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Monday, September 27, 2021

Changes and Dogs and Books

Summer is over vs. Fall is not over yet, OR Fall is beautiful!


Two Different Ways to Count Blessings


As my blogger/reader/dog lover friend Dawn says, right in the title of her blog, Change is Hard. As I recall, the hard change Dawn initially referred to was a transition from one job to another, and that was years ago now – she is retired now! -- but changes don’t stop coming, as long as we’re alive, and all of us been through a lot of hard changes in this country since Dawn and I connected via our blogs. There have been, of course, other kinds of changes, long anticipated and welcomed. Life just keeps coming at us, one way or another, and we do our best to adapt each day.

I absolutely love asters!

When I was young, my friends and I used to say (thinking ourselves very clever), “Someone told me to cheer up because things could be worse. I cheered up – and sure enough, things got worse.” Gallows humor, I suppose, which we could afford because we were, as I say, young and therefore, secretly felt invulnerable. What we find amusing changes as we advance in age….

Anyway, the other morning I had a little epiphany (I don’t know about your epiphanies, but most of mine are little ones), and maybe you’ve read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and will recognize my lightbulb moment as the difference between Anne’s way of counting her blessings and her mother’s way. Her mother’s advice when Anne felt gloomy was that she should think of other people whose lives were worse. At the time, the Frank family were living in hiding from the Nazis, but their situation could have been worse -- and became tragically worse when their hiding place was discovered, with only Anne’s father surviving Auschwitz.

Anne, however, even in hiding, was young and full of hopes and dreams and looked for sources of joy rather than other people’s misery to bring herself out of spells of despair. “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains,” she wrote in her diary. She could not leave the hiding place to go outdoors into nature, her favorite medicine, but she could peep out at the sky: “As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?”

Little Pea and I love our outdoor rambles.

So how can I ever be sad, with my oh-so-fortunate life? But sometimes we all are, and we need to pull ourselves back into the light, so although what I call my little epiphany is one I’ve had repeatedly in the past and repeatedly lost sight of, I was glad to have it again the other day. 


Because I’d been despondent over the most recent appearance of the Mr. Hyde side of my dog Peasy’s personality. It’s a side of him that only flashes out briefly, never lasting even sixty seconds, and is much less frequent than when he first came to live with us, but now when he falls off the good-dog wagon in that dramatic and frightening way, even for only a moment, and after weeks of seemingly near-normal behavior, I am plunged into the Slough of Despond!  So I called to talk to a woman who has extensive experience with special needs dogs like Peasy, and I did feel not quite so horribly depressed afterward. Some of the dogs she houses, the unadoptables, are so much worse! But there, you see? That is the negative way of counting the blessing that is Peasy: to say he could be "so much worse!" Thinking of his Mr. Hyde self in that comparative way helped me to calm down, but it was no ode to joy! The return to joy took Peasy himself, his daily unquenchable curiosity about the world and his wonderful bounding energy. Whatever his unhappy earlier life, Peasy has become, over time, a mostly happy dog. He loves having a family and a home! And regardless of how he feels about meeting strangers (from nervous to terrified), he is very comfortable and affectionate with us.

New toy! Mr. Rope! Such fun! Happy boy!

Recent Reading


Our intrepid Ulysses reading circle met last week to discuss (my choice of book) Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and we stayed on topic for two hours, everyone agreeing that it had been a brilliant, unusual, and very worthwhile novel for reading and discussion. September’s book will be Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I'll be reading that one for the third or fourth time, but it is worth re-reading.


After rather an overload of mostly nonfiction read recently, this morning I finished a long novel, Damnation Creek, by Ash Davidson, recommended to me by my sister. The story is set in redwood country, near the town where my younger nephew presently lives (the author is from Arcata, California, and now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona), and is fairly even-handed in its treatment of the logging industry from the perspective of people who depend on it for their living. I recommend it to anyone who has read The Overstory, not because it takes the "other side” but because it is sympathetic to working people’s needs and at the same time acknowledges serious harms done. Also, it’s beautifully written. 


So here are books I’ve read since my last post:


131. Cameron, Peter. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (fiction)

132. Gootwald, Linda. Once Upon a Shelter (nonfiction)

133. Davidson, Ash. Damnation Spring (fiction)

Fruits of wild roses --

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Finding Beauty Indoors

Thursday morning

Thursday was the second grey morning in a row. My phone said the temperature was – oh, I forget, but the “feels like” number was several digits lower. It’s September but “feels like” November, I thought to myself. Dogs, meanwhile, while most are not crazy about being out in the rain (some don’t care) do not seem affected at all by gloomy skies. A dog is a good companion on a gloomy day, for that very reason. Happy, happy, happy! On the other hand, without the dog, I wouldn’t have to be out there at all! Oh, but I need the exercise, too. But couldn’t I do yoga on a mat indoors? But the fresh air is all outside. Round and round and round…. Stop thinking about it! Look for mushrooms!


And then, back to the house, glancing at my colorful annuals and perennials on the way to the door.


Thursday evening would be reading circle, and we would be discussing a book I had chosen but read way back in July. I’d started looking at it again (no time to re-read the whole novel) and making some notes, but after the cold, windy, spitting-rain a.m. constitutional, I simply opened at random and began to read. The character on the page is Louis, and, having signed his name already 20 times on letters and papers of business, he is feeling clear-minded and singular, but his singularity in this moment, as always, contains multitudes.


