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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Leelanau's Last Summer Weekend

Scheduling outdoor events in Michigan always means hoping the odds will be in your favor, so everyone in Northport was thrilled with the weather on Saturday, September 26, for the third annual Leelanau UnCaged street fair. My only photographs are from the morning setup. Official fair hours were from noon to 10 p.m., but I managed to snag a breakfast pretzel earlier than that from a vendor over on Nagonaba Street before opening my bookshop to put in a 12-hour day.

One of our friends commented afterward that the event was like a reunion – “For everyone!” he added enthusiastically. It’s true that we saw many friends we don’t see all year long and some we hadn’t seen for many years. We enjoyed our day and arrived home exhausted, agreeing that (1) Sarah could not be a better dog and (2) the three of us have a very good life.

We slept late on Sunday and went out to breakfast, then came home to rest a little more. When I got a burst of energy, I went outdoors to lop away at the re-emergent popples for a couple of sweaty hours.

A friend had invited us for Sunday evening dinner. He said not to bring any food or wine, as he was trying to clear out his pantry for the season, but to be sure to bring Sarah so she and his dog could enjoy the evening together, and we were to wear warm clothes because dinner was to be served on the deck overlooking Lake Michigan. I didn’t take my camera (you'll have to imagine Sarah and Charlotte, so excited to see each other again, running around and around the house and yard) but did take a few photographs of the bouquet I picked to take our host.

Here’s what’s funny: For years I wanted asters, and every fall when I saw wild asters blooming along the roadside I’d try to make a mental note (it never stuck) to go back and gather seeds. When we had a new septic system put in for our old farmhouse, I sowed a large area with native grass and mixed wildflower seeds. The asters didn’t bloom the first year, maybe not even the second. I don’t remember. But then one year, there they were, right in my own backyard.

Somewhere once I read that happiness does not consist of getting what you want but in wanting what you have. With my asters, it works both ways.

Monday was another day we spent largely and luxuriously at home. (I say “luxuriously” because I love being home, and it’s a luxury for us working people.) My outdoor project on Monday was mowing grass. It’s been a long grass-mowing season this year. After dinner we went for a long, slow, meandering county cruise.

One of our stops that evening was our friend George Powell’s boat shop. Below is George at work on a boat that is older than I am (“but not older than I am,” David put in), using a Japanese longshoreman’s tool he also used up in Grand Marais when he worked on restoring the historic pickle barrel.

Boats are beautiful, but an old tractor in the weeds is certain to distract me from maritime vessels....

And now it’s Tuesday, the sky is cloudy, a front has moved in and the temperature has dropped. We closed the windows at home. David put it in a single word: “Fall!”

The next book I write about here will be one I'll be re-reading. Bonnie Jo Campbell's new collection of short stories, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, has an official release date of October 5, and Campbell will be at Dog Ears Books on Wednesday, October 14 -- at noon sharp! I've read the ARC and want to read it again and have the stories fresh in mind before sharing my thoughts but will urge you now to mark your calendar and do not forget the date! Bonnie Jo Campbell is nothing if not pure Michigan.

A riot of asters on Nagonaba Street in Northport

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Those Were the Years That Were

I’ve been living a secret life this week. Along with my home and bookstore, husband and dog, and books and yard, I’ve been reliving the 1960s, only this time not in the Midwest. No, I’ve been living those years in the place we in the Midwest longed to be: Greenwich Village.

It was, of course, a book that made my time travel possible. How could I not pick up A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, by Suze Rotolo, with its cover of the author when young, arm in arm with young Bob Dylan, the very photo from the cover of the “Freewheelin’” album released in 1963, the first Dylan album I ever bought (although not until 1965 or 1966)?

The book is Rotolo’s memoir, her memories of the Sixties as she lived them, not a tell-all of her love affair with Bob Dylan, and that was fine with me. Since her parents, both Italian, were Communists and activists, her growing-up years in the 1950s were heavily affected by McCarthyism and the fear that one or both of her parents might be hauled off to jail. 
We lived on the ground floor.... My father set up an electric saw in the basement ... and made nearly every piece of furniture we had.  

