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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Drawing, Reading, Thinking, Recommending

Milkweed pods in late October
Am spending early mornings drawing and reading rather than jumping directly online, and it's a nice change. Feels more productive and also calmer, although sometimes I do get pretty worked up by what I'm reading.

This morning, for instance, I raced through the the first three chapters (Part I) of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (Mariner Books, 2009), by Bill Bishop. Are Americans more deeply divided than in past decades? Bishop's data and analysis of it say yes. He does not, however, blame either political party (or both) or conspiracy or gerrymandering but has traced the phenomenon to a "migration of self-selection," whereby Americans able and willing to relocate tend to join people like themselves in a new kind of segregation, economic and "value"-driven. The author looks at sociological studies on how people form and hold beliefs and opinions, and the finding is that, whatever the group under scrutiny, "Mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes." This is because (1) in a homogeneous group people are likely to hear only arguments supporting the group's dominant position; and (2) in order to fit in, group members are constantly comparing their own beliefs and positions to those of the group.
"It's an image maintenance kind of thing," explained social psychologist Robert Baron. Everyone wants to be a member in good standing with the dominant group position. It's counterintuitive, but people grow more extreme within homogeneous groups as a way to conform.
Bishop's look back at the Founding Fathers was fascinating and instructive. While a couple of anonymous critics of federalism, Cato and Brutus, believed that only very small communities could effectively self-govern, Madison and Hamilton saw in the heterogeneity of a vast and varied geographical expanse a source of strength. The very mixture of opinions and interest, they believed, would work against the growth of factions.
The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights rejected the "right to instruct" and adopted instead a government of deliberation and compromise within a heterogeneous legislation.
Where do today's lobbyists fit into this picture? What about those groups not allowed to lobby who instead invite legislators to "educational" events?

I'm only on page 81 of this 303-page book but am completely engrossed. Which town or neighborhood we live in, the newspapers we read, our Facebook friends, which nonprofit groups we support with donations and/or volunteerism, etc. may all be pushing us farther away from those we see as our opponents, making us unable even to hear what they are saying.

Food for thought? Good thing I have drawing class tonight (my last!) to give my brain a rest!

As far as new books arrived in my Northport shop, there is a wide range, from brain-breaking deep subjects to literature of all kinds to poetry and painting to sweep the unsettled dust away. I have to make a special plug for Farmacology, which is featured up in the right-hand corner and which I've written about before, though not a full-fledged review. If anyone I know were to read only one new nonfiction book this year (or next), this would be my recommendation. It is, necessarily, about a lot more than health and farming -- because how can issues in agriculture and medicine be separated from life choices and political agendas?

Others for your consideration today are:

 The Luminaries, by young New Zealander Eleanor Catton, is this year's winner of the Man Booker Prize.
Rabbit's Snow Dance is the retelling for little ones of a classic Native American story, with irresistible illustrations.
 Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World (another good holiday gift choice) comes with two CDs.
 Leaving popular culture for deeper philosophical questions are Martha Nussbaum's Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, and Ronald Dworkin's Religion Without God.
 Malcolm Gladwell straddles the gap between deep philosophy and cultural observation. How do "underdogs" and "misfits" battle "giants"? Find out in Gladwell's latest book, David and Goliath.
Now the promised relief, in two beautiful new books, Art of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and, from New Issues Press, Poetry in Michigan. Even if I were not biased in favor of these two titles by the inclusion of beautiful David Grath images, I would recognize and recommend them as important contributions to new Michigan classics.

I probably don't need to remind anyone that there are always plenty of beautiful and thought-provoking used books at Dog Ears Books, too -- and when it comes to those treasures, every day is a potluck, and no one is a loser!

