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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Every Dog Deserves a Chance to Run Free Now and Then

Happy morning dog!
In our increasingly crowded and regulated world, it’s harder and harder to find places for a dog to run, but taking time to seek out quiet spaces is worth the trouble for me. A big bonus is giving my own eyes and soul a chance to run free alongside my dog. The noncredit drawing class I’m taking once a week for six weeks in Traverse City began last night, and my eyes are hungrily devouring the world, my soul expanding in the light. Looking at patterns....

Let your spirit soar!
Running free.... Devouring the world's sights.... Releasing the soul from its fetters.... If not now, when?

Running free certainly fits the “Leelanau Uncaged” theme for Northport’s art/music/poetry/performance street fair this Saturday. With wonderful food offerings, too (what’s a fair without food?), Leelanau Uncaged will be going all day on Saturday and into the evening, and in keeping with the spirit of the day, Dog Ears Books is going “uncaged,” too, with the following events:

Noon: Poetry reading by Fleda Brown, who will read from her newly released collection, No Need of Sympathy

1:30 p.m.: Book signing by and conversation with Ken Wylie, co-author of the new novel (already a regional best-seller), Possessed

4 p.m. Live music by “Prevailing Winds”

I had a little brain wave this morning. Not sure if I’ll do it or not.... I may let myself out of a cage in a new way on Saturday, but you’ll have to come to the bookstore to find out if and how. Hmmm, do I dare??????

Who dares to step out of line and be an individual?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reading the Miles: U.S. by Highway by Books

Looking east Monday morning
Anyone who’s glanced at my Books Read list lately can see a lot of vicarious living going on -- compensation, no doubt, for the road time that is usually mine in September -- but I didn’t exactly plan a long, multiple travel book excursion. Like much of my reading, it just happened.

First came a new book by Phil Caputo, The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean.

Next I happened on an old Penguin paperback from 1979, Looking for America: A Writer’s Odyssey, by Richard Rhodes, pulled in by his descriptions of the Everglades in the first essay.

Then David and I both fell into Driving to Detroit: Memoirs of a Fast Woman, by Lesley Hazleton, so while he was having his turn...

... I picked up Bruce Stutz’s Chasing Spring: An American Journey Through a Changing Season.

That is, I read Caputo first, started Rhodes, put that aside to start Hazleton, began and raced through Stutz, and then went back to finish first Rhodes and then Hazleton. 

The book by Rhodes, oldest of the four, isn’t really a travel book at all but a collection of essays, many of which, however, involved trips to different regions of the United States, and since these places were often some of the same ones visited by the other writers – and some of the places each of them visited were visited also in by one or more of the others – I felt I was making multiple trips, stopping more than once in the same place, only to find it was not the “same” at all because of the writers' different perspectives. 

Finally, as you'll see if you stick with me through all this vicarious wandering, I came back to an old 30-year classic.

I have to begin by saying that the Rhodes, the not-really-a-travel book, was much more satisfying to me than Caputo’s road trip from Key West to Dead Horse, Alaska. Rhodes occasionally used the pronoun “we,” even mentioning his children a couple of times, but he didn’t bog down in mundane, trivial details of family travel but gave a wide-angle view with layers of historical depth of field. I could imagine myself there in the Everglades or wherever, which is what I most desire in reading of someone else’s travel. Any travel narrative, of course, is the story of the writer’s personal experiences, but too much I, I, I -- and especially too much trivial detail, as opposed to crucial detail of place and season and personal struggle or quest – comes between me and my vicarious, bookish experience, arousing my impatience. Escaping daily tedium is one of the joys of reading travel narrative, isn't it? 

While Caputo’s agenda was to drive from the southernmost point in the United States to the northernmost point, just because, Stutz set out to "chase spring" from south to north, his ultimate destination also Alaska. Hazleton’s more modest destination was the Detroit Auto Show, her route beginning in Seattle but circling widely and serendipitously south and east and north. The Rhodes essays explored first Florida and California and subsequently other regions and now-historical periods of the continental United States. Hazleton and Stutz paid more attention to American culture than Caputo and Stutz, but all four registered environmental awareness. His trip was singularly important to Stutz because it followed heart surgery. Hazleton was worried about her father's heart and made almost daily telephone calls to her parents in England (where she was born).

