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Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Turn to My Readers for Suggestions

No one seeks out depression, especially in the springtime, when our world seems at last to be coming back to life after its long, cold sleep. But depression doesn’t need to be sought: no, it comes unbidden and unwelcome. And making it go away again can be extremely difficult. I’ve been thinking about this because people important to me struggle with the problem. Maybe you do, too, or someone you know does. Is there anything we can do to help?

One of my natural first thoughts was to survey books on the topic, but that’s not as easy as one might think, either. The authors of one site I found had done the same thing and concluded:
On [sic] the main ... we are disappointed with the majority of books on depression. They fail to distinguish between the different types of depression. They waste valuable space debating whether depression is a "disease" like diabetes or a problem of adaptation and poor coping skills. For us, the answer is that depression is a syndrome, with many different causes and solutions.
Well, fine, but then I looked at their list of books and found myself still disappointed. What I really want to do is throw the question “out there” and ask you
Is there some particular book on depression and/or bipolar disorder that you have found especially informative and/or helpful? 
You needn’t be depressed to weigh in on this question, and you can register your comment as “Anonymous” or even send it to me in e-mail, if you’d like.
Here’s another question: 
If you are sometimes depressed, is there anything you would like friends to ask or say to you during those times?

As for me, here’s what (little) I know from my own experience:

1)  Depression is not “feeling sorry for yourself.” If a depressed person could “snap out of it,” he or she surely would. In fact, the burden of what I think of as meta-depression can exacerbate the problem, as a thoughtful person compares his or her life and problems to those of others and thinks, “I shouldn’t be depressed.” Depression is not a matter of should or shouldn’t.

2)  Neither is it true that “everything is relative” because all personal experience is absolute. We can observe other people living their lives, but the only one any of us lives is our own. The only life any of us knows “from the inside” is our own.

3)  Depression is not “all in your head.” Depression is an overwhelmingly physiological experience, as much as a state of mind. During the winter of my worst and longest depression, I could only sleep two to three hours a night and would awake feeling encased in a suit of dread from head to toe. Every day and every night were draining and exhausting.

4)  There is a lot a depressed person can do to try to push depression away, but no cure is guaranteed to work. Exercise can help. (I forced myself to go to the pool three mornings a week.) A cheery environment can help. (I repainted a dull beige room a light, sunny yellow.) It’s a good idea to see a doctor. (I did.) Prescription medication helps some people. (I tried it for a while.) “Getting out of the house,” yoga, meditation – all are good ideas. Talking can help. But nothing is a guaranteed, instantaneous cure.

5)   You cannot assume that someone who continues to be depressed is “not trying” to feel better. You may have no idea how hard that person is trying or how many things he or she has tried and is continuing to practice. Second-guessing and guilt-tripping a depressed person for being depressed is no help at all.

I’ve numbered these as if they are separate “points,” but it should be clear that they are all interrelated.

A big problem with Internet “research” is that so much of what turns up in search results comes from people with something to sell, whether it’s a book or a pill or a program. When I remembered that NIH is my go-to for general health questions (thus avoiding sites focused on sales), I turned to NIMH to see what they had to say about depression, and right away I found it more helpful:
Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. 
Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear different. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred [emphasis added]. They also cannot be used to diagnose depression.
 To me this is helpful not because it claims to have all the answers but for the clear statement that answers are elusive. The brain of a depressed person looks different, but the difference does not reveal the cause. Is it situational? Chemical? A symptom of some other illness? Brain image can’t show answers to these questions.

Every generation, it seems, has its popular answers, but there is still so much we don’t know. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

I Gotta Lotta Nerve

As ready as we're going to be....

You need nerve to run a bookstore in the first place, and you need even more to mount bookstore events. Friends approaching a recent event of their own were understandably nervous ahead of time. “What if no one comes? What if too many people come?” I assured them that it was impossible for “too many” people to show up, and that if “no one” came we could simply adjourn to the bar, but that it was unlikely there wouldn’t be a good crowd. Then, to ease their concern that I would think their concern misplaced, I assured them, “I go through this every single time I have a bookstore event.”  And it’s true. What if no one comes? What if the author forgets? What if the books don’t arrive in time? You gotta have nerve, friends.

