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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Getting Ready for the Party

The trillium were not yet open on Tuesday, when I found the wildflowers posted for that day, but Ed and Connie Arnfield will be on hand at Dog Ears Books tomorrow from 4 to 6 p.m., signing copies of their book (see right) featuring northern Michigan flora, and you can question the experts about what you’ve been finding. Yesterday my wildflower hunt in the woods was cut short when Sarah became very interested in a little face in a tree hollow. I was just glad the skunk was wedged in there with its face, rather than the business end, pointing out. No picture of the appealing little face in the hole—my focus was all on getting Sarah out of the woods as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Home in the Woods

Thanks to sunshine and the inspiration of Gerry from Torch Lake Views who sounded the Dutchman's breeches alert, I got out in the woods today, and now I feel at last that I am truly, fully home. If you need help identifying any of the flowers, the Arnfields' new book (signing this Friday at Dog Ears, 4-6 p.m.) should help. You'll need a different book for the fabulous red fungus--and if you already know what it is, tell me, please.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Beautiful Memories

Recently, while looking for something very different, I ran across a letter from an old friend. Hélène died four years ago at the age of 90, but reading her words, written to me in the last year of her life, again I hear her voice and see her face. It’s clear that when she wrote this letter, not knowing how much longer she would live, she was saying good-by, not wanting to leave it unsaid at the end. She wrote that she hated old age but that our friendship helped her reconcile herself to growing old. (Maybe I will understand that better when I am old.) Every sentence—and it was difficult by then for her to hold a pen and write—was deeply meaningful.
Tu es beaucoup dans mes [illegible word] pensées. Je n’ai pas une grande, grande envie de vivre vraiment. Tant de choses maintenant m’échappent – je deviens un peu spectateur de ma fin de vie. C’est curieux – ça ne m’interesse plus évidemment – mais j’aime encore le ciel, les nuages, les oiseaux, les chats, les animaux en général et quelques amis – je regarde le reste avec un œil d’une autre planète…. Je t’aime toujours.

The same morning I came across this letter, a friend my own age came by the bookstore to show me a book that had belonged to one of his aunts. Like him, his aunt had loved the natural world, and her book on birds contained her pencil notes, feathers she had collected, and many clippings of related articles. “I would never change anything in this book,” Chris said. “It’s a monument to her.” (‘Monument’ was not the exact word he used. Not ‘tribute.’ ‘Memorial’?)

Ephemeral objects, these letters saved, notes made, objects preserved, but they are material remains. La trace de nos pas, as the French song says. And what now, today, of these even more ephemeral, virtual notes? Will we, when our turn comes, “vanish without a trace”?

Surely, the majority of souvenirs through human existence have persisted only in human memory. The last time David and I visited France, we took Hélène and David’s friend Justin out to dinner one evening at a small restaurant in Hélène’s quartier. Even without a common language, David and Hélène sensed one another’s essence, as Justin and I switched back and forth between our two languages, facilitating conversation. At one point in the evening—I recall this moment so clearly!--while David and Justin were chatting together on their side of the table, Hélène leaned her head on my shoulder and said to me in French (she was 85 then), “We’re making beautiful memories.” I still have them, mes beaux souvenirs.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday's Scott Brow Fishing Derby

Rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail stops the annual fishing derby in Northport, and this year was no exception. When it comes to fun, there are no losers here. Northport knows how to have a good time in any season.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deserving Attention

Many long years ago I took an undergraduate class at Western Michigan University called “History Through Literature.” Offered through the History Department, it was taught by a professor who later taught in WMU’s small (now defunct) Agriculture Department. Our reading list began with fiction set in colonial America and moved through many regional classics, winding up with The Ugly American. The concept was tailor-made for me: the novels gave me a sense for each successive time period by focusing on individual characters’ lives as they were lived within respective historical contexts. We didn’t have to memorize specific dates but gained a “Big Picture” overall view of American history.

