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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Binge-Reading and Finding Pearls

Sarah supervises my work
Where did I find time to binge-read? Good heavens! There was our four-day trip to Kalamazoo, and after three days in the bookshop upon return I worked Sunday and Monday outdoors at home. Traveling, visiting, hanging laundry out on the line, bringing it in and folding it, cooking, washing dishes, mowing grass, digging, weeding, planting, not to mention (but here goes hours in the shop in Northport. And last year I said I didn’t have time to garden, but this year is different. This year I’m making time, just as I make time to go for walks with Sarah. I want to spend as much time outdoors as possible! I won’t always be able to get down on my hands and knees and dig in the dirt. Do it now! I tell myself. Do it while you can! 

Yet there is still, always, time for books. Again, making time to read is crucial.

On our recent road trip, I took along Walter Mosley’s The Long Fall and Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves, because even busy days visiting friends and family end at last with bedtime, and how is one to go to sleep without reading? Once back in Northport, I fell deliciously into John Searle’s The Rediscovery of Mind one afternoon at the shop ... but not too far in, because my own mind got so busy I had to lay the book aside and try to gather my thoughts ... and then my thoughts were interrupted and would not be regathered ... and finally it was obvious that the rest of that book and its exciting inspiration must await me at home for some quiet hour. Meanwhile, however, I returned to and finished The Plague of Doves. Very satisfying!

And now I have fallen into a lovely book of essays by the late Maurice Sendak, titled Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures. Much to my delight, there are not one but two essays on the wonderful Beatrix Potter. In the second, Sendak recounts an experience he had serving on a panel with other children’s authors, speaking to an audience of “concerned” parents. The authors had been advertised, much to their own concern, as “experts,” but how were they to respond to one audience member’s outraged complaints about the sweet little Beatrix Potter classic, Peter Rabbit?
A gentleman ... raised his hand and with a voice full of righteous ferver declared that no one on the panel had as yet explained how a book as simpleminded and flat as Peter Rabbit deserved its prestigious reputation. Worst of all, it seemed to him to be “neither fact nor even fancy.”
Sendak and the other authors protested against pigeonholing books and suggested that both books of facts and stories of fantasy needed to be recognized as “imaginative writing.” They also tried denying that they were experts. Sendak admitted that the audience was not happy with either suggestion.
I think we made it quite clear that there were no oracles seated on the platform that evening. However, for all our efforts, we were treated as experts and not too subtly condemned for being not-too-expert experts.
How does one mount a defense for a book that should never need one in the first place? Unable to come up with words on the public occasion, Sendak says he “quietly sulked,” but now, in his essay, will “bravely state my case: Peter Rabbit transcends all arbitrary categories.” He goes on, most delightfully, to discuss in detail various moments in the story and how the text and illustrations are perfectly integrated, stating generally:
This book, so apparently simple, smooth, straightforward, is to my eye textured and deepened  by the intimate, humorous observations that Beatrix Potter makes in her pictures.
In general, he concludes, it is the sense of life in the book that makes it a classic.
This standard should be applied to every book for the young, and no book can claim the distinction of art without it. Peter Rabbit, for all its gentle tininess, loudly proclaims that no story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it is not a work of imagination.

As I read this essay, I thought of the many Beatrix Potter books my son and I enjoyed when he was young and remembered also, naturally, Maurice Sendak’s own wonderful children’s books. The third author-illustrator who also came to my mind, over and over, was Leelanau County’s own Lynne Rae Perkins. I love her most recent book, Nuts to You, so much, and can hardly wait to have her new book, Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, in my bookstore.

I feel sorry for anyone who outgrows children’s books and hope I never will. But fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, essay, poetry – what reader would deny herself any of the foregoing? It’s worth getting up before sunrise, if necessary, to find time for reading. 

Very soon now, I will have in stock a new book of essays from another well-known Leelanau author, Kathleen Stocking, so think now about getting your name on my list of reserved copies for The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale. Like Lynne Rae Perkins, Kathleen Stocking proves that Maurice Sendak knew whereof he wrote. The sense of life these two Leelanau authors brings to their work comes from vital, intelligent, sometimes offbeat and always wonderful imaginations.