Anyone who’s read this blog recently knows that my bookstore event of Memorial Day weekend was complicated, for the first time ever, by an unexpected delay in delivery of books. To be more precise, no books were even delivered: David drove down to Glen Arbor on Friday afternoon to pick up the first of the three boxes I needed to satisfy local demand, and we faced the signing with insufficient supply. You gotta have nerve--although I must say that it’s easy to be nervy about certain things in Northport, where bookstore and village and country loyalty make for very patient, understanding customer friends. 

So thanks to a gracious guest (who arrived early and stayed late), photographer Ken Scott, and a gracious bookstore clientele, we had a lovely, lovely time on Saturday, with only a small number of disappointed individuals who turned up not having gotten word about the limited supplies. Everyone loved having relaxed time for conversation with the photographer (a first meeting with him for many), and the large matted prints he brought for display and sale brought the winter's ice miracles right into my cozy spring bookshop.

Where my real nerve showed up, though, and the initial act prompting the theme of today’s post, was my pulling out my camera to attempt a photograph of an accomplished photographer like Ken Scott. No, not even like Ken Scott, but Ken Scott himself, the very man. Oh, man, what nerve! I could hardly recognize myself in the moment of action. But Ken Scott I recognized, and I have to say I was very pleased with this candid portrait:

And now it’s time to start gearing up for the next bookstore event, featuring (at the latest count), eleven poets from the beautiful new book, Poetry in Michigan. Poets committed to reading their work at Dog Ears Books on June 13 are Patricia Clark, Dennis Hinrichsen, Linda Nemec Foster, Joy Friedler, David James, Josie Kearns, Bill Olsen, Anne-Marie Oomen, Mary Ann Samyn, Alison Swan, and Keith Taylor.

We’ve never had such an event before. Will it be like herding cats? Surely not. Will the poets outnumber the audience? I want a really good turnout for so many poets coming all the way to Northport! Summer 2014 also marks the 21st anniversary of Dog Ears Books, and that being the case, I’m thinking of the Poetry in Michigan reading event as the coming-of-age party for Dog Ears, which surely calls for cake, wouldn't you say?

The official 21st anniversary is on the 4th of July, but goodness knows there will be too much going on then for a bookstore birthday. No, I don’t have enough nerve to try to pull that off! So June 13 it is going to be -- Friday the 13th!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Crisis in the Bookshop!

We all have problems at times.

The telephone wasn’t working at the bookstore on Wednesday. I told Bruce I’d bring in a new phone on Thursday, thinking the old one had simply died. David didn’t think I needed to buy a new one, as we have lots of old ones and cords and parts around the house– . But no, who wants to hear the whole boring story? When the repairman came late Friday afternoon he actually diagnosed two different, unrelated problems (the two jacks were not even on one line, as it turned out), but the happy conclusion was a working line and phone by closing time on Friday, and I was happy and grateful. That’s the bottom line: three days of inconvenience and aggravation and a happy ending. I did say to someone, “Now, on to the next crisis!” but I was kidding! I wasn’t anticipating another crisis, and certainly not the one that reared its head 24 hours later.

Late Saturday afternoon the publisher of the book Ice Caves of Leelanau, the book I’m hosting a signing for this coming Sunday, came to Northport with bad news: the printer is behind schedule, and I won’t have as many books as I’d been promised for Sunday. I’ll have the remainder the following week, and I’ll be able to get them signed, but before this news hit I’d already taken reservations for 61 books for Sunday, and now I’m only going to have 40! Oh, no! This is terrible! I don’t believe it!

Well, there’s nothing to be done. If I can only have 40 on Sunday, I’ll only have 40. The customer who wanted a copy as soon as possible for her son’s birthday will get one this week; another customer who wants multiple copies for Christmas presents will probably be willing to wait. Or so I hope it will go. I’ve been scanning my reservations list and sending e-mails to the people whose e-mail addresses I have, as well as hoping in my secret heart for some miracle that will make the second carton of books available to me on time, after all. Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise? Don’t count on it, though. I’m not.

But maybe it’s already a miracle that nothing like this has never happened before. I’ve certainly worried about books not arriving in time but never had to face such a problem except in my imagination. I was upset on Saturday, too, I’ll admit. But I can’t produce a second carton of books out of a top hat -- and when I thought about it all a bit longer I realized that this really is what my two younger sisters call a “First World problem.” The situation is not life-threatening. Doom is hanging over no one’s head.