The e-mailed bookseller newsletter I receive every business day included the other day the following note:
Concerning All Things Considered's list of "forgotten" Pulitzer fiction winners in Tuesday's issue, Jean Ross, branch administrator of the Potomac Community Library in Woodbridge, Va., wrote:

I have to put in a plea to everyone not to consign Conrad Richter's books to the dustbin of history. His trilogy, The Awakening Land, which concludes with The Town (the 1951 Pulitzer winner), is a wonderful combination of history and folklore. The books tell the story of the Ohio frontier, a story I rather doubt most high school students now know, given that--to them--"the frontier" is the Wild West of the movies. When you read these dark and atmospheric novels about one woman's family (also the story of one place's history), you absorb the feeling of that early frontier life. I credit these novels with sparking a life-long interest in the Ohio frontier and the early Westward movement. They should live! (Thanks to Ohio University Press for keeping them in print.)

I’d like to add a loud “Amen!” Why isn’t this trilogy on college reading lists? And how about having high school seniors read it? An older friend had raved about these books to me for years before I finally took home from the bookstore one evening an edition that contained all three novels in one volume. From the first page I was mesmerized, practically turning to stone in my chair except for the hand turning pages. Over and over I would vow to “finish just one more chapter” and then go to bed, and over and over I would be unable to keep myself from starting the next chapter. “I remember when you were reading that book,” David says. For days it was as if I had left town. Subsequently I recommended the Richter trilogy to my two stepdaughters and various friends. (Only one man failed to find the story captivating.)

During my three months on the road and in Florida this past winter, foraging for books where we went, I managed to find all three volumes of the Richter trilogy, The Woods, The Fields, and The Town. A friend came by early in the week and bought the first novel in the series. Today he came back exclaiming over it, marveling that the book is not better known and more highly acclaimed, and he left with the second and third novels. Gone already! I don’t think he’s planning to trade them back for other books, either, because he was admiring the cloth binding and remarking on how good they would look on the shelf, if he only removed the dust jacket on the third volume.

But what about other Dog Ears Books customers who have not yet had the pleasure? Having read the Virginia librarian’s impassioned tribute, having been fortunate enough to find used copies of all three novels, and now having sold them to a good friend who agrees with me and with Jean Ross that it’s time to resurrect Conrad Richter’s genius, I’ve got all three novels on my next new book order list (these are quality paperback editions) and will have them in stock next week. The Awakening Land is outstanding American literature, and through the story you can live vicariously from one end of the 19th century to the other. I’m recommending it for ages 16 through 106,

But don't just take my word for it:
There are in the literature of the world few works of historical fiction that make the reader feel that the writer must have been a witness to what he describes; he was actually there and came back - a transmigrated soul - to tell a story. The Awakening Land is such a work... it would be a great novel in any literature. -- Isaac Bashevis Singer

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Real Me: Interview with Myself

Q: You say you don’t want this conversation framed as Q and A. Why is that?

R: As I used to tell my philosophy students, I’m not the Answer Man. Probably I should say I’m not the Answer Woman, but Answer Man is a snappier name. Anyway, I don’t claim to give once-and-for-all answers for everyone, only my own responses, as they have evolved for me over time. This is my philosophy of life. It’s taken me a long time to work it out, and other people have to do their own work--or not, as they choose. Most people work out their philosophies of life in something other than philosophical terms, and that’s fine, too. The important thing is to be conscious, aware, intentional, not to drift through life in a fog and then realize, too late, that you’ve missed it.

Q: Okay, let’s get cut the cards and deal. You call yourself a ‘romantic pragmatist.’ Is that some kind of joke?

R: No, though it does amuse most people when they first hear it. But then, a lot of people are amused by any kind of philosophy. They regard it as a quaint, medieval, boring, pointless way of looking at the world. Those aren’t the people I’m talking to about philosophy (though we may converse on other topics).

Romantic Pragmatism is not a joke to me at all but the name I’ve come up with to describe my personal philosophy of life. Some people hear in the name a contradiction in terms, but there is no contradiction, as I hope will become clear as we go forward.

