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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Potluck, Potpourri or a Rose By Any Other Name

Odds and ends is what I have to post today. That beautiful mule above was the only good photograph I scored yesterday, though I had my camera with me all day long, but don’t you think this image was worth a day of carrying a camera?

Here are some pumpkins that appeared recently on M-22 near us. We won’t have Bob’s pumpkins this year next to our driveway, but other growers in the neighborhood have stepped up to fill in the gap. These are at Nick and Julie’s. There are more at Tom and Carol’s, more at Panta’s, more on down the roads. Yesterday I heard that last year there had been a national shortage of canned pumpkin, a pumpkin pie crisis, of sorts. Because you really don’t want to try to make pie out of a jack-o’-lantern pumpkin. But Nick and Julie have pie pumpkins, too.

This is the first year I’ve grown edamame (edible soybeans), and somehow an opportunity to work them into a post did not present itself, so I wanted to include some pictures here--first, in their fuzzy little pods, then shelled, and finally in a delicious mix of vegetables. The corn was from Panta, the onions from Jess, tomatoes and edamame from our backyard.

Then, how about Canada geese flying high over a field?

And a fish ladder in Traverse City?

Finally, to wrap up this completely random post, here’s one last item that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else. It’s an old photo I found in a consignment shop in the U.P., the same place I bought those old postcards you saw earlier. These people fascinate me. Are they Irish? See the railroad trestle in the background (left)? The woman in the shop thought this photograph may have come from Onota, as did at least one of the postcards. (Remember George and Emma?) Is this all one family? Would any of their descendants recognize any of the people pictured here?

I can't help the way my mind is hopping around these days. David was interviewed yesterday by Bob Downes of the Northern Express, his show opens at Circa Estate Winery on Sunday, and the following Saturday I'll be having a big bookstore wing-ding for Dean Robb and the book about his life by his son, Matthew. (Nice article in the Leelanau Enterprise, as well as my ad.) The week after that? Fall Festival in Northport.... And then it will be time for Halloween. October is getting like summer, going by in a blur.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Autumn Coming In

Our weather forecast here in the northwest lower peninsula is calling for several more days of sun, with just enough clouds to give the sky character. Monday was so delicious I couldn’t help saying greedily to David that I’d love a whole month like that, and that reminded him of the year he built his houseboat (for years a feature on the Leland River, just upstream from the Riverside Inn) when, he claims, the weather was sunny and calm and warm and perfect from September through November. Well, that’s unusual for northern Michigan! Still, we take what we get, and we’re grateful for beautiful days and grateful to get through the days and nights when Mother Nature is wilder—and there are plenty of broken tree limbs around to remind us of recent wild winds.

My camera batteries gave out yesterday morning after only two exposures, freeing me up to enjoy the rest of my outdoor time with Sarah in a more Sarah-like manner, more immersed in each passing moment. Walking and driving at this time of year in the morning or evening--that is, just after sunrise or just before sunset--is challenging when headed into the sun. Is the sun brighter, or is it simply that it rises almost directly in the east, rather than in the blessed northeast or gentle southeast? I remember driving to meet a friend in Pentwater two years ago and arriving on a stretch of road headed directly west just as the setting sun flamed blindingly across my windshield. There was no place to pull over, but it was a terrifying few minutes, and I was astonished that most drivers didn’t even slow down.

David and I are moving ahead on all fronts these days, with three important weekends almost upon us. The first event will be his month-long show at Circa Estate Winery, with the opening reception this coming Sunday (Oct. 3). See below this week’s ad in the Northern Express.

I’m also moving forward with preparations for Dean Robb’s book signing and reception at Dog Ears a week from Saturday (Oct. 9). This morning I delivered invitations to the school for faculty and staff, as author Matt Robb did a project with students there two years ago.

And thanks to my good friend Sally Coohon of the shop Dolls and More (102 Nagonaba, one of several former Dog Ears locations), the scarecrows and other fall decorations are now up all over the village. Notice how two of them are pointing the way into the village? Sally and I could not have asked for more beautiful weather for decorating yesterday morning. Northport's modest but sweet little Fall Festival will be Saturday, Oct. 16. Village eateries, from Barb's to Stubb's, will be offering fall specials on that day (not just apple cider but plenty of apple cider), and the beautifully decorated wagonette from Abraham's Carriage Service will be here again this year with a team of gleaming horses. Too tired to walk? Enjoy the ride in old-fashioned style.