I hope people don’t cancel orders, because I placed my own order on the basis of advance book reservations, and I hope no one gets seriously upset, but my expectation is that most if not all of my customer-friends will respond with understanding and patience. After all, they are book people, and we are all small town and country neighbors.

Wouldn’t life be blissful if all our crises were as small as telephone troubles and late-arriving books?

If anyone tried to call the bookstore last week on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, I’m sorry you might not have realized we were open. (Town was hoppin’ on Saturday.) And please do come meet Ken Scott this coming Sunday, whether or not you have reserved and/or prepaid for one or more of the Ice Caves books.

And really, it's glorious weather at last, isn't it?

At last the good weather has come to hang laundry outside and to forage for fresh salad greens and colors in woods and field. Life is good. Problems can be solved. At least, in our fortunate Up North world there are few glitches we can't handle, with a little help from our friends.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Facts, Truth, Lies, and Fiction: THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON

The surest evidence that the woman in the photo was Jun Do’s mother was the unrelenting way the Orphan Master singled him out for punishment. It could only mean that in Jun Do’s face, the Orphan Master saw the woman in the picture, a daily reminder of the eternal hurt he felt from losing her. Only a father in that kind of pain could take a boy’s shoes in winter. Only a true father, flesh and bone, could burn a son with the smoking end of a coal shovel. - Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son
The Orphan Master’s Son is like no other novel I know. It has been compared to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but the author has not created a future dystopia: the world of this fictional work is a country that really exists in our own time. 

“How much did you know about North Korea before reading The Orphan Master’s Son?” asks the first question in the “Questions and Topics for Discussion” section following the novel’s end. My answer would be “Very little.” That Communist North Korea lost its battle for reunification with South Korea and that its people live under a repressive regime. Little more, except that recently I saw a photograph of a newly opened, antiseptic-looking North Korean bookstore (check it out in this issue of “Shelf Awareness”), with very little offered for sale on its shelves other than various editions of the Collected Works of Kim Jong Il and a paltry handful of translated foreign titles.

The book hadn’t been on my agenda or radar, but it was recommended to me by a friend whose opinion on books I trust. Looking at the last few titles on my “Books Read” list, I saw it was also time for a modern novel, so home with me went the book.

Johnson’s tale, enriched by research into the actual country, opens with two pages of imagined propaganda from the North Korean government, arriving by loudspeaker in every home. Various unrelated statements are made and rumors denied. “What are you going to believe, citizens?” the loudspeaker asks. “Rumors and lies, or your very own eyes?” Immediately I wondered what I was going to believe in this story, where rumors and lies play such an important part and the fiction imagined is based on facts. Knowing full well that I was reading a novel, I quickly gave myself over to belief in Johnson's convincing fictional world.

The protagonist, Jun Do, who grew up in the orphanage administered by his father, was not technically an orphan, but like the other boys he was given an orphan’s name, a name that also echoes for American readers the name John Doe, and he is the North Korean Everyman. He does what he must to survive, whether that means sending other orphans to work in fatally toxic environments, enduring combat duty in completely dark tunnels under the DMZ, or participating in kidnapping expeditions to Japanese shores. “Then the kidnappings ended, as suddenly as they’d begin,” and Jun do is sent to school to learn English. Next he is assigned to intercept and translate American radio transmissions from a North Korean fishing vessel.

Out at sea the young man’s life begins to open up for the first time. He has a taste of freedom in the water and sky surrounding him and gradually learns about family from the captain and crew, while in the dark night, he is given glimpses of another world in the person of the Girl Rower and the manned space station whose location eludes him for so long. Jun Do cannot plan his future, nor can he predict a single one of his “long tomorrows.” He can only hope to keep himself and his friends the fishing crew and captain safe, as each astonishing, improbable turn of events tests his ability to lie convincingly and to suffer torture without recanting his false testimony.