...We had bookshelves filled with books, a record player, and a collection of treasured 78s and 33-1/3 long-playing records. We listened to the radio; we didn't own a television. The other apartments were carpeted, had curtains on the windows, not Venetian blinds, and no bookshelves in the living rooms. 

Growing up in a family of readers, in a neighborhood where most other families did not have books, I understood that feeling of being different, of not fitting in. My parents had opera records, too. We did not have homemade furniture, and my parents were far from Communists, but the differences between the author's growing-up years and my own were as fascinating to me as the similarities.

After her father died and her mother’s plan to take Suze to Italy came to naught because of a freeway accident, the teenage girl found a job working for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in New York City. “It was 1961, the year of the first Freedom Rides....” It was also a time of cheap rents and musical ferment in New York. I recognized so many names in the crowd Suze and Bobby hung out with -- and was amazed at how many times people changed apartments, moving their few possessions (for whatever reason) apparently no big deal.

As the author notes, early 1960s American life had much in common, socially, with the 1950s. Only in Greenwich Village did the ordinary rules not apply. Ties for men, high heels for women – no rigid dress code like that in the Village. Interracial friends were common. Rotolo came on the scene when folk music was at its height, when even “famous” people’s names were not yet household words, and before drugs had a big part in the Counterculture. She was 17 when she met Bob Dylan, who was only starting to get attention from established musicians.

At one point, Rotolo traveled to Italy and spent several months studying art, soaking up European culture, and trying to figure out what kind of life she could make – if making a life together were possible – with someone as famous as Bob Dylan was becoming. The two came back together after that time apart, but the eventual break was inevitable. In following years, she married an Italian and had a family. Dylan has had a famous life, but Suze had her own life, too. I'm glad.

In view of their very public relationship and breakup (she writes how difficult it was to have her private life invaded by journalists and curiosity-seekers), I appreciated the author’s even-handed description of the boy she had loved and their youthful time together. (He spoke well of her, also, years after their relationship ended.) In this book, she does not treat him with kid gloves, but neither does she detract in any way from his musical genius, and she allows that he handled fame at an early age as well as he possibly could. They were so young! In writing of that time, the author remains true to her first love and their integrity.
...Bob was assaulted by many forces, most of them good, since he was gaining the success he always sought; but some were bad, because there was a new kind of complexity to everything going on around him. It was tough going for someone who underneath all the ambition and drive was very sensitive. I was equally sensitive and so overwhelmed by circumstances that I had trouble seeing how hard he was trying to hold things together.
When she writes of emotional struggle and awkward silences, I remember my old Sixties adolescence. I also recognize the idealism of the times:
The sixties were an era that spoke a language of inquiry and curiosity and rebelliousness against the stifling and repressive political and social culture of the decade that preceded it.
Civil rights, integration, freedom to travel, freedom of expression, artistic innovation – even the sexual freedom of the Village had an innocence and a purity about it in the early Sixties, as was true, I think, in most of the rest of the country. Certainly, I would say, it was true of my summer between high school and college. Stagestruck, hanging out with art and music and theatre people, my boyfriend of that year an art student, I felt very bohemian, as did my friends then, but we still took fairly seriously the barriers we transgressed (and there were many we did not transgress). Back then, what we considered “daring” could not yet be taken for granted. The freedom was all too new. And, of course, we were so very young!

When I finished the book, I searched online to learn what the author might be doing today and was saddened to learn that she had passed away four years ago at the age of 67. Here are the last lines from her New York Times obituary:
She remained politically active. In 2004, using the pseudonym Alla DaPie, she joined the street-theater group Billionaires for Bush and protested at the Republican convention in Manhattan.
In other words, clearly, she remained true to herself and to the spirit of the Sixties. I hope I have also, in my own country way. 

I've always said I want Bob Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In" sung at my funeral. David says no one will know the words. Okay, friends, start memorizing! I hope you'll have years to learn the words before you need to sing them for me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

But What Were We Reading?