Q: All right, it’s not a joke, and it’s not a contradiction. Can you say anything about what it is?

R: Pragmatism is believing in what works. A mercenary pragmatist, for example, would be believe in whatever works to make money, but that’s a very narrow pragmatism.. Actually, William James and John Dewey were not narrow pragmatists, but the term as it came into common usage has suffered from constriction. It’s been put on too short a tether. Modifying pragmatism with romanticism, we give ourselves space to soar. A romantic pragmatist is concerned with what works to make his or her individual life, society, and the world a better place. Adding pragmatism into romanticism, we keep ourselves returning to earth, where we belong. This is a principled, earthbound, this-world, joyful philosophy.

Speaking of earth, it might be helpful to contrast Romantic Pragmatism with Naturalism. The whole Romantic movement involved, in part, a return to Nature; Naturalism, however, accepts the world as it is. To a naturalist, human beings are one species of animal among others—and nothing more. Romanticism, in contrast, through belief in freedom, in poetry, believes human beings have the potential to be much more than a natural species, and Pragmatism asks how positive change is, has been and can be brought about.

President Obama is generally recognized as a pragmatist. I believe he is a Romantic Pragmatist. Some people think that pragmatism just means compromising at every turn. Not at all. Romantic Pragmatism has very solid principles--they’re just not pie-in-the-sky, impossible ideals. That impossibly idealistic trajectory of Romanticism, at its height, often led to suicide, whereas pragmatism, especially Romantic Pragmatism, serves life.

Q: All right, so the ‘Romantic’ element isn’t just about hearts and flowers?

R: No, ‘Romantic’ is not to philosophy as ‘romance’ is to novels. Love does, however, play a major role: romantic love between individuals, love for family and friends, for humanity, for the earth, for life—all kinds of love are emotional fuel for Romantic Pragmatism. If you don’t love life and the world, you won’t care about its future. It was the strength of Romanticism that it acknowledged the importance of feelings. Imagine a world without feelings. Such a world would have no values. Facts alone are useless as guides. They only guide us insofar as we hold values and care about outcomes.

Q: A few moments ago, you observed that many people take philosophy as a joke. Why should it be taken seriously?

R: Whoa! I never said all philosophy should be taken seriously! A lot of it is word play, brain play. There’s a branch of linguistic philosophy, for example, that I call “cats on mats,” and there’s all that parallel-worlds speculation I call “brains in vats.” Cats on mats and brains in vats, COM and BIV, are entertaining and amusing for individuals whose minds find entertainment and amusement in that sort of speculation. They’re good, late-night, dorm-room fun.

Q: But you don’t take COM and BIV seriously?

R: Look at it this way. I’m standing up in front of a classroom of undergraduates, only one or two majoring in philosophy, and one of the business majors voices a question I know is bouncing around in many other heads in the room: “So what?” That’s a question I take seriously, the most important philosophical question there is. When a student in a philosophy class asks, “So what?” that student is taking philosophy seriously.

Another way of putting the question is to ask, “What difference does it make?” For a Romantic Pragmatist, if a problem and/or its proposed solution doesn’t make any difference in the world, it isn’t important, and it’s not worth the time to work it out--unless it amuses you to do so.

Q: Can you give an example?

R: I’m glad you asked. A friend of mine believes that the Universe (she puts it in this vague, general language; other people might put it in the specific terms of a specific religious tradition) has a plan for her life and that everything that happens to her is a lesson set forth by the Universe, designed to teach her something she needs to learn right then. I absolutely do not have this belief. I reject the notion. I cannot imagine the Universe working out lesson plans for every moment of my life. Now for my friend, it would be important, if we ever could, to determine which of us is “right.” That, for her, would be a knotty philosophical problem to be investigated and debated. For me, it doesn’t make the slightest difference. Why? My friend looks to see what she can learn in what happens, and I do the same. Pragmatically speaking, there is no difference between us, no difference in what we do. So our different “beliefs” make no difference. They’re just different talk. Supervenient, in philosophical terminology. They have no force of their own. Where Romantic Pragmatism departs from Naturalism, however, is that RP does not think all beliefs are supervenient. Some do have force.

