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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What the Weather Is Saying To Me

One day last week I had a few hours away from the bookstore. Having Bruce at the helm (i.e., desk and sales counter) gave me a chance to accompany the Artist on a trip down to the landfill south of M-72 — kind of a tradition with us, that trip, though it’s gotten much, much more expensive over the years. Still, we enjoy the drive and a stop in Cedar for ice cream on the way back. Then, since Bruce likes to leave by 4 at the latest to get back to Traverse City by 5, the Artist and I got ourselves up to Northport together to finish out the day. 

The day (it was Friday) had turned cool and cloudy, with a fallish breeze ruffling the goldenrod along the roadside, and I remarked to the Artist, “I don’t mind this kind of weather at all. It seems to say, ‘Slow down. Take it easy.’” He said he felt just the same. And so we slow downed and took the evening easy after a simple supper, big bowls of ramen with spicy pork and vegetables. Overnight it rained at last, and the weather, wordlessly, told me I could take time off from watering the garden and should hold off hanging laundry out on the line, too. The grass doesn’t need mowing, the météo added, again without words. I got the message. Since then, of course, we’ve had more rain, including one really big overnight storm. No, make that two more big storms now.

In the late 1980s, I lived for two years (minus the summers) in Cincinnati, Ohio, and before leaving my apartment to walk to campus each morning, I made a phone call to an automated service that delivered that day’s weather predictions. If the day would be turning cold before my walk home in late afternoon, the forecast warned me, without saying so explicitly, to take a warm jacket. However clear the sky at sunrise, when rain was in the forecast I carried an umbrella. Cincinnati’s hilly terrain and European architecture make for fascinating walks, but all walks are best enjoyed when the walker is prepared for the weather. 

Weather. As people say, we talk about it but do nothing about it. I can't help thinking that's part of our love for weather talk, forecasts, predictions, and after-the-fact reports. In general, we are not called upon to do much about it, and not being called to action for a change can be quite a relief.

As much as I enjoyed slowing down a while (and I’m still “on vacation” from watering, even in Northport, where the rain has done that job for me while the awnings are down for cleaning), it’s time to pick up the pace once again, because this week is our last Thursday Evening Author event of the 25th-year anniversary season. Please join us at 7 p.m. for geology, poetry, and live music from Thomas Hooker of Texas and Cherry Home, Northport. (If there is such a thing as a part-time local, that’s what Tom is.) This is our last TEA! And Labor Day is right around the corner!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Haunted By Moose

The area encompassed by Leelanau Township is 227.6 square miles. Isle Royale in Lake Superior has an area of 206.7 square miles. On Isle Royale there are 1500 moose. 

Can those of you who live in or know Leelanau Township imagine it with a moose population of 1500? Where would they all sleep? Okay, that’s just being silly, but the overpopulation problem is real, as the wolf population on the island is now reduced to two, and those two — mother and son are also sister and brother — cannot reproduce. Elderly besides, they are unable, without help from other wolves (presently unavailable), to take down moose and survive instead on a diet of small mammals and the occasional moose that dies of natural causes. 

My TEA guest this week (that's Thursday Evening Authors, the literary series celebrating my bookstore's 25th anniversary), author Loreen Niewenhuis, told us that one devastating cause of wolf die-off was canine parvovirusA domestic dog infected with the virus was brought to the island, and the infection spread through the two then-resident wolf packs, killing large numbers of animals. Another problem was inbreeding. In colder years, and with fewer humans living on the Lake Superior shore, wolves could cross back and forth from the island to the mainland. Illness, inbreeding, climate change -- all have contributed to killing off wolves on Isle Royale.

Poor wolves, you may be thinking, but the moose have problems of their own. Think of overcrowded human cities and endemic poverty. Also, moose cows commonly produce twins. Without predation by a healthy wolf pack, the moose population is on the rise. (If you missed Loreen Dog Ears Books’ TEA this week, you can read a bit about the problem here.) Moose love balsam fir. The trees don’t get very tall, as the moose browse their tops. What would happen if too many moose “deforested” the island?