Transcending categories, transcending genres -- those are the very best books of all!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Morning light shimmers on Grand Traverse Bay

In the year 1600, Elizabeth I was queen of England, and James VI the king of Scotland. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was (probably) performed onstage for the first time.

That isn't snow -- it's cherry trees in blossom

In Japan, Ieyasu set up as “unquestioned ruler” and was advised on shipbuilding by navigator William Adams of England (see The Timetables of History). Rubens was at work in Italy, and Giordana Bruno was burned as a heretic in Rome. The magic lantern was invented (by Athanasius Kircher) and the London East India Company founded. Wigs became popular.

Blooms at St. Wenceslaus Church

Today's is the sixteen-hundredth post of Books in Northport, a blog quietly inaugurated in the fall of 2007. Who knew I’d keep at it this long? Kind of like, when I first opened Dog Ears Books in 1993, who know I’d still be selling books in 2016?

Forget-me-nots remind me of friends

Time goes by, one day at a time.

First supper outdoors in 2016

Seasons come and go

Thursday, May 19, 2016

On Not Being Gone, Being Gone, and Coming Back Again

January orchard

Did you know we didn’t go away this winter? That the farthest we got from home was Traverse City? That Dog Ears Books was open four days a week straight through January, February, March, and April? I am mildly disturbed by the number of people (at least half a dozen) who have exclaimed, “You’re back! Will you be opening soon?” I told one of my loyal summer customers and year-round blog readers that I sometimes think people miss me more when I don’t go away! She suggested that would make a good theme for a blog post. It will not be the theme of today’s entire post, but I’ll lead off with it and see how far it will carry me into other themes.

When we live in one place month after month, it’s easy to think we’ll find the time “pretty soon” to get together with a special friend or visit a new restaurant or walk a trail we have yet to explore. The friend, the restaurant, and the trail aren’t going anywhere, are they? There’s plenty of time. And so time slips away, one day and week after another.

What a shock when a friend dies! How disconcerting (though not as deeply shocking) when that restaurant closes. Then we visit the trail at last and find it alarmingly crowded with other walkers. “We should have come here this last fall,” we say sadly.

Going back to visit the town where we used to live is different, because we know long before arrival that our time there will be limited. There are only so many people and places we can revisit, and we make the most of our time.

* * *

We expect the places we see every day to exhibit a certain degree of stability and sameness, and when changes occur, most alterations to the landscape seem to come about gradually, and gradually we adapt. Again, it’s different visiting scenes of former lives. We did not see the gradual changes that took place there. Instead, we are confronted with massive, disorienting newness in every direction. Even the old neighborhoods seem different, somehow changed, in the time since we knew them.

And then there are the memories.

An old friend once commented that he had “ghosts” on every street in town. This house, that house, this and that street or road, the field where sheep used to graze – a thousand memories rushing forward!

Change and memories come together in family and friends, too. How is it possible they have been married fifty years? That he planted that tree from a seed? That that little girl is now a science teacher?

But wherever we travel in our home state, whether to an adjacent county or farther afield, I always fall in love all over again with Michigan. There are all the wonderful little rivers -- the Pere Marquette, the Crockery, the Thornapple, the Rabbit and the Gun rivers, to name only a few. The larger rivers – the Grand, the Kalamazoo, and the St. Joseph – are exciting to see again, too, as are the lush, rich pastures of Barry, Allegan, and Kalamazoo counties, with cattle of all breeds grazing contentedly. 

Plant life is noticeably different from that of Leelanau County, too. 

Central to southwestern Michigan have abundant mayapples, bluebells, and tree dogwood (above), along with this little member of the mint family (below) that neither I nor any of my friends could identify with any greater precision.

Foremost reason for this spring’s trip, however, were these adorable little guys. Could not get enough of them!!!

How long has it been since my son was that young?! He and I had brunch together on Monday morning and visited the bookshop next door afterward. With every visit, time raced by way too fast....

David and I made a lightning (less than one hour) visit to the expanded and breathtaking Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to see the latest Area Show, where several friends had taken prizes.

Sarah also had her share of socializing. The lovely Nadine was her gracious hostess.

We only left last Sunday and returned on Wednesday, but before going to sleep Wednesday night we agreed that our trip seemed like a major expedition. A “big trip.” All the visits, the family and friends, the changes, and the memories made it major. A very big, very good trip!