Q: Let’s save that idea for another session. How much of philosophy would you say makes no difference?

R: That’s the direction you want to go? Oh, I couldn’t put it in quantitative terms. I don’t have a quantitative mind. And, understand, I don’t have a problem with anyone wanting to spend time on questions that make no difference. There’s probably something to be gained in exercising the brain, if nothing else. Crossword puzzles don’t change the world, either, but we’re told they keep our brains agile. And the way some people would change the world if they could—it’s better if they’re not doing it!

Q: Well, what kinds of philosophical questions make no difference, besides COM and BIV and thinking the Universe is knowingly guiding your learning?

R: It isn’t only philosophical questions. The whole quest in science to get back to the Big Bang is nothing more than putting ancient philosophical questions into an empirical framework. Suppose the question were answered. So what?

Q: Are you kidding? The Big Bang is an enormous question! How can you say that answering it would make no difference?

R: Good, let’s think about that. How would you live your life differently with the knowledge of the origin of the universe? Would that knowledge change how human beings should treat one another? How they should treat the rest of what we might call Creation—the earth, other animals, the waters and the air? These are questions of ethics, of value. Can you tell me how clarifying the Big Bang would help us at all in answering these crucial questions? We can’t change what has already happened. What are we going to do from this moment forward? That’s what we need to figure out.

Q: It sounds like you’re saying that ethics is the most important area of philosophy.

R: I should have thought that would be obvious from my use of the term ‘pragmatism.’ Life presents each of us with a series of situations in which we must choose a course of action. (There’s the crucial kernel in existentialism.) What will we do? What will result? If our actions had no consequences, every issue in the world would be vulnerable to the “So what?” question. But such a world is not even imaginable. Actions do have consequences, and we can, if we bother to reflect, foresee in imagination some of them. That means that ethics is practical, in that it has to do with practice. What we practice, what we choose, what we do—in living, we create our lives. What more important questions can be imagined?

Q: Heavy! So, don’t you have any sense of humor at all?

R: Are you kidding? I laughed my head off at the three-legged pig joke (and my husband was absolutely shocked that I found it funny at all). Our dog makes me laugh a lot, too. When her water dish is empty, and she picks it up and brings it to one of us, we can’t help laughing. She gets her water right away, too, by the way. Her communication is effective because she appeals to our hearts and our minds simultaneously.

Q: Let me just double-check here. You have a sense of humor, but this Romantic Pragmatism is not a joke?

R: When the name came to me, it felt right and good. I’ve never felt thoroughly at home in any philosophical movement, though I’m sympathetic to strains in many. Existentialism has a strong appeal, but I can’t live there full-time. Calling myself simply a pragmatist left too much out, and at the same time it left too much in, e.g., the possibility of finding myself in the same camp with the undergraduate who rejected all philosophy, including ethics, altogether, saying that he had no interest in being “well-rounded” and didn’t see how he would ever make a nickel out of ethics. Utilitarianism repels me, with its calculations, and there are a couple of major problems with the theory. But Romanticism, leading some young people to suicide, others to radical right-wing quests for racial purity—ugh! Nietzsche? Give me a break!

Romanticism does, though, keep the mystery and magic of love and nature in Pragmatism and widens the field beyond the merely mercenary, while Pragmatism keeps Romanticism from going off half-cocked. Pragmatism keeps its eye on this world and asking what can actually be accomplished and how. The balance between the two, you see, is critical. Just as a pragmatist can be a narrow bean-counter, so a romantic can take sentiment and/or ideals beyond the pale of feasibility. Romantic Pragmatism balances principle with feasibility, mystery with results, and feelings with responsibility.

Q: All that sounds mind-numbingly boring!

R: You’re passing a judgment, not asking a question. Do you have any more questions, or are we done?

Q: Sorry! Okay, but don’t you think your philosophy, when you explain it, is kind of boring? I mean, where’s the rock ‘n’ roll?

