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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Busy Days

“Are you trying to garden and run a bookstore?” asked Jim Metcalf (whose wife Stephanie, mother of three, has so much more on her plate!) when I stole away from Dog Ears just long enough to drive out to his nursery and buy some tomato plants, rosemary and cilantro while there was still a good selection. Yes, trying to garden, run a bookstore, keep a house going, train a dog, spend quality time with David (these items are not listed in order of priority, I should mention) and still have time to read a few books—those are my modest aims this time of year. With Bruce in the bookstore yesterday, I not only got to the library for the discussion of The Gift of Rain but even got out in the rain, on the rocky beach at Peterson, where I found found a few fossils while Sarah drove herself wild with glee.

We’re having a calmer day today but not a boring one. Suttons Bay author Hillary Porter stopped in, and we got some good publicity shots of her with her book, The Colors of Beech Hill, a young adult novel set in and around our own little village of Northport. Hillary graduated from Northport High School in 1989. She will be appearing at Dog Ears Books on Saturday, June 27, from 4-6 p.m. (reminders will be posted, but mark calendars now!), and I hope to have a review from one or two young readers to post before that time.

Cherry Scott visited, too, and Sarah and I were her camera subjects. Cherry, who instituted last Saturday’s “Blessing of the Pets” and plans to make it an annual event, is putting together a book of photographs of local people and their pets. The ones she showed me were such beautiful portraits that I was uncharacteristically eager to pose with my dog.

Then there was just time left in the morning to take a few preliminary looks into a new book from a writer I’ve met only once. I predict that Julie Irwin Zimmerman’s handsomely packaged guide, A Spiritual Companion to Infertility, will be helpful to a great many people, with its thoughtful discussion of issues of infertility, phrased in welcoming, readable prose and offering solid information and sensitive insight. Each chapter begins and ends with scriptural passages, concluding with appropriate prayers. These will give comfort and assistance to many readers, but every page seems to take the reader gently by the hand, saying, “You are not alone.”

A Spiritual Companion to Infertility, in fact, is exactly what the title says it is. Early in the book the author speaks of how difficult it was for her for a while to turn to the church because of all the hurt she experienced during baptisms and everything that related to babies and children. Infertility brought on not only an emotional crisis but also a spiritual crisis. Zimmerman recounts a change of heart she had when she decided not to skip church on Mother’s Day but to call her pastor ahead of time “and ask him to acknowledge the Infertile that Sunday.” She goes on:
He expressed his sympathy for our plight with a sincerity that set me at ease, and he promised he would do something. That Sunday I paid close attention as he asked our congregation to pray for all the mothers present and far away, living and dead, “as well as those women who long for motherhood.” I felt a sense of relief and triumph, and no small comfort from those words.

Zimmerman’s book is so small and easy to read that it is amazing to realize how much ground it covers. Like the novel Still Alice, which gave me a new appreciation and sympathy for what it is like to struggle with Alzheimer’s, A Spiritual Companion to Infertility gives me a much deeper understanding of the hopes, fears, anguish and many difficult and soul-searching decisions to be made by infertile couples. I would want anyone wrestling with these issues to have Julie Zimmerman’s book.

Will this be the Year of the Porcupine for Sarah and David and me? Sarah, I report with very mixed emotions, killed a young porky a few mornings ago. It was not a tiny baby (such a cute little face, though!) but still young, so its quills were shorter and more flexible, thus easier to remove from Sarah’s lips and gums. She didn’t mind or even seem to notice, and neither of us noticed that I’d missed one; a friend spotted it the next day, sticking right out of her nose. (The quill was black, too.) The big question is what, if anything, will she have learned from this experience. To avoid porcupines in the future? Or to tackle another, since she was successful with the first one?

It was sheer coincidence that my most recent book order had included Louise Erdrich’s The Porcupine Year (2008). The story begins with a sudden, unplanned canoe trip taken by Omakayas and her brother (then called Pinch, later Quill), as a result of which they must pass a night far downriver from their parents. A porcupine that joins their adventure is a charming surprise. How will their lives subsequently change? That’s the rest of the story, of course.

My closing image today, another porcupine, is from an old (1950) children’s book, Song of the Seasons, by Addison Webb, illustrated by Charles L. Ripper.

