Search This Blog

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Snippets From Township and Village -- “in these uncertain times”

It will be August in only one week! Cherry harvest is underway. Nursery stock has begun to go on sale. In the wild, chicory and Queen Anne’s-lace are joined by spotted knapweed, that invader of Leelanau hills and fields that is, however, not despised by bees. No big festivals this year, nor small ones, either. Even the Thursday Evening Author series at Dog Ears Books is not taking place in this strange summer of 2020. We do, thank heaven, have farmers market in Northport on Friday mornings, something to anticipate eagerly all week long.

Northport marina parking lot on Monday morning
Farmers market. on Friday morning

My bookstore is open Tuesdays through Saturdays. “You’re risking your life to sell books,” one local customer friend remarked yesterday in mild tones. Was he chiding me? Expressing gratitude? Did he feel his life was in danger when he came in to buy a local author’s memoir? I don’t know. These days, with all of us concentrating on wearing our masks properly, sanitizing our hands, maintaining correct social distance, and conducting business transactions as expeditiously as possible, I don’t get into many deep discussions in my bookstore.

Bruce Catton: Civil War books

My customers, however, continue to be cooperative and pleasant. They appreciate being allowed again into bookstores and libraries. And we readers are reading a lot these days, more than ever. I’m finally reading one of Bruce Catton’s books on the Civil War. 

…During the last few years events themselves had been irrational; politics in America could no longer be wholly sane. Here and there, like flickers of angry light before a thunderstorm, there had been bursts of violence, and although political debate continued, the nearness of violence—the reality of it, the mounting threat that it would monstrously grow and drown out all voices—made the debaters should more loudly and appeal more directly to emotions that made reasonable debate impossible. Men put special meaning on words and phrases, so that what sounded good to one sounded evil to another, and certain slogans took on their own significance and became portentous, streaming in the heated air like banners against the sunset; and even the voices that called for moderation became immoderate. American politicians could do almost anything on earth except sit down and take a reasoned and dispassionate view of their situation. - Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury

Long a fan of Catton’s memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train, and his Michigan: A Bicentennial History, until now I have avoided his multivolume Civil War works, because, open almost any book on the Civil War and you are confronted with more dates and battles than you can shake a bayonet at. Officers are continually changing rank and assignment, troop movements are given in what a friend called, years ago, “penetrating and remorseless detail.” (The friend was talking about something else, but his instantly memorable phrase entered our household memory bank then and there, to be pulled out whenever an occasion calls for it.) History fascinates me, but it’s ideas and politics and journalism and people’s daily lives I want, not military strategies and campaigns. Strictly military history is not for me.

But I should have known that Bruce Catton could not write history that I would find boring! 

Old favorites, highly recommended

American society was in turmoil in 1860. Underlying much of the turmoil were big changes in world economics and technology. Cottage industries were giving way to large-scale manufacturing that threatened the self-sufficiency of small farmers and villagers, and what was for so long a quiet, local American economy was becoming a global web, its threads set vibrating by events faraway and out of sight of workers. Whole populations were on the move. The North viewed immigrants from Europe with suspicion, while the South, clinging to their culture of slavery, saw their region’s dependence on imports spelling out eventual doom. 

And in the midst of all this uneasiness, 1860, like 2020, was an election year. 

The Democrats could not agree on Stephen Douglas as a candidate for the presidency – as Catton put it, “the North derided him for liking slavery too much, and the deep South hated him because he liked it too little” – and finally the party split in two, with Northern Democrats running Douglas and Southern Democrats settling for Breckenridge. Everyone in the country, including William H. Seward, viewed Seward as a shoo-in for the Republican nomination, but somehow in the end the nod went to “gawky frontiersman” Abraham Lincoln. A fourth party brought forward yet another presidential candidate. Long before votes were cast, however, Southerners were planning state conventions to decide whether or not the expected election of Lincoln would be sufficient cause for them to secede from the Union.

