Search This Blog

Monday, July 30, 2018

Who Belongs ?

Local crowd? All locals?
These past couple of days, I was really feeling like a stranger here. You forget about it for a while, but then a few things happen and people say things to you in a certain way, and it all adds up. You may be welcome here, but at the end of the day, you’re not part of this. You never have been and you never will be. 
Steve Hamilton, Die a Stranger (an Alex McKnight novel)
I’ve been thinking again lately about who belongs and who doesn’t, since I’m not “from here,” as we say, and tourists visiting my bookstore in the summer often ask me if I am. Sometimes they are looking for someone or something and wonder if I can give them directions or information; other times they’re merely curious. But no, I’m not “from here.” Born in South Dakota, raised in Illinois, long-time downstate and elsewhere resident until 25 years ago, I don’t have generations of county roots.

Steve Hamilton’s McKnight character, living in Paradise, Michigan, is in a similar position, having moved to the U.P. from Detroit. Do writers, I wonder, working in solitude as they do, relate naturally to solitary fictional characters? Maybe so, but that doesn’t explain the broad appeal to general readers of the outsider, the loner, the one who doesn’t quite fit in.

crowd moseying along
And so, I wonder, is that a feeling we all (or most of us) secretly harbor, the suspicion that we’re on the periphery, looking in? Or — another possibility — do we sometimes feel so surrounded, even crowded, by other people and demands that we like to fantasize ourselves as loners escaping from the crowd? 

Moon -- solitary and serene

Maybe even sometimes one, sometimes the other feeling?What do you think?
…The air was still almost warm. Then the wind picked up and as it hit my face it brought along an unmistakable message. It may be July, and it may feel like summer just got here, but the end is already on its way. The cold, the snow, the ice, the natural basic state of this place, it is right around the corner. 

And oh, yeah, there’s that, too.

Sarah's winter face

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Season Rolls Along

Cherries are ripening or ripe or already harvested, depending on which part of the county we're talking about. The crows are out in force, darn 'em! Crew shaking on Eagle Highway this morning. It may seem, on some rare overcast day, that the pause button has been hit, but in reality nature and time never slow down. 

We had a standing-room-only overflow crowd this past Thursday for Dennis Turner's TEA presentation, everyone fascinated by his story of Belgian nuns acting as rescuers and spies during World War II. Here is the beginning of the crowd assembling, having been warned to come early for good seats:

Here is Dennis, ready to go:

And here is the full house in David Grath's gallery and the overflow into Dog Ears Books, the series host:

Can you believe there are five Thursdays in August this year? Next week's guest, Virginia Johnson, brings us back to Michigan with her memoir of growing up on a self-sustaining farm during the Great Depression and beyond. Virginia sees many parallels between the way her parents farmed and today's back-to-the-landers with CSAs and regular farm market appearances. My regular readers know I have a strong inner farmer, so I'm pleased to have agriculture represented by a speaker this summer. Please join us -- again! -- on Thursday, August 2, 7 p.m.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Pause Button

Aren’t there certain times of the year, particular days, when you would love to hit a PAUSE button and stop time, stretching a single day into a couple of weeks? I have that urge every year in the spring when the first impressionist flush of color touches branches trees across the fields, and we must all have the feeling during perfect vacation moments or watching young grandchildren at play. For me, summer rain delivers at least the illusion of a pause in time. 

On sunny days, I am conscious of the progress of daylight from dark to first light to sunrise, of the sun’s rapid climb and then its descent and setting, but the light of an overcast day, with the source behind clouds, is more diffuse, and so the hours are not marked off with any kind of clarity. Cool, rainy nights are “good sleeping weather,” and the hushed days are good reading weather. Having reached the final page of Paul Theroux’s book of travel essays, Fresh Air Fiend, I passed it on to the Artist and have been making my way slowly, in fits and starts, through a novel, The Book of Crows, by Sam Meekings. There is nothing cozier than reading side by side on the porch on a rainy summer evening, our dog at our feet. 