Although darkness was falling as we neared home, and we had put the car windows up against the cold, I could smell the perfume of the cherry blossoms through the closed windows! How wonderful this morning to see the trees flowering in the sun!

May orchard

So yes, we actually were gone for a few days. Now we’re back, looking to a busy, full summer in gallery and bookstore.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What Do You See (in Michigan)? What Do You Imagine (Here and in the Larger World)?

For only a moment --

Now is that precious time of year – newborn, impressionistic, and all too fleeting. Open your eyes and drink it in. Get up before the sun so as not to lose a single moment!

Serendipity pretty much sums up my approach to reading – what comes my way, what catches my eye. No big, overall plan. And so it was that I found myself reading by chance two books set in Michigan -- one nonfiction, one fiction; the essays by an Illinois author, the novel by a Canadian -- without expecting the similar settings to have the synergistic effect on me that they did.

First came Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild, by Tom Montgomery Fate. I’ll admit straight off that I didn’t care for the title or the cover design. How many “Cabin Fever” books and movies are there? In this case, I felt the title short-changed the book terribly, while the cover image of a water-filled ditch through a treeless landscape was no indication whatsoever of either the author’s Michigan cabin or his suburban Illinois home. But friends had read the book, friends whose reading tastes I respect, so I took it home and discovered it to be modern meditations on Thoreau.

Tom Fate reads Thoreau through the lens of his own experience (as all of us generally do read everything that comes our way) and also contemplates and questions his own life through the lens of Thoreau’s writings. As he is determined to take the time to see his surroundings, sometimes it is the smallest things that lift his prose to lyrical heights.
A long, black file [of ants] marches across the soft wood like a sprawling prehistoric sentence. Each jointed body is an unpronounced letter, or an unspoken word, on its way to an idea hidden somewhere deep in the green mind of the woods. I follow the ants with my eyes until they hit their end mark, a dead sweat bee, where they heap up into a writhing mass of legs and mandibles.
Fate’s family cabin is down in the very southwest corner of Michigan’s mitten. In his essay titled “Coyotes at the Mall,” the author muses on the human love-fear relationship for wild things, ending with what an Amtrak line from Chicago to New Buffalo could mean for his family’s “wilderness” cabin.
...I had never thought that Chicago would stretch north around the lake this far. Or that this little cabin we cobbled together here in the woods might someday be part of a Chicago suburb. But I think it’s possible, which is ironic, and depressing, and a bit amusing. Particularly now, as I walk through the woods, watching and wondering when the new neighbors will arrive, when the coyotes will move in.
The larger world encroaches, and time hurries on....

Life is fleeting, as spring itself

Turning next to a novel, Station Eleven, by Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel, a National Book Award Finalist, I found myself in post-apocalyptic fictional Michigan, rather than the state I know and love as it moves into the uncertainty always characteristic of time not-yet. Actors, musicians, people in business...jump cuts backward and forward in time...a world pandemic...Shakespeare and fresh-killed venison. A synopsis would hardly convey the magic of Mandel’s story. Did I perhaps read it differently, coming to it from Fate’s essays? Looking in it for Michigan?

Traverse City is mentioned, a place called New Petoskey, but then there are the post-apocalyptic settlements of St. Deborah on the Water and, farther to the south, Severn City, where by Year Fifteen after the collapse of civilization three hundred people are living. It is Severn City airport the Traveling Symphony has set out to reach, hoping to reconnect with two of their former members left behind in earlier years. 

Where precisely are we?

In a fictional world, geographical precision is not required, but we are south of Traverse City and north of Chicago, not far from Lake Michigan (inland is uncharted and dangerous wilderness), so it’s possible to imagine post-apocalyptic Severn City occupying the same region as Tom Fate’s family cabin. Only now there are no state lines, no country borders, and no laws. No electricity and no gasoline. Cars are rusted hulks, coffins for skeletons of people who died in the pandemic. The Traveling Symphony’s caravans are pulled by horses. Whether in settlements or on the road, the protein human beings consume comes from hunting.