Later postscript: See here for continuation of discussion of THE BIG SORT.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Always, For Me, Jane Austen

Our “intrepid Ulysses group,” having tackled James Joyce, Dante, Beckett, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Faulkner and so on, decided most recently to read Pride and Prejudice together, the first time for about half the group. As for me, I’ve read this delightful novel countless times – really, cannot begin to count my readings, since Austen was my tired-brain-bedtime reading through my first two years of graduate school. Lined up at the head of my futon on the floor were Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility; Emma; Northanger Abbey; and Persuasion, and every evening when my brain could not absorb one more word of philosophy, I would crawl under the blankets and pull out whichever Austen novel I had closed the night before, opening where my bookmark had been left. Night after night. Finishing one, I would move on to the next, and at the end of the row I would begin again at the beginning. So yes, I know these novels pretty well.

But being asked to lead a group discussion made my reading different this time around. For the first time, I noticed Austen’s incredible economy of language. How much information is packed into the first sentence! We know that we have begun reading a comedy, that the cast of characters comes from a certain class of society, that the story will end in marriage, and that the author looks at her world with eyebrows raised and an amused smile on her lips.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
There it is. This “truth universally acknowledged” is of course not “universal” at all but part of the fabric of a certain class of English society at the time of the novel. The “good fortune” tells us more about which class of English men and women we will meet in the novel’s pages. “Single man” and “wife” aims us toward the marriage market, and the author’s sly wording tells us that she finds much humor in this business of families looking to marry daughters into money. All this in twenty-three words!

I also noticed for the first time how short many of the chapters are and how most of them consist of a single scene. Onstage in the first chapter are Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. Basically, we are given two sentences of introduction, then a spirited dialogue between husband and wife, ending with a paragraph summing up their marriage in general. Austen’s ability to convey character through dialogue is well known, and it’s no wonder her novels have been so often adapted for dramatic presentation, but has anyone considered how the English theatre might have been changed had she been introduced into a literary/theatrical milieu in London? What a playwright she might have been!

Of the 61 chapters of Pride and Prejudice (the final chapter being a summary exposition of the future of its characters, without dialogue), three stand out from the rest -- for me, at least -- in their startling dramatic impact: Chapter 19, the extraordinarily ridiculous proposal of marriage from Mr. Collins and Elizabeth’s spirited refusal of same; Chapter 34, another proposal of marriage, this time issuing reluctantly and haughtily from Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth’s even stronger refusal; and finally the marvelous, irresistible scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Chapter 56. Surely Lady Catherine could hold her own onstage beside Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell! Which one do you think would come out on top?

And oh, that Eliza Bennett! Who can help loving her? She is well read but no showoff bluestocking, musical without the heaviness of genius, not a ravishing beauty but slim and attractive, with bright, lively eyes, dark and beautifully expressive. Her sense of humor is irrepressible. She loves long country walks. She will not marry without love, even if it means remaining an old maid, and she is determined to be recognized as a “rational creature.” 

Not for Elizabeth the wit of the staircase, l’esprit de l’escalier, thinking too late of the retort she should have made. No, Eliza is never at a loss for words (except when spoken to by her sister, Mary, who has none of Elizabeth’s quickness or sense of the ridiculous). Our heroine’s regrets are of a very different order, regret for what she said rather than what she did not say, regret that she let herself be prejudiced against Mr. Darcy and in favor of Mr. Wickham for no other reason than the former’s initial coldness and the latter’s easy charm, the one offending and the other fueling her own pride. The conclusions of all reasoning rest on the soundness of first premises, and this charming "rational creature" had some hard lessons to learn before reaching her happy ending.

I put forward to the group the following hypothesis: Mrs. Hurst, Bingley’s married sister, is crucial to the story by giving Miss Bingley an audience for her cruelest observations on the Bennett family. Without Mrs. Hurst, Miss Bingley’s character would not be so readily revealed. Mr. Hurst, who does nothing but eat and sleep, is useful in taking his wife out of the marriage market so that Bingley does not have two sisters competing for Mr. Darcy.

One question our group has not yet resolved is Mary, the pedantic Bennett sister. What is her function in the story (or drama, as I now think of it)? Does she have one? Any thoughts?