I know my sensation is not an objective reality. Time has not stopped or even slowed down. But it feels to me as if it has, and that feels good! And a rainy summer Sunday is the best!

When the rains come, I don’t need to water my gardens and can give myself a temporary reprieve from laundry (I don’t mind hanging laundry outdoors in the sun and then having it rained on, delivering “rainwater softness” to our clothes and linens, but I don’t stand outside in the rain with clothespins in my mouth), and on Sunday, the bank and post office and library are all closed, and the farm market was on Friday. So, no morning errands! Summer, however, does not admit of “days off,” and so we will soon be in Northport, taking up our stations on Waukazoo Street. But that can be pretty cozy, too, as our visitors will attest. 

And so summer flows on….

This coming Thursday at Dog Ears Books
This coming Thursday is the sixth of my TEA events (Thursday Evening Authors), with Dennis Turner reading from his novel, based on historical fact, What Did You Do in the War, Sister? That’s at 7 p.m., as usual. Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Another Beautiful Up North Day

Sunny Flower
I won’t dwell today on how the summer days are flying by, because you all know that. Instead I’ll say what a beautiful day it was here in the Leelanau on Thursday. Sunny and warm without being too hot. A light breeze, just enough to be refreshing. Hay being baled and stacked, people at the beach, gardens blooming the hearts out. 

For me, it was a noteworthy day in a couple of ways. First, I bought a new camera. Second, I hosted my fifth summer TEA event, with the ever-delightful Lynne Rae Perkins and Anne-Marie Oomen as this week’s Thursday Evening Authors. 

The camera is another Canon, this one the new Rebel SL2, and I highly recommend the Camera Shop in downtown Traverse City for all your photography needs, whatever they may be. Shopping there is a most satisfying experience. I enjoyed every minute of it. Thank you, Molly! Stopping back at the farm and proceeding on to Northport, I paused here and there to experiment with the new camera and its various settings, though it will take weeks before I become completely familiar with it. 

Bruce at the helm

Mary Kent's flowers
An added bonus to the shopping trip was my purchase of new batteries and a roll of b/w film for a beautiful old camera bequeathed to me by a friend after her husband died. Back to film? Molly at the Camera Shop told me young people are going back to film, in the same way I have found young people going back to print books. Interesting parallels there.

Anne-Marie Oomen and Lynne Rae Perkins
TEA was pure pleasure! Anne-Marie and Lynne Rae had not planned ahead of time how they would share the stage and were, in fact, still working out the details as I was introducing them, but anyone who was there can tell you that they did a stellar job. It was as seamless as if they had done it many times before. Freshwater, saltwater, Lake Michigan, Atlantic Ocean, prose, poetry: readings and stories and answers afterward to questions were treasures added to my bookseller’s store of memories, as were the engaged and appreciative faces in the audience. It is such a treat to me to see friends gathered in the Artist’s gallery to enjoy my bookstore guests! There were several writers in the audience this week — Kathleen Stocking, Sarah Shoemaker, and next week’s scheduled TEA guest, Dennis Miller.

Michigan writers light up my life!
And afterwards — I slipped off my work treadmill entirely when my event guests invited me to have a beer with them at the Mitten. We sat at an outdoor table, and I had a dark stout and poached some of Lynne Rae’s poutine (they called it something else, but French fries, gravy, and cheese will always be poutine to me) and listened to stories of Iceland and vowed to read Independent People this coming winter, and I felt as if I were on vacation. Most of the day had been busy and productive, and I enjoyed zipping around getting other things done while Bruce tended the shop for me and David set up the gallery for the evening. The author event was a joy. Then to relax for an hour like a tourist without a care in the world? Ah! What an all-around rewarding day was my nineteenth of July!