Improbable, yes. How likely is it that just this particular motherless not-an-orphan, also a kidnapper, tunnel soldier, and radio operator, would be chosen as the official translator on a mission to Abilene, Texas, for some “talks before the talks,” an informal meeting with an American senator who will later visit North Korea to make a serious exchange? In an interview at the end of the book, the author addresses the question of what is “real” and what is “invented” in his novel.
If literature is a fiction that tells a deeper truth, I feel my book is a very accurate portrayal of how the tenets of totalitarianism eat away at the things that make us human: freedom, art, choice, identity, expression, love. And because few things about North Korea are verifiable ... this seems to be a realm in which the imaginative reach of literary fiction is our best tool to discover the human dimension of such an elusive a society. But I know what you’re asking.... I have a rationale for every artistic decision I made in the book, but suffice it to say that most of the shocking aspects in my book are sourced from the real world.... What’s fiction is that one person might serve in all these capacities, as my character Jun Do does. But in this case I valued the larger portrait of North Korean society over the plausibility that one person would have such a range of positions.
Stop now and take a deep breath before you read what he says next.
I felt I actually had to tone down much of the real darkness of North Korea, as in the kwan li so gulags, the reports of which were so harrowing—forced abortions, amputations, communal executions—that I invented the blood harvesting as a less savage stand-in, one that was simple and visceral, for the ways that the Kim regime stole every drop of life from citizens it had sentenced to an eternity of slave labor.
To give any kind of adequate review of this book, I would have to discuss Jun Do’s transformation into General Ga and his love affair with the film actress Sun Moon (General Ga’s wife), and I would have to mention her children, too, and his relationship with them. I would also have to discuss the nameless figure of the interrogator, a man who works only at night, whose own parents fear him, who takes pride in his team being different from, more “scientific” than, the Pubyok torturers. What will become of them all? The author says in his interview, “The people there are just as human as we are, driven by the same needs and motivations.” Some of Johnson’s characters become harder as the story unfolds, while in others their humanity cannot help reaching for the light.

But all I really want to do is urge you to read this heartbreaking, horrifying, mesmerizing, and beautifully written, book. Deserving recipient of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, The Orphan Master's Son has prompted different people to ask: Is it magical realism? A political thriller? Love story and/or a tragedy? Coming-of-age tale? I say that the best of novels, whatever labels critics attach to them, transcend genre boundaries, and Johnson has gone transcendence one better: his novel blends and unites genre categories, and transcends them all.

Reading the first few pages, I wondered if I would be able to “get into” this book; now I think that no one could read very far into it without becoming obsessed by the characters and compelled to continue the voyage. If I were to put together a “Top 100 Novels of My Lifetime,” this would surely be on the list.
Returning the Dear Leader’s gaze, Ga felt no fear looking into the eyes of the man who would get the last word. In fact, Ga was oddly carefree. I’d have felt this my whole life, Ga thought, if you had never existed.
Tragic, yes, but not a tragedy. The central character is not a great man brought low by a tragic flaw but an Everyman who discovers his purpose and finds strength and resolution to fulfill it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Weekend in Which Precious Little Reading Was Done

Here I am with my sisters and mother at the North End on Sunday morning. We went there for breakfast after attending the service at Bethany Lutheran Church on Mothers' Day, and Kristi kindly took our picture before we left. We are all readers (all of them brought bags of books for Dog Ears!), but we didn't do much reading over the weekend. They arrived late Saturday afternoon, and after dinner we became engrossed in a nearly impossible puzzle, involving multiple challenges. First was answering the "Who said that?" question on the quotation pieces and matching each quote with the correct historical personage, actor, philosopher, general, or whatever. This phase results in a forest of paired pieces, all of which then have to be joined together, along with some blank and almost-blank pieces, to form the puzzle. We started on one table, had to move to another, and finally split into two teams, younger sisters in one room, oldest sister and mother in the other room.

Can you say 'OCDC'? Can you say 'frustration'? Can you say, "Oh, my aching back"? So yes, on Sunday morning we went to church and out to breakfast, but then it was back to the puzzle, which we worked at until dinner time -- and dinner had to be on the front porch, as there were no more available tables in the house. No one picked up a book all day!

Monday we started the day with a shopping spree at the Pennington Collection in Northport. Sarah's store is so colorful I couldn't stop taking pictures while my mother and sisters shopped. 

