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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

This Bookseller is a Dedicated Earthling


Here on earth, lindens bloom and bees buzz.

With summer whizzing by as it does, a lot of my thoughts get lost almost as soon as they pop into my head. That’s my excuse for leaving things out of my blog that I briefly but sincerely intended to include, one being the recent space launch by a private companywhich had a lot of people very excited. Maybe some of you reading this post were very excited. I can’t say I shared those feelings.


The one publicly available seat on the spaceship was awarded by auction to the winning bidder for $28 million, but “schedule conflicts” prevented that person from taking flight, so the second-highest bidder went instead. We don’t know how much that second-highest bidder paid. It’s pretty funny to think that one would cancel a $28 million-dollar flight into outer space due to “schedule conflicts,” though, isn’t it? What could have taken precedence, other than a death in the family or an imminent birth?

We have rain, beautiful rain!

Peasy plays in his pool!

Honestly, I don’t get any more excited about billionaires blasting past earth’s atmosphere than I do about millionaires scaling Mt. Everest, paying $28-85,000 to do so and having all their gear carried by Sherpas. You or I, if either of us had the money, could “conquer” Everest or fly with other billionaires beyond our home planet, but what would we have contributed to the betterment of earth or our fellow earth creatures?


I read that the online behemoth (whose name, along with his company’s name, I avoid saying) thanked his company’s employees for his ride into space, telling them that “you guys paid for this.” Robert Reich was appalled. 


How could this man, who gained billions of dollars in personal wealth during the pandemic while millions of American families couldn’t afford to keep food on the table, whose company used an army of lobbyists to ensure that special tax breaks for Amazon were built into President Biden's plan to raise corporate taxes, and who deployed fearmongering tactics and lies to prevent Amazon workers from unionizing, joke about how the exploitation of his workers paid to fuel a private space race between billionaires?


That kind of sums it up for me, too.


Scientists at NASA put together U.S manned space flights. Astronauts risked their lives on those first forays beyond the atmosphere. Now outer space is just another playground for the wealthy? 


Do you buy books? If so, please buy local. In other words, SHOP ON EARTH! -- See? I wasn’t changing the subject at all.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Taking Time to Find Ourselves

A Bookish Kind of Social Life


Since last I wrote, my sisters were here from Saturday evening to Tuesday morning, which meant that on my two days off (bookstore closed Sunday-Monday) I got to play at being on vacation with them. Summer vacation! What a concept!


Sunday Bettie and Deborah and I drove almost as far north on the peninsula as it’s possible to go in order to join a group of women fiction writers at the home of one of them for an annual lunch gathering -- lunch in this case lasting until 4:30 p.m. -- and a happy gathering it was, with progress reports, mutual encouragement, tales from all aspects from the book world, and gales of laughter interrupting the conversation to punctuate moments of hilarity. I was happy and proud to be able to introduce my sisters to this aspect of my wonderful world of books: these fabulous writing women!

Monday the sibling trio went south, first to Lake Leelanau for a wine tasting on the porch of the Boathouse, overlooking the Lake Leelanau Narrows, a nice slow-down from my usual summer routine, and after wine and crackers and salmon spread  continuing south through Cedar and Maple City over to Good Harbor beach for a walk along the shore and to wade in Lake Michigan. We spotted this little frog hopping in the shade of an old log on the beach where we made our own temporary camp. My sisters enjoyed their Michigan getaway, brief though it was.

Tuesday evening the Artist and I caught up and reminisced with an old friend from Kalamazoo; Wednesday evening I mowed grass after supper; and on Thursday our reading circle (a.k.a. the intrepid Ulysses reading group) met to discuss Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, a novel everyone in the group loved so much that we pretty much stayed focused on it all evening without veering off onto more personal topics. We’ll take August off and reconvene in September to discuss The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, which you won’t be surprised to learn (if you read this blog regularly) was my recommendation.


Our hostess on Thursday evening shared with us, toward the end of our time together, that since the pandemic she has discovered her inner gardener for the first time. This came up in connection with what we had been discussing earlier about Janie gradually finding her voice and discovering herself. Someone speculated that Janie’s self-discovery might have been more difficult or perhaps even unattained had she had children, and that led (as I say, this was as we were wrapping up the evening) to our busy world and the importance of finding quiet time for ourselves. 