The Artist likes to quote what he says is an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” My own feeling is that there cannot have been any time on earth when life was not interesting, but I understand that he takes the saying as a reference to times of crisis and catastrophe, fascinating in retrospect but frightening and sometimes life-threatening as one is living through them. The year 2020 has certainly given us “interesting times” already, and it’s doubtful the year will grow any less interesting or anxiety-provoking as November approaches. Again, in our own time -- corporations shipping jobs overseas to cheaper labor markets or replacing workers with robots to boost the bottom line -- as in 1860, immigrants and racial minorities serve as political footballs.

Times of social upheaval, with technological and/or social innovations throwing a market for employment into disarray, have always put human beings at each other’s throats. Choose the particular hill on which you are willing to die, conveniently setting aside other complicated issues, and you have chosen your enemy -- who may well be your next-door neighbor. The editor of the Cincinnati Commercial described attendees at the convention in Charleston as “screaming like panthers and gesticulating like monkeys.” 

Sounds a lot like Facebook, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, recent rain swelled and split local cherries. Not good. Creeks and lakes rise to destructive levels in many places. The sun shines on a regular basis to bring the annual parade of wildflowers to blossom, each in turn, and as Northern Lights waver tantalizingly overhead the comet Neowise hangs in the evening sky, and the International Space Station circles the earth. Here in the northwest lower peninsula of our state, we view the sky over Lake Michigan. Elsewhere in the country Americans scan for heavenly bodies and activity over fields of wheat or mountains or deserts. 

And as the summer flies past, most of us, at least in Leelanau County, continue to take precautions against COVID-19. The future’s not ours to see. It never has been. But we should probably slow down and think about it a little more dispassionately. Talk less, listen more. Be slower to anger. Register to vote.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

What Next? (I refrain, please note, from full caps.)

Where (on earth) are we going?

First it’s beastly hot
And then it’s not.
Then we have the sun
And then the rain.
Cloudy skies abide
And then retreat
It’s undecided now,
So is it gonna do?

Waukazoo Street on Saturday morning
We were fortunate on Friday for farmers market in Northport in having an absolutely perfect day. It was a good day to have the bookstore door open, too, with Bruce at the helm and me taking time off at home with old Sarah-dog. Saturday came the deluge! Then Sunday morning both sky and forecast threatened more storms, but clouds moved off around midday and let us enjoy perfection once again, with a much lowered humidity and strong, refreshing breeze. 

Sunday and Monday are both days off this year at Dog Ears Books, but, expecting a UPS delivery, I came in for a while on Monday after latte outdoors (we braved the cool morning air) at the New Bohemian Café with a friend, and not only did my book order arrive earlier than anticipated, but so many people came in to browse and buy books that I stayed until almost 5 p.m. A full day in the bookstore, after all. Could not turn away people who were so happy to find the door open!

Glorious composites of July!

Backing up to the beginning of the weekend -- the Artist and I failed to see the meteor when we went out to wait for it on Friday, and maybe we should have been disappointed; however, it was so lovely and calm and peaceful out there on the hillside overlooking Lake Michigan as the stars came out that staying out late seemed more than worthwhile. We reminisced and shared memories of our respective childhoods and watched what we later learned from a knowledgeable friend had probably been the International Space Station – although when I went online to check its orbit, I only became confused, but I’m going to believe that what we saw was the ISS, as our friend so familiarly called it.

But while all that was part of our peaceful country life Up North, we remain connected to a larger world – the larger world, the world of conflict, dissension, anger, and resentment – the world in which, for years now, the “unbelievable” has been occurring on a daily basis. We here Up North are not playing ostrich, nor do we deny responsibility for our share of both the problems and what we hope will be solutions. Many people are working hard, and I see battle fatigue in friends’ faces (what I can see of their faces, what with masks covering our mouths and noses to protect each other from coronavirus transmission) and also “hear” rage erupting out of fear in the FULL CAPS of Facebook posts. But I am trying to listen carefully and (when possible) sympathetically before rushing to respond, to think about what others may be trying to say, not just how their words sound, and also, often now, to pass by without comment those spewings that indicate a mind too upset to hear me without winding itself tighter and tighter. 