After stops at the post office and bookstore, we drove south to Traverse City and explored Building 50 at the Grand Traverse Commons. My family didn't take long to figure out that they wanted to try out Black Star Farms Tastes, so we had a light lunch of spring vegetables (carrot and beet slices, pickled garlic, and ramps), country terrine, and various cheeses with our wine. My mom and I both bought bottles of the dry Riesling, although we liked everything we tried.

A visit to Building 50 isn't complete for me without a stop in at Landmark Books. It's always good to catch up with bookseller Paul Stebleton, and I was happy to find a nice copy of National Velvet, a classic horse story I haven't read for many years. 

We caught up with David, back from his downstate road trip, on the front porch at home before we made our way to the Happy Hour for dinner. 

In the picture above, in case you were wondering, David is amusing my mother by making his hand into a duck. (Maybe you had to be there.) Below, my sisters posed for me in front of David's large semi-autobiographical art installation. 

The Happy Hour.... It always is. My sisters were happy to find some IPA beer, and I was happy to learn that it was from Marquette, up in the U.P. When time came for dessert, two went for peppermint ice cream, and the other two shared a giant cream puff with peppermint ice cream and hot fudge. Which two were which, do you think?

Naturally, I didn't go three entire days without reading. In fact, I made serious headway early in the morning and late at night with the novel currently at my beside, The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson. It is not peaceful bedtime reading. It is a horror story, in fact, with very little relief, but so masterfully and convincingly and compellingly written (how on earth did the author manage?!) that I practically propped my eyes open to go on reading, and sometimes I'd fall asleep for a while, only to wake up to find the light still on, which was all the encouragement I needed to read a few chapters more. I highly recommend this novel to courageous readers. Besides being a fictional tour de force, it also serves as a reminder to any American reader how very fortunate we are to be living in this country. The contrast with my weekend family visit could not have been more striking. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Attitude and Weather Report and Forecast

Observe! Open water! Sunshine! 

Water, water, everywhere! Yesterday it was running through a back road field, gurgling along, attracting kildeer, while on the pond I monitor a pair of Canada geese had taken up residence. 

Last night I raked the yard and then worked on my drawing class assignment. That felt good. And now this morning! Oh, my heavens! Farmers have been out cultivating their fields, and the emerging green of new growth is too glorious for words! Maybe my joy is increased, also, by my current reading, The Orphan Master's Son, which points up just how fortunate I am to be living here in the United States, burdened only with "First World problems."

As if all this were not enough to gladden the heart, my mother and two younger sisters (mine, not hers) are on their way from Illinois for a visit. What more could I ask of the weekend? The temperature is supposed to get up into the 70s tomorrow! As I reminded Sarah this morning, on our way through the beautiful countryside to the bookstore, "We live in a beautiful place. We've got it made in the shade!"

Ice lingers now only in memory, the Winter of a Lifetime, frozen for all time in Ken Scott's new book, which should arrive sometime the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, in plenty of time for Ken's signing on Sunday, May 25.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Who Decides Who “Belongs”?

Summer bookstore flowers on Waukazoo Street

Lots of bookstores have book clubs. Mine doesn’t. Over the years I’ve been asked if Dog Ears Books had a book club, received suggestions about what kind of book club various people might enjoy, and have considered the possibility from many angles. Repeatedly. Over and over (to be redundant, as “repeatedly” already said “over and over,” didn’t it?)

So why don’t I have a bookstore book club?

Wouldn’t it be a good idea? Wouldn’t it (1) give people encouragement to gather here, (2) to buy books from me, and (3) wouldn’t it add to the culture of our little village?

There are the pesky suspicions that probably arise in some minds when I mention our “intrepid Ulysses band,” the small group that first came together to read James Joyce and has been meeting irregularly ever since--why weren’t other people invited to join? and what about that other group that met for a few years before the five women the group comprised couldn’t even manage to find five times a year when their schedules were compatible? what kind of exclusive little clique was that?--so let me get the suspicions out of the way first. The Ulysses group and the erstwhile five-woman group were not my book clubs, nor were they bookstore book clubs. I didn’t start either one of them, and neither one met at the bookstore. Also, after a while, as those in book clubs or reading groups know from experience, a bonding among members can make it difficult to enlarge the circle. A shared history has grown up among group members. Besides, the group that’s still going meets at the same home every time, and our Fearless Leader and his wife feel that we are pretty much at capacity now for seating.