Quiet Time


My quiet time is often before sunrise, even long before the sky is light. Was it nothing more than serendipity that on Friday I picked up Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic little volume, A Gift From the Sea, to read with my pre-dawn morning coffee? It was certainly a delightful surprise to find the author quoting from The Waves in one of her chapters!


As calm and quiet and focused on Lindbergh’s words as I was Friday morning, though, I couldn’t help thinking of painful aspects of her life that preceded the 1955 publication of Gift From the Sea, the horrible nightmare kidnapping and murder of her first child and, following that, her famous husband’s antisemitism in the years leading up to World War II. Ann Lindbergh herself was also an isolationist and, at least early on, an admirer of Hitler. She says they were ''both very blind, especially in the beginning, to the worst evils of the Nazi system.” How horrible, to look back on having admired that! And she probably had more serious challenges in the everyday life of her marriage than her quiet meditations on shells suggest. There is a hint, when she quotes Rilke and then writes, 


This is a beautiful image, but who can achieve it in actual life? Where has one seen such a marriage except in a poet’s correspondence?  


Strange, then, to read the calm, reflective beach essay and feel the power of its quietness. Anne Morrow Lindbergh had five children after Charlie, and she lived to be 94 years old, so one wonders how many times she sought and found herself and if she found a succession of selves over the course of time.


Books Read Since Last Post


97. Hurston, Zora Neale. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (fiction)

98. Daly, Herman E. STEADY-STATE ECONOMICS (nonfiction)

99. Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. GIFT FROM THE SEA (nonfiction)




How is Peasy-Pooh?


He still has issues, and they are not trivial. He is affectionate and sweet with us but nervous and unpredictable with strangers, especially men. We have a new rule for him, which is that he cannot be under a table where we’re eating. He is good about limits, as long as we set them clearly. 


Also on the plus side of the ledger is the way he doesn’t fight over having me handle his feet. I clipped five toenails at one sitting the other day and also clipped the long fur between his paw pads, giving him a much more respectable, cared-for look.

And Saturday morning's monsoon rain did a good job of filling up his wading pool for evening fun!


Northport Was Quiet!


Yesterday and today we have company from Brooklyn, New York, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. That is, a husband and wife who divide their year between the two places. They are staying in Northport. This is a picture of Peasy before our company came. I'll need to take some photos of the company today, I see!

Following a long, leisurely cold luncheon at our place, we two couples separated for two or three hours and reconvened back at the Artist’s gallery, and after a long visit there over art and wine we walked down to the harbor. All the bar-restaurants in town were closed! Northport Pub and Grill, the Garage Bar and Grill, the Mitten Brewing Company! Paris, France, used to be like this in August, when the entire country went on vacation, and tourists from elsewhere found themselves with few resources to sustain life. Paris finally got its act together, and now the food purveyors stagger their vacations so that every neighborhood has something to offer, even during traditional vacation times. I think that would be a good idea for Northport.

Below is my "flight" from last Monday, a mix of whites, rose, and a red. I don't have photos of Northport's empty Sunday evening streets. It was just too weird!

Monday, July 19, 2021

“How Big Are We?”

Peasy sends greetings.


I’m not writing about dogs at all today. Peasy is only there to draw you in. But let me wade into my big, sprawling topic slowly, coming at it from an oblique personal angle. 


More and more, conversations the Artist and I have at home are concerned with memories and reminiscences. We recall past adventures and travels taken together, look back on days with children, and fondly (to put it mildly) remember our wonderful old dog, Sarah, “she who could do no wrong.” We also share with each other years before our meeting, his growing-up years in Detroit and mine in Joliet. We tell each other of friends the other may never have met, and we also repeat stories of friends we both have known and loved, some now gone forever except in the hearts and minds of those of us who loved them.


Our lives are finite. We will not live forever. And the older we get (those of us fortunate enough to live to be old), the clearer that vision of the end limit becomes, with more life behind than ahead of us, every day more and more precious.