There is always plenty of eating and drinking when family gets together, isn't there? In my family, there is. One of my good friends sat in for me at the bookstore on Saturday so I could go next door to the Garage Bar & Grill to have lunch with my mother and sisters. My friend said she should be the one to thank me: "I got to sit here and read instead of going home to clean house!"

Besides having reading friends, I come from a family of readers. That, I think, has already been established. My mother and sisters brought books with them on their trip and found books in Northport, but during our time together we were talking and laughing and eating and drinking. Later, in our separate beds, we pulled out our books to read ourselves to sleep, tired out from sunshine and fresh air (perfect weather!) and good food and drink and talk.

I finished The Checkered Years: A Bonanza Farm Diary, 1884-88, by Mary Dodge Woodward, and passed it along to my mother, who had finished a book and needed another. I am the firstborn of my mother's three daughters, and I was born out in Dakota -- South, not North, but I knew my mother would enjoy reading about North Dakota farm life in the 1800s and be glad her Aberdeen experiences were milder. Here is the farm where Mary Dodge Woodward lived outside Fargo. I would not trade my old northern Michigan farmhouse for the windswept Great Plains.

Salmon one night, cherry bratwurst and linguine with pesto the next, roast chicken the third -- we ate well during our little reunion. For a peek at dessert, visit my brand-new blog, "From My Paris Kitchen," and tell me what you think! My family inspired me!

Friday, September 18, 2015

In the Sands, the Dust, the Snows, and the Mud of Time

[A] track is a temporary thing. Unless the mud goes suddenly hard and turns gradually to stone, tracks do not last. They fade, and as they dry, the wind sweeps them relentlessly level to ease its way across the ground. Tracks exist at the interface where the sky drags along the surface of the earth. They exist for a relatively brief time in a narrow level near the surface of the ground where the wind and weather move across, changing the temperature and building information into the track. Nature conspires to steal even the traces of passage. Most tracks made in the world go under unseen. I try to follow every one I can.
- The Tracker: The true story of Tom Brown, Jr., as told to William Jon Watkins.
One of the many glories of an unpaved road is the way it holds tracks. On our morning walks, Sarah sniffs the grass and weeds at the side of the road: that’s her morning newspaper, her nose telling her who’s been where and what's gone on. While she uses her nose, I depend on my eyes to note the patterns made by a tractor, trails of another, earlier walker, the narrow, winding path of a snail, tiny bird footprints, a place where a deer leaped or stepped daintily across the road or where a coyote trotted or strolled, or the surprise evidence that sandhill cranes have been in the neighborhood. 

Until the rains come, that is, washing the slate clean until the next round of news is printed.

Noting tracks, following trails gives me an anticipation for winter and reminds me of the year I spent an hour a week just sitting outdoors, being in one place.
The more we learned to let our attention wander and come to rest on the thing at hand just often enough to catch the disturbances, the better we became as trackers and as observers of the woods.
I was reading those words one morning out on the front porch, before sunrise, with many different messages coming to me through the window – tapping of a woodpecker, crow’s call, screech of jay, rustle of linden leaves, my attention wandering easily and seamlessly from the words on the page to the outdoor sounds and back again.

Our intrepid Ulysses reading group will be getting together next week to discuss Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories and to propose our next reading adventure. Now that summer is over, we will probably return to “challenging” books, books for which we feel the need of “a support group,” as one member called it when we first came together to read James Joyce. But first we’ll be talking about Hemingway, and I’m still sorting through my responses on that score. Never mind separating the man from the myth – it’s separating the writer from the myth that concerns me.