For a while, I tried to keep up with three groups, these two small ones and the larger, drop-ins welcome group at the township library. Once, during the library’s remodeling, the library group met at Dog Ears Books, but that only happened one time, and it happened before the new wall went up between Dog Ears Books and Red Mullein, making it more challenging to accommodate a large number of chairs. But, as I say, the smallest group fell apart, and I haven’t kept up with the library group.

Part of the explanation for the last sentence of the paragraph above is the same as the explanation for why there’s no Dog Ears Books book club. I can’t do everything. I have been blessed beyond my just deserts to have Bookstore Bruce as a regular part-time volunteer for well over a decade (without him I would never have a day off), but, like me, he’s getting older, too, and I can’t ask him to take on more than he already shoulders. Other bookstores have paid staff. Libraries have paid staff, plus whole armies of volunteers. Dog Ears Books is basically a one-person operation.

This morning can serve as an example. After bank and post office errands and the tacking up of a few posters around town, back at the bookstore, among the storm of e-mail messages (I hadn’t checked in since early the day before) were inquiries from an author about when her book review would appear in a local newspaper; from a book publicist asking if I would write a review of a book sent to me last week; from authors contacted by the publicist about reviewing, wondering who she was; from someone in a local book club urging me to have an author event for a writer who had recently been the guest of their group; from a couple more people wanting to reserve copies of Ken Scott’s ICE CAVES book (order e-mails are always welcome!); and a whole flurry from the Ulysses group people, trying to figure out when we can meet next and what we should try to read and discuss. And that was just e-mail. There is also the telephone, the UPS delivery, and – bless their hearts! – customers in the bookstore! You are the best, folks: you’re why I’m here, and you keep me in business!

Ordering new books, looking at collections to buy, in-store sales, stocking shelves, inventory management, shipping orders, publicity, advertising, bookkeeping, correspondence – I mean, not to make this “all about me” but those jobs are me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. In-store events? Me again. Book clubs, like other in-store gatherings, don’t happen by themselves. They need to be planned. They need to be organized. Word about them needs to get out. Preparations need to be made. As much fun as it all is, there’s a lot of work involved. That’s not a contradiction: parties are fun, too, but it’s a lot of work to get one together.

One summer someone thought it would be fun if people simply came and brought books they’d been reading and shared them with others, rather than having everyone read the same book. I think that would be great for a group of friends to do, but a bookstore book club needs to be selling books to members if it’s going to function as part of the business, i.e., to keep the bookstore alive.

When someone says to me, “I’d love to be in a book group,” I say, “Why not start one?” And now I'll say that if anyone would like to start one and have it meet regularly here, all I’d ask is that members order their books through my bookstore. Organizing, choosing books, scheduling meetings, refreshments – all that and whatever else people would want included would have to be the responsibility of the person starting the group, but there’s no reason why it can’t happen.

I’m here. I’ll be here all summer. And I do try to make everyone who comes in the door feel welcome. You are all my friends, old and new.

Winter evening, back in time

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Daffodils, Donkey, Dog, and Drawing

A friend brought me daffodils so tightly furled they didn't even look like daffodils when I got them, but a few days in the front window of the bookshop, and now today they are in full bloom, at their peak of beauty. Perfection, as another old friend said famously years ago, is a moving target. The daffodils hit the bull's-eye today; tomorrow will be another story. To each day, however, its pleasures, and those daffodils are one of the pleasures of today.

For one whose gypsy feet have not been on the open road for longer than I care to mention, spring is a most restless season. At bedtime these days, David and I are enjoying reading aloud from Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, getting in a little vicarious travel, but as spring gradually pushes winter offstage, Aprille may be over, but I do still long to go on pilgrimage. Here at the shop today, because I was assembling a little six-and-a-half inch wide (6" tall) library of classics from books I'd removed from a shelf to make room for other, larger format classics, I couldn't help opening Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (the Cevennes!), a book that always stokes the travel urge.
A new road leads from Pont de Montvert to Florac by the valley of the Tarn; a smooth sandy ledge, it runs about half-way between the summit of the cliffs and the river in the bottom of the valley; and I went in and out, as I followed it, from bays of shadow into promontories of afternoon sun.