Old friends had a show of their art this past weekend, the work of husband and wife Gene and Judy Rantz on display at the Northport Arts Building on 3rd St. The work was beautiful, the occasion poignant, Gene and Judy not present. Gene had written a statement about their life together, going back to their meeting in 1985, then noted that this would be their “last show together.” It was clear in the show that their respective art had developed along with their relationship, Judy’s work ever-evolving through the years and Gene’s most recent painting a break-through tribute to her.


I wanted to edge into my larger topic from the personal angle rather than opening with a quote from the economics book I’ve been reading for the last couple of weeks, because – really! How many of you want to read about economics, even at secondhand? But while Herman E. Daly’s distinction between growth and development is crucial for communities – and that’s where I want to go next – it seems to me that the distinction can be seen in our individual lives, as well. Babies grow and develop. Adults mature. After maturity, normal physical growth ceases (although cells are replaced, we do not continue to grow taller and taller), but moral, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and artistic development can go on and on. We may not learn as fast, and we may not remember as much of what we learn late in life, but in these other ways continued development often more than compensates for losses.


A usually very upbeat and positive friend was uncharacteristically crabby the other day. “I danced too much last night,” he said, but still he continued in a curmudgeonly vein to insist that “Northport is ruined!” Oh, dear!


It’s true that I have never seen as many people in Northport as are here this summer. Our village has never before experienced parking as a problem, outside 4th of July evening, but now lots fill up and people have to walk more. (But that’s okay, isn’t it? I remember a faculty member saying once that the university did not have a parking problem but a walking problem.) Seating and being served is no longer immediate but usually necessitates waiting. Still, if people don’t have time to wait while on vacation, when would they have time to wait? Patient, good-natured, happy visitors are very welcome everywhere!


There’s been more of a brouhaha, to tell the truth, in both Northport and Leland, between long-time, year-round village residents and owners of big, new houses who have built adjacent to street ends, which are legally public access spots to the water. Another (perhaps milder) controversy focuses on Timber Shores, a proposed RV park south of town on land that was a public campground years ago. Again, adjacent property owners are adamantly opposed, as are a few village residents worried about increased traffic and congestion. The Northport-Omena Chamber of Commerce supports the Timber Shores plan, seeing it as a way to bring more visitors to the area so that our community can “grow and prosper.” 


The truth is that population pressures are being felt almost everywhere in the world. We humans have multiplied exponentially! And accelerated growth can be disconcerting. I feel it myself whenever I go to Traverse City, where it seems another huge condominium building or hotel pops up along Grand Traverse Bay every week. But we are not talking about condos with the Timber Shores plan. We’re not talking about million-dollar McMansions for seasonal residents, either. The RV park, which would include a section for tent campers, would complement the campground at Leelanau State Park in providing a way for non-property owners to have an Up North vacation.


My first Michigan experiences began when I was 12 years old and my parents and sisters and I began our summer camping life, all up and down the Lake Michigan coast. We camped at state parks in Orchard Beach, North Muskegon, Pentwater, Traverse City and Interlochen, and our two annual weeks in Michigan were the high point of our family year.


Herman Daly advocates a steady-state economy because economic growth cannot go on forever. The basic natural resources of earth and its minerals, clean air and water, and surface land space are not unlimited. We hesitate to put limits on population or economic growth, he says, because the alternative is sharing (instead of a second pie, we share the one pie we have) and we in the most advanced country of the world when it comes to producing material goods and waste are very reluctant to share, it seems, even with each other.


Our disgruntled friend on Saturday was railing against former plans for the Timber Shores property, plans that would have built condominiums on both sides of M-22. Nothing like that is in the current plan! Ironically, the people most opposed to the RV park are not at all opposed to condos. Population and economic growth are fine with them, as long as it’s growth of a particular kind – the kind with a high price tag, out of reach for most would-be vacationing families. I've written about the old campground and the sadness of its absence before.


I've also been to places in American, towns in beautiful natural settings, where only the wealthy can now afford to live, while those working in businesses that support those communities – shops, restaurants, bars, building trades -- must live long commutes away. That is certainly not growth I want to see for Northport. I would much rather see us continue to develop the community sharing ethos that makes this village such a delightful place to live and work.