A young porcupine knows everything he ever will know almost as soon as he is born. He does not need teaching. But nobody likes him except his mother. She thinks he is wonderful.

Thank heaven for mothers, eh?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

After the Holiday Weekend, Life Goes On

The grey skies held off until this morning, our long weekend was glorious, but now it’s back to business as usual, and the business of this week in Northport includes the last library book discussion of the season. Everyone is welcome at one o’clock at the Leelanau Township Library to talk about The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng. (To start the book tonight and finish it by tomorrow might mean going without sleep. It could be done, I’m sure. Consider that if you haven’t read it yet!) I’m looking forward to having Bruce here in the bookstore so I can attend the discussion, because I loved this book—for several reasons. First, the setting (Penang) is completely different for me. Then, so many sentences were like poems. And finally, the complexity of the characters and the choices they had to make in life made The Gift of Rain a book well worth reading. You can recognize the library building this week by the beautiful flowering crab apple trees gracing its garden.

The highlight of my weekend was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How often can that be said? I’d reserved tickets weeks ahead for the Stanislav Pronin concert on Saturday evening, and the more I heard and read about him before the evening arrived, the harder it was to believe he would really be playing at the Northport Community Arts Center. Could it be true? He would be here in our little village? It was. He did. For hours at the bookstore on Sunday and Monday I relived the event, listening to a CD of that beautiful music.

Sunday morning’s breakfast was scrambled eggs with chopped shallots and, at last, fresh morels. This picture (of one that was growing sideways) gives some idea of how difficult morels are to spot on the ground amid last year’s dead leaves:

The words “assisted living” don’t usually conjure up a vision of heaven on earth for me, but a brief scene in a documentary film (“Following Sean,” in case you’re interested) shed different light on that scary idea. In one scene the filmmaker was helping his parents move out of their long-time home and into what he referred to as “assisted living,” and the next scene showed them on a farm! They had decided, his narration continued, to join a “Steiner community.” I was smitten! Not to be confused with mobile home parks of the same name in Florida (Googling brings up everything), this intentional community 35 miles from New York City, with a philosophy based on Rudolf Steiner’s beliefs in biodynamic agriculture and Waldorf education, is non-alcoholic, vegetarian and multigenerational. It isn’t just shuffleboard and sing-alongs: everyone has jobs, important work to do. Well, David said he wouldn’t mind the alcohol ban but didn’t want to give up meat, and while I could easily adopt a vegetarian diet I do appreciate a glass of wine with dinner, and we’re pretty attached to northern Michigan, too, so my new Leelanau County dream is that by the time I’m ready for “assisted living,” I can find the necessary assistance down on the farm. No air conditioning, please. I’d rather take care of the chickens.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


This is our old apple tree last year, standing and blooming, and below is the first stanza of a poem called “Old Apple Trees,” by W. D. Snodgrass. I found it in an anthology entitled Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001.

“Old Apple Trees”
Like battered old mill hands, they stand in the orchard—
Like drunk legionnaires, heaving themselves up,
Lurching to attention. Not one of them wobbles
The same way as another. Uniforms won’t fit them—
All those cramps, humps, bulges. Here, a limb’s gone;
There, rain and corruption have eaten the whole core.
They’ve all grown too tall, too thick, or too something,
Like men bent too long over desks, engines, benches,
Or bent under mailsacks, under loss.
They’ve seen too much history and bad weather, grown
Around rocks, into high winds, diseases, grown
Too long to be willful, too long to be changed….

All who serve and have served, in every way, we salute you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Last Pre-Season Day

I can’t quite grasp even yet that Memorial Day weekend is upon us, but there’s no denying the sharp increase in number of people in town and a greatly stepped-up pace of business in every direction. As for weather, the temperature feels like summer, and wind is brisk. Big, blue Lake Michigan had plenty of whitecaps and surf early this morning. (Deborah, don't jump on that rock!)

A shocking sight greeted us yesterday near home. Despite innumerable examples of apple trees pruned over a lifetime to remain close to the ground, with flat, low crowns, our local power company decided that the century-old apple along our driveway must be completely removed, i.e., cut down. As if that weren’t bad enough, insult was added to slaughter, the tree cut down in full bloom. Though I salvaged a few branches for a vase, we are heartsick. There is no shortcut to a long relationship, and there is no replacing an old tree. Thanks be to all the powers that we have a young dog keeping us focused on life.

