Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Peaceful Timelessness of a Rainy Day

For me, time always seems to stand still on a rainy day. It’s an illusion, I know, but on a long, grey, misty day, with spells of gentle rain, drops streaking and running down the windows and spray from passing vehicles splashing up onto the sidewalks and pedestrians hunched under umbrellas or hoods or newspapers over their heads, the flow of continually alternating sunshine and dark is interrupted. Imagine a measure of rest in a score of music, and over the rest mark a fermata. That’s how it feels. Suspended pause. A time to move slowly from task to task rather than rushing or being rushed. 

Time to stop and look at raindrops on a new begonia. To breathe in the scent of lilacs. To notice and appreciate part of a spiderweb on a fading plum blossom and the short, fragrant life of wild choke cherry blooms.

It was a quiet day at the bookstore on the rainy Tuesday following the holiday weekend. I moved some furniture, hung a picture, put together a book order, drafted a press release. Sold a few books and visited with a few friends. Finished the new Elizabeth Buzzelli mystery -- on the edge of my seat to the last page!

Fun new sign
Sarah was her usual patient self all day. She hasn’t voiced an opinion about our new open sign, the red paw in the window, but then, she’s a quiet dog. Rarely barks and never whines. She’s always up for adventure when it beckons and company when it’s available, but she’s fine with quiet hours and days, too.

Through the rain-hazy front window on Tuesday afternoon

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Two Reasons Why I’ve Fallen Behind in My Reading

Replacing what the moles ate
Lettuce seedlings

Reason #1: It’s spring, and that means planting and mowing and watering new plants and conditioning straw bales for the garden planting and mowing and mowing and mowing.

A couple of the garden bales by clothesline
Lawn mowed by abandoned garden site

MORE grass! Keeps down mosquitoes and reduces fire hazard--that's why.
Guest-picked posies
Reason #2: We’ve had a lot of company. Company means cleaning and cooking and visiting and visiting and visiting and showing friends and family the local sights. -- Unfortunately, I have limited photographic evidence to offer for this reason, because of three recent visits in as many weeks, my camera was available only for the second one.

Finally warm enough for front porch dining

Hanging around the table after dinner -- a favorite pasttime
Now all the company is gone, lawn mowed for the third time, and I’m engrossed in and halfway through Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli’s new book, Dead Little Dolly. Counting on bookstore helper Bruce to write a review of Bob Underhill’s latest murder mystery, Suttons Bay. We grabbed at those new titles eagerly, as will bookstore customers.

As for changes at the bookstore, they are almost complete. David and I put up a bulletin board by the front door the other day, so there will be no more need to fill the windows with posters, obscuring the view. (Bulletin board is cool! I love it!) Just a bit more furniture moving, and I’ll no longer be calling the place a work-in-progress. Maybe today? A rainy Tuesday after a sunny holiday weekend seems made to order....

Friday, May 24, 2013

Waukazoo Street Is Ready For You

The rain has stopped, the air is crisp and clear, the sun is bright, and despite the fact that we haven't got new signage yet on the old Hall & Kellogg garage building at 106 Waukazoo Street, things indoors are in pretty good order, just in time for (I can hardly believe it's already here!) the Memorial Day weekend.

Yes, we're open!

Red Mullein invites you --
Dog Ears Books invites you --
David Grath invites you --
When you see the OPEN signs (David Grath's gallery is pretty much open whenever the bookstore is open), come in and feast your eyes. 

Clare Gengarelly models one of her beautiful Japanese haori jackets. Each one is different, and all are gorgeous.
Clare also has jewelry and soft, bright weaving.
Her paintings are bright and cheerful, too.
David Grath's paintings glow with inner light.
The small gallery feels spacious and peaceful.
It's an oasis of calm and beauty.
You already know what's in my space: Dog Ears has notecards and puzzles, refrigerator magnets and laminated scenic bookmarks, but the basis of a bookstore is always books. 