Not generally a great reader of secondary sources, I did venture into a couple other writers’ researches and views of Austen. I picked up some interesting facts but also found a couple of opinions that had me spluttering. How in the world can Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them, say that Mr. and Mrs. Bennett had a happy marriage?! Did she read the last paragraph of the first chapter or the first paragraph of the forty-second chapter? “Close reading,” the method Prose recommends to writers, certainly fell down on the job here! And Nigel Nicolson, in his book, The World of Jane Austen – how can he say that Austen looked at houses only as evidence of characters’ wealth, not of their taste? Here is a description of Pemberley and Elizabeth’s response to it:
It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills – and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.
Does that sound as if only wealth had been on display or noted by the heroine or author? Nicolson advances “evidence” for his claim that Austen did not care for a certain contemporary architect by quoting lines of dialogue from another of her novels – but the character who advises throwing out the architect’s plans is a shallow fop! Who on earth would take Robert Ferrars as a mouthpiece for the author?

But there were nuggets of information in the little secondary reading I did. For example, I learned that the four novels published during the author’s lifetime were published anonymously ... that her brother acted as her agent ... that her posthumous reputation was very great when her brother revealed her identity ... and, most heart-piercing nugget of all to my mind, that Jane Austen never in her life met another writer. It is one thing to live in a small village or in the countryside and to have a limited circle of acquaintance but never in her life to have met another writer? How I wish I could invite her to my bookstore to meet my writer friends! Imagine the exchange of views, the “spirited critique” of society and literary fashion!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Are We Confused Yet? Still? Again?

What day is it? What year? Have we been here before?
The last couple of weeks have been confusing for me, and I've had to work at keeping straight what day it is. Today is Tuesday (I keep reminding myself), and as long as I'm already fighting confusion, I thought I might as well publish this silly draft post today. Changing gears is how adults have to function, isn't it? We need to be able to shift from grief to business as usual to taking care of ourselves and others to being a little bit silly. So here goes --

Woody’s Settling Inn on Waukazoo Street, no longer in existence, was never owned by anyone named Woody. It was Clayton Weeks who bought the old Hotel Bar, fixed it up, and named it after his idol, Woody Allen, featuring on his menu the Allen Burger. Woody’s was next owned by Buzz, and a lot of people thought Buzz had bought the place from someone named Woody, but not so.

106, back a while ago
Then Woodruff Palmer bought the old Hall and Kellogg Garage building at 106 Waukazoo Street (home of Dog Ears Books for going on seven years now), and it became, unofficially, “Woody’s building,” which was a little confusing. “I’m moving into Woody’s building,” I’d tell people, and they thought I meant the old Woody’s Settling Inn. The two buildings (the latter still standing then) occupied opposite ends of the block. “No, Woody Palmer’s building.” I wanted Woody Palmer to rename 106 Waukazoo “The Palmer Building,” but he thought that sounded too pretentious. The first summer Dog Ears Books had its home here, the building also housed the Painted Horse Gallery and Funky Mama’s consignment shop -- so together we were a vintage dog and pony show, eh?

More recently -- a new door for the bookstore!
The old property where stood the Hotel Bar, later known as Woody’s Settling Inn, and also held the original (1993) Dog Ears Books is where the big steel has now risen for the coming Tucker’s of Northport, the planned boutique bowling alley, while the old Hall and Kellogg garage building, present home of Dog Ears Books, is now owned by Clare Gengarelly, who owns and operates a shop called Red Mullein. There’s some confusion about how to pronounce the name, though, so be advised that it does not end in –ion, so it is not like ‘million’ with a different vowel in the first syllable. No. If only that ‘i’ were not there, pronunciation would present no difficulties: mullen is how the word is pronounced, though not how it’s spelled. It isn’t ‘mullion’ as in the window but ‘mullein’ the plant. English spelling is like that. There's also a little confusion due to the new bookshop door. Three separate street entrances! So no, I didn't move again -- I just have a new door and a new wall and another new door, the latter between my place and Clare's. 