“I worked hard to earn this!” one irate homeowner adjacent to a street end shouted as he tried to chase a grandmother and her granddaughter away from the public access. What does that have to do with anything? Besides, not all who work hard become rich (my hardworking grandmother always in my mind), and not all wealthy people have worked hard (though others have). The fact is that no one is in control of every twist and turn of fate. Everything accumulated is not the result of choice and sweat. 


And what about noblesse oblige? We who live here have great good fortune. Whether or not our individual households would be called “wealthy,” whether we’re still working into our “golden” years or retired and enjoying perennial vacation, if we’re here at all we are blessed. We are very, very lucky! 


Honestly, have you never vacationed in a place other than your home? How did you want to be treated when you were there? I try to make visitors to my bookstore feel welcome by extending the kind of helpful friendliness I have received and enjoyed in the U.P., in Arizona, in Montreal, and even – yes, true, believe it or not! -- in Paris, France.


I am reluctant to sign onto a simplistic “grow our community” agenda, in that I have no desire to see the village get bigger and wider and taller and spread out at the edges. But I have no problem with the idea of an RV-tent campground. The way I see it, this is development – at least, the potential for development, as Daly sees the distinction. It gives us a chance to share generously and gracefully with others what we are fortunate enough to have. In turn, it means jobs for the young people of our community. Why not?

P.S. Books read since last post: 94. Waxman, Abbi, THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL (fiction); 95. Trethewey, Natasha. MEMORIAL DRIVE; A DAUGHTER’S MEMOIR; and 96. Lively, Penelope. THE PHOTOGRAPH (fiction).

Monday, July 12, 2021

Summer Life, Leelanau (Mine, That Is)


Dear Friends,


When people ask how my summer is going, I say, “It’s a blur.” In September, when they ask how it was, I have said for years, “It was a blur,” so I am repeating myself shamelessly, but that single word captures the feeling so concisely that my answer admits of no improvement. 


Summer does, however, slow down on my days off. Days off! What a concept! 


For years I kept my bookstore open seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Ah, but I was younger then, for one thing. For another, many of us discovered in the COVID-19 year of 2020 how much more human we felt when we weren’t pushing ourselves to be “productive” every single day. 


We still work hard, those of us Up North with what are still largely seasonal businesses, and it isn’t always easy balancing the demands of business with maintaining our homes and gardens and social lives, but homes and their outdoor settings and time with visiting friends and family, as well as relaxing with life partners and pets – all these precious aspects of life have moved up on the priority list since the experiences of 2020. So if you miss me on Sunday or Monday, I’m sorry, but I’ll be back Tuesday morning, with the door open.


I do love my summer days at home! And after recharging with a day or two of mowing grass and hanging laundry out on the line and playing with my dog and helping the Artist with barn chores, I love going back to my bookstore! 


Reading Report


    92.  Lively, Penelope. DANCING FISH AND AMMONITES: A MEMOIR (nonfiction)

9   93.  Shoemaker, Sarah. MR. ROCHESTER (fiction)

Only two books added to my Books Read 2021 list this past week, and one was a re-read. That was Sarah Shoemaker’s brilliant novel, Mr. Rochester, which I had not re-read for a while and which captivated me all over again. So good!!! I can’t understand why there was not a bidding war among publishers to determine who would have the rights to this novel, and I am amazed that there is not yet a film version in production, although the book came out in 2017. Whether or not you have read Jane Eyre, if you have not read Mr. Rochester, make time this summer!


I lingered voluptuously over Mr. Rochester, stretching it out over several nights and mornings, but read quickly through Penelope Lively’s memoir, Dancing Fish and Ammonites, thinking as I read that this is a memoir more for writers than for the general public. Writers are all too often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” and while most find the question maddening and unanswerable, Lively’s memoir does a good job of explaining it in the case of her own work. 



What’s Happening in Northport Report


Almost all the usual events are back on in Northport this year, except for the Fly-In/Pancake Breakfast in August and Leelanau UnCaged in September, both cancelled but due to return in 2022.