Since I’ve been reading Collapse: How Societies Decide To Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond (and I wonder if the title was chosen or guided by the publisher, because it hardly seems the Easter Islanders made a conscious decision to starve) and can’t help seeing parallels between human populations and societies and those of our animal relatives. With those thoughts in mind, this morning I was not only haunted by problems of human civilization but also haunted by moose. Maybe I am just haunted in general by the challenges of life on this beautiful, tough, fragile, dearly beloved green and blue planet of ours.

Loreen Niewenhuis has spent the month of May on Isle Royale for four years and will go again in 2019 as part of a 61-year study, the “longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.” The current plan is to introduce new wolves onto the island, in hopes of bringing the wolf-moose system back into some kind of “balance,” although Loreen says that one thing the Isle Royale study shows very clearly is that the idea of “balance” in nature is more fiction than fact. 

I don't know how to wrap up or conclude this post, either. I'm sure the haunting will continue for a long time, maybe for the rest of my life, though I will probably haunt the moose and wolves only in the pages of books and leave the big adventures to people like Loreen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

More Than a Metaphor

Fresh-mown hay lying in rows
An unexpected theme emerged serendipitously, a gift of Fate. How would I have predicted that the environmental writer who went to Russia with the World Wildlife Fund would end up living in a little village where people still made hay the old-fashioned way? That’s what happened in The Storks’ Nest, by Laura Lynne Williams. Still captivated by that book, how could I guess that my husband would then bring home for me a book called Making Hay, by Verlyn Klinkenborg?
…Haying is what I always loved about the farm; alfalfa, far more than corn, summed up agriculture for me. It was raised and baled on the farm, fed on the farm, and spread as manure on the farm. No one ever trucked it away. It had the right smell. And rural life never looks better than when haying weather hits Minnesota, Iowa, or Montana.
I agree. And while I’m sure few people in Minnesota, Iowa, or Montana associate hay-making with Michigan, yet here too, in cherry and apple country, the magic and sweat of hay perfumes and punctuates summer. 

Well-stacked wagon
Two books, though, are no more than a coincidence. What odds would you have given that a book on history and economics, falling into my hands in a stack of books brought to my bookstore for trade credit, would reference in the very first chapter trips the writer made to Montana to work with friends on — yes! — their hay harvest? And yet that was the case with Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. 
…[W]hile I was a student in college, I came back for the summer … with two college friends and my sister, and we all worked … on the hay harvest, I driving a scatterrake, my sister a muckrake, and my two friends stacking hay. 
In Klinkenborg’s book are all the details of every piece of machinery involved and how it operates and the fixes required when something goes haywire

Fresh alfalfa hay, maddeningly fragrant and so picturesque when bales dot a mown field: I confess I love the look more than a vista of orchards, even when the trees are in full bloom. 

Former hayfield, now in cherries
One cherry farmer friend told me they’d made hay on their farm this year, not because they have livestock of their own but for another farmer in the township who does. Back a few years ago, a next-door neighbor mowed our meadow and fed the mixed grasses, wildflowers, and volunteer alfalfa to his Scottish longhorn. I miss those cattle and Bob, too. I miss having our wild hay feed the neighbors’ cattle. 
Alfalfa persisting in the grass....

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Nothing Is What It Used To Be

remains of cherry tree

Up to the days of Indiana’s early statehood, probably as late as 1825, there stood, in what is now the beautiful little city of Vincennes on the Wabash, the decaying remnant of an old and curiously gnarled cherry tree, known as the Rousillon tree, le cerisier de Monsieur Roussillon, as the French inhabitants called it, which as long as it lived bore fruit remarkable for richness of flavor and peculiar dark ruby depth of color. The exact spot where this noble old seedling from la belle France flourished, declined, and died cannot be certainly pointed out; for in the rapid and happy growth of Vincennes many land-marks once notable, among them le cerisier de Monsieur Roussillon, have been destroyed and the spots where they stood, once familiar to every eye in old Vincennes, are now lost in the pleasant confusion of the new town.  - Maurice Thompson, Alice of Old Vincennes