Early in his book, Caputo writes, “Without a design, a journey becomes aimless wandering.” Mentally I bookmarked that line with my skepticism as something to come back to later, and two questions were always hovering in the back of my mind: Does a journey need a design? Is aimless wandering pointless?

What do you look for in a travel book? Do you want a basically light-hearted road trip, complete with dogs? Go with Caputo. If it’s serious commentary on environmental, cultural, and historical issues you favor, let Rhodes be your guide. Amateur birders and geologists will probably want to hitch a ride with Stutz (and I learned a lot from him). 

In the end, after reading all four, I decided Hazleton was the guide for me, and anyone (this would not be me!) obsessed with the American automobile would be well advised to travel with her, too. Hers is a story to appeal to a much wider audience than “car guys,” but those guys will find plenty to love in the book. Hazleton wasn’t looking for the fastest, shortest way to get from Seattle to Detroit, and neither was she afraid to get out of her vehicle and hike trails or even to plunge into a cold mountain lake when one presented itself. There were arranged rendez-vous spots, a lot of serendipity, and one wrenching personal loss along the way, but the focus remained primarily on the road, on the countryside, and on the people she met.

One way Hazelton definitely has it all over Rhodes (whom in general I liked a whole lot) is that, with her imagination and her own experience, she can truly imagine the experiences of others, whereas Rhodes can only, as is true of far too many male writers, imagine male experience, writing therefore as if any human life experience, however far from a biological sex role or social norm, must come always in gendered form. This attitude is as tiresome as I, I, I, me, me, me. Here's how it goes: Men, men, menwomen, women, women. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Guys, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not how it is!  The experience of girls and women is not run through a filter reminding us at every moment of our existence that we are not men! That is, we do not see you men are the real experiencers and ourselves only spectators of you, you, you! So get a damn clue! Whenever as a young girl I saw a running horse or waved to a train engineer, there were no intervening daydreams in my head about boys coming between me and that beauty and power. (Rhodes imagines girls imagining the waving boys becoming the future engineers to whom they will wave. Seriously?) No, what I saw was my world. Experience is absolute, no matter whose it is.

Phew! Where was I? Oh, yes....

With four cross-country accounts newly added to my Books Read list, I felt it was time to re-read the American road classic of my lifetime, William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, brought to mind by this passage from Lesley Hazleton:
...The moment I joined [inadvertently] that interstate, with its huge semis and high speeds, I seemed to have left Arizona behind and entered another world that existed only in long, straight two-hundred-foot-wide swathes. I was driving at an enforced remove from the landscape, as though someone had placed a clear, plastic tunnel over the road. The world of the interstate forced out the real world. All I could hear was traffic. All I could smell was burned gasoline. And with ears and nose assaulted, even my eyes felt dimmed. 
 The interstate, I realized, is an exercise in sensory deprivation. 
The passage goes on, but anyone who knows me can hear the Yes! This was the vicarious road experience I wanted, and to prolong it I pulled out a battered paperback copy of Blue Highways.

Least Heat-Moon starts out. He doesn’t know where he’s going. He avoids expressways. He meets people. Here is a scene in a little Tennessee holler:
...He cranked up an old Edison phonograph, the kind with the big morning-glory blossom for a speaker, and put on a wax cylinder. This will be ‘My Mother’s Prayer,’” he said. While I ate buttermilk pie, Watts served as disc jockey of Nameless Tennessee. “Here’s ‘Mountain Rose.’” It was one of those moments that you know at the time will stay with you to the grave: the sweet pie, the gaunt man playing the old music, the coals in the stove glowing orange, the scent of kerosene and hot bread. “Here’s ‘Evening Rhapsody.’” 
 - William Least Heat-Moon, BLUE HIGHWAYS: A JOURNEY INTO AMERICA (1983)
Okay, he’s wandering aimlessly, yes indeed he is, and I would not trade this aimless wandering for the most carefully designed road trip in the world. Serendipity comes along with risks, and this is my kind of travel and my kind of travel reading.
Reading my notes of the trip – images, bits of conversations, ideas – I hunted a structure in the events, but randomness was the rule. ... [L]ater that afternoon, a tactic returned to me from night maneuver training in the Navy: to see in deep darkness you don’t look directly at an object – you look to the left; you look at something else to see what you really want to see. Skewed vision.
Aimless wandering and serendipity remind me of what David and I remember as "the scary place," a tiny mountain hamlet perched high at the end of a narrow, climbing road, a place we never would have gone had we known ahead of time how frightening would be the ascent -- and, even worse, the turnaround to descend -- or if we had stayed on major expressways while driving from Avignon north. But we didn't stay on the main roads, and we had no reservations anywhere, so we have a vivid memory of fear and of the conversation I had with two astonished women living there and could hardly believe that a couple from près de Chicago (my usual geographic explanation of where we were from) had ventured such a trek.