There were fireworks for the 4th of July, with a reading of the Declaration of Independence that morning on the post office steps, and we will have, once again, dog parade in August! The 2021 theme is "2021: A Space Pawdyssey" (coincidental, what with the Virgin Galactic flight, eh?) and I’ll have more details coming up soon.


The library author series is back, also, and this Tuesday will be author Cari Noga. Her presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Northport Arts Association Building on 3rd Street (a roomier venue than the library), and I will be on hand to sell books following her talk – books she will happily sign for those making purchases. 


Meanwhile, that same evening back at David Grath’s gallery on Waukazoo Street, an old friend of the Artist from Kalamazoo, James Burkett and another musician friend of his, will give a free concert, beginning (I think) at 7 p.m. 


Yes, it is a conflict – for the Artist and me -- but that is summer, folks. Wednesdays the Jeff Hass Trio performs at the Union on Waukazoo Street, and Friday nights are Music in the Park, and there is not a single day or evening of any summer week without something going on. – Which reminds me that tonight, Monday the 12th, there is an opening at Pier Wright’s gallery on Mill Street from 6 to 9 p.m. We hope to be there. Maybe we’ll see you?



Peasy Report


Peasy absolutely loves our Sundays together, all three of us working and playing outdoors all day, maybe going for a ride in the early evening, and seeing a dog’s happiness is a bond-strengthening joy for the dog’s human companions. Plus, Peasy let me clip three toenails on Sunday morning! Three!


Here’s another day-at-home dog note: When I pick raspberries, little Pea accompanies me and picks a few for himself, pulling one berry at a time off the canes with his lips, just as my dog before Sarah used to do. (Many, many years ago the Artist and I had another fruit-eating dog. In fact, Barkis would eat anything -- even lemons -- but raw smelt. There he drew the line.) 

Sadly, Peasy is not such a cute, funny boy when I drop a clothespin on the ground. Clothespins are triggers for him, for some reason, and they bring out his inner Mr. Hyde. Confrontation! So I have now added to our regular lessons periods of Sit and Stay while I drop a clothespin and pick it up, over and over.

And so, as sand through the hourglass, are the days and the dogs of our lives….


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

My Kind of Holiday (These Days)



It was the 4th of July, with perfect weather. The president visited Traverse City and Antrim County, bought cherry pies at King Orchards and had chocolate chip ice cream in a waffle cone at Moomer’s. In Northport, after dark, there were fireworks, which some people loved and some hated. We Americans are human beings, after all, and is there anything humans ever agree on?


My bookstore is closed on Sundays and Mondays this year, as it was last, and July 4-5 were no exception. I stayed home. “It’s the height of the season!” the Artist exclaimed in astonishment when he asked my holiday plans. But nearing the close of my third decade in business, progressing through my eighth decade of life, I find days off essential to my wellbeing. I do some housework, mow some grass, fix meals, but I also play with my dog and lie around in the shade with a good book – as if (except for the mowing) I’ve rented a cottage and am on vacation for an hour here and there.


It is still early morning. The mist is on the marshes. The day is stark and stiff as a linen shroud. But it will soften; it will warm. At this hour, this still early hour, I think I am the field, I am the barn, I am the trees; mine are the flocks of birds, and this young hare who leaps, at the last moment when I step almost on him….


-      Virginia Woolf, The Waves


A friend mentioned this novel of Woolf’s to me when explaining decisions he made about the structure of his own book, and by sheer coincidence, the very next day, I found an old library copy in the annual Leelanau Township FOL book sale. My copy (this is irrelevant but interesting, I think) was withdrawn from circulation after its time in the University of London Extra-Mural Library, and it was the seventh printing (1953) of a book originally published in 1931, i.e., between the wars, as I always think of that period in Western history.


In The Waves are six characters who “speak,” although what we are given within pairs of quotation marks is not words uttered by one character to one another but rather that character’s private thoughts and impressions. The first scene opens with the six as children, each in turn telling what they see and hear in the country house world around them. As they age in the course of the novel (and we are given both their changes and their constancies, always through these interior speeches), somehow – this is Woolf’s genius – they take shape in our imaginations, and we recognize each of them and their relationships to one another and see them in their passing lives, singly and together.