Here online I’m featuring a different book this week in my “Recommended” slot and have added a new blog to my blog list.

I’ve also started re-reading L. E. Kimball’s A Good High Place. I won’t put it on my “Books Read” a second time, but this beautiful and unusual novel deserves to be read more than once.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sarah's Sunday

Sarah went to Traverse City with us. The three of us sat out on Front Street in front of Horizon Books, David and I enjoying coffee and sunshine and all of us taking in the passing scene. Then we had a walk downtown, followed by a drive through the country, interrupted by a country walk. Here are a few snapshots from Sarah's day. What do you think she enjoyed most?

Did she notice the caramel apples in a shop window on Front Street?

Was she intrigued by divers in the Boardman River?

Were cattle in a pasture the most fascinating sight of the day?

It probably wasn’t the old stone barn foundation that she’ll be dreaming of tonight.

How about the heady freedom of exploring a new two-track for the very first time?

Was this quiz too easy?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Waves of Weather and Thought

Most of Thursday the rain poured down. It was a wild day, off and on. In fact, I had quite the little bookstore crowd in the early afternoon when the power went out from the Bight through Cherry Home, and several friends came to enjoy light and coffee. Fortunately for Sarah and me, the rain let up at bookstore closing time, so we were able to spend some time outdoors without getting completely soaked. Fog clothed everyday scenes in thrilling mystery. At least, the look of the fields and forests was thrilling and mysterious to me. Sarah took it in stride. I did notice that her nose found certain spots quite mesmerizing. Did the fog concentrate scents where other animals had been?

Back to my current reading--
We learned from our parents. We learned from our grandparents. Since everyone was directly involved in the economic success of the family unit, we felt directly a part of not only the family but all of society. At six or seven years old in 1930, you were expected to help on the farm. In 2010, children tend to be less needed for work, and thus not connected directly to their parents’ livelihood. Progress has made life more convenient. Yet, somehow, people are less connected.

- Matthew Z. Robb, writing in his father’s voice, in Dean Robb: An Unlikely Radical

This is the rural culture alluded to in yesterday’s post about Dean’s memoir, and it reminds me forcibly of the novels and essays of Wendell Berry and the kind of strong family and community interdependence he remembers and espouses, which he sees still in Amish culture. It’s easy for outsiders to romanticize the Amish and for those of us in the 21st century to romanticize an arduous past we did not have to live, but it’s not easy to deny that something important has been lost to most Americans since 1930s. We are connected, some of us almost constantly, by cell phones, electronic text messages and e-mail, but what kind of connection is it? There is a strong, very important psychological component, I would say. The fact that we reveal ourselves and sympathize with each other and try to counsel and advise and support is hugely important. There is undoubtedly more of this individual recognition now than there was in pre-WWII rural communities, and who would want to give it up? Not I. But the truth is that most of us do not depend on each other economically, in any immediate sense.

So, has our culture seen “progress,” or is it in “decline?” A little bit of this, a little bit of that, I’d say. Another case of the ubiquitous double-edged sword.

David and I watched a movie last night that is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. “Temple Grandin” was an HBO dramatic presentation of the life of the Colorado State University Animal Science professor, designer of livestock handling facilities and author of several books, including Animals Make Us Human. Dr. Grandin is as well known for being autistic as she is for being a writer and a scientist. The film was somewhat long, but David and I didn’t mind a bit; in fact, both of us were rather afraid it would end with Temple’s college graduation, and we were delighted to see the story continue into her post-graduate education, research and career.

After the movie was over and then again this morning as soon as I was awake, I returned to my reading of Dean Robb’s life. His entrance into the University of Illinois as a freshman was so startling I don’t want to quote from that section at all and ruin the surprise for future readers. I’ve now reached Chapter 10 and Dean’s beginning days as a lawyer in Detroit.
The problem with law is that you rarely choose your case. Lawyers do not simply find an injustice in the legal system and then take up the cause. There must be an injustice plus a client who has suffered because of it.

So many lives, some lived in parallel, others intersecting. Dean Robb’s contributions in the fields of civil rights, personal injury and criminal defense have touched many, many lives. Temple Grandin’s work in livestock facilities has improved the lot of animals raised for meat, but her influence has been wider than that, thanks to her books. Both have been and continue to be role models, heroes for the rest of us.

