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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).


Susan said...

Bravo! Beautifully written.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Susan.

The Pensioner said...

Excellent; heart-felt.

P. J. Grath said...

That's me -- heart on sleeve!

twessell said...

Pamela, love it! So thoughtful! I especially like your conclusion —-“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? Thank you!

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Ty.

P. J. Grath said...

One Northport Neighport (it's a Facebook group) commented as follows: "Less large RVs with retired people in them. More small camper vans/ tent campers with adventurous people looking for cool things to see and do. Year round Cabins not seasonal park models. A lodge that can host large events. Shared public space. Xc ski trails, bike trails. The stream that runs through the property is a top notch trout stream. Focus on what is here what’s happening with current trends and cater to it. Rethink and shift from what it once was and what it once did for our community. A large rv park simply for the sake of it 🤷🏻‍♂️. People will come regardless. It will boost the economy and create jobs regardless. But I think it could do a lot more and be less at the same time." I like all of John's ideas. How about others of you?