R: I find it exciting. A lot of people find all philosophy boring, but so what? I find golf boring, and a lot of people live to play golf.

Q: In closing, then, your reason for combining Romanticism and Pragmatism, if you could put it into one word would be--?

R: How about two words? Hybrid vigor.

Q. That’s an intriguing response. We’re just about out of time today, but perhaps another time we could explore this idea of hybrid vigor?

R: I would like that very much. And I think I can make it more interesting than today’s introduction to my thought, because in discussing hybrid vigor we can talk a lot about dogs.

Q: Metaphorical dogs?

R: No, actual dogs.

Q: That sounds promising. Just, maybe, uh, not too soon?

R: I know, I know! My small coterie of regular readers count on coming here to find out what’s going on in Northport, what David and I are reading, what kind of fun Sarah and I are having in the woods. Those out in New York State or down in Missouri want pictures of Leelanau County to assuage their Up North longing. That stuff is important to me, too, and it’s why I started this blog. I get excited about my reading, about my bookstore, my gardens, long walks, Lake Michigan, the return of the sandhill cranes—all that! Right now, for instance, I’m really looking forward to seeing my forget-me-nots bloom again, and I’m eagerly anticipating the book signing on May 1 with Ed and Connie Arnfield’s new wildflower book. (See top right corner of page.) I do have this one passion, philosophy, that many people find either boring or amusing or both, but it’s not my only passion. Let’s be clear about that, shall we?

Q: One last question in closing: Is this the real you?

R. [Sigh.] I’m afraid it is. The deadly boring core, exposed at last to the withering light of day!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Midweek Up North News Sampler

The snow is still hanging on in patches. I have to admit, however, that the sunshine in this image is from last week, not this. Sigh! Still, there's a lot going on in Northport. This is only a small sample of happenings:

First, our own Deb Stannard at the Leelanau Township Library in Northport will be receiving the state library “Quality Services Certificate,” to be presented at the library at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 24. The public is invited on this happy occasion. We’re not a bit surprised that Deb has been chosen for recognition. This is a well-earned award, and it is Leelanau Township’s good fortune to have her at the helm. Yea, Deb!!!

The library celebration is Friday, but Saturday is a big day, too, the day of the annual Scott Brow Fishing Derby at the Mill Pond. As one middle-aged native put it, remembering his boyhood and the fun of fishing for prizes in April (sometimes in the snow!), the fishing derby was always “better’n Christmas!” Also on Saturday is the Adopt-a-Highway cleanup (meet at Covenant Church at the 90-degree turn of M-22), starting at 9:00 a.m., with cleanup of the Visitors Center afterward at 10:00 a.m. Volunteers welcome—just show up and be put to work!

Next, everyone please note that Bruce Viger at the Eat Spot is now opening at 8:00 a.m. and serving breakfast Tuesday through Saturday. This past Friday morning when I was there with Connie Arnfield, discussing the details of our upcoming book signing at Dog Ears (see top right corner of page), Bruce even had a fire in the fireplace. Cozy! Rumor has it that his new BBQ place on Waukazoo Street--handily next door to Dog Ears Books and the Painted Horse Gallery and across from Northport Fitness--will be open by Memorial Day weekend, and David predicts lots of competition for parking on Waukazoo Street. I tell him, there’s a problem I can live with! Downtown hiving with activity!

Sally Coohon at Dolls and More had her place open for Northport all winter, with expanded space (into the former pharmacy building) featuring a knitting corner, complete with a circle of rocking chairs up in the sunny front window. Sit in the sun with friends, get tips and help from Sally, watch the town go by from the best seat in town--brilliant! How would Northport women have survived winter without this refuge from isolation and cold? Now spring is here (or almost?), and still something is happening all the time at Dolls and More. Here is Lisa Drummund in the knitting corner, working on a baby cap for a little one arriving soon, while over at the big tables some girls from Northport School are painting their kites for outdoor fun. A few minutes later Sally is helping to dry the paint so the kites get home without mishap.