The rain has brought out all sorts of mushrooms. I couldn’t decide whether to think of this group as a chorus line or a big, fungical smile. The spelling checker doesn't think 'fungical' is a word, but you know exactly what I mean, don't you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Will They Just Think I’ve Lost My Marbles?

We certainly would have looked crazy if Lisa and I had followed our original plan to decorate Northport this morning with cornstalks and scarecrows. Wind and pouring rain! Here it is in a few different places north of M-204, which was my second destination this morning after coffee at Stone House Bread. But that's not what I'm talking about.

Leelanau trial lawyer Dean Robb, his wife Cindy Robb and I have finally, you see, set a firm date for Dean’s appearance at Dog Ears Books. The party is for his memoir (release date: Oct. 1), Dean Robb: An Unlikely Radical, actually written by Dean and Cindy’s son, Matthew, after he and his dad took a road trip together through the South and visited many places where Dean had done civil rights work back in the Sixties.

I’m reading the page proofs now, while waiting for the book to arrive from the printer, and while I’ve only gotten to Dean’s high school years I’m already enthralled. He was born in a farmhouse in a place called Lost Prairie, Illinois. There wasn’t even a town, but isn’t that a great place name? Lost Prairie! And he had very much the kind of rural, interdependent, kids-contributing community growing-up I just blogged about the other day in connection with a couple of youth novels, one from the Forties, the other from the Sixties. At age seven, Dean was driving a team of mules pulling a haywagon! Well, I don’t want to give away too much, even of the early years. The important date, before I forget, is Saturday, October 9, and the time is from 6-8 p.m. That’s at Dog Ears Books, 106 Waukazoo Street in Northport. We’ll have the books, we’ll have refreshments, Dean will be there to sign books, and if we’re very lucky Matt could be on hand, also, but he’s teaching downstate, so his presence is not yet certain.

So, anyway, I went to the office of the Leelanau Enterprise this morning to arrange for advertising, and Joy was very helpful, as always, but she did look askance at some of my wording, the part where I begin the ad with “Dean Robb, appearing as himself....” Even after I reminded her that Dean has had a sideline for years as an entertainer, impersonating Mark Twain, no smiling gleam of recognition broke over her face, and now I’m wondering: Will anyone get it? Is it too obscure? Will I just sound and look like a fool? It’s an allusion, it’s an allusion! Or is a delusion, a self-delusion, and I my own victim?

Well, as Dean says on his answering machine message (still an old message from August, telling people to come see him impersonate Mark Twain at the Port Oneida Fair), “I’ll probably make a fool of myself, but I’ve done it before.” Not necessarily true for him, it’s certainly true for me.

Without giving away any of the book’s content, I want to share some of the quotes from the book’s cover, testimonials to the fact, if anyone needs reminding, that Dean really is a Leelanau Legend and more:

Jim Harrison: “...a thoroughly amazing book about a thoroughly amazing man I’ve known for over thirty years.”

Helen Milliken: “A powerful insight into the last half century of our tumultuous times.”

Gerry Spence: “I find true heroes hidden where true heroes reside, engaged endlessly in their need to fight for justice without the clamor and pomp of publicity. Dean Robb is a true hero.”

Geoffrey Fieger: “...the humanitarian and trial warrior for the damned, the lost, and the forgotten I have always aspired to be.”

Michael Moore and Kathleen Glynn: “Dean Robb was and is fearless, relentless, compassionate and the Great Defender of the people who otherwise have no voice.”

The book is 336 pages, hardcover, priced at $24.95. Payment to Dog Ears Books is by cash or check.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where (in Michigan) Would You Send ‘Em?

I don’t know where the shame of being a tourist comes from. I’ve heard many friends in full touristic swing say that they don’t want to mix with tourists, not realizing that even though they don’t mix with them, they are just as much tourists as the others.
– Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Who can sleep while being stalked by a big, bright moon? It was hanging over the old farmhouse when I got home a little after nine o’clock, and surely that’s what woke me up again in the middle of the night. I got up and read several traveler’s tales of Spain but soon found myself harking back to my own more modest travels in Michigan.

