and one of them picks up a guitar, and they lean their heads on one another's shoulders. Softer music, gentler laughter, contented sighs. The difference is something like that.

October is Halloween. November is Thanksgiving.