And, as often in my life, I turn to books.

One book I’m reading right now is a fictionalized biography (it reads like a novel) of Mangas Colorado, by Will Levington Comfort, titled simply Apache, and another is a book of essays by Isaiah Berlin, Against the Current. I read in Apache last night and this morning opened the larger book to Berlin’s essay called “The Originality of Machiavelli,” in which he argues that almost all critics of Machiavelli have failed to grasp the essential position, what Machiavelli saw (Berlin believed) as “an insoluble dilemma,” or “two incompatible moral worlds,” that of a virtuous private life or that of successful existence in the social world, a dilemma that forces choice on all human beings but most implacably on political leaders. Basically, Machiavelli believed, one can emulate Jesus or Caesar, but not both – and only the emulation of Caesar will keep a nation strong and together. It’s interesting to me to think of Mangas Colorado (as presented by Comfort) as a wise Machiavellian leader, though in the end he and his were outnumbered and outgunned….

If you are wondering what Machiavelli might think about present-day American national leadership, I would say that Berlin would say that Machiavelli would say that it fails on both counts: it fails to be virtuous (in which case it would necessarily, according to Machiavelli, fail as leadership), but it also fails as strong leadership. This, however, is my point of view as seen through the lens of an interpreter of a thinker who was himself interpreting mankind in the early sixteenth century, so make of it what you will.

Was Machiavelli right about human nature? That is another question to ask of anyone, to be answered only after we have determined for ourselves what that person said and believed.

Berlin himself coined the phrase “agonistic pluralism” to describe American political society. Pluralism is the idea that there are multiple incommensurate values that cannot be purged altogether of conflict, and hence we have social agon, or conflict. What does this mean for the future of democracy, in our country or in the world? Here is an essay on the subject that I need to read carefully. If you read it, too, let me know what you think. 

Today's flowers and greenery are a reminder that while Nature can be "red in tooth and claw," in other moods she can also soothe our souls when we are, perhaps, weary of each other. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

What DO We Have This Summer?

Cherry harvest is getting underway this week in Leelanau Township. It feels early but is actually just about right on schedule. “Black-eyed Susans already!” I exclaim, but what should they have waited for? It’s their time. Just because Dog Ears Books opened on July 1st instead of May 15th doesn’t mean Nature or farmers were snoozing. 

So many things are not happening this year that it’s easy to be caught up in everything we’re missing. No Music in the Park on Friday evenings, for instance. But since we’re all aware of the many cancelled events, I don’t need to get into listing them here. Instead, let’s see what we have this summer – and I refer you to the cherries at the top of my post and offer you more, along with a reminder that Farmers Market is happening, every Friday in Northport, as well as other mornings in different villages of Leelanau County, as well as Saturdays in Traverse City.

In terms of fruit, we had wonderful strawberries in June, and raspberries are coming in now. The trellis on our old barn (originally intended for wisteria that has now climbed up to bloom on the roof) gave me a strange experience yesterday: climbing a ladder – very carefully! -- to pick black raspberries, a wild “crop” particularly abundant this year, and I look forward to making what I call my “blackstraw” jam, as strawberries wait in the freezer while raspberries accumulate…. Fruits of summer are colorful, as are vegetables and flowers. 

The lovely, lush, eagerly anticipated tray of fresh parsley, however, is not to be, as ground squirrels are also present in plentiful number this season. Those little rascals! And they are so darned cute, too, the little stinkers!