New entrance --
New arrangement at front of shop --
Same dog who has not yet learned to read -- but she's very patient with readers.
Deirdre is a fabulous baker.
Coffee and treats are nearby, right across Waukazoo Street, in the "Big Store," although I've heard that Brew North may be changing its name any day now, along with offering more substantial fare. Erik and Deirdre and Dominic are also planning a music festival throughout the village to take place over 4th of July week.
On such a beautiful day, with Bruce is working for me at Dog Ears, I took the opportunity to stroll around the corner to Sally Coohon's shop, Dolls and More, on Nagonaba Street. Sally's place is always bright and colorful, Here she is explaining a new display to me. 

On the counter are sample craft items Sally made...
...displayed with the books that give instructions on how to do the crafts.
All this is only the tip of the iceberg Northport activity this season. Workers are busy at the old Stubb's restaurant on Waukazoo, which will open under a new name and new management probably by the 4th of July, and there's work going on also at the T-intersection of Waukazoo and Nagonaba where we are soon to have a brew pub, if I've got the story straight, and another new gallery and another new shop will be opening soon on Nagonaba Street, too, not to mention the golf course and bowling alley projects. 

Ours is only a small village, and we're still waiting for frost-free nights, but here comes the sun! 

We are unfolding eagerly in the light

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Writing of Home – and One Southern Black Man’s Home Ground

Writing for me is discovery. If I knew everything when I began a novel, I’m afraid it would be boring to write. I do not know everything that’s going to happen in the book. I don’t want to know everything. I want to discover, as you, the reader, want to discover, what it’s all about. Those little unknown things that happen on the train between San Francisco and New York keep me writing and you, the reader, turning the pages. Oprah Winfrey asked what I try to reach for in my writing. And I said something to this effect: I try to create characters with character to help develop my own character and maybe the character of the reader who might read me.
 - Ernest J. Gaines, “Writing A Lesson Before Dying,” in Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays
There is always time for reading in a bookseller’s life -- or in a writer’s life or, definitely and by definition, in a reader’s life. In fact, most gardeners I know are readers, too. So yes, even in the midst of downsizing and moving, de-acquisitioning and remodeling and painting and planning and planting and gearing up for what we call “The Season,” I carve out little pieces of reading time here and there.

Home – what it means, what we mean by the word -- is much on my mind these days. Recurring throughout my life has also been the question of how much any writer can know about his or her characters before writing their stories. The two questions would not necessarily be related in every mind, but because I have been thinking about home and reading Gaines – and because home and writing are both central to my life -- they do occur together in my thoughts.

Again and again Gaines emphasizes that much of his writing career has focused on trying to reconstruct the porch conversations of the old black people in his part of Louisiana. Writing of himself in the third person in “A Very Big Order: Reconstructing Identity,” he recalls the day he left home to go away to school.
[He] realized that to find the tree from which the leaf had been broken was to go back to those who sat out on the porch the day he left. What were they talking about that day while he was inside packing? What did they talk about the day before, the year before, the years and years and years before?
Louisiana (but not New Orleans) is the place Gaines knows best, the place he grew up, but to carve out a literary place for that rural Louisiana required thinking about it, reflecting on it, researching its past, and writing, writing, writing. Because that is what he wanted to do: to write about “the people at home,” the people who had not yet been given a place in the American literature he read in college, to create that literary place for them, to give them life on paper, to introduce them to the world.
I wanted to smell that Louisiana earth, feel that Louisiana sun, sit under the shade of one of those Louisiana oaks, search for pecans in that Louisiana grass in one of those Louisiana yards next to one of those Louisiana bayous, not far from a Louisiana river. I wanted to see on paper those Louisiana black children walking to school on cold days while yellow Louisiana buses passed them by. I wanted to see on paper those black parents going to work before the sun came up and coming back home to look after their children after the sun went down. I wanted to see on paper the true reason why those black fathers left home – not because they were trifling or shiftless, but because they were tired of putting up with certain conditions. I wanted to see on paper the small country churches (schools during the week), and I wanted to hear those simple religious songs, those simple prayers – that true devotion.
Gaines, Southern and black, is unmistakably American, his stories rooted, like those of Wendell Berry’s Kentucky farmers, in a very specific American landscape whose people readers from elsewhere in the country and in different situations would not know but for his work. The place and people existed and are in some true way the source of the stories, but they had to be -- brought forth? That cannot be the right way to say it.