Outdoors, I was thrilled to see Michael and Arturo working in what used to be (that was during Incarnations #3 and #4 of Dog Ears Books) my own little Dog Ears garden. It was put in so long ago that it really needed the major overhaul that Serendipity Landscaping is giving it, and I can’t wait to see the results! Just hope that beautiful 'Crinkled White' peony survives.

Across and up Mill Street a little way, Barb’s Bakery was closed for the winter but is now open again. I like this shot of Barb behind the counter, framed by one of Marcia Jongsma’s prize-winning orchids.

And quite a bit farther from home, Betty Hendryx Loomis, daughter of Michigan adventure fiction writer, James B. Hendryx, died April 5 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the age of 87. Old-time Hendryx collectors fondly recall sharing Hendryx stories over lemonade once a year in Suttons Bay with Ms. Loomis. Well, excuse me while I go off on a tangent of my own here:

I never knew either James Hendryx or his sister, but one day at Dog Ears Books, over a decade ago, while two avid Hendryx collectors were conferring about their respective treasures, I got into conversation with one of the collectors’ wives. Her interest, she said, was genealogy. Then she told me her family name, which was the name of old neighbors of mine in Traverse City. “Are you related to ---?” I asked. “You mean my brother?” she said. “Then,” I went on, “you’re related to Grandma ---?” “You mean my mother?” Shock of recognition! Her mother, old enough to be my own grandmother, was one of my dearest friends in the old West Front Street neighborhood, and both of us had tears in our eyes at this unexpected connection. She was thrilled to meet someone who remembered and had loved her mother, and my heart warmed toward her simply for being her mother’s daughter. What this has to do with Hendryx is that the genealogy woman and her book collector husband had made many camping and fishing trips over the years into Canada with Hendryx and his wife. What mattered more to me, though, I have to say, was seeing my old friend’s smile in her daughter’s eyes.

The last time I had seen my friend, she told me that she didn’t read even watch television much any more, because her sight was so poor. Instead she stayed in bed late and remembered. “I think about my life,” she said contentedly. “I think about my family. And I always think of you as one of my girls.” (I have never forgotten those words and still shiver with happiness remembering them.) All the time I knew her, I had no idea that her daughter and son-in-law were intimates of a popular Michigan writer. In fact, back then I didn’t even know the name James B. Hendryx. My bookstore was still long years in the future. So life is full of unexpected connections. Also, I can’t help reflecting, besides the coincidences that the world finds noteworthy, there are so many countless others important only to one or two human hearts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Change in the Weather

The top image today is one from last week, our first week home. Sarah and I were out in the orchards, and everything looked great. To her, I’m sure, it all smelled great. The wild leeks were up in the woods, and at home in the garden, my rhubarb was pushing its way into the sunshine, looking like some misbegotten monster from the Black Lagoon.

How fortunate that we returned home on Sunday, April 12, rather than a week later! Sunday, April 19, the day I had hoped to finish yard and garden raking, turned cold and rainy and would have made a dismal homecoming, in contrast to the beautiful sunshine that led us home a week earlier. Now the forecast for the next couple of days is for more rain, “possibly mixed with snow”! (No accumulation is expected.) There is a positive side to this superficially unpleasant turn of events: the season for morels is upon us, and the morels needed rain. Also, though I had no choice in the matter and would have much preferred to be outdoors, raking, this last Sunday’s rain kept me inside, and a full day at home, indoors, inspired me to clean out kitchen drawers, dust floors, and catch up with laundry. Sooner or later, these tasks demand to be performed.

Monday, another day I do not require myself to be at the bookstore (until Memorial Day arrives, and the 7-day-a-week schedule begins), was a second day of cold rain, and David suggested a trip to Traverse City. It was a perfect museum day, and the exhibit of sculpture by John Cavanaugh at the Dennos Museum more than repaid the trek to town. The poses of his single figures are extraordinary, his groupings compelling. I had at least half a dozen “favorite pieces” and hope to have another opportunity to spend time at this exhibit.