And the cherry blossoms are still breath-taking, both in the orchards and in the woods. We are lucky to be here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Recommended Titles

Traverse City writer Doug Stanton’s first book, In Harm’s Way, the story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis near the end of World War II, spent months on the New York Times best-seller list. His new book, Horse Soldiers, about a very unusual special forces operation in Afghanistan, is a 21st-century story--with a big difference: The soldiers in this true story really do go to battle on horseback, 19th-century style. If you need still more reason to want to read Horse Soldiers, consider the testimonial of a female bookseller who never reads Dean Koontz, Clive Cussler, or any of those other “guy” writers. This is definitely a “guy” book, and I’ve been reading it poised on the edge of my seat, thoroughly engrossed, picturing every scene in my head as the story unrolls.
Now there were some 600 men on horses and on foot moving out onto the plain, readying for battle. They remained screened from the Taliban’s view by the hills. Dostum couldn’t believe his luck that they hadn’t been discovered. The enemy was just a half mile away. He and Nelson rode several hundred yards to a rock promontory and beheld the spectacle.

Using his radio, the excited general began directing traffic. First, 100 riders lined up behind the first hill. And then a second hundred on foot positioned themselves behind the second hill. Soon they were spread in six lines behind six hills, the horses rearing, the men shouting, cracking whips. The dust they raised drifted above the battlefield, and Nelson wondered if the Taliban could see it.

If you need a review from somewhere other than Michigan, how about the New York Times?

After a bit of reflection on the question, I’ve decided to make Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, my recommended fiction choice for May. I’ve already written about this novel, but it wasn’t the topic alone, Alzheimer’s disease, that drove my choice. When I mentioned this novel to a group of friends recently, all groaned loudly, not wanting to consider such a “depressing” book. I wouldn’t characterize it as depressing. The losses Alice faces and endures are very real, and no one would choose them, but through the inner life of this very believable, very sympathetic character, we come to a new appreciation for the experience of those afflicted, and Genova is a neuroscientist, so the background knowledge she brings to fiction-writing is no big surprise. It is, however, her characters that make this book worth reading as a novel. Alice and her husband, their son and two daughters, seem like people I know, people in my life. Anyone who reads this book will be glad, I think, to have made friends with Alice and will be happy for this family’s victories in the face of loss.

Sarah and I braved the wind this morning and returned to the rocky beach at Peterson Park. For those new to rock-picking and wanting to turn up Petoskey stones, this terrain that can be fruitful, but spotting what you’re looking for isn’t easy. Is there a Petoskey in this picture?

One way to make the hunt easier is to go down to the waterline.

The markings of the fossil coral are much more easily scene when the stones are wet. Another option is to carry a small plastic pail, fill it with water, and carry it back to pour over a pile of dry stones. The truth is that you don’t have to be on a beach to find Petoskeys, since this whole area was underwater at the time the little animals were alive.

The perfect Petoskey stone did not present itself to me this morning, but then, as is often the case, I did not conduct a relentlessly focused search, either. I’ve written before about my potluck attitude to life. Whether it’s a salad luncheon or a bookstore discovered while traveling, a hike in the woods or a stroll on the beach, it pays to be open to surprises. Away from the waves, up near the treeline, I found a few tiny bearberry blossoms, resting on a flat rock, still white and pink in the shade, and out on the water, bobbing on the waves, a flotilla of brave little ducks. (It would have been a shame to miss these sights by looking at nothing but stones.) I did come away with a nice Charlevoix stone, anyway, which I've learned to identify thanks to the Lake Michigan Rock Picker's Guide.

All books mentioned in this post are available at Dog Ears Books, 106 Waukazoo Street, downtown Northport, just north of the Drive-Thru BBQ.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Continuing Obsession

Here's a different look for a trillium--pink with the familiar green virus-caused marks more often seen against white.

What is my favorite wildflower—or just favorite flower, if it comes to that? As a lover of flowers, I am fickle, my allegiance shifting with every shift in the season. The jack-in-the-pulpit, with its unusual form and dramatic contrasting colors, fascinates me endlessly, but the violets make me happy, happy, happy, and I never tire of their little faces. That they come in such a variety of colors is endlessly pleasing as well.