A famous sculptor spoke of subtracting from the stone everything that was not his subject, the subject being “always already” there (“toujours déjà,” comme disent les français), but can stories pre-exist their writing? And does the sculpture, really? It sounds good, but is it true? I for one don’t believe it.

A different sculptor would, I’m sure, have found a different subject in the stone. Another writer would have found his own very different characters in this “same” terroir. It cannot be the limits of geographical region and actual and historical inhabitants alone that determine stories of any particular place, because there is also the unique voice of the particular author who wrote the stories, and that voice did not simply pour out when tapped, like a vein of oil or an underground spring of water, but had to be developed over time, through work, through the continued and dedicated practice of writing. The writer had to show up for work, sit down to work, and keep at his work. He had to write and edit and rewrite and discard and start all over again. And he had to be open to discovery, to letting characters emerge in their own truth. The characters of Gaines’s work are true to those people he knew when he was young, to people he has known all his life, but no character is simply translated from life to the page. His characters are new beings in the world.

Read that long quoted passage again, the one in which the name “Louisiana” sounds over and over like a bell. Can you feel the sun? Can you smell the earth and the grass and see the children? That is the setting, very different from my northern Michigan home. Next, to enter the lives of Gaines’s specific characters, you must read his stories and novels.

Every successful writer of fiction creates a new world for us. If we give ourselves a chance and let ourselves trust a writer, we can slip out of our own lives for a while and into a place other people call home, and in this way, we can broaden our own sense of being at home on this earth.

Feeling or not feeling at home. Wanting a home, finding a home, losing a home. Homelessness, alienation. Being at home in one's skin and in one's language. The feeling for home is universal, but every instance of it can only be specific.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Paperback, $14.95
Reviewed by Marilyn Zimmerman

When Canada geese take out both engines of a passenger plane -- not just one, as is usually the case -- the lives of three families impacted by the emergency landing on the Hudson River in January, 2009, change in ways they could never have imagined.  Cari Noga’s first novel, Sparrow Migrations, puts the reader on three intersecting life paths: on one of the rescue ferries with an autistic adolescent and his loving but often frustrated parents; on the wing of the plane where icy water creeps up the ankles of an infertile woman (infertility her biggest ongoing life challenge) while her husband stands next to her texting the lab where he works; and back on the ferry with a minister’s wife and her female lover, who have no idea the television cameras have captured their image and will broadcast it to the world. 

The story follows these three families beginning on that dramatic day. For the autistic boy, the bird strike becomes a connection with his father and a window out of which he can view the world; the infertile wife learns that her sister has a rare genetic disease and must then make her own decision about genetic testing and in vitro fertilization; while the minister’s wife must wrestle with her own truth and what its exposure does to her family.  As these diverse characters struggle with deceit, infidelity, and issues of communication, their lives change, and they come ever closer to encountering one another again, this time in quite a different setting,. The common feature in the second intersection is, once again, birds.

The author’s bio tells us that Cari Noga is the mother of an autistic son, and her experience with the subtleties of that condition resonate clearly in this well-written story.  Images of Robby with the hood of his Detroit Lions sweatshirt pulled tight around his face, his noise-muffling headphones underneath, his annoyance with his well-meaning parents, his obsession with numbers (of the geese in the river, their flight speed, the outside temperature, and later, counting birds for the local Audubon chapter), and his need to be in control of his environment, stayed with me long after I had finished the novel.  Noga’s insights about this boy’s mind and his view of the world ring true and leave the reader with a sense of what it must be like to live with this kind of autism.  She gives the reader a poignant gift with the character of Robby Palmer. 

Noga’s other characters in Sparrow Migrations learn lessons about difficult and unsought choices parents must face.  Besides the obvious challenges of raising an autistic child, the idea of giving birth to a child who could carry a disabling genetic condition, as well as the balance between living one’s own most authentic life or giving it up for a child -- or something in between -- are all explored with insight and realism. 