Waukazoo Street takes its name from Chief Joseph Waukazoo, who came north from the Holland, Michigan, area with Reverend George Smith to found Waukazooville, the original of what grew in time to become Northport, and down on the north side of the old depot building (by the marina harbor parking lot, where the farm market is held on summer Friday mornings), some old cedar trees have recently taken on a new look.

The depot and wood carvings are not on Waukazoo Street, but it’s an easy walk from either place to the other – with or without a dog.

* * * * *

Here's my P.S. for the day from the bookselling front: Read it and see what you think -- and what you predict for the future. A good friend the other day (she is also a good customer) came to pick up her book order and explained that she has made a rule for herself: If she learns about a book from me, she orders it from my bookstore. "Don't you think that's a good rule?" she asked. Really, she had to ask? I love that rule!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Comfort in Many Places

Hilltop trees jump to life in morning light.

Can you identify the trees?
Books come to me in many ways, and just yesterday I received one in the mail from acquaintances in Traverse City, lovely people I don’t know very well but met back when I had my bookstore on Union Street for a couple of years. The book they sent me is called Ink Trails: Michigan’s Famous and Forgotten Writers, by brothers Dave and Jack Dempsey. Among the famous are my beloved Bruce Catton and my equally beloved Liberty Hyde Bailey. Among the forgotten I read about Maritta Wolff and resolve to read some of her books. It was a comfort to receive this unexpected gift in the mail when I was feeling sad.

There are poets, too, in the book. One of them is Jane Kenyon, included by virtue of time she spent in Ann Arbor at, of course, the University of Michigan. And in her brief poem, “Notes from the Other Side,” I find further comfort:
I divested myself of despair and fear when I came here. 
 Now there is no more catching one’s own eye in the mirror, 
 there are no more bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course, 
no illness. Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing 
 of teeth. No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket.  
The poor we no longer have with us. Our calm hearts strike only the hour, 
 and God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
Our friend’s graveside service was held this morning at the little country cemetery on Horn Road, in the neighborhood (there is no town) unofficially known as “East Leland,” under a cloudy sky but with bright fall colors and loving hearts all around. Along with traditional Jewish prayers, there was Woody Guthrie music and this poem, "The Peace of Wild Things," by Wendell Berry:
When despair for the world grows in me  
and I wake in the night at the least sound  
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,  
I go and lie down where the wood drake  
rests in his beauty on the water,  
and the great heron feeds.  
I come into the peace of wild things  
who do not tax their lives with forethought  
of grief. I come into the presence of still water  
and I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Good poetry comforts without misrepresenting either life or the world. A poem about death, Kenyon’s “Notes from the Other Side” is, in fact, a litany of some of the large troubles and small, troubling anxieties the poet faced toward the end of her life. The “first clod of earth [that] hits the casket,” hard as it is to see and hear, is the ushering out of all those woes. Wendell Berry seeks peace and beauty in nature to counter his middle-of-the-night despair and anxiety, knowing – don’t we all realize it as we read this poem? – that he will have to go again and again to the wild things for comfort. I love his use of the personal pronoun ‘who’ at the beginning of the line explaining why the wild things are so peaceful.

In times of grief, it is often the small, unexpected phrase or image that clutches at the heart. At the request of one of the daughters, as mourners were taking turns dropping shovels-full of dirt on the lowered casket, the rabbi began to sing “This Land is Our Land,” and, quietly, many of the mourners joined in, smiling. I was taken by surprise by the line about the “No Trespassing” sign. It jolted me because of a sudden, vivid association with the last walk I’d taken with my friend. We were on one of my favorite back roads, walking by the roadside as it runs along private posted land, my dog on her leash, and my friend suggested we walk out into the field. “I don’t think anyone would mind, do you?” she asked me with a smile, eyes twinkling, adding, “under the circumstances.” The circumstances were her imminent death and what turned out to be our last country walk together, but yes, the memory is comforting.

Our dog, my constant companion, is always a comfort to David and me.