Thompson dedicated his historical novel to Dr. Placide Valcour, who inspired the book by providing the author with an “ancient and, alas! fragmentary epistle” from the year 1788, the mildewed remains of a letter written by none other than Gaspard Roussillon. The paragraph quoted above is the opening of the first chapter of the novel, a chapter called “Under the Cherry Tree,” and it struck me as appropriate not only to my theme today but also to the place from which it originates — Northport, Michigan, in the heart of northern Great Lakes cherry country. 

(J. Maurice Thompson, who died in 1901, is a well-known Indiana author. His best-known classic, The Witchery of Archery, is available again in reprint, but first editions from 1878 still command well over four hundred dollars.) 

Welcome to Northport
Recently a Northport local and born-and-bred native said to me sadly, “This isn’t the town I grew up in.” I can understand and sympathize, because even in the scant quarter-century that I’ve known Northport it has seen a lot of changes (I am grateful for some and sigh over others), but when I look past the confines of this little Michigan village I can’t find a single place that has not changed in the lifetimes of its residents. The South Dakota town where I was born, the northern Illinois town where I grew up — both are nearly unrecognizable when modern scenes are compared to old black-and-white family snapshots. What would I find if I searched out the dusty old Ohio road (probably paved now) where my grandparents raised fruit and vegetables and kept chickens for eggs to sell, where my grandmother milked a cow, and where the simple house had no indoor plumbing into the 1950s? That neighborhood today would not be the place where my mother grew up, I’m sure, just as, when I visit my mother these days in northern Illinois, my own sensibilities continue to be jarred by housing developments across the road where my girlhood self watched thunderstorms and sunsets over fields of corn and soybeans. Even the grade school my sisters and I attended (new when I entered third grade) has already been torn down to make room for yet more houses. Houses, houses everywhere! No more vacant lots where we kids could dig "forts" and climb wild trees.

Nothing is what it used to be. Anywhere.

The other side of the coin is demonstrated by towns that have vanished (or nearly so) rather than changing. Virginia Johnson, my August 2 TEA guest at Dog Ears Books, describes in her memoir, Ira’s Farm, a northern Michigan village called Harlan that no longer exists. Isadore in Leelanau County can still be found at the crossroads of Schomberg and Gatske Roads, and the Catholic church still stands, but all the “bustle” of the earlier Polish community moved down to Cedar a long time ago.

Nothing stays the same. 

Another fascinating book I’m reading right now is The Storks’ Nest [Life and Love in the Russian Countryside], by Laura Lynne Williams. Working with the World Wildlife Fund, the author moved to Moscow in 1993, where she met Igor Shpilenok and moved to work with him — eventually to live with and ultimately marry him and raise a family — in the Bryansk Forest Nature Reserve. Williams describes their remote village, its population having declined from over 300 to a mere nineteen inhabitants:
…The villagers here have never had it easy. There were so many strikes against them: floods, famine, purges, collectivization, war, resettlement, and the absence of a road. Now the only people left in Chukrai are those who weren’t smart or lucky enough to leave. And then there are Igor and me, two naturalists who find solace in the village’s remoteness, in its total immersion in the wilderness of the Bryansk Forest, and in each other.
Williams tells her love story but does not romanticize the villagers’ lives. Alcoholism and poverty for some or, for others, endless, back-breaking physical work and poverty are their lot in life. 
When the grasses grow long and the sun shines, the villagers make hay. All day they swing their scythes, making nearly full arcs around their bodies. The grass falls in neat rows, and soon the open fields around the village are laid flat. The villagers stop only to sip kvas and eat salo and bread. The women wear white scarves tied tightly around their heads to divert the heat. One cow needs approximately three tons of hay to last the winter. One fit person could make this much hay in approximately twelve days. Hay is usually cut twice: first in July and again in August. About three days after the hay is down, if there is no rain, the villagers help each other stack the dry grasses and compress them into dense piles. The men toss the hay up on the stacks with their pitchforks, and the women trample it with their feet. 
The villagers cut hay all day, day after day, until the work is done, but Laura finds herself exhausted after a few hours, and this, mind you, is in the 1990s, not the 1890s. When one old woman in the village dies, by the time her body is discovered it has been ravaged (I won’t go into details) by rats and by her own cat. Her burial — there is no funeral service, but two other village women prepare her body and dress her for her coffin — turns out to be more an occasion for drinking and eating, especially drinking, than any memorial to the departed. Life has changed many times over in Chukrai. In the course of living residents' memories, people were executed or sent to prison or fled invaders, and houses slumped back into the earth. Has only hard work remained the same?