Closer to home, there was last fall's walk out through bracken and old pine stumps when I stumbled upon the bearing tree

Aimless wandering? What can be better?

There is an element of memoir in both Blue Highways and Driving to Detroit, but the personal details given, whether of divorce, melancholy, anxiety, grief, or just plain discomfort and impatience, always have to do with what is an important personal journey, and this lifts them above daily diary minutiae. 

Looking west Monday morning
As for my own life, at present the road is still unrolling without me, except for my beloved back roads near home, and today under blue sky and sunshine I have no complaints whatsoever. (Is it only coincidence that the conversations all around me this morning in the coffee house have to do with long-distance travel? We kid ourselves if we think we are not a migratory species.) Actually, even under grey, cloudy skies on Sunday, it was worthwhile being out on the county roads, observing young, feathered families. Some of them will stay the winter, and some will fly south. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Quick Update from Garden, Bookstore, Village

Four plants, one fruit!
My garden update will be really quick. That photo is it in its entirety. Yes, I'm calling it 'fruit,' because tomatoes are, aren't they? And eggplants are in the same family. Besides, if the eggplant is the plant, and then we call its fruit eggplant, too -- well, it gets confusing.

What's going on here?
Small group effort to hoist --

The "Leelanau Uncaged" street fair is set for next Saturday, September 28.

Everything arranged
By late afternoon on Thursday the 19th, everything was in place for Don Lystra's reception and reading, set for 7:30 p.m. The turnout was excellent, the reading superb, response gratifying to author and bookseller alike. 

Audience assembling
Author reading
Attentive listeners
Lystra takes questions from audience
The next morning, Friday -- today, in fact -- I was relaxed enough to take note of change and progress in Northport.

"Tuckers of Northport," the boutique bowling alley-to-be, is moving along day by day. Next summer's visitors will be surprised by the new look of Waukazoo St.
new garden
Over on the bank corner, at Nagonaba and Bay, where a raised-bed garden and huge tree were removed this summer, a new garden has been installed. As sad as it always is to see a garden go, it's that good to see a new one in place.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Road Trips Are Only On Paper This Fall

Don Lystra

This Thursday, remember, we will have a reception for Don Lystra, and he will read from his new collection of short stories, Something that Feels like Truth. It’s party time at Dog Ears Books, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday!

Then on Saturday the 28th it will be party time throughout (not through, as I hastily typed on the flier composed without benefit of editor) the village of Northport with “Leelanau Uncaged.” Here’s some information from a letter describing the event:

Book on the theme -- 
Leelanau Uncaged is the street fair celebrating the tastes and talents of Leelanau in Northport on Saturday, Sept. 28. The name was picked by Andy Thomas to honor John Cage, an avant-garde musician.... The event is free.... We are closing M-201 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. from the corner of Main and Waukazoo to the corner of Mill and Third [Streets]. Traffic on M-201 will be re-routed down Main to Rose and then West on Fourth to Mill.... There will be tents of artists and food venders.... The homecoming parade will be held that day and will come down Main Street to Rose, then north to Nagonaba and go through the festival area and up the hill on Nagonaba, then north on High. Music will be on two truck stages (on Waukazoo and on Mill) and in the park pavilion and in Lelu Cafe. Art will be upstairs and down in Lelu, in the back of Red Mullein, in Dolls and More, and on the streets.
Besides all that there will be a drum circle, native dancing, water blessings, poetry readings, and belly dancing. For further information, call 231-386-1104. I can tell you that Ken Wylie will be at Dog Ears Books that day, from 1:30 to 3 p.m., signing copies of his recently released, co-authored novel, Possessed, and we will have live music late in the afternoon from 4 to 5 p.m.