And yet, and yet – what comes through most forcefully in this beautiful, lyrical novel is how the author cherishes the world and everything and everyone in it. Details of life and artifact are set forth with equal love. Here is one example:
The signs for the airport led them away from the lake, out of downtown, up into residential streets of wood-frame houses. A few of the roofs had collapsed up here, most under the weight of fallen trees. In the morning light there was beauty in the decrepitude, sunlight catching in the flowers that had sprung up through the gravel of long-overgrown driveways, mossy front porches turned brilliant green, a white blossoming bush alive with butterflies. This dazzling world.
That passage alone, however, could give you the wrong idea. You might think Emily St. John Mandel despises civilization and technology. But you would be wrong. Here is another passage to set the record straight:
In the en suite bathroom, Kirsten closed her eyes for just a second as she flipped the light switch. Naturally nothing happened, but as always in these moments she found herself straining to remember what it had been like when this motion had worked: walk into a room, flip a switch and the room floods with light. ... She ran her fingertips over a blue-and-white china box on the bathroom counter, admired the rows of Q-tips inside....
And another, from an earlier time, only days after the collapse:
On silent afternoons in his brother’s apartment, Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines. Jeevan was standing by the window when the lights went out.
Clouds and cool mornings are beautiful, too

It is so easy to get caught up in all that’s wrong with our world. Easy to fear the future. Easy to resent the swift passage of time, though impossible to make time hold still. What does the future hold for our beloved Michigan, our precious Great Lakes, our still-young country?

“I have walked all my life through this tarnished world,” writes the character Kristen in her graphic novel, Station Eleven, from which the author’s larger novel takes its name. Tarnished but precious, it is the only world we have. Must we not cherish it?

Emily St. John Mandel’s novel of tragedy, death, and destruction paradoxically gives back to us, in this flawless novel, the beauty of the flawed world before our eyes.

Best buds

Monday, May 9, 2016

Please Mind Your Manners in the Lake District

Sheepdog in her dreams

The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives, and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter. We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true. Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape. - James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life (NY: Flatiron Books, 2015)

The Shepherd’s Life tells about sheep-farming in the Lake District of England season by season. The reader encounters details and arcane terminology for sheep that are a thousand or more years old. Dogs, too, as should go without saying – smart little border collies, dogs that can make all the difference between a farmer’s success and failure when it comes to gathering the sheep from the fells.

Think you’re not interested in farming? Read on.

Rebanks the farmer and shepherd is a beautiful writer, and whatever subject such a writer chooses is worth reading. My farmer friends (and those, like me, with an inner farmer) will learn from and love this book, but so will my poet friends, world-traveler friends, and anyone curious about the world who appreciates good stories well told. 

Those of us who live, as the author does, in a vacation paradise can draw more particular lessons from the book, because what Rebanks lays before the reader is an entire way of life. This part of England, he tells us, was unknown to the outside world until “discovered” by poets and hikers and made famous by Wordsworth, Thomas West, Beatrix Potter, and Alfred Wainwright. After these people came and fell in love with the region, they told others about it. The Lake District became a famous holiday destination. Outsiders came to buy vacation homes, and these outsiders loved the Lake District in their own way and wanted to “preserve” its wild areas but did not always appreciate livestock on the commons.

Sound familiar?

As a farm boy who had never thought of his home territory “as a place of books or for leisure,” Rebanks one day sat high on a fell neighboring his own family’s land with a Wainwright guide in his hands,
...looking down at the landscape farmed by my father’s friends, and cross-checking it against the guide. It struck me powerfully that there was scarcely a trace of any of the things we cared about in what Wainwright had written. Apart from the odd dot on the map for a farm or a wall, none of our world was in those pages. I am wondering whether the people on that mountain see the working side of that landscape, and whether it matters. In my bones I feel it does matter. That seeing, understanding, and respecting people in their own landscape is crucial to their culture and way of life being valued and sustained. What you don’t see, you don’t care about. 
 It is a curious thing to slowly discover that your landscape is beloved of other people. It is even more curious, and a little unsettling, when you discover by stages that you as a native are not really part of the story and meaning they attach to that place. There are never any tourists here when it is raining sideways or showing in winter, so it is tempting to see it as a fair-weather love. Our relationship with the landscape is about being there through it all. To me the difference is like the distinction between what you felt for a pretty girl you knew in your youth, and the love you feel for your wife after many years of marriage. Most unsettling was the discovery that the people who thought about this place in this way outnumbered us by many hundreds to one. I found that threatening to our very existence....
That’s a lengthy quotation, but I didn’t feel I could cut it any shorter, because it speaks of the shepherd’s life in all its aspects: the farm families, their committed attachment to the place and way of life, the invisibility of that way of life to holiday-makers, and the feeling that the newer kind of love threatens the survival of the older.