These days in Northport cherries are harvested with mechanical shakers rather than being picked by hand (but workers still get out on foot to prune the trees). No one grows large fields of potatoes or asparagus commercially here any more, as far as I know, and sure it is that school no longer closes in the fall for what used to be called “potato vacation” (i.e., so the kids could work the potato harvest). Housing prices have soared, making home purchase difficult for young families. Yes, much has changed, not only the new marina buildings, new sidewalks and streetlights on Nagonaba Street, new golf course, and new recycling station-in-progress north of town. Old tree giants that used to stand in front of what is now the Tribune and on both sides of the former Totem Shop (now Porcupine) are, like le cerisier de Monsieur Roussillon in Vincennes, Indiana, long gone. 

Beautiful boat harbor
New recycling station will be here
No more trains
But just as the waters of the Wabash River still flow through Indiana, Northport still looks out on Grand Traverse Bay. Mountains, lakes, and rivers — they keep us oriented in place, through changes over time.

There have been days this summer when I’ve wished I could “freeze” Northport right where it is now. We’ve left behind the sad doldrums of a decade ago but aren’t insanely crazy-busy and crowded like Glen Arbor. Right now is not "the good old days" to some, not the "brighter future others" envision, but it seems good to me. I guess I just have to keep murmuring my mantra, reminding myself over and over, I’m here now, I’m here now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Yipes! It's Tomorrow!

My ninth of this summer's eleven Thursday Evening Author events is only one day away, and I want to highlight the kid-friendly aspect of Bill O. Smith's books and presentation style. He does not do a "reading" but a performance! So rain or shine, 7 p.m. Thursday, bring the little ones, and we'll have fruit punch instead of iced tea at TEA this week.

P.S. Artists of all ages will appreciate Charlie Murphy's lovely illustrations of this new chickadee book, too.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Gifts of August Come Our Way

On one back road this week I noticed goldenrod beginning to flower and was startled this morning, on a more travelled road, to see bracken fern turning yellow and brown. So soon! Summer is still here, however, and the beauty of prolific coneflowers in my meadow attests to that fact. When the last of the coneflowers begin to fade, I will mourn their passing, sorrowing over their brief bloom, but then blue and purple and lavender and pink and white asters will take their place and gladden my heart in their turn.

Our TEA guest this past week was heart-gladdening writer Karen Anderson, who brought leaves from “God’s begonia” for audience members to take home and root. There is a lovely story in her book, Gradual Clearing, about Karen’s “missionary” work with a begonia that has, in her words, taken over her life. I look at the single innocent leaf on my front porch table, resting quietly in a water-filled cream pitcher, and wonder how much of my life it may grow to fill. Should I be alarmed? For now I am simply grateful to have met Karen Anderson at last, after hearing her on the radio for so many years and gratified that she was willing to come to Northport and that she was pleased by her audience at Dog Ears Books. I asked her to sign a stack of books for bookstore customers yet to come, as it is the perfect birthday, thank-you, or holiday gift.