Anne-Marie Oomen

Lynne Rae Perkins

Bill Perkins

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Arizona Dreaming

Time to Make Hay!
Here in the dark before dawn of another summer day, well before the hour when I will be caught up in another round of hurried errands and tasks to be accomplished before a full day in my bookstore, followed by yet another evening of insufficient attention to the work of house and yard (one load of laundry brought in from the line and folded and gardens watered, but bathroom and floors passed by and no grass mowed), here in the still, quiet solitude of the long porch with only two lights at this end, obscurity beyond, I think of the differences between my summer and winter lives. Climate, geography, culture, history, plants and animals — from Michigan summer to Arizona winter, there is little similarity. And yet, for me, the most salient difference is that of time. 

Since I am neither retired nor in a position to hire help, either in my place of business or at home, it is only by waking in the dark and neglecting housework that I make time at all (I don’t find it sitting around waiting for me: I must carve it out with deliberation) for reflection on time’s passing, or, more accurately, my hurtling passage through time. “How’s your summer going?” people ask. I tell them it is a blur. When the season winds down, the question will be, “How was your summer?” and my answer again will be, “It was a blur.” Against the blurred, high-speed background (blossoms to fruit to harvest in the blink of an eye), a few moments will remain. The fox at the side of the road, hungry baby robins, delphinium spikes vividly, royally blue in the evening sun. Moments that stopped my hurry, life holding out a gift. Here, look. See? 

A customer in the bookstore one day, a man perhaps the age of my own son, asked me what I would be doing in January, and when I mentioned Arizona, he was scornful. “Chicken!” was his parting shot as he went out the door. Well, I have many Michigan winters under my belt. I have known two years when all five of the Great Lakes froze over. I have gone through winter power outages, once for four days, in an old farmhouse. I have kept my bookstore open through many frozen months, though it made absolutely no financial sense whatsoever to do so, and one year the bookstore served as winter coffee shop for the village, no other business in town inclined to provide the desired social outlet for year-rounders’ cabin fever. In short, you could say that I have paid my dues, but there is so much more to it than that. I have loved the beauty and challenge of my Michigan winters, from January 1967 onward and have hundreds of photos taken over the years to remind me of them all.

However — again I beat this tiresome drum — I am not retired, and so the travel rewards that others reap in retirement (or, while still working, as summer vacation) I take now in annual winter installments. “Summers off!” we graduate students used to remind each other, anticipating academic careers. That was a path I left those friends pursuing without me, and now, as they retire one by one to golden years of leisure and I continue to work, as they fly and sail through the summer from one continent to another, stopping at islands in between, I whisper to myself from time to time, “Winters off!” 

Anyone, though, who thinks I love southern Arizona only as an escape from Michigan blizzards sells me and Arizona short. Tourists and summer people from Chicago and St. Louis do not come to northern Michigan in summer only to escape the heat, after all. They love the world they find here, as I have come to love the high desert of the Southwest. Leaving aside for a moment the wondrous details of horses and cows, ghost towns and dust, mountain roads and dry washes, and without getting, I hope, too metaphysical in a Kantian or even a Bergsonian kind of way, I love the space and time of my Arizona winters. Our winter cabin is small, but it is essentially one large room, and that room is not crowded or cluttered. There is plenty of space for yoga stretches. And outdoors my view stretches to mountains in every direction. The very emptiness of space is the luxury of it. And the same is true for time. So few demands! Time to dream, to explore, to read and write, or simply to be — out in the sun, looking off down the wash for cows or wildlife or up to the mountains to do nothing more than watch the light change.

And still more. Not only space and time but an alternative history I might have had. Born somewhere else, to a different family, growing up on a ranch — in the high desert I come as close as possible to imagining that other life, the one I never lived. It feels almost within reach…. I would have been placed in the saddle when still a toddler. Before adolescence, I would have been rousted from sleep in the dark to help my parents and older siblings move cattle before the heat of the day. Throughout my school years, I would have competed in rodeo events and by this time of life have earned a deeply creased and brown face attesting to years lived in the sun….