Sarah is so patient! And much cuter than my poor drawing of her.

Last hawkweed?

As it was for my departed friend and is for Wendell Berry, nature is a comfort for me, too. Colors are bright even under cloudy skies, and there is color in small dabs as well as in panoramic scenes. Not only trees but also leaves of asters and goldenrod and forsythia give color to warm us before winter's cold arrives.

Surprise fall color radiates from neighbor's forsythia.
A close look shows goldenrod foliage turning, too.
Even without color, lines are fascinating.
I find peace and comfort in my drawing class, in the practice of drawing, and in homework for the class, even when the assignment is to draw an old shoe. The instructor selected a shoe for each student. We had to take the shoe home Wednesday night to finish the drawings and will return with drawings and shoes next week.

Athletic shoe (my drawing, but not my shoe)

Adored husband, dear family and friends, familiar and lovely surroundings we never take for granted – another day of love and beauty, the value of these blessings is only underscored by difficulty and loss.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rocky Mornings Begin Early, in the Dark

[WARNING: Not a feel-good post, though I did come back to add the sumac photo above. Sigh!]

Angry Tuesday:

I’m trying to remain upbeat in public, but sorrow and frustration fill my heart. We were expecting sad news from friends on Monday so were relieved to get good news for and from other friends to balance the day, but before bedtime the good news turned bad, too. I got to sleep but woke before 4 a.m., wide-awake and too upset to read myself back to sleep or meditate away the blues by drawing. Long-neglected bookkeeping benefited from the pent-up energy that needed somewhere to go, and paying bills and posting expenses occupied my mind for a while, pushing trouble to a rear burner. But when the paperwork was done, trouble leapt back again to the foreground, and even drawing paper and pencil could not banish the dark clouds. 

One friend was dying (I learned a couple of hours later that she had in fact died about the time I was waking in the dark), and the other friends had suffered yet another severe disappointment in their search for a year-round home. Feeling helpless, I couldn’t get either couple out of my mind.

Losing a friend to cancer isn’t easy. Her husband said she did not want friends to mourn her passing, to remember instead the good times we shared, but I am doing both. I’m not “Zen” enough that I can accept a friend’s dying without a tear – and anyway, if we hadn’t had good times together, there would be nothing to grieve. I miss her already. Maybe some of my friends are, as people say, more “philosophical.” (My philosophy is that grieving and gratitude are perfectly compatible.) Another friend notes that “grief is the price of love.” Indeed!

So there was that. With such a death, though, there’s no one to blame. Hers was a very rare form of leukemia. Fewer than 50 cases have been diagnosed and studied worldwide. It’s pernicious, and it’s fast. The first round of chemo gave her a reprieve, and her family and friends were able to enjoy a few months of high-quality togetherness, our friend able to spend time outdoors in nature nearly every day, living the end of her life just as she wanted to live it. Given the circumstances and constraints, everyone did very well with the limited time available.

The other situation is, in some ways (although it is still reversible, as death is not, I realize), more difficult to accept than death, in that it came about initially through a terrible set-up (evident only in retrospect) and betrayal, and the friends suffering from that initial blow have been knocked down repeatedly since. They have lost their business, and along with it their home, and every time they get their hopes up that they’ve found a new place to live, those hopes are dashed. They are decent, responsible, hard-working people, and they just can’t catch a break.

Leelanau County is sometimes called, even by people who live here, “La-La Land.” It’s beautiful, it’s a tourist and second-home and retirement Mecca, and, increasingly, owners of multiple properties do not want to be “bothered” with a year-round rental (one man actually said that to our friends, dismissing his neighbors’ plight with “I just don’t want to be bothered”) when it’s so much more remunerative to operate a seasonal rental. Some owners of seasonal rental property don’t want to rent it out at all in the winter; others will rent it reasonably until spring, but “You’d have to be out by May first.” And go where? There is nothing to rent in the summer that isn’t priced for the vacation/resort market.