A recent New York TimesBookends” piece asked, “Do We Mistake Inaccessibility for Brilliance?” In other words, if a book is very, very long and difficult to read, do we think it must be a work of genius? Hemingway does not force us to that question, especially with his short stories. His style can hardly be called convoluted.
Out through the front of the tent he watched the glow of the fire when the night wind blew on it. It was a quiet night. The swamp was perfectly quiet. Nick stretched under the blanket comfortably. A mosquito hummed close to his ear. Nick sat up and lit a match. The mosquito was on the canvas, over his head. Nick moved the match quickly up to it. The mosquito made a satisfactory hiss in the flame. The match went out. Nick lay down again under the blankets. He turned on his side and shut his eyes. He was sleepy. He felt sleep coming. He curled up under the blanket and went to sleep.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories
Does the simplicity of Hemingway’s style mark it as as a work of genius? Did he, as has often been said, as he himself seems to have claimed, give us a new way to see the world?

In a way, it seems, every writer with a voice of his or her own cannot help giving a new way to see the world, for despite our commonalities and connections and dependencies, despite the cultural grids through which we perceive, each of us must perceive the world for ourselves. I cannot see through your eyes or hear through your ears: what world do I have to offer except the one my own eyes and ears, my own hands and feet and nose and mouth and skin and muscles give me?

So that can’t be the question. The question has to be, instead: Do I see the world differently for having read Hemingway? Do you? Or can any of us only read his work through the myth of Hemingway the writer? 

I’ll leave the questions there for today, but please feel welcome to leave your two cents' worth. It's a quiet, rainy Friday. Sarah and I are at the bookstore. What are you doing with this only September 18, 2015, of your life?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Magic Words, Magic Day

Bee at work on goldenrod

“Sunday off” is a magic phrase. Like “weekend,” it isn’t part of my summer vocabulary, but once September rolls around, I’ve earned a little time off, and when a Sunday in September begins so rich in promise, the open road beckons, speaking much more loudly than yard chores and certainly more compellingly than housework. I came to the end of a delicious book as the sun came up over the woods, and that was enough reading for the day.

Morning reading spot (one of them)

Backyard birdland

Off down the road we went! South! Opposite the direction I go most mornings!

Following breakfast at Art’s Tavern, we ventured down an unpaved side road to a little inland lake south of Glen Arbor. Other dogs were frolicking in the water, and we broke our Sarah’s heart by not letting her join in the fun! Cruel, cruel dog parents!

Lucky dogs!

Our expedition had barely begun. We hadn’t brought a towel. Sarah would acknowledge no merit in our excuses. So, “Time to move along,” we told her. Before envy completely spoiled her day....

Strollers and fisherman shared the breakwater at Frankfort, a scene we took in from across the Platte River outlet, sharing a cup of coffee before a visit to the Oliver Center for the Arts, where a very colorful show was in progress. You must take my word that it was colorful, or go see it for yourself, though, because I kept the lens cap on as we made our way through the galleries (in which an etching by L. C. Lim, an artist I do not know, kept pulling me back again and again). When we got to the pottery studio, though, I could not help seeing still life compositions everywhere I looked, and while David visited with the potter, I let myself frame a few shots.

South of Frankfort, in southernmost Benzie County and into Manistee County, landscape and scenery looked more and more like the U.P. to me. Towns there are simpler, country houses more modest, and the perils and tribulations of modern civilization comfortably seem far-off. Elberta exhibited a bit of change but not too, too much. Between Elberta and Arcadia we ventured off two-lane blacktop onto a dirt road that narrowed quickly to two-track and then threatened to disappear altogether, crowded on both sides by impenetrable wetland growth. There was nowhere to turn around, and so we had to go on, not daring to stop in loose, soft sandy places or muddy stretches with deep holes. But isn't this just what we had gone seeking? Adventure! A road completely new to us! Coming onto higher ground, with a cornfield on one side, we stopped to stretch our legs and let Sarah stretch hers. At the edge of the cornfield was a pile of fresh scat, with lots of cherry pits and corn kernels showing. I walked down the road a way and found raccoon tracks. Back in the car we continued on our way and eventually came out onto pavement again, none the worse for our exciting detour. Rather the better, I like to think. But I took no pictures on that little road. Private adventure, secret road.