Then, home on a cold, rainy afternoon, what better way to warm up the house than by baking cookies? What would the cupboard provide in the way of cookie ingredients? The resulting mix was a chocolate chip dough with rolled oats instead of chocolate chips…confectioner sugar substituted for granulated (this turned out so well I’ll do it this way again)…my mother’s usual half-butter, half-Crisco recipe for the half-cup of shortening. Delicious! And how clever of me to bake only one sheet of cookies and put the rest of the dough in the refrigerator against tomorrow’s certain chill?

Today was a back-at-home landmark for me, too. After a winter of voracious reading in Florida, I had not started a new book since leaving the Sunshine State. Now I have shaken off that dismal inertia (and clawed my way out from under a mountain of homecoming housework) to begin Jack Kerouac, King of the Beats: A Portrait, by Barry Miles. Strange reading choice for the bookseller who has yet to read On the Road, but maybe that’s in my future for 2009, too.

Ah, the future! What does it hold? My fortune cookie at lunch predicted, “You are next in line for a promotion in your firm.” I’ll have to talk to the boss about that. Or maybe I’ll put my money on the morels.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back--With Books

The world around Northport is full of happening these days, and there is so much to do (after three months away) that it’s overwhelming. Last Sunday we came up to Northport and emptied the van of all these boxes of books. By Thursday I had all the boxes empty and two tables filled:

Now to get started on all that cleaning (groan!). And of course everything will have to be rearranged for the May 1 reception (4-6 p.m.) for Ed and Connie Arnfield's new book (see top right corner). Come one, come all!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

South (Bend) to North(port)--Home!

We had our first sight of a three-bottomed semitrailer on the blessedly short stretch of toll road we traveled (my opinion: a toll road should not be bumpy) between South Bend, Indiana, and the Middlebury turnoff. Eek!

North of Middlebury on two-lane we had to slow for farm machinery. I never mind that. In fact, I love it! “No farms, no food.” True. This feels more like home.

Lowry’s books (Tom Lowry, prop.), still serving community and visitors in the heart of downtown Three Rivers, Michigan, along with a newcomer, the Stray Dog Bookshop and Coffee Bar (Larry Nelson, prop.), back on a side street in Three Rivers. Stray Dog has used and antiquarian, Lowry’s has everything in the way of books and more besides. Both merit long stops.

Blue scilla were blooming in the yard of Kalamazoo friends. We sat out in the sun next to them (humans sat by flowers, that is), enjoying the moment. Dinner later with family was full of laughter and good humor, finishing off with lemon Easter cupcakes. Yea, Carson and Chelsea!

Yes, we are—back in Great Lakes country!

At a quick gas station stop outside Mesick for coffee to go, I couldn’t resist this brightly decorated donut. It looked like a holiday, appropriate to the day. The girl behind the counter apologized, saying she wasn’t all that good at making them yet and pointing out that the result was somewhat lopsided (I really couldn’t see that), adding with a smile, “But it was made with heart.” “And,” I replied happily, “it was made in Michigan!” to which she responded, “That’s important these days, isn’t it?” We exchanged comments on the beauty of the sunshine and parted, probably forever, and that’s the whole story. But imagine it differently: put an unhappy clerk who hates her job on one end or a rushed, impatient, surly customer on the other, and the brightness would have gone out of the day. As it was, I returned to the car smiling, buoyed up for the home stretch. Friendliness and goodwill from stranger to stranger, in small encounters such as these, are that powerful.

Look at this pile of snow! It’s filthy! So why does it bring a wide smile to my face, as if it were a blooming dogwood tree? David and I had both wondered how it would feel to come back Up North to the ragged end of winter, with everything still brown and squashed down (cattails in the wetlands, last year’s bracken at forest edges), patches of snow lingering, no green yet in the woods. Is it only thanks to the sunshine that it feels so good, that everything actually looks great to us, just as it is?

Our first sight of Grand Traverse Bay!

The colors of the Bay were practically tropical, ranging from deep blue through brilliant aquamarine through sparkling clear water through which we could see the sand bottom. “It’s never looked prettier!”