And it’s a growing trend: people retire here, bring their pensions and portfolios, buy anything on the local housing market that’s reasonably priced, put some money into it to cutes it up, and operate it as a seasonal vacation rental. What it means is that fewer people, the ones with more money, own more pieces of property, and that the year-round rental housing market is vanishing utterly.

Once I went, on a graduate fellowship, to a weekend conference at the Aspen Institute. I remember looking at prices of property in the little town of Aspen, Colorado, and thinking that anything available there was like a Leelanau County price times ten. There were jobs in that little town full of movie star residents, but the waitresses and bartenders and baristas and carpenters and landscape crews couldn’t afford to live anywhere near the town. Many Colorado towns fit that description, and now the situation is being replicated in northern Michigan.

(“You know you’re __________ when you need a second job to pay for the gas to drive to your first job.” Joke? Funny?)

It didn’t used to be like this here. It used to be that there were people of all income levels, and they mixed socially, and there was room for everyone. To me, it was, along with natural beauty, one of the most attractive features of Up North life. There’s a lot more talk about “community” now than there used to be back then, but is there more community? More people caring? Working together? On certain projects, yes, always -- in part because there are more and more well-educated, well-off retired people who want to contribute in meaningful ways -- and yet the gap between haves and have-nots yawns wider with each passing month, and I wonder how long the middle will hold.

Is there any middle left in Aspen? Or is it all nothing but top?

Still-Sad Wednesday

This morning, driving county roads, walking along one favorite dead-end road with Sarah, appreciating fall colors under lowering skies, I found my mind drifting again and again to the friend who just died, thinking of the last long, wonderful country walk she and I (and Sarah) took together and the laughter-filled brunch another friend arranged for a group of us. Even as I miss her, what I’m remembering is good times shared.

I’m also remembering very serious talks we had on a wide variety of subjects. She and her husband were comfortably well off in their retirement, but at the same time they lived very simply -- one car, modest home and material belongings. For “entertainment,” they read books, took long walks, cross-country skied in winter, spent time with friends, watched old movies, and volunteered in local groups. They “had theirs,” but they weren’t looking to “pull up the ladder," and it would be so good to brainstorm with her today on disappearing rental housing. Knowing how deeply she cared about such issues, I don’t have to feel I’m neglecting her memory by dwelling on problems faced by other people.

But I have to retreat somewhat from yesterday’s frustrated outrage, because in many (not all!) cases, there’s more than greed behind the trend that’s bothering me. High taxes are another big factor. “Nice” houses, waterfront property, housing within incorporated village limits – all can push owners of rental properties up against the wall, especially if they have to depend the income as part of their livelihood. Who can afford to rent year-round at a reasonable, affordable price if twelve months of such income will do nothing more than cover property taxes and sewer bill and a minimum of maintenance? Some -- hallelujah! -- can afford to do that and do it. Others can't afford to. Then -- well --. But it's a factor, one way or the other.

One issue leads into another, inexorably. The United States is the only major country in the world to fund public education through property taxes. Unequal tax burdens and resulting inequality of schools result from the system of taxation, and the widening gap between wealthy and poor is exacerbated by differences in schooling opportunities. The nest of complications is staggering.

And yet, my immediate concern is that my friends find a home for themselves and their son before snow flies. They are responsible, decent, hardworking, energetic, intelligent, wonderful people! They are not asking for a handout! There has to be a solution to this problematic situation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Sunny, Summery Saturday in Autumn

Country roads issue invitations in October
Yes, there is fall color -- in the maples, the popples, black walnut, green and mountain ash trees, and sumac -- but trees aren't the only place to look for color these days in Leelanau. Autumn has been a soft, gradual extension of late summer, and everywhere throughout the village of Northport and surrounding countryside gardens are bright with red, yellow, orange, white and blue. 

Nor is activity restricted to plant life. There is BIG STEEL on Waukazoo Street, as the new bowling alley takes shape. That's something different in the neighborhood!