Like sparrows, ordinary birds we might easily fail to notice but each one, we are told in Scripture, important to God, the seemingly ordinary parents in Noga’s graceful book learn to cope with the changes life brings their way, and, through their struggles and insights, each character becomes significant to the reader.

Marilyn Zimmerman is a former elementary school teacher, a retired attorney, a lover of books, and a writer.  She lives on a farm outside Northport with her husband and their very spoiled cat named Marmalade.

*  *  *  *  *

Bookseller's Postscript: Cari Noga, whose Road Biking Michigan was published in 2005, this time around has self-published Sparrow Migrations, her first novel, but she has also done something I’ve never seen done before: In addition to the novel, she has also self-published an excerpt from it as a stand-alone book, this shorter story titled Plover Pilgrimage. Glenn Wolf did the cover illustration. Slightly over 40 pages, Plover Pilgrimage contains the story of the visit Robby and his parents make to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore in plover nesting season. Sparrow Migrations is $14.95 in paperback, Plover Pilgrimage only $4.95. It’s interesting to me how many people decide to buy both, even knowing that the smaller book is an excerpt of the complete novel. They buy the complete novel for themselves and the shorter story to send to friends. Thus Plover Pilgrimage will introduce new readers to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and to the fiction of Cari Noga at the same time. Clever author! - pj

Monday, May 20, 2013

This Blog Is a Lie

Not entirely, because I do love my life, and I am grateful for it and take joy in it. All that is true. So my blog isn’t a complete lie, but neither is it the “whole” truth, because the pain is as real as the pleasure.

Between me and the road to the woods, a new row of cherry trees
Orchard advances on our old farmhouse, on leased land around us, like an encircling army, coming closer every year. NO ENTRE signs warn of pesticides, and our freedom of movement on all sides is more and more limited – with each passing week, it seems. Our neighbors’ dogs and our Sarah can no longer be allowed to run on the hill between their house and ours, as rows of trees now march up and down that hillside. Of course, the dogs don’t understand. 

When our grandson and his friends visit, they like to explore a certain path to Lake Michigan that has been part of grandson David’s world up here for all his life, as it used to be part of our own before so many big, new houses were built along that stretch of shoreline. The last time the kids were up, I heard from a friend who lives in one of the big houses that “young people – strangers” had been seen on the beach! On private property! This same friend was upset a few years back when a new house was planned on property adjoining that which she and her husband own. “It will be lost to us!” she cried. I told her it had been lost to the rest of us a long time ago. Our grandson, a young man of boundless goodwill and no troublemaker, has not yet accepted the loss.

My husband used to have a house down in the woods in what is now part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. We love the Lakeshore and are happy it is public land rather than condos, though it still feels like home to us, very personal. But all visitors are equal under the law, and our dog cannot run off-leash in the old meadow, even under our supervision. I feel as much on the leash as my dog and chafe at the restriction. It’s “the Meadow,” our special place! No one cares.

A few years ago I discovered a lovely wooded ridge with a new road down below and a foot trail along the ridgetop. There were wildflowers in the spring and berries in late summer and early fall. Only once did Sarah and I meet anyone else there, and it was another woman with her dog, and we enjoyed the company. I knew all along, though, that it was only a matter of time before houses would be built there, as the land had already been divided into lots, the road brought in, utilities provided. Last year the first house appeared, halfway down road. No more ridge path exploring.

Another semi-wild spot closer to Northport, old orchard land, was handy for short, quick off-leash expeditions. A golf course is going in there now. Orderly recreation. Lots of people will enjoy it.

More and more I understand the father of the protagonist in Conrad Richter’s The Awakening Land trilogy, who dragged his family from the Pennsylvania woods to the Ohio Territory because Pennsylvania had become too “crowded.” We are fortunate in Leelanau County to have lovely nature trails. I know this. I appreciate the trails. But following a trail, staying on a path, with other walkers and hikers ahead and behind, is not the same as being alone in the woods, and it isn’t anything at all like exploring.