Ever since writing that the Pictured Rocks are a must-see destination, I’ve been wondering what other people would put on a Top Ten list of Michigan attractions. If that’s too hard, what’s your #1 favorite place? And while we’re at it, what’s your #1 favorite Michigan book? If you want to divide attractions into natural and man-made or books into fiction and nonfiction, that would be interesting, too.

Anyone? Who's willing to stand up and be counted? Old Mother Moon wants to hear from you!

(But travel to the moon? Not I! No, thank you! I love earth too well.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Turning Pages Back to Childhood

All the foster homes before the Smiths’ were jumbled up in Larry’s mind. It didn’t make any difference. They had all been the same. Each time, he had tried to be good, to be obedient and helpful. Each time, he had hoped. Sooner or later, each time, Miss Carr [the social worker] had come for him. He had asked, each time, “Why? What have I done?” He had been too young to understand that there didn’t have to be a reason why. Not if you were a State kid, there didn’t have to be.

– Louise Dickinson Rich, Star Island Boy (1968)

Peggy’s cheeks grew even redder; they became like fire when she heard a snigger behind her. A minute later she felt a poke in the back, and quickly turned her head. A large and not particularly clean hand, with a bony wriest protruding from a worn brown sweater, was holding a folded slip of paper towards her. Puzzled, she accepted the note, opened it, and read “Dumb Swede” printed in bold capitals.

For a few seconds the room was a blur before her eyes. Then her heart stopped beating with the intensity of her rage and the blood flowed from her face. Never in her life had she felt such a white-hot tide of anger.

- Helen Dickson, Captain Peggy of the Mamie L (1943).

Was life simpler when we were children? Most of us didn’t have the responsibilities of adults when we were growing up. Some kids did, though. We probably didn’t have to make adult decisions every day, but some days, some kids did have to, and every one of us had a tough call to make once in a while. If the entire truth about childhood were told, we’d have to admit that, along with stretches of happy, carefree time, life for young people can be awfully confusing and, at times, terribly frightening. Still, what is the point of dwelling on pain, past, present or future, our own or other people’s? We can’t choose our nightmares, but we can choose our daydreams. When adults read children’s books, is it nostalgia for a simpler time of life or for some never-experienced “golden age”?

Every now and then (as reflected in my “Books Read” lists) I dip into a book intended for younger readers. Some are recent YA novels (and I should probably investigate more of those). Some are old favorites I love to re-read, but others are “new” to me, books perhaps written during my young years or even before, but that never fell into my hands until now. The last two old juvenile novels I read, by sheer coincidence, had a lot in common.

Star Island Boy, by Louise Dickinson Rich (also author of We Took to the Woods), is set on the Atlantic coast, while the story of Captain Peggy of the Mamie L., by Helen Dickson, takes place along the seacoast of the Pacific Northwest. Larry Scott, an orphan, is brought to Star Island as a foster child. It is not his first experience with foster parents, and his bruised heart is determined not to fall in love again with a family that can never, he is sure, be his for more than a short period of time. Peggy Norquist, by contrast, lives with her mother, father and little brother on a floating home that is moved from place to place with her father’s timber job, and at the very outset of the story Peggy seems confident and capable beyond her years. Her dream is to attend high school and be eligible then to train as a nurse. Larry, younger, is almost eleven and a half, and as the story begins he is not yet allowing himself to dream.

In the course of Star Island Boy, Larry is schooled in the ways of boats, currents, lobstering and community. Captain Peggy, already well versed in the handling of boats and the ways of currents and community, learns that human beings can be complex, neither all bad nor all good, and that getting along out in the larger world beyond her family requires patience. Boats, in fact, give independence and a feeling of competence to both these young characters. Both Peggy and Larry land in tight spots and are rescued by erstwhile “enemies,” which forces them to reassess their own earlier judgments, and both are told bluntly that no thanks are necessary, that seacoast life means neighbor helping neighbor when necessary.

What is most remarkable about these two books from my perspective as an adult reader in 2010 is how much independence these children had. It was expected that they would explore the physical worlds surrounding them and that they would sometimes find themselves in dangerous, even life-threatening situations but that they would learn valuable lessons from their experiences, picking up skills acquired only by doing. Their lives were not all play, either. They had serious chores and serious jobs to do and were contributing apprentices to small communities of hard-working, interdependent adults.