Readying Leelanau fields

I am not a farmer, as you know. (Farming is yet another youthful dream path, like music, that my life did not take.) People say, in the Lake District, that it takes three generations to make someone a local. Well, at that rate, I can hardly even call myself American. One of my grandfathers was born in Ireland! My mother was born in California, father in Ohio, and I was born South Dakota, growing up (insofar as I ever did) in Illinois, coming to make a home Michigan only in 1967.

A recent meeting of the village planning commission grew tense when an audience member pointed accusingly to “newcomer” faces on the board, prompting several of those “newcomers” to defend themselves with statements of how many years they’d been “coming up here” (i.e., on vacation or for summers) and how many years they had now lived in Northport fulltime. Native American people make wry faces over such discussions, as well as the common statement, “In America, we’re all immigrants.” I had a customer once in my bookstore looking for a book about “local Indians” but not, she specified, modern-day Indians. She wanted anthropology, history, legend, not current real life.

Who counts? Who is visible? Whose lives and ways of life matter? 

More than a few locals here in Leelanau County sport bumper stickers that read, “My home is your vacation.” (I think that’s how it goes. I always felt it would be punchier as “Your vacation is my home,” but we all get the point.) I remember a t-shirt from a couple decades back that warned, “Don’t mess with me – I’m a local!”

Bees at work in Leelanau orchard

I live here, but there have been a few winters (we can’t afford to do it every year) when my husband and I have fled to an easier clime. A couple of my farmer friends themselves (one a fourth-generation local) are world travelers. And here’s what I want to say. If we travel  at all – any of us -- wherever we travel (unless it’s to Antarctica, the only continent on earth home to no historical or traditional human culture) we will be visiting someone else’s home. And if we move to make a home in a new place, we’re going to live where other people had lives before we got there.

When the irate local at the meeting called newcomers on the commission “an invasive species, like star thistle,” I touched him gently on the arm (he’s a friend) and said, “That’s me, too. I didn’t grow up here.” “No,” he said earnestly, “you can be a transplant without being an invasive species.” His distinction, as I understand it, is between newcomers who try to fit in and those who try to take over. Like the shepherd in the Lake District, he feels his existence threatened. But those he perceives as a threat felt threatened by his anger and became defensive in their turn. They feel they are helping the local community -- bringing it "up to speed," into the modern world.

Must everyone, everywhere, be goaded into a faster and faster way of life – everything high-tech, “branded,” and magazine-slick in appearance – or shoved off to the side of the road?

It’s a touchy subject.

Not only in England’s Lake District, but in our own country, from Hawaii to Alaska and in all the forty-eight contiguous continental states, everyone’s vacation – or new home – or chosen retirement community – was already someone else’s home. Those who can afford periods (or lives) of leisure bump up against those working for a living. Because wherever you go, there will be people working, or life there would not be possible!

“Respect people in their own landscape.”

That sounds to me like nothing more than a particular application of the Golden Rule. If we think of it that way, it’s pretty easy to understand, isn’t it?

Beech buds in Leelanau woods
Well, I’ve barely touched on the wealth to be found in The Shepherd’s Life -- have only focused here on one of its many topics. Fathers and sons is another major theme. Economic vicissitudes and cycles. Livestock breeding. Schooling as preparation for life – or not. Oxford University. Town, gown, and farm. There’s plenty here for every reader’s interests. After all, the best memoirs present life much as do the best novels – in its particularity and its universality, through personalities never before encountered and yet familiar in many aspects, showing a way of life not experienced by the reader but shared by the writer. And this is one of those best.