Friday is slow-down time for me. Bruce is back in the shop after a couple weeks away for family reunion, and I celebrated my Partial Day Off (PDO) by hanging laundry outdoors at a leisurely pace (rather than in my usual predawn rush), followed by al fresco lunch under green leaves rustling in the breeze. Then clean sheets on the bed, clean tablecloth on the porch table, and small pockets of my little world gradually become more orderly. What a lovely gift it is to pause for half an hour on a quiet August day and do little more than watch leaves toss gently in a refreshing breeze! How would I ever have survived 25 years as a bookseller without the occasional backup of my loyal volunteer?

And now, already, tomorrow — Saturday the 11th of August this year is dog parade day in Northport! Can you believe it’s that time already?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Up North Early August Weather Report

In most parts of the country, the weather changes from day to day, and seasons are not clearly delineated except on calendars. One morning in late July, I walked out of the house into what felt like September. After a stormy night, waves pounding the shore of Lake Michigan a mile away were clearly audible from my front yard, and fall was in the air. Then summer returned, with beach temperatures continued for happy, vacationing swimmers. 

Cherry harvest, like summer, like fall, does not happen all at once but begins in the southernmost part of Leelanau County and gradually inches north. Thus it is that some farmers have crews in the orchard, “shaking” (cherries harvest with mechanical shakers these days rather than being picked from the trees by hand), while others have a good three weeks yet before they're ready to start.

When you live in the country, farmer or no, you develop a weather eye. 

Is it time to make hay? Is the forecast favorable? What does the sky look like? From what direction comes that breeze? How does the air feel, and what are the leaves on the trees saying? 

Our hearts and minds have weather of their own, sometimes mysterious affected by larger invisible forces. When the whole family wakes up cranky, maybe the barometric pressure is falling, while another day, be it sunny or filled with gentle rain, will bring joy and contentment.

Those of you who live here Up North will recognize Karen Anderson’s name — and her voice — from hearing her on Interlochen Public Radio. If you’ve been around long enough, her regular column in the Record-Eagle is part of your local memory. Whether you have known her before or not, Karen’s new book, a gathering of radio essays she composed and performed on air over the years, will bring calm, peaceful weather to your storm-tossed soul. She has a gift, employed with a sure, light touch, for noticing life’s small, wondrous moments and objects and them bringing to our attention.

Karen Anderson’s special gift to us this season is a lovely collection, Gradual Clearing: Weather Reports From the Heart. With each essay complete on a single page, Gradual Clearing is an undemanding book; the visions and thoughts it presents, however, make it richly rewarding. I cannot forecast how you will receive the gift — reading it immediately, cover to cover, unable to stop, or stretching the pleasure out for weeks into the future, dipping here and there — but however you do, your pleasure is guaranteed. 

And if that were not enough, Dog Ears Books is delighted to have Karen Anderson as our Thursday Evening Author this week, right here at 106 Waukazoo Street on Thursday, August 9, beginning at 7 p.m. This will be the eighth of eleven TEA events in this our 25th anniversary year and not too late for those of you who haven’t managed one yet to come celebrate with us!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Northport Loves Books

Virginia Johnson, my most recent TEA guest
[In which some old photographs appear....]

Summer of 2018 has seen two landmark literary anniversaries in the village of Northport: the 50th anniversary of the Leelanau Township Library on Nagonaba Street and the 25th anniversary of Dog Ears Books, born on Waukazoo Street and now back on Waukazoo again. A half-century and a quarter-century — noteworthy milestones in the life of our village, our township, and our county.

Volunteer-maintained library garden
Although the current Leelanau Township Library building opened to the public on May 20, 1968, Northport residents were investing in their library as early as 1856, when Rev. George Smith noted in his diary that books were to be purchased in Chicago for use by the “Town Library.”  Before moving to its present home in 1968, the library’s collection was housed at various times in an earlier Township Hall; in different homes and businesses; on the second floor of a local store; and in a house on Waukazoo Street.