Books I have in every season, wherever I am, as you know, and this summer is no exception. Always a re-reader, I may be doing more of that right now – hungry for visits with old friends – but I’ve been venturing far and beyond, as well. Nelson DeMille is a popular author whose work I had never sampled before. Though family members recommended Up Country two years ago, it was only now, July 2020, that I read the book, and I feel as if I’ve had a tour of the country from south to north, complete with historical episodes of French and American involvement and sociological lessons on ethnic hill tribes. With plenty of dialogue and suspense, however, the novel is anything but dry. It's a page-turner!

Other books I’ve read recently appear in the list at right. What have you been reading, and what is on your To-Read list? How about this one?

Here in northern Michigan, on our little peninsula jutting into what we often call simply the Big Lake, we have plenty of blue sky and blue water and even many smaller lakes. No need to be loud and rowdy. Peaceful and serene is the order of summer pleasure this year.

As you bicycle or walk or cruise along county roads, be sure to notice the lovely fields, both cultivated and fallow or wild.

Revel in natural greenery, majestic trees, and abundant shade.

Be grateful for loving companions, whether or not they are readers, too. 

Say "Yes!" to life!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Everyone Here Is Behaving Very Well!

Home, sweet barn! I got used to isolation....

If you know me or if you’ve been reading this blog for the last few weeks and months, you’ll know I was very nervous about re-opening my bookstore, and I was not alone in that, either: a dear friend retired from the bookstore business was worried about me, too. So preparation, planning, and precautions were in order – as they are these days for all of us, whatever we’re doing.

First came a curatorial cleaning, in which I was helped and outright directed (I needed direction!) by a friend experienced with the care of collections. Following that came a week or two (I forget already how long the next phase lasted) where customers could stop by to pick up special orders. And then on July 1, with all due care (masks required, hand sanitizer for those wanting to handle books, limit of six customers at a time in the shop), I re-opened my bookstore to the public for the first time since the Saturday following Thanksgiving 2019.

And so far it's been going very well!

I have been pleased with and grateful to people who have visited Dog Ears Books during our first week back in business. Not one single person has complained about the mask requirement! In fact, not one person has even stuck an unmasked face through the doorway! Yesterday a couple paused at the door to ask if there was room for them in the shop, and, since they were #5 and #6, I invited them on in, whereupon another man said he would pay for his book and leave to make room for someone else. Consideration for others, wonderfully, is the order of the day in my bookstore.

Also, more than one customer has told me that one of the hardest things about the long weeks of stay-at-home/quarantine was not being able to browse in bookstores, and I sense a new realization on the part of the public that being able to visit a bookstore is not as certain as every day’s sunrise and sunset. Relief and gratitude translates more easily into sales now than it might have a year ago, too. We’re here now, but none of us can see the future, so today is the day to buy that book found so serendipitously!

I sold my last copy of Kathleen Stocking’s From the Place of the Gathering Light: Leelanau Pieces, and who knows when that book may be reprinted? Not this summer, I’m sure. Another woman was looking for something positive and encouraging and was happy to purchase Emita Hill’s Northern Harvest: Twenty Women in Food and Farming. Those oral histories are certainly encouraging stories. Other readers are grappling with difficult issues in American history – or turning to fiction for a pleasant, if temporary escape.

There are many different kinds of books and an almost infinite number of individual titles desirable and/or pertinent and/or enlightening during this strange and unsettling, very unsettled summer of 2020, a time of pandemic and a time of national reassessment. I’m glad to be here, with books available (and new orders going out and new books coming in every week), and I hope the consideration and safety of our first week continues through the rest of the summer. Thanks, everyone!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Here, for the 4th of July, a T-Shirt and a Poem

A writer friend, critical of our nation's true history as well as much that is happening in American society today, was asked this question over and over, “Why don’t you love your country?” The person asking seemed incapable of understanding my friend’s answer, which was “I do love my country!” She loves the land, the people, the lofty ideals. My friend simply wants what so many of us want, which is for our country’s policies, foreign and domestic, to reflect our stated ideals and for all our citizens to respect and protect one another.

Perfection, of course, is a moving target, but certainly we can aim to be better and, aiming sincerely, improve. We can make the future brighter than the past has been.