Then, come October, we will be doing something new and different at the bookstore – a bilingual poetry reading with not one but two bilingual poets! Beginning at 2 p.m., Arturo Mantecon and Mark Statman will be reading their own original poems in English, poems in Spanish, and their English translations of Spanish works of poetry. As far as I know, this is the first-ever such event in Northport, and we are all looking forward to it, poets and bookseller alike.

Meanwhile, rather than jumping in the car and heading for the Mackinac Bridge this September, I’ve been reading road trip books like crazy. But more of that later, as well as a photograph or two of the single eggplant ripening in my fall garden at the farm.

Where I am NOT this fall (Grand Marais)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Resisting Temptation to Resort to Heavy Quoting

Boat dock, Lake Leelanau Narrows
Too many weeks have gone by, and summer was way too busy. Even now, in September, I’m having trouble finding a good, long stretch of uninterrupted time. (Blackberries to pick, jam to make, grass to mow once more, autumn olive to kill, ongoing household chores (never done), fall events in Northport and at the bookstore, etc., etc.)  I’d like to organize myself to write a serious, in-depth book review, but the more time goes by, the more I despair of accomplishing my self-assigned task. Like any good essay, a review needs a jumping-off point, an organizing theme, well-chosen quotations, and a satisfying finish. Absent both theme and starting point, quotations chosen at random do not add up to a review, and they certainly resist summation. But too much time has gone by, and I don’t see a slow period before January, so reader, beware! What follows cannot be called a review! If it were a review, however, it would be a rave.

Valerie Trueblood’s third book, Search Party: Stories of Rescue, is as richly satisfying as her novel, Seven Loves, and her first short story collection, Marry or Burn. Once again she has given us complex characters in situations that feel exactly like life, with all its unexpected twists and turns. The searches and rescues are of all kinds, some literal, some metaphorical. Sometimes, reading one of the stories, I feared turning the page. Tragedy seemed imminent. Most of the time, though, the tragedies that occur in these pages are, if not irreversible, at least – what? Not ordinary, really. I want to say “not sensational,” but is that true, either? Here I am trying to describe specific works of fiction, these stories, by saying what they are not. Maybe better to say what they are? Life-changing. That’s what they are for the characters involved.

The writing in these works of fiction is quietly brilliant. If Valerie Trueblood were an actor, she would be the kind who could throw away a line, in such a casual, realistic, effective manner that audiences would gasp.
Alan snapped the catch of the mess kit in which he had soaked beans all night in their hotel room in Vancouver. He was as pleased with the beans as if he had smuggled them in. At thirty-seven, with plenty of money, Alan still traveled as if he were hitchhiking across Europe. “Sourdough!” He held up a plastic container.
Somehow, though, it seems all wrong to excerpt and frame these lines -- “as pleased with the beans as if he had smuggled them in” – because to do so is to shine an immobilizing spotlight on something that was accomplished in a quick, shadowy split-second, something you might have caught out of the corner of your eye (and later wondered if you’d imagined it) or maybe not have noticed at all, and I have that feeling about pulling any quotations at all out of the context of these stories. Here, in fact, is one about memory and how it does just what I fear in quoting: “Memories had a way of excluding context, growing more and more concrete.” Some people find the “concrete” more true, but is it? Doesn’t it simply become more and more taken as fact, and, because of that, perhaps, more fixed, reified, further somehow from what was, because more fluid and evanescent, closer to truth?

How else, though to convey the mastery of this writer’s work, other than by presenting examples of the writing? Here: A radio show host, traveling to Lourdes, herself having completed treatment for cancer, imagines describing the scene for her radio audience:
“Unorthodox” -- or maybe I should say “orthodox” – “as such a trip seemed when it first occurred to me at the end of chemo, I saw it as something that would perhaps . . .” “Perhaps” is a little clothespin not really sturdy enough, I’m afraid, for the vast wet sheet of the possible that I have to hang from it.
Do you see what I mean? You read those lines and take in a sharp breath and let it out again in a gusty sigh that says “Yes!” and you race on to the lines that follow.

