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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This Too Is Michigan, Up North, Country

My usual take on country living is unabashedly positive. The noise of orchard sprayers and tractors, the odor of fresh manure being spread on fields, the long walk from the house to where the driveway ends at the road, and all the rest of it seems a small price to pay--actually, except for the sprayers, I usually count all these things in the positive column, and even the sprayers I can rationalize as a good, since they are ongoing evidence for agricultural continuity in the neighborhood—in return for privacy, being able to hang laundry out on the line, having room to grow flowers and food and wide open spaces to explore with my dog. And on sunny June days when the first wild roses are blossoming, it’s all heaven on earth in my book.

In line with my romantic pragmatist philosophy, one area in my bookshop (two, actually—one new, one used) is devoted to country living and subsistence farming. I’ve listed several of those books recently and probably will again. The most recent arrival in the subject category is Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese, by Brad Kessler. It’s always important to remember, however, that not all bookstore browsers are wannabe farmers, and it’s also important to keep a sense of humor, so I also have on hand a hot new title from southwestern Michigan (Saugatuck area), At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life, by Wade Rouse.

So today, to acknowledge that other side of the Up North country living coin, we admit that skies over Grand Traverse Bay can sometimes be dark and stormy, and, on a darker note, that life can be violently cut short.

Not for the faint of heart, this post with its image of sudden death. Usually one does not stop for the death of an unknown other of a species not one’s own--the deer had not collided with my car, after all-- but there she was, lying in the wet grass along the side of the road between Omena and Northport, still so beautiful, and its eyes still so bright, as if she might suddenly recollect herself and scramble to her dainty feet, sway a little, shake her head to clear her brain, and leap away into the underbrush. That didn’t happen. I got out of the car for a closer look, feeling that I was bearing witness both to beauty and to death. You were here, lovely one. Someone took notice.

Doubtless the deer had been hit by a car, as often happens, though the close-up doesn’t give that impression. It’s one of the hazards of driving in these parts, and insurance companies figure the cost in terms of vehicle damage, human death and injury, not harm to deer. That is, deer on the roads are seen as dangerous to drivers and passengers of motor vehicles. That’s the perspective. For me, the beauty of the deer in our midst more than repays the risk, but I wonder how the animals would assess the danger. If they could calculate, would they conclude that our gardens and orchards and fields of alfalfa and corn outweigh the risk of tons of dangerous metal hurtling through the landscape?

This is life Up North as June comes to a rainy finish. Summer sun should return by week’s end, in time for the Fourth of July.


Deborah said...

Pamela, I couldn't believe you put that close up photo of the beautiful deer on your blog. Of course, I have to believe it because though I quickly passed it by I wanted to read your words so had to page up and see the photo while reading the words. Deer to me are beautiful animals and I hate seeing one whose life ended violently. I hope for the deer that it was an immediate death. I treasure deer - beautiful animals.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the deer photo. Even in death, life is beautiful.
Also, I recently read a galley of "Goat Song" as a reviewer for a Minneapolis newspaper and can say that it is excellent -- both horrifying in its description of goat sex, and achingly beautiful in its description of the making of cheese, a daily thing when you own goats that produce milk, if you want to avoid tossing the milk. I highly recommend the book.

P. J. Grath said...

I did think the deer still looked beautiful--much prettier than the remains of the poor dead bird Sarah sniffed out today and more lovely than the little road-killed rodent on my way to Northport this morning. But oh, another sight on the way to town: A doe leaped in front of the car. Following her was a spotted fawn. I braked hard and missed hitting it. Two more young deer followed them in graceful arcs. Life and death, all happening out there every day.

Anonymous, thanks for recommending GOAT SONG. My highest meat-raising ambition is for chickens, but a bookstore homesteading section can't leave out grazing animals.