I love my Michigan life — verdant hills and sparkling waters, talented writers and devoted readers, green fields and woods and back roads from Indiana to Ontario. Michigan has been very good to this Dakota-born, Illinois-raised transplant. But life’s brevity, as I see it, demands of me that I laminate possibilities like layers. “You’re living my dream!” people have said to me in my bookstore over the course of twenty-five years, and they love getting close to that dream, visiting it from one summer to the next. It’s a life they can imagine themselves having lived. And that is the spirit I take to Junior Rodeo in Willcox, Arizona, where my heart thrills to see young cowgirls living my dream — the other one, the one never made real. Underneath the bookseller, there lives a cowgirl, a rancher, a farmer.

The dreams we work to achieve, the realized dreams that others see, define us to the world, but the dreams that persist in us simply as dreams, whether anyone else sees them in us or not, are very much a part of us, too. Don't you feel that way about yours?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Busy and Challenged

Having murdered my camera by leaving it out in the rain (so maybe not murder, because not intentional), I am not 100% satisfied with the substitutes I’ve tried. Neither of the Artist’s little cameras nor my own new smart-aleck phone does what I used to do so easily with my Canon. Meanwhile, every week brings another Thursday Evening Author, which translates to another camera challenge. We did have a good time last week with poet Richard Gilmore Loftus, though, even if my photographic documentation leaves something to be desired. 

I’m camera-challenged in the outdoors, too. The baby robins with their characteristically hungry open beaks opening this post aren’t bad, but I would have liked a better, i.e., sharper, clearer image of their earlier sleepiness, seen here in less-than-optimal detail.

But on with the show, camera or no, because as bulletin board and counter attest, the summer beat goes on at Dog Ears Books, as it does everywhere Up North.

This Thursday will be very special, with not one but three authors joining us for TEA at 7 p.m. When Lynne Rae Perkins and Anne-Marie Oomen agreed to share the stage, it looked as if Anne-Marie’s co-author would not be available, but now poet Linda Nemec-Foster’s calendar has cleared, and she will be with us, too. (Linda was last here in 2014, when thirteen Michigan poets helped us celebrate the 21st anniversary of Dog Ears Books. How the last four years have flown!) So, two books, three authors — both books and all authors fabulous and pure Michigan! Please come if you can. You won’t be sorry!

Postscript 7/17: Now it appears that Linda will not be able to make the date, after all, but I know we will be sufficiently entertained and delighted by Anne-Marie and Lynne Rae, so keep that date circled!

Monday, July 9, 2018

They Come From Near and Far!

Saturday evening and Sunday morning I was busy getting ready for the annual visit from my mother and sisters.  Living in Illinois, they look forward to the cooler temperatures of northern Michigan for their July getaway and the chance to dip their toes into Lake Michigan. They stay at Sunrise Landing, and we spend evenings at the farmhouse, so I had had floors to sweep, grass to mow, groceries to buy, and meals to plan. Italian sodas, smoked trout paté, a big pan of burritos; vanilla ice cream, brownies, strawberries; brioche buns from 9 Bean Rows for our hamburger night. That much seemed like a good start. I’m so glad the weather is neither punishingly hot nor disappointingly cold and rainy for my family’s time in Leelanau, yoo. We’ll enjoy our mornings and evenings together before and after my bookshop days! And my delphinium blooms are certainly ready for company.

Too bad my family has to leave on Thursday morning and will have to miss the Dog Ears Books TEA with poet Richard Gilmore Loftus. Richard’s new book, Dress Whites, received a review from Kirkus that must have put him over the moon! Read it here. While living in New York City a while ago, he published chapbooks of poetry, was published in literary magazines, and gave a few readings which I for one will be eager to ask him about. (Where in Manhattan did he read? When? What kind of audiences did he have?) I know he has New York stories to share, including some about famous neighbors. And how many guys do you know who dated a candy cane in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker”?

Before Manhattan, this poet lived in iconic Greenwich Village (the dream of my adolescent years!), and he has also lived and traveled in Ireland, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, and Rwanda, doing volunteer teaching in the last two countries. He worked as IT manager for Delta Dental (he calls Delta his Medici), has built wooden boats, and is presently making his first violin. 