Original Dog Ears Books
Dog Ears Books first appeared much later, opening for business on July 4, 1993 on Waukazoo Street in a little shed next door to the old Woody’s Settling Inn. (Who remembers?) Both shed and restaurant have since disappeared, replaced by Tucker’s, but after a stretch of several years in different buildings on Nagonaba Street, I am content to be back on Waukazoo Street, near the modest beginnings of my bookstore and next door to the studio and gallery of my husband, artist David Grath. 

Both library and bookstore have seen support for their endeavors increase over the years. The two book venues have loyal followers among summer residents, as well as the love of year-round residents.

One library fan, Pauline McClure, summed up her experiences as a former long-time volunteer at the Leelanau Township Library over the years by saying, “One of my greatest joys was patrons coming in and gushing over their favorite library or, at this time of year, returning from wherever and expressing how much they missed and loved this library, asking what would ‘we’ do without you, and so forth. The ‘we,’ of course, is a community of loyal patrons and visitors who realize what a treasured resource we enjoy in this small, award-winning library."

Appreciative library audience
A bookstore customer friend and Northport resident who also happens to be a nationally known writer, Sarah Shoemaker (author of Mr. Rochester, the biggest book launch I ever hosted), when asked about her favorite book find at Dog Ears Books, responded instead in general terms: “What I have found at Dog Ears is a warm welcome, an open mind and heart, good and wise advice on books and life in general. I love the author visits, the chance to sit and listen to an author read, and to ask questions and buy the books and get them signed. I love that there are so many books at Dog Ears that have a local connection.” The bookstore has a wide-ranging collection, in terms of both content and price, but naturally focuses as much as possible on Michigan history and fiction. When book-lovers like Sarah take the time to peruse and appreciate my collection, I am richly rewarded.

The late Mac Thomas launches his life story at Dog Ears Books
In the course of its history, the Leelanau Township Library has invited a wide array of guest authors for its Summer Writers Series in July and its Poetry Month events in April. Dog Ears Books has brought many writers to Northport over the years, as well, and has hosted its own author events. In fact, library and bookstore guests have overlapped more than once. One such was the late Al Bona, a good friend and a marvelous local poet. Here he is reading at the library:

Al Bona at library poetry evening
And so, while the general public may see libraries and bookstores as competitors, librarians and booksellers don’t see their work in that light. Our aims are complementary, and we often work together. Librarian Nellie Danke agrees with me. "We share many of the same goals and both want to promote reading, writing and learning,” says Danke. “The community really benefits from having more than one resource.”

(As a side note, I'll add that bookstore owners in various Leelanau County villages have generally regarded one another as colleagues, rather than as competitors. We call each other to inquire about things our customers have that we don't have in stock often send each other customers on general principle. That collegiality is a wonderful aspect for me of bookselling here Up North.)

The Leelanau Township Library has been presenting its  annual Summer Writers Series on Tuesday evenings this summer, and Dog Ears Books (as readers of this blog are already well aware) has been hosting a summer-long literary season called  "Thursday Evening Authors," TEA for short, to celebrate our quarter-century mark. See my sidebar for remaining events and visit the library website for theirs.

Under a beach umbrella, in a gently swinging hammock, or in front of a cozy fire while a blizzard rages outdoors, we in Northport count books -- and writers -- as valued neighbors. Northport loves books, and the Leelanau Township Library and Dog Ears Books are happy to welcome locals and visitors alike to indulge that love. As you can see from this sampling of images, we are making literary memories to last a lifetime.

Many writer friends pictured here
Postscript: The story of my bookstore would not be complete without mention of my loyal volunteer of many years, Bruce Bales. Without Bruce, I would never have had a day off in the summer! Bruce, Dog Ears Books salutes you and thanks you!

My volunteer "contingent," Bruce Bales
And I should not omit mention of Sarah, since so many bookstore visitors adore our darling doggie. Here she is a few years younger, charming summer visitors. And for those who were concerned, I'll tell you that she came through her surgery on Thursday with flying colors. The girl is good! Thanks to everyone who's been asking!

Sarah and friends