Between sections of these inner thoughts, feelings, and impressions of the world, always progressing through the course of the characters’ lives as they age, are sections describing an ocean from sunrise to night, so that one day of the ocean and its waves parallels the passing decades of particular human lifetimes. An example from early in the book:


The sun rose higher. Blue waves, green waves swept a quick fan over the beach, circling the spike of sea-holly and leaving shallow pools of light here and there on the sand. A faint black rim was left behind them. The rocks which had been misty and soft hardened and were marked with red clefts. 


All through the book, particular colors and sounds and shapes are named, so that the author’s fictional world is real and immediate in its details of sensation. Yet, immersed in it as I was, I was at the same time even more than usually aware of my own immediate surroundings – light through the basswood and black walnut leaves, shouts of color from my flowering boardwalk plantings, the dog lying nearby in the grass or pawing at the water in his wading pool to cool his paws, a bird swooping down through the branches, a wasp buzzing. And so, although I was lost in my book, I was not lost to the world around me. Following Susan and Bernard, Neville and Jinny, Rhoda and Louis through their days and years, I was all the more anchored in each moment of my own life. 

It was sheer magic and a wonderful holiday. 

We went for ice cream again on Monday. Cherry amaretto in a waffle cone for me, butter pecan in a regular cone for the Artist. I saved the last bite of cone for Peasy, as I always used to do for Sarah. And then he repaid me by table-surfing after dinner and eating a whole stick of butter. First time for that naughty behavior! Time out!


But another friend is dying, and that is dreadful. The Artist and I each make sure the other buckles the seatbelt. “Don’t do that. You’re too tired right now. You need to rest.” Anyway, however much we do, wherever we look we see more that needs to be done, but last night we threw up our hands and said, “Who cares?” It won’t all get done, and that’s that.

This morning I picked up a book I’d started reading who-knows how long ago, Herman E. Daly’s Steady-State Economics. Picking up the house, clearing surfaces, dusting, the Artist and I were making stacks of things to put away or de-acquisition, and this book was in one of my stacks, but this morning, as I say, I opened it and decide to start reading again at the beginning. Second paragraph of the preface to the first edition begins with a clear statement of the scope of his argument:


The antithesis of the steady-state economy is the growth economy, which is still defended by a large majority of economists and politicians. 


-      Herman E. Daly, Steady-State Economics, Second Edition with New Essays


Further down in that paragraph comes clarification of the author’s method:


…Controversy is most enlightening when dealing with the specific views of specific people. Hence I have named names and cited works, rather than argued against an unspecified aggregate “progrowth critic,” who could easily turn into a straw man. It would be easy to lump divergent progrowth arguments into one conglomerate and then expose this composite position to criticism and to ridicule the inconsistencies that naturally result when different positions are merged and treated as if the merger had been the product of a single mind. Leaving individuals anonymous usually passes for scholarly abhorrence of polemics. More often, the merciful anonymity granted toward one’s soon-to-be vanquished adversary is nothing but a lazy preference for debating mute straw men rather than real people. Therefore, I hope that my disagreements with specific spokesmen of economic orthodoxy will not be thought of as ad hominem attacks or as implying any disrespect for the specific individuals cited as standard economics.


I see by the Post-It notes flowering from page edges that when I last laid this book down I had reached page 103. As the issues seem among the most important for the future of the earth, I’ll get back to you in a while on my progress through all 285 pages.


Economics is a lot more than accounting, and anyone claiming interest in politics without interest in politics is, to my mind, simply an idealogue. What are the foreseeable consequences of specific ideas put into practice? That is the crucial question. Because long after we are gone, life will go on for others.

P.S. Books read since last post: 

89. Powell, Lawrence Clark. SOUTHWEST: THREE DEFINITIONS (nonfiction)

90. Doyle, Arthur Conan. THE REFUGEES: A TALE OF TWO CONTINENTS (fiction – abridged student edition)

91. Woolf, Virginia. THE WAVES (fiction)