I will try to have something to say on a non-botanical topic in a day or two. Who knows? Maybe even a couple of book recommendations….

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Spring Blossoms

This morning I woke at 4 a.m. and got up to finish the short story I'd started yesterday. That's almost 3,000 words in two days, and then there are the two books I'm reading, going back and forth from one to the other, so, all in all, I don't have a lot to say in today's post. How many thousand words are these pictures worth?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Today and Coming Soon

It’s starting to feel like—the Season!—but there’s still time to take in deep draughts of fresh, cool, sweet-smelling air and panoramic sights of spring wildflowers.

Sarah and I encountered quite a breeze this morning at Peterson Park, where I introduced her to the rock-strewn beach for the first time, but both of us found our mini-vacation exciting and invigorating.

Here is a partial list (my usual caveat) of scheduled local events this month:

Evening performances of Anne-Marie Oomen’s new play, “Whaddya Give?” will take place tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Old Art Building in Leland. “Whaddya Give?” is an original musical based on a memorable local auction. Think you’ve got too much “stuff”? Come laugh at yourself! Tickets for evening performances are $15. Sunday’s matinee, which includes a reception, is $25 a person.

Tomorrow is the second annual Blossom Tour, beginning with a blessing of the blossoms at 9:30 at the Eagles Ridge Conference Center in Peshawbestown. The first orchard tour buses will leave at 10 a.m., and tours will continue until 2 p.m. If you’re far from Leelanau and can’t make it up on Saturday, never fear—there are plenty of cherry blossoms yet to come, and apple blossoms after that.

This coming Wednesday evening, May 20, is the date set for the second Northport-Omena Summit. There’s a lot going on in Leelanau Township these days. The program that will bring you up to date starts at 7 p.m. at the NCAC.

Cherry Scott is behind this next item, which won’t surprise anyone who knows her. The first Blessing of the Pets will take place in Northport on Saturday, May 23, at 11 a.m. at the Northport Village Office, 116 W. Nagonaba (outside, I presume!), Rev. Karen Schulte officiating.

Saturday the 23rd is also the day for the annual “Cars in the Park” show in Northport’s Haserot Park, down by the marina. Come see cars and meet friends at the show from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

I’m sure no one will forget the morning Memorial Day service on May 25 out at the cemetery north of town.

Then the next weekend, on Friday, May 29, beginning at 5 p.m., is a reception at the Old Art Building in Leland for the annual show by the “Leelanau Artists” group. These people have been painting together once a week for a long time and have gotten better and better over the years. (Dedication and experience pay off again.) The exhibit will continue through May 31.

Finally, Saturday, May 30, is the date for the first-ever “Golf the Point for the Promise” tournament. The $100 entry fee each golfer pays for this opportunity to golf the “exclusive private Northport Point Club” (I’m quoting from a publicity poster) will go for scholarships to be awarded to graduates of Northport High School. Go, Wildcats!

Spellbound last night by Doug Stanton’s book, I surprised myself this morning by writing 500 words of a new short story before Sarah and I went outdoors. (Todd, Trudy and Marilyn: A little something happens in this one, you’ll be relieved to hear.) Now the sun is shining. Rain later? Life is still good.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Outdoors, Indoors (reprise)

Indoors I'm transfixed by Doug Stanton's new book, Horse Soldiers. Outdoors, it's living things that hold me spellbound--a grackle exploring the creek, forget-me-nots blooming in the grass, a horse feeling its oats.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

BBQ Report

The sun did not come out, but the crowds did, and the raves were unanimous. "I'm a convert!" one man was overheard to say. Many thumbs-up signs were given by those who didn't want to talk with their mouths full.

Reminder: It's "Drive-Thru" in name only! You have to walk in!
Correction from my post earlier today: The first business day is this Friday, and from then on through the season the Drive-Thru BBQ will be open seven days a week.

Here are the guys to thank:

Grill-master George Twine--

and owner Bruce Viger--

Give them a hand for this new success, and come often to enjoy their offerings! I'm not sure of the street address, but the BBQ is just south of Dog Ears Books and the Painted Horse Gallery, and we're at 106 Waukazoo.