I do want to say, lest you be put off by a shepherd’s resentment of invading writers, that James Rebanks came to an appreciation of Wordsworth and others, the more he learned of their appreciation for his way of life. His favorite, not surprisingly, was Mrs. Heelis, who also bred and showed sheep from her Lake District farms. You know Mrs. Heelis by her other name: Beatrix Potter.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Look Back to May 2009

Connie and Ed and their book

Today's post is an excerpt from a few years back, in memory of dear friend Connie Arnfield, whose funeral will be tomorrow, Friday, May 6, at 11 o'clock. The bookstore will not be open until I return from the funeral.

Late in the afternoon [of May 4, 2009]came our long-anticipated, two-hour reception for Ed and Connie Arnfield, whose book, Roadside Guide to Michigan Plants, Trees and Flowers: An Ecological Approach, was published this spring by Arbutus Press. For most of the evening, I could hardly catch a glimpse of Ed and Connie: the crowd between us (having them sign books and paying me for books) was that thick! (We estimated later that at least 200 people must have turned out.) Gerry Sell came all the way over from Torch Lake (you get the distance prize, Gerry, but why don’t I have a picture of you?), and ecology essayist Stephanie Mills was on hand, too, to meet the Arnfields and compliment them on their book.

For more party pictures and an unbiased report from an out-of-towner, head over to Torch Lake Views and see Gerry's post. All in all, it was the perfect opening for the 2009 season. We were all exhausted afterwards—but in a very, very good way.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The World Has Always Been Turning

Our country today is politically polarized. The gap is widening between the haves and have-nots, with the middle disappearing. Is this the worst time in American history? How can anyone say? This is where we are now. A hundred and fifty years ago, none of us living now were yet alive.

A younger friend asked me once, “What were the Sixties really like?” Well, the answer depends on the person you ask. High school students and college students had very different experiences, military families quite different again, and the rich and powerful, as always – well, they live on a different plane from the rest of us, don't they? 

How old are you? Where did you grow up? Are you black or white, yellow, brown or red?

In the United States at large, we enjoyed great music in the Sixties -- and mourned terrible assassinations. The decade brought Black Power and the Black Panthers, a story told in the novel Virgin Soul, by Judy Juanita, but urban and rural dwellers knew the Sixties in very different ways, as Anne-Marie Oomen reveals in her memoir, Love, Sex, and 4-H.

Across the United States and elsewhere in the world, there were protests against the war in Vietnam until American troops were finally pulled outBut in southeast Asia itself, life in warn-torn Vietnam brought years of terror that did not end when the Americans left, or as the Sixties bled into the Seventies, because it’s one thing to have your country involved in an overseas war and quite another to have a war in your backyard.

Andrew X. Pham, author of Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam (1999), has just given me an unforgettable reading experience. His father, an engineer and “a man of regrets,” also a former Nationalist, was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese Communists following the American withdrawal. (An and his mother, highly enterprising and deeply superstitious, lived near the prison camp to watch over the head of the family, while other children lived with grandparents.) One of six children, An (his Vietnamese name) was the second-born. After his father was mysteriously released from prison, and before he could be recaptured and executed – the fate he expected, had the Communists learned of his background as a Nationalist propaganda director -- the family escaped from Vietnam.

An was eight years old when his family came to America, but growing up in California he remembered his Vietnamese childhood. Those memories were the inspiration for his return visit as a young adult, to explore by bicycle (on a limited amount of money difficult for native Vietnamese who never left home to believe is all he has) the country he left so long ago.

For Americans and for Vietnamese, the Sixties were a world-changing decade. One friend of ours volunteered for the draft with a buddy, right out of high school. His buddy never came home, and our friend still asks himself what his life would have been like “if I hadn’t gone to Vietnam.”

During his often difficult travels, Andrew Pham asks himself again and again, what his life would have been like had his family stayed in Vietnam. He realizes that his good fortune was very much an accident of birth. Different parents, different life. Seeing firsthand terrible poverty and corruption in the country that might still have been his home, he is grateful for his good fortune, despite resentments and prejudice he encountered growing up in the U.S.

The Sixties were a long time ago, an era sanctified in retrospect by some and reviled by others. If you weren’t around then, this obituary for Daniel Berrigan will give you some idea of what you missed during that period in the United States. There was a lot more to it than tie-dye and drugs, beads and funny clothes.

Rest in peace, Daniel Berrigan. You got your work done.