Pictured above is one of my favorite t-shirts. Like so many in what I would not even presume to call a “wardrobe,” this one came from a thrift shop. I couldn’t resist it, and I love to wear it. “When was America ever kind?” the Artist asked the last time he saw me in the shirt.

I told him it’s like the Langston Hughes poem, “Let America Be America Again,” a poem written 85 years ago during the Great Depression, when Hughes and so many millions in America and around the world were struggling to make ends meet, let alone to realize their dreams. There is sharp poignancy in that word again, since the America that Hughes envisioned, as he makes clear in the poem, “…never has been yet.” 

I have a connection to Langston Hughes, tenuous but important to me. After she graduated from high school, my mother worked for an organization (perhaps the YMCA or YWCA) that sponsored a local reading by the poet, and since she was responsible for putting the event together, my mother was privileged to meet Langston Hughes, who inscribed a copy of his autobiography for her. That treasured book now belongs to me. 

So for July 4, 2020, I want to share my favorite Langston Hughes poem with you who have known it for years as well as you who have perhaps never read it before, because – you know this troubled country of ours? We don’t always act as if we know it, but we truly are all in this together.

Happy 4th, friends! Let freedom ring!

by Langston Hughes 

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain 

Seeking a home where he himself is free. 

(America never was America to me.) 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed — 
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 

That any man be crushed by one above. 

(It never was America to me.) 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty 
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, 
But opportunity is real, and life is free, 
Equality is in the air we breathe. 

(There's never been equality for me, 
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") 

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, 

I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek — 

And finding only the same old stupid plan 
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. 

I am the young man, full of strength and hope, 
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! 

Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed! 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean — 

Hungry yet today despite the dream. 
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years. 

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream 
In the Old World while still a serf of kings, 
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, 
That even yet its mighty daring sings 
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned 
That's made America the land it has become. 
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home — 

For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore, 
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea, 
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came 
To build a "homeland of the free." 

The free? 

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today? 

The millions shot down when we strike? 
The millions who have nothing for our pay? 
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay — 

Except the dream that's almost dead today. 

O, let America be America again — 
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be--the land where every man is free. 

The land that's mine — the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME —
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, 

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, 
Must bring back our mighty dream again. 

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose — 
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, 

We must take back our land again, 

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me, 

And yet I swear this oath — 
America will be! 

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, 
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, 
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. 

The mountains and the endless plain — 
All, all the stretch of these great green states — And make America again! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Before We Get Started

Straits of Mackinac -- water, water everywhere --
If a story is told backwards, from the end to the beginning, so that both writer and reader finish where it started, maybe -- this is what I’m thinking – it will remain in reading minds with everything yet to come, anticipated rather than left behind, and that way nothing in the story will end. Because with today July 1, the first official open day of 2020 for Dog Ears Books (very late this year, and with many cautionary measures in place – please see here), I am loathe to say good-by to our little, all-too-short, pre-season road trip to the Upper Peninsula.

My favorite!
Our last stop on the way back south to the Mackinac Bridge was Lehto’s Pasties, where we got one “hot one” to share for lunch and two frozen to take home. No, that wasn’t the very last stop, though, because half a mile or so down the highway is a rest area, and that was where we ate our lunch at a picnic table high over the Straits of Mackinac.

Mary's magical garden
Back up the way apiece, we had stopped at my friend Mary’s country bookshop, First Edition Too on Worth Road, where the Artist enjoyed Mary’s magical garden setting and visited with her husband while I shopped for books (a Frank Waters; a biography of Cochise; another copy of Parnassus on Wheels; and a paperback study of Max Weber), caught up with Mary, and was introduced to her beautiful chickens. I never leave First Edition Too empty-handed but always carry away treasures, and the day could not have been lovelier, the garden pleasanter, the bookshop more inviting, or our peaceful welcome more satisfying.