Be Prepared to Walk!

It’s called Drive-Thru BBQ, and today from 5-8 p.m. is the open house, with Saturday the first day of regular business--but out-of-towners, beware!!! It’s only called “Drive-Thru.” You can’t really. There is no driveway and no take-out window! You have to park on the street or in a parking lot (across the street or down by the harbor), walk up and go inside to place your order. (Hint: Park down by the harbor, walk up to get your ribs or chicken or pulled pork or whatever, and walk back down with your take-out meal to enjoy it by the water. That’s what I’d do if I were visiting Northport for the day. Of course, if you have a big group and are ordering lots of food you may just want to settle in at the on-site picnic tables on Waukazoo Street.) So why’s it called Drive-Thru? Well, that’s restaurateur Bruce Viger’s story to tell. I’ll simply predict that everyone will be happy with the lunch and dinner options to be offered this season by Bruce and grill-master George Twine. Still having a problem with the name? Remember, people, this is Northport, home of the dog parade, famous for a light-hearted, fun-loving take on life.

David stayed at the bookstore with Sarah while I walked up Nagonaba Street late this morning to Bethany Lutheran Church, where the church ladies were hosting their annual salad luncheon. One of the first to arrive, I got there in time to see all the salad bowls and plates piled high and beautiful and to have first pick of everything for my take-out lunch. I was so excited by the food, in fact, and so hungry that I almost left without taking a picture and had to backtrack to get this one.

And now I’m looking at two different books, wondering which one to open and start reading while waiting for the UPS truck to bring my latest order. When that box arrives, there won’t be any question of what to read, as it should contain Doug Stanton’s new book, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan.

In my dreams last night, I was back at Western Michigan University. This time as an instructor rather than a student, I was on the bottom rung of the faculty and not surprised to be given a very basic office--not much more than bare walls, a desk and a chair. After making myself at comfortable in this office as possible, I went out to do errands and returned to find a man had taken possession of my desk, leaving me no place for me to sit except on a milk crate by the side of the desk! I felt like a dog! He then told me I had to give exams the very next class period. I had not written my exams yet. “And no essay questions,” he added. “But I always give essay questions! I want my students to think!” I protested. Changing the subject, he asked me what books I’d been reading lately, and I couldn’t remember any of the titles. Back in my car, I picked up one of the books I thought I’d finished to see what it was called and realized I was only halfway through it. Just then, behind the building, a huge cruise ship pulled up at a dock. Go figure! Unaccountably, it appeared that WMU was now on the shore of Lake Michigan instead of a hundred miles inland. The ship had come from Mackinac Island (which was also in Lake Michigan, just offshore), and some faculty who were also summer shopkeepers disembarked, all excited about merchandise they’d been able to get for free from gift shops on the island from shopkeepers there turning over their inventory for the season. I was dubious, as the jewelry all looked like last year’s fads, nothing anyone would want to buy this year.

In the wake of that dream, I feel fortunate to be a bookseller and not a hawker of costume jewelry. I’m also happy not to have to write any “objective” philosophy exam questions today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Week in May

Leelanau Township cherry orchards are slowly coming into bloom. Most, in fact, are only beginning: this shot is another from those old, gnarly, early-blossoming trees that unfurled for my camera last week. I believe the last of the snow is gone. At least, the patches I’ve been watching have disappeared. Anyone else know where winter is yet lingering?

Yesterday morning early I finished the last pages of The Gift of Rain, and before bedtime I had read all of Michael J. Fox’s memoir, Lucky Man. Today one of my nephews, at my request, e-mailed me a recent philosophy paper he wrote on nihilism. I don’t think he’s falling for it. Myself, I have never been less tempted. Too many beautiful people, dogs, trees, flowers, books, etc., etc.

All day today, comings and goings next door! Concrete dry, tables in place—will a garden suddenly appear? a picket fence? Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow from 5-8 p.m. is the open house for the new BBQ establishment, and Saturday the place will be officially open for the season. Another leap forward in the Waukazoo Revival! Woody Palmer, Painted Horse Gallery owner, is so impressed by all the activity in town that he's thinking of having the gallery open for Memorial Day weekend.

Life is good in Leelanau today.