Outdoor sports enthusiasts are looking forward to the 2014 opening of the new Northport Creek Golf Course, its greens (and fairways) greening already under the October sun. 

Tonight is the opening at the Dennos Museum Center for a show of art of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Art of the Sleeping Bear Dunes is also a beautiful new book, which goes on sale after the opening. If you're in Northport today, stop in and preview the book. (You'll probably want to reserve a copy for purchase next week.) David Grath is among artists whose work is represented, and the cover image is of a work by our dear departed friend, Suzanne Wilson. Suzanne, I still miss you, but I tell myself that you are just "away from your e-mail" for a while, and when I drive south toward Glen Arbor and beyond, it still feels as if I'm on my way to visit you.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Day We Let Ourselves Go

Andy at the wheel

“Leelanau UnCaged” was the theme of the recent street fair in Northport. After the event, I received an e-mail from an East Leland woman who said she and friends were curious about the connection between Northport and composer John Cage. It was so tempting to make up a story, all about how John Cage had once visited Northport – incognito, of course – and how the fair was named in his honor in memory of that visit, etc., etc. But while it is certainly possible that Cage came to Northport incognito, there is no evidence pointing in that direction. (Scotch the rumor!) As far as I know, the only connection between our village and Cage prior to Saturday, September 28, was in the brain of Andy Thomas, shown here at the wheel of one of his big Thomas & Milliken trucks, the one that opened up, all along the side, to become a sound stage for live music! That Andy! He and his wife, Gloria, are hard-working folks who are also full of ideas and energy and enthusiasm. Hence “Leelanau UnCaged.”
Setting up one of the temporary sound stages
Major downtown streets were closed and traffic rerouted from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The route of the Homecoming parade had to take a major detour, but everyone agreed, post-event, that the change had been a good one. Northport’s Homecoming parade is usually a pretty small event, with only a few family members and locals watching the fire engines and floats go by, but this year, with so many people in town, the parade audience was the biggest ever.

There was art all over the place, indoors and out --

Inside Lelu 
Outside the Garage
Down at sidewalk level
At vendors' booths
Poet Fleda Brown
At Dog Ears Books, Fleda Brown came to give her first poetry reading in a year, and from his vantage point behind the counter, David was able to report to me later that I was not the only listener who had to brush away tears. Despite the title of Brown’s new collection, however, No Need of Sympathy, the poems are not about cancer or chemo but were written before the poet underwent that siege. It is poetry that has no need of sympathy. More about poetry, including that of Fleda brown, soon in another post.

Novelist Ken Wylie
Following Fleda's reading, we had another Michigan writer, Omena resident Ken Wylie, signing his recently released co-authored novel, Possessed. Ken's big smile here is because we sold out of all copies on hand. (We have restocked since then, and Ken has signed the newly arrived copies.)

Native dancers
From around the corner came the sound of drumming, and that made me happy. I’d missed pow-wow this last August, and here pow-wow had come to me – well, to Northport. At least some of it. Here are some dancers and drummers on break.

Dancers in regalia

Drummers with family and friends
Next, back on Waukazoo Street next, there was a woodwind quintet playing in front of Dog Ears Books. That was a rare treat and pulled in good crowds, too.

"Prevailing Winds of Leelanau" prevail! 
Then it was time for the crowds to surge through the building housing the bookstore to the temporary performance space cleared in the back. Crystal Bindi studios in Traverse City had come to demonstrate Middle Eastern belly-dancing. Another Northport first?

Belly dancing to a different tune
Music continued out on Nagonaba Street, where the community band formed up just east of the wood-fired pizza oven.

Pizza goes well with music.

Music continued after sunset, as a few of us tired veterans gathered over pizza and beer to exchange stories. All agreed to call the day a resounding success.

We were certainly fortunate in the weather (rain the week before, rain the week after, and perfectly clear skies for our Saturday), but mountains of credit must go to the instigators, the planners and organizers, the participants, and the crew of volunteers who made everything run smoothly and kept the fun quotient high.

Yea, Northport! A new local tradition is born!