Loftus has Up North bona fides, too. Having noted that my blog often stresses authors’ northern Michigan roots and connections, he assures me that he has “spent much time, much of my life - winter, summer, spring, and fall - in the Manistee, Glen Arbor, and Traverse City environs. In that regard, I am pretty sure my credentials are in order.” 

So you see that at the same time I’ve been getting ready for a family visit, I’ve also been gearing up for my next TEA guest, because every week has a Thursday in it and thus another guest to Thursday Evening Authors. 

Richard Loftus will be with us this coming Thursday, July 12, beginning at 7 p.m. I like his poetry, and I think you will, too. So now, in anticipation, I’ll tantalize you with one of the poet’s own statements about his writing:

“I have a desire to convey well in words the beauty I've been privileged to witness. We shall see. So far, it's been an interesting and rewarding journey.” 

An interesting life and gratitude for it. Great combination! I am grateful for and enjoying every day this week and also looking forward to Thursday.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Inspired to Take a Different Road -- Slowly

We are now in “high season.” This very week was 4th of July and, of course, still is Cherry Festival in Traverse City. Cherry harvest is a little late here in the northernmost part of Leelanau County, due to an unusually cold April. We’ve certainly had warm weather lately, though, and the summer people and tourists are swarming to restaurants, shops, tasting rooms, and beaches. High season is the busiest time of year for almost everyone in Leelanau County. 

But Kim Schneider, my July 5 TEA guest, must have inspired me, because on Friday morning I jumped the traces for a modest morning adventure. 

After hanging laundry out before sunrise, I made it to the farm market before official opening hour (most of the vendors ready for business), did bank and post office errands, and then took myself, with Sarah, out for a slow drive to Peterson Park and a stroll around the grounds for — hard to believe — my first visit of the year. Peterson Park looks different with the old dead trees taken down and new little trees of various species planted. Probably a lot like the early days, one third-generation local observed, except that this time a monoculture planting was avoided, which bodes well for the park’s future. With more open area, the views are longer and wider. There is a shaded picnic shelter and also tables in the sun, so take your pick. Whenever I go up there in the morning, with coffee or without, I think what a lovely vacation breakfast gathering spot the place would make, especially on summer Fridays. Fruit and croissants from the farm market, fresh coffee, maybe cook up some bacon and eggs on one of the park grills. 

Sarah and I didn’t take the rustic stairs down to the beach. (That much time we didn’t have.) Peterson Park beach, though, is my favorite place to send people who want to hunt along the shore for Petoskey stones. Kim Schneider asked people who came to her TEA event for their suggestions of ideas she could add if 100 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die goes to a second edition. (Would an enlarged second edition have to be called 150 [or however many] Things to Do, etc.? I don’t know.) I’d definitely have Peterson Park on my list, and my other suggestion would be the pow-wow in August in Peshawbestown, an event I sometimes find difficult to fit into my calendar — so much going on all summer! — yet whenever I get there, the chance to relax under the trees and watch the dancers brings peace to my spirit. I call it “that pow-wow feeling,” and it’s another way for me to slow down and simply be here. Important to take advantages of quiet moments and hours along the way, isn’t it?

Back in town, I did my last pre-opening errand on foot, pausing on the corner of Mill and Nagonaba to appreciate what I've always called my "lipstick" roses. I rescued the bush when I was working in a friend's garden business and one client wanted all his old roses dug out and replaced with new hybrid teas. Unable to throw these old-fashioned darlings on the compost pile, I put the bush in my car instead to take up to Northport and plant next to my bookstore, back when Dog Ears was housed in the little bark-covered building on that corner that is now the home of Porcupine. They bloom still, my lipstick roses, with their brilliant shade that reminds me of the lipstick my mother used to wear when I was a little girl. 

My mother's lipstick, working in my friend's garden business, the early days of my bookstore -- to me, all this history is contained in these colorful blooms.