There is bright afternoon sun this very minute out on Waukazoo Street, and I wonder how much ice melted today in the Manitou Passage. In another hour or two I'll be outdoors, gazing west over Lake Michigan from the Leelanau hills, and I'll remind myself how many people would love to be in my place.

Doggy digression:

Look at that wet, muddy dog! She had way too much fun on Sunday afternoon! Mud fun for Sarah means work for me, and after her bath I thought we might as well trim the paws and such, too. But who said venturing out into the world rather than staying home doesn't have its costs?

Tomorrow my drawing class meets again, and we'll be plunging into the messy adventure of charcoal! (I have no expectations or preconceptions, merely look forward to a new experience.) Betsy, our instructor, wants each of us to have a mantra to pull out whenever negative, I-can't thoughts come into our heads. Sometimes I tell myself encouragingly, "You're doing a good job." But drawing isn't the only time negativity can try to get its nose under the tent, and at those other times I'm telling myself to look around and say, "I'm seeing the world."

It's good to see the world. And as we say here in Michigan, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Guest Blogger: George Carpenter Reports on Spring from Cherry Home

George Carpenter holds an MSC degree in limnology and a Ph.D. in Fisheries and Wildlife, and his love for the natural world is clear in this report. George and his wife, Trudy, live in Cherry Home subdivision, north of the village of Northport on Grand Traverse Bay, with their two dogs, Franny and Cricket.

"Notes From The Nature Channel"
by George Carpenter

Franny says that spring definitely has sprung but slow enough that we have been able to handle the water. Thanks to the warmer temperatures and recent rain, snow is gone except for a few remnant drifts on north sides of shaded hills.  There are also scattered patches in the woods where the ground is still mostly frozen and all of the cedar tangle wetland is flooded, quite deeply in spots.  Runoff from the ponds and in the few ditches is heavy and water table drainage to the coastal wetlands is extensive with considerable flooding along the shore.  The spring peepers are happily installed in the coastal wetlands and singing/howling through the night (depending on your view - we like them).  Tree frogs, eastern toads and salamanders will come later.

Most of the birds are back although female cowbirds, red winged blackbirds, starlings, and common grackles have not put in an appearance yet.  Guess the female is the smarter gender.  Some dates: killdeer arrived on 4/4, cowbird males 4/7, song sparrows 4/7 - the previous "Notes" [George's reports appear regularly on the Cherry Home website] announced other arrivals.   Sandhill cranes have been voicing overhead since 4/2 but have quieted lately.  The big news is pairings - all of the woodpeckers (pileated, red bellied, downy and hairy) are firmly paired as are Canada geese and mallards.  Bufflehead, common and hooded mergansers, and goldeneye are pairing as well although there are some unspoken for if anyone is interested.  

Beach grass is greening and deer have been seen digging up the roots.  No deer are showing stress or foal swelling yet although a couple are known to have been caught this winter by coyotes.  For the first time in two years a fox has been heard barking and tracks were seen in a recent light snow.  Hope they're on their way back. 

Burdock leaves are emerging as is reed canary grass.  That's pretty much it although roadside grass is showing.  Trembling aspen buds are swelling but the red maple isn't showing yet, will soon though.

No wood ducks have been seen yet but the barred owl is finally calling in the woods.  The bear did not make an appearance last fall and still hasn't this spring.  Cricket informs me that pileated woodpeckers drill their own holes and will drill a new one if a second brood is contemplated.  Red heads and hairy woodpeckers will drill their own nests or use existing cavities but most other birds like downsides, nuthatches, and chickadees prefer someone else do the work.  

We saw a single red headed woodpecker last year and wonder whether we might see more this year.  The story has it that the next few years might see an upswing in woodpeckers due to the emerald ash borer getting stronger in our area.  Dead or dying ash trees are common in the lower County and there are infected trees in Leelanau State Park, possibly hundreds.  The bad news is two trees have been seen in Cherry Home Shores and more are expected.  The short term prognosis (5 - 10 years) is that the ash will be eradicated but another host has not been identified yet so maybe seedlings can pull a comeback.  Keep hoping and get out there, Mosquitos are still a month away!

Thank you, George! I'll add to your report that we spotted a pair of common mergansers on Shalda Creek yesterday. It took me way too long to identify them, but a camera with zoom and a couple of wildlife guides finally paid off. - pj