Beyond is Lake Michigan

In Arcadia we found a public bench on a dock on the edge of Arcadia’s long, lake-like harbor and soaked up peace and sunshine for a while, sharing a fresh, crisp apple and a bottle of cold water from home: heaven enow. Across the water and behind the sand dune was Lake Michigan.

Too late
Exploring old boatyards exercises the dream muscles (although ours are never inactive for long), and here was no exception. Neither of us is or ever will be a sailor, but we both appreciate nice lines. 

Too big

Then David finds a boat that could use improvement and expounds on its shortcomings and needs, and I discover a flowering plant I associate with Lake Huron rather than Lake Michigan and attempt to impress him with my find – and his interest in botany equals mine in remodeling boats, but never mind! We are patient -- and familiar -- with each other’s pet obsessions after so many years together.

Square windows on a boat!


Circling back through Honor, we stopped for cheeseburgers at the Lumberjack Bar & Grill. As we looked over the menu, two couples in the booth behind me were packing up their leftovers, and I heard one of the men say, “No, the dog won’t eat pickles.” Suddenly I felt a happy kinship with strangers whose faces I could not even see. Without leftovers at the end of my own meal, I saved the last bite of cheeseburger to wrap in a napkin and take out to patient Sarah, waiting for us in the car.

All day long the light seemed golden, with none of that flat, white, washed-out look so usual in the middle of a day. Was it the time of year or because we were so near water that the low fall sunlight was bounced back up and all around us? “Like the light in Italy,” David affirmed when I cautiously ventured my hypothesis. (Neither of us has ever been to Italy.) Perhaps we have seen days just as beautiful but not more beautiful, surely!

There were many photographs I did not take, but back at home, as evening pulled the sun down behind the neighbors’ hill, it seemed I would be able to see this day forever and that along with images of trees and water and fields and golden light pouring down, soaking through, animating everything, I would remember as well our desultory conversation, shared memories evoked by well-known scenes and impossible but entertaining dreams sparked by less familiar horizons.

Home again, where we belong

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Green, Green Grass Still Growing, Growing

With all the dry weather we’ve had, we’d almost convinced ourselves that mowing was over for the season. Then rain came. Encouraged and revitalized, grass reached for the sky. We mowed all evening on Wednesday. That night and Thursday morning it was raining again.

Northport is quieter – as, I’m sure, are many summer tourist towns, in Michigan and elsewhere. School is back in session, visiting families have gone home, their vacations over, and a general early autumn lull has set in. A certain number of older couples take advantage of the quiet time to do some leisurely traveling. Lake Michigan is still warm enough for swimming – more comfortable for swimming now than it was in June, when summer kicked off.

Friday morning was the last official farmers market day in Northport. A few vendors had dropped out, but it was the absence of all the summer people and tourists that was most evident on Friday. 

Our intrepid Ulysses group gave ourselves an easy assignment for September: Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. When we meet next week for discussion, we’ll propose more arduous works for the months ahead. I undertook on a somewhat arduous solo reading task recently, The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor, advised by a summer customer who grew up in Russia that it was a book worth reading although I could not expect to catch all the contemporary political references in the work. The general feeling of the time, however, one does pick up in the English translation. But what a strange, genre-defying novel! Fantasy, allegory, magic realism? And at the same time, the unmistakable traditional Russian flavor, with philosophy and religion and morality and folklore all woven through the dreamlike story, along with ordinary descriptive passages that might have come from almost any era. 

Was the author at all religious, or was it simply the moral aspects of religion that he found missing in Stalinist Russia, and how does the symbolism of the Crucifixion story connect to the devil’s visit to Moscow? Well, very challenging reading, indeed, and I’m glad I read it, but I would probably need to study The Master and Margarita in a classroom to get much more out of it than the basic story, a general sense of the political mise-en-scène, and many vivid scenes, from droll to hair-raising.

September is here. Rain has returned. My thoughts turn to Johnny and Rosanne Cash and their haunting duet, “September When It Comes.” It’s a good time of year to read Nick Adams, too.