Then there is another, more universal aspect to loss, which is that each passing year brings advancing age and, with it, hovering clouds of future physical limitation. Two or three years ago, for the first time, when I was out hiking wooded hills with my dog, the footing somewhat treacherous, the thought occurred to me: I won’t always be able to do this. Once it occurred, that thought never left. The good part of that is being constantly aware of precious moments and hours while I’m living them; the sad part is picturing their eventual end. 

A chaque âge ses plaisirs, my old friend Hélène used to say. I hope it’s true, but right now I’m not at all interested in finding substitute pleasures. I’m not ready to give up the hikes alone with my dog or the exploring of wild nature or my gardens or my dream of chickens or any other part of my off-road, back-of-beyond country life. And so, sometimes, in the middle of the night or even in the bright light of afternoon, my heart is pierced with sadness. 

No one needs to tell me how lucky I have been for so long. I've been spoiled -- not by wealth (never had it; never will have it) but by freedom of movement. I know that. I'm grateful. Don't often complain. Still....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spiritual Attachment Amid Spring Distraction

O, Glorious Morning in May!

Is single vision possible in the spring? Narrow focus? Can anyone achieve or even attempt it? Look here! Oh, look over there! The door opens . . . the sun floods in . . . outdoors beckons. . . .

Bruce worked yesterday at the bookstore, and David was on hand, also, working in his gallery (photos soon, i.e., as soon as he feels everything is ready), making freedom’s clarion call almost irresistible, and the only reason I settled down to paint the new railing by the entrance was that we were expecting a friend’s visit, and the hope of seeing her kept me at my task until it was done.

Helping the paint dry....
Can you read the shadows on the wall?
Picnic ground on the bluffs
Didn’t Sarah deserve a reward then for her patience? I thought so, and we made a little expedition to Peterson Park, where by chance we met a Boston terrier from Chicago. (That was fun for all concerned!)
Lake Michigan
Next stop was to see our friends (and their pigs) at Bare Knuckle Farm. (Hi, Abra!) Then a visit to Northport Nursery for beautiful blue lobelia. I don’t worry about finding geraniums before Memorial Day, but lobelia can be elusive, and an opportunity cannot be allowed to slip past.

(A plethora of parentheses, you see. They indicate a distracted mind, don’t you think?)

Time, work, and nature will make this a garden
Home at last to water my straw bales and to breathe in their sweet scent, anticipating the tomato plants I’ll be getting from the Bare Knuckle folks and remembering the giant collard plant – one plant – that gave and gave and gave two years ago when I had my first straw bale garden. (Must have collards!)

We met friends for dinner at the Bluebird in Leland, and that brought back a flood of memories, as did seeing many other friends there for dinner, companions from earlier Leland days, older now, as are we. After dinner, we took the traditional stroll down to the harbor for sunset. 

The river flows out into the Big Lake
Stephanie said, "Every sunset is beautiful."
Memories, going back in time, anchoring one in place. David will always be a “Leland person,” his memories there going back to 1957, but it’s different for me, because in Leland (coming from Kalamazoo) I was only, first, his girlfriend, later, his wife. When a Northport friend whose Leelanau family goes back four generations told me years ago that I was a “Northport person,” I felt proud. I’m happy in Northport, where my bookstore was born 20 years ago, right on Waukazoo Street. But I’ve never lived in the village.

So my “spiritual home,” as David puts it, is not in any city or town. Not in Northport, Michigan, or Paris, France, not in Chicago or Cincinnati or Kalamazoo or Delton. It’s here on our few acres surrounded by orchards and woods. Back when we still lived in Leland, David had his studio here in the farmhouse, and I had my first garden, and the only water we had for drinking was what we hauled in. A rain barrel and many trips down the hill to the creek and back up with full buckets kept my garden alive. Our old dog loved to lie under the basswood tree in the backyard and watch me work in the garden. Now Sarah loves the same spot.

Pots to fill
Under the basswood tree. The messy but venerable old silver maples, one in front, another in back of the house. Back roads and places without paths. My old farmhouse, my country neighborhood. St. Wenceslaus Parish, Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern. My front porch and my backyard. My clotheslines. My meadow.

This is the place I love, my home ground, my spiritual home, my anchorage. Here the distractions fall away. Its center holds me.

It is a whole world...

,,,in every season