I made note of another passage and now cannot recall in which story it occurs: “She pictures her feelings as a kind of mold....” After this beginning of a quoted line, I had written “that whole paragraph,” telling myself I wanted to quote the paragraph in its entirety. But I am impatient, wanting to get something posted about this book, and anyway it is in the flow of the story that the truth of expression has its home.

The real  trouble is that with Search Party, as with other of the most powerful short stories and novels and even works of nonfiction, is that what I want to do is to quote the entire book. What can I say? Buy it yourself. Read Trueblood’s stories. Then, as I’m sure you will, read them again and again. There is a lot to learn about writing – and a lot to learn about life – and a lot to be grateful for -- in this beautifully accomplished volume.

In fields and along roadsides, the first asters are blooming. They are the small, light-colored ones, with the larger, deeper purple yet to come. Cornfields look rich and lush. And of course it’s apple harvest time, too, in the Leelanau.

October 4: I’m coming back to add a couple of links to this post. The first is to The Guardian, whose Emma Keller chose Search Party as the best summer short story collection from the U.S.
The second is to an interview with Valerie Trueblood, and anyone who cares about the writing of fiction will not want to miss this.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One More Market Day in Northport -- etc., etc.

Friday mornings in summer and early fall are special, thanks to the excitement of a colorful farmers' market with lots of local fruits, vegetables, flowers, bread, cheese, meat, jams and jellies and lots more, all set up down by the marina parking lot, just out of sight in the photo at left. The weather on the last Friday in August was a challenge for all concerned -- driving thunderstorm, horizontal rain, and hailstones, too! -- but September 6 gave us a beautiful morning. 

I like to get to the market early, before long lines form at my favorite vendors' stalls. It has been greatly expanded from the previous year's already wonderful array and is a social occasion for many local residents, along with a weekly shopping trip. Isn't that what a traditional market day is all about?

I had already bought green beans and tomatoes before making a beeline to Kathy's display for a bunch of onions, and it was a good thing I remembered those onions and went after them, because her cucumbers were on the same table, and what would my gazpacho have been without cucumbers? She threw in a couple of small tomatoes, saying they needed to be used right away.
From the Northport events calendar sent out from the NCAC (Northport Community Arts Center), it looks as if Friday the 13th will be our last market day of the 2013 season. I'd love to be wrong about this, but either way you don't want to miss this coming market day in Northport, if you're anywhere near. It is definitely the place to be in our small town on Friday morning.

Report of my Gardening and Gathering

It was a good year for strawberries and rhubarb in my garden. Delicious pies resulted, and there is still rhubarb in the freezer waiting to be canned as sauce. Later summer and early fall have brought wild raspberries and blackberries in abundance, with the jam-making ready now to move into its final phase.

Collards did well. Tomatoes were late but prolific. Sweet little orange cherry tomatoes have a growing habit much like the berries on deadly nightshade, accenting the mysterious family relationship between the edible and inedible. Acorn and butternut squash and pumpkins are looking good. But eggplant? What do you say to eggplant that doesn’t blossom until September? And my pretty little plum trees definitely need to be pruned this winter, branches eliminated so that the trees will put more energy into fruit and less into wood and leaves. It will be worth it. The small golden fruits with rosy skins are delicious.

Recent Photography Experiments

Overcoming shyness about photographing people, I have lately been doing just that – always and only with willing subjects, of course –and have been so pleased with the results that I asked a couple of friends if I could post their portraits on my photo blog. The first two, once they saw their pictures, said yes with no hesitation, and so, far from feeling as if I’ve “stolen their spirits,” I feel I’ve given them a mirror to see their beautiful selves and have shown those beautiful selves to others now, too. I would never do this without the okay of my subjects, but they seem very pleased, and that makes me happy.

Happy P.S. to this subject: A third friend said yes to my request!