Life is no longer like this for most American children. Chores, when kids have them, are carefully supervised, recreation scheduled and circumscribed. Tethered to parents by cell phones, they “explore” shopping malls. It is a paradox. Sexually hurried into adulthood by consumer culture, too many are at the same time psychologically infantilized by understandably paranoid adults.

Stop her! Stop her! She’s on the soapbox again!

Okay, okay, I’m down. I’ll simply remind my readers about Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods and let anyone who wants to click here for a refresher on that book.

I count myself lucky to live in a rural neighborhood with semi-wild pockets, a neighborhood that gives me plenty of room to get outdoors and be a kid again. Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, recommends what she calls “the artist date,” a tool for creativity that demands only making time for “quality time” with yourself:

Spending time in solitude with your artist child is essential to self-nurturing. A long country walk, a solitary expedition to the beach for a sunrise or sunset, a sortie out to a strange church to hear gospel music, to an ethnic neighborhood to taste foreign sights and sounds....

Confession: I rarely schedule time for myself, and I usually have a companion in my solitude. Yesterday evening, for example, I went out with my camera and Sarah. Yes, she's really there, with that blinding sun behind her! I walked, Sarah ran. I picked up stones, she chased sticks thrown for her. My camera kept me focused, Sarah kept me happy, and waiting for sunset kept me from going home too soon.

It’s good to be a kid again for an hour or so.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Leaving U.P., Returning Home

Another Grand Marais morning shot. But first, before we say good-by, a note: I've gone back to add a new note and two more images to our Munising day.

Okay, time to tear ourselves away. It’s always somewhat sad to leave Grand Marais, but our brief time there this month was so perfect—and the morning we were to leave was so beautiful—that we didn’t mind all that much getting on the road again, headed for home. We even found a “back” way south that we’ll follow in reverse the next time we go north. I think the road number was 119.

One minor disappointment on our way north had been arriving too late at Lehto’s to buy pasties for lunch. We more than compensated with ribs at the Bay View Inn at Cut River but were happy to make up for the pasty lack on our way home. Also, going in that direction means being able to stop to eat that delicious hot lunch at a gorgeous roadside park just beyond Lehto’s.

The Bridge! Leaving the U.P. behind! But on the other end—we’re still in Michigan!!!

That was Monday, and on Tuesday Sarah and I (leaving Dog Ears Books in Bruce’s capable hands for one more day before he left on a 10-day trip to Toronto) made our inaugural return visit to Lake Michigan at Leelanau Township’s Peterson Park. Our home Great Lake is every bit as lovely as our away-from-home Great Lake, as you can see.

Friday came around quickly, with the last official farm market of the year in Northport—and I say “official” because the Bare Knuckle Farm partners say they’ll keep coming to set up on Fridays as long as they have produce to sell and the weather cooperates. I bought apples, onions, zucchini, carrots and eggplant today and will be going back next week for the beautiful beets I spotted only after I’d already paid. Crowd thin, you say? That's because I arrive as the first vendors are just setting up, a good quarter-hour before the official opening time.

Next post: Back to the books!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last Full Day in the Upper Peninsula

Last but hardly least—oh, it was glorious! We took H-58 west out of Grand Marais to (thrilling name!) Hurricane River! That was our destination, but it was also as far as the road was open, with a new road bridge under construction (yes, this link was added days after the post went up) just past the campground entrance.

Hurricane River—I can’t help wanting to repeat the magical name over and over. Sun was bright, wind strong, air chilly, but the river tumbles unceasingly toward the big lake, as the waves of Lake Superior beat unceasingly against the shore. It is a glorious, beautiful and very exciting place, a complete contrast to the tranquility of Sable Lake, back closer to Grand Marais. At Hurricane River, one is drawn irresistibly to the shore, to the stones in the riverbed mouth—and then back to the shelter of the trees!

Later in the day we found warmer, drier ground where Sarah could run and I could explore the Up North Flora.

And always, in town, we enjoy speculating about old buildings, meeting old friends, and enjoying “local color” in its many guises.

Here’s Rick Capogrossa, publisher of the Grand Marais Pilot. (His mom runs the hotel.)

And here’s my refreshing glass of puddingstone ale!

It was a beautiful day and a lovely evening in Lake Superior agate country.