Entrance to a wonderland

Bookseller behind plexiglass

Chickens behind chickenwire

Handsome master of the harem
Coming down from Lake Superior, as we’d passed through Seney on M-28 before following an assortment of inland roads down to Epoufette, I’d been delighted to see a pair of sandhill cranes by the side of the road. Lovely, rich color they were, the stately birds we have known over the years from southeast Arizona to the southern coast of Ontario. I was also still marveling at the waving sweeps of daisies and islands of orange and yellow hawkweed everywhere, wildflowers I associate with my Leelanau home and never realized were also in the U.P., since our visits there are generally fall getaways or, longer in the past, winter treks to Minnesota. At the motel where we stayed in Grand Marais, I was charmed to note that the management (did John do the mowing, as well as check-in?), when keeping the lawn neatly trimmed, had mowed around the colonies of flowering hawkweed, just as I do at home. And of course the bright, brilliant, floridly perfumed roses – at any time of year, they capture my attention.

At home in Leelanau County, sunrise is over the woods, sunset over Lake Michigan, straight across. In Grand Marais, the sun comes up at one “end,” as it seems, of Lake Superior and sets at the other, never touching the far northern horizon. I slept late, for me, but was up in time to see sunrise and read a while and go for a walk with Sarah before the bank opened and I could take care of the business that had occasioned the trip.

Sunrise, June 29, 2020

To our eyes, unaccustomed to the bustle of summer’s longest days on Lake Superior, the town seemed very full of people. (ATVs, I noted, are the snowmobiles of summer.) More people picnicking this year, naturally, with only one restaurant/bar open (and too packed for us to brave the crowd there). The campground was full to overflowing, and one enterprising entrepreneur has opened a little espresso coffee shop in a beautifully restored VW bus on the same street as the campground entrance. She had just closed up shop for the night when we walked past on our Sunday evening promenade.

Espresso! In Grand Marais!

Our friends at the West Bay Diner are not yet open for the season, still working on figuring out how they will manage this year for COVID-19 safety and without regular help, but Ellen and I had a nice visit on the shady end of the deck Sunday afternoon, where Rick joined us for a while, also. Such hard-working people! Though I’m impatient to have Ellen’s fourth novel in my hands -- to sell it as well as to read it, her books being such a delight to share with my own bookstore public -- I’m glad for her sake that publication has been put off until 2021, as this is a very difficult year for authors with new work coming out.

“Is the town busier than usual this summer?” I asked Ellen. “Are there more people coming north this year?”

No, she said – things are relatively quiet this year. In a normal year, it would be “crazy busy” at this time. This isn't crazy-busy? We didn’t know. In prior years, for over a quarter-century, we have been too busy in Leelanau to take time to drive to the U.P. at the end of June.

But yes, we got a room, where Sarah was welcome, also. Right on the ground floor, with all amenities and comforts, looking right out at the pretty little harbor. 

Looking back from Coast Guard Point to our motel in town

The only other stop we made on our way to Grand Marais had been the quiet fishing harbor at Naubinway. I love a working harbor with serious fishing boats, serious and workmanlike even on their day off, a quiet Sunday. It was good to enjoy that calm oasis before rejoining traffic on U.S. 2.

I’d been concerned all the way up about our chances of getting a room for the night, as vehicular traffic seemed very heavy to us. So many people parked along U.S. 2, families enjoying the beach there at the top of Lake Michigan! Never had we seen so many people there! Just as, earlier, passing through Oden, we had been shocked at the line of vehicles towing and waiting to launch boats, as well as trucks and empty boat trailers lining the highway past the launch site. Not the quiet little lake I’d always thought, apparently. But then, September is a world apart from summer’s longest days.

Not all is hustle and bustle in and on the way to the Upper Peninsula, however. It is still possible to find relative peace and quiet in little lost-time islands along the way, and we are hoping that September 2020 brings us another few such days, as the couple we had passed all too quickly. Too quickly but very, very happily.

Open? I don't think so....