One Sad Note

A poor young robin, adult size but still speckled, smacked into our front porch window early on Sunday morning. I’d gotten up early and was out there reading when I heard the telltale THUD! and went out to see what kind of bird had had the accident. Tried to feel for a heartbeat, but such a tiny heart it would be! I was clueless. Left it for an hour, hoping it was only stunned and would revive, but -- no such luck. Picking it up with a paper towel, I saw that the young bird had been feasting on late summer blackberries, and I hoped its short life had been a happy one.

Friday, September 6, 2013

September Authors (Two Local, One Not) at Dog Ears Books

By a happy coincidence, both local authors happened into the bookstore about the same time on Thursday afternoon. On the left is Don Lystra, with his short story collection, Something that Feels like Truth, and on the right is Ken Wylie, with his novel (written with a co-author), Possessed.  To friends and family, as well as to booksellers and writers’ fans, it always seems like a long wait for a new book, and it’s exciting when the boxes finally arrive, even before the authors visit to check up on bookstore orders. Both Wylie and Lystra will be appearing at Dog Ears Books this month (see schedule at right). Another lucky coincidence: one customer happened into the shop at exactly the right moment, bought both books, and acquired both authors’ signatures on the spot.

Something that Feels like Truth is published by Switchgrass Books, an imprint of Northern Illinois University Press, publishers of Lystra’s award-winning novel, Season of Water and Ice. In fact, one of the stories in the new collection was the seed from which the novel grew. Don Lystra came late to the writing of fiction, after a lifetime career as an engineer, but he has a sure touch for character and dialogue, and those who have been impatient for another book from him since the novel came out will not be disappointed in Something that Feels like Truth.

Possessed is, as its publisher, Sunstone Press, announces on the book’s cover, “a novel inspired by true events.” The events took place in northern Michigan and culminated in a murder trial for which Philip J. Crowley, the book’s other co-author, was the prosecutor. Even knowing the outcome of the trial, however, I found the book gripping and suspenseful all the way through. Fictionalizing the story has allowed the authors access to characters’ thoughts and feelings – which makes for sometimes nerve-wracking reading but this feels like truth, too, as do the descriptions of northern Michigan nature that are woven seamlessly into the story.

Don Lystra will be at Dog Ears Books on September 19, Ken Wylie on September 28.

Another newly arrived book, neither new nor by a local author, is Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, “sometimes described as ‘subversive,’” according to one online source. The book was expanded from a feature the author did for Playboy magazine, so it should not be mistaken for a children’s book, because in it Shel Silverstein suggests to children (his pretended readership) that they drink ink, stick their fingers in fire, and take scissors to Daddy’s hair while he is sleeping. He tells them there is no Santa Claus. He gives them all kinds of bad and sad notions. Most adults will hoot with laughter, but some adults say they hooted with laughter when they discovered this book as children, too, so hey! It’s your call with your own children and grandchildren.

Shel Silverstein was born on September 25, 1930, and died at the age of 80. Did he ever grow up, or did he remain forever a kid at heart? How about you? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Seedtime -- Harvest in Preparation -- Time Rushes On

Acorn squash
Pumpkins are ripening in my higgledy-piggledy garden, and good-looking acorn and butternut squashes are taking shape. To us they are winter food, but to Nature they are nothing more than giant wombs, shelters for the seeds nourished within. 

Butternut squash
Alongside luscious blackberries, thistles flourish, and the purple and gold of a month ago has turned to brown and beige in the fields. All around us, as summer segues into fall, seeds are ripening.

Box elder
Seeds are quieter than flowers. The latter are display, the former potential. But there is nothing “mere” about floral display, since it is necessary to attract pollinating insects that enable plants to make their seeds. To every thing there is a season. Again and again, all we need do is look around to see that truth. Turn, turn, turn....

We had a busy week leading up to the busy holiday weekend, and I'm still way behind with book news but hope to catch up soon. Visiting family, a birthday dinner, evenings of laughter and love -- all that took precedence, and then there was the holiday, with a busier Labor Day than I expected at the bookstore.

Gold in the fields is not all gone, as there is goldenrod everywhere, and soon there will be the purple of asters. So maybe I can still work in that purple-and-gold poetry post, after all. We'll see. So many books -- and you know the rest....

Goldenrod background for grass seedheads