There’s the sign for Northport!

Snow in the woods….

…but crocuses blooming in the yard!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Third Day Heading Back North

Faces of rock cuts speed past us, prehistoric time slipping by like a galaxy as we are borne, inexorably, out of Tennessee, through Kentucky, on into Indiana. Sometimes the cuts are terraced, and then, along each thin ledge, small redbud trees have found footholds sufficient for life. In bloom against the rock, on a grey day, they are breathtaking.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move…

These lines are quoted near the end of John Tillaby’s A Walk Through Europe (1972), which David started reading in Aripeka and which I finished with him in the car today, reading aloud while he piloted us across the Indiana prairie. I searched online this evening and found the full text of Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses,” from which these lines are taken. Here is some more of it:
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed

Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known….

David was so close to the end of the book that I only came in for the end of the story, beginning with the account of a memorable meal made for the author by an old granny in the French town of Bonneval. That had me yearning, on a day of expressway driving, for France, for surprise, for adventure, but even Hillaby’s foot-trekking involved what he called “restless, zestless stages.” That, for me, summarizes most days I’ve ever spent on expressway (though I-65 is not the outright torture that characterizes time spent captive on I-75), but sometimes, I must acknowledge, covering territory is the main objective. Never mind that glimpses of winding roads tug at the heartstrings! Banish that lump in the throat as the Ohio River is crossed and the South left behind! We have explored rural Kentucky on other occasions: this time we need to get ourselves back to Michigan. But I love a lot of Indiana, too! Does that make sense? If only we had time to follow every inviting vista beckoning to us! I would be Ulysses and never rest from travel—or…?

I think the answer lies in the fact that my tendency is to enter into whatever country surrounds me, to the extent possible. What is frustrating about expressway is the feeling that one is not in the country but being conveyed through it while being isolated from it.

Enough complaining! After the two near-perfect days we had coming north through Florida and Georgia! Today, too, spent crossing the ocean of prairie dotted with farmstead islands, offered up its own time-island of magic when we stopped in Columbus, Indiana, home of the Four Freshmen but even more famous as a city of outstanding architecture, acknowledged for architectural design by the American Institute of Architects. I’ve made several visits to Columbus, after discovering it, by chance, when traveling between Cincinnati and Champaign-Urbana, but it’s been several years, and there have been a lot of changes.

The mall is being rebuilt, for one thing, and Terry and Susan Whittaker’s Viewpoint Books has moved from the mall to a corner location on Washington Street. The rain held off long enough for us to stroll beneath the flowering pear trees (petals drifting down on us like snow or confetti) to the bookstore, where I bought a book on the architecture of Columbus and we visited with Terry and bookstore employee Melinda. We bookstore people trade combat stories, tales of moving shop and stock. As friends and customers did for Dog Ears Books in Northport, Columbus volunteers turned to schlepp for Viewpoint Books. "Book people are great!" we all agreed.

Next stop was the deli down the street, where I ordered the sandwich called “Double Dilemma,” because—how could I not order a sandwich called “Double Dilemma”??? We were unable to see the Jean Tinguely metamechanical sculpture “Chaos No. 1,” which is currently under wraps, awaiting needed renovation, but did see the new video at the Visitors Center, as well as the Chihuly chandelier in the new addition to that building. Thanks, Judie and Joyce, for your warm welcome and all the information you provided! (Joyce and her husband operate the Ruddick-Nugent House B&B, which occupies an entire historic block. Who wouldn't want to stay there?)

Tonight we learn, to our dismay, that Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where we stayed last night, was struck by a tornado only hours after we left. Of course we are happy to have missed it, but our sympathy goes out to the folks in Murfreesboro, memories of Kalamazoo’s 1980 tornado still very much alive for us.

In closing this evening—our last evening before we re-enter Michigan—and in salute to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, here are the last words of Tennyson’s poem:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

We are tonight in South Bend, Indiana. Tomorrow, Kalamazoo....