“The sun shines from a clear sky. But twelve o’clock brings neither rain nor sunshine. It is the hour when Miss Johnson brings me my letters in a wire tray. Upon these white sheets I indent my name. The whisper of leaves, water running down gutters, green depths flecked with dahlias or zinnias; I, now a duke, now Plato, companion of Socrates; the tramp of dark men and yellow men migrating east, west, north and south; the eternal procession, women going with attaché cases down the Strand as they went once with pitchers to the Nile; all the furled and close-packed leaves of my many-folded life are now summed in my name; now upright standing in sun or rain, I must drop heavy as a hatchet and cut the oak with my sheer weight; for if I deviate, glancing this way, or that way, I shall fall like show and be wasted.” 

- Virginia Woolf, The Waves 


A few pages later phrase-maker Bernard meditates on time:


“And time,” said Bernard, “lets fall its drop. The drop that has formed on the roof of the soul falls. On the roof of my mind time, forming, lets fall its drop….


…This drop falling has nothing to do with losing my youth. This drop falling is tapering to a point. Time, which is a sunny pasture covered with a dancing light, time, which is widespread as a field at midday, becomes pendent. Time tapers to a point. As a drop falls from a glass heavy with some sediment, time falls.”


Bernard makes his phrases not for pages but for company. He makes them to utter aloud, while restless Jinny sees and smells and hears and feels the world about her constantly, living more in her body than any of the others, and Neville awaits a lover whom he will replace when the lover ceases to come to him, and Susan’s life has become an enclosed life of interiors:


“I pad about the house all day long in apron and slippers, like my mother who died of cancer. Whether it is summer, whether it is winter, I no longer know by the moor grass, and the heath flower; only by the steam on the window-pane, or the frost on the window-pane.”


Rhode’s affair with Louis will not save her from feeling even more an outsider than he, the Australian, feels among the English, her own people. She hates her fellow countrymen.


“…I have been stained by you and corrupted. You smelt so unpleasant, too, lining up outside doors to buy tickets. All were dressed in indeterminate shades of grey and brown, never even a blue feather pinned to a hat. None had the courage to be one thing rather than another. What dissolution of the soul you demanded in order to get through one day, what lies, bowings, scrapings, fluency and servility!”


She sees herself as “corrupted” because Rhode too covers her “sneers and yawns,” tells her lies, and copies the expressions and actions of others so as not to stand out.


And behind them all, always, is Percival, the golden athlete, who died far from home, never to return.


What seem to be speeches, the paragraphs in quotation marks, are thoughts and feelings of the six characters (Percival excepted, as he only appears in the hearts and minds of the six) as articulated and transformed into lyric poetry by the author, and as I read I see and hear the scenes as if watching a movie but am also carried along by the rhythm and music of the words and phrases and lines of poetic prose. And although I know (I remember) that Rhoda will commit suicide, that Bernard will never write a book, that Neville will not find another love like the love he felt for Percival, that Susan will slip deeper and deeper into a complacent, bovine existence, and that Jinny will suffer from the effects of aging on her beautiful body, somehow the moments and hours of their lives, and the details of their days as Woof captures and presents them, are so fully formed and filled with beauty that the effect on – well, this reader, anyway, is as calming as a forest ramble or a stroll along the water’s edge with the rhymical waves coming in and retreating, over and over, each one perfect. Dipping into this book is like dipping into Proust or Whitman. Anywhere is good. Every page is a jewel.


With a book such as this for a cold and cloudy day companion, let it rain! I’m just fine.

P.S. Books Read Since Last Post: 

127. Haig, Matt. The Midnight Library (fiction)

128. McKenna, Martin. The Boy Who Talked to Dogs (nonfiction)

129. Harper, Michele. The Beauty in Breaking (nonfiction)

130. Loomis, Susan Hermann. In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France (nonfiction


Thursday, September 16, 2021

I don’t finish every book I start.


I don’t finish every book I start. Life is too short. Or, you might say I am too curious and can’t help opening and reading in part books that I will not stay with long enough to finish. 


Have you heard of the rule of 50? According to that rule (if one chooses to follow it, and it is not, after all, a law), you must read at least the first 50 pages before bailing out of a book – until you reach age 50! Then, after your 50th birthday, however, you get to subtract one page for every year over 50 you are, so that at age 70, then, you only need to read the first 30 pages. It makes sense that a reader should get a break with increasing age, as the remainder of life, i.e., time to read, diminishes every year, but I’m afraid I don’t hold myself to the rule. Recently I bailed on a book because the aimless drifting-about of bored youthful characters depressed me. I don’t need happy, feel-good books all the time, but I want suffering and hardship to be met, if not with meaning and triumph, at least with character.


(When a friend recommended Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy, my heart sank at the size of the tome. Over 1400 pages, as I recall. “Just read the first 100 pages,” she urged, “and then quit if you don’t like it.” Well, I was hooked after two pages, and reading the novel only took me a month (June), not the entire summer I had feared it would absorb.) 


So I don’t follow the rule of 50 or the rule of 100 or any other rule when deciding whether or not to continue reading a particular book, though if the beginning is dull or annoying, I’m careful about going too far, because one hates to read halfway through a book before deciding against finishing it (Lost time! And not the kind that makes for wonderful memories!) and because if I don’t read the entire book, I don’t allow myself to put it on the “Books Read” lists I’ve been keeping every year since 2009.


But lists be hanged, little dips into books I don’t devour in their entirety remain irresistible! For instance, a book of essays by Jacob Bronowski called A Sense of the Future. Published after Bronowski’s death, in these essays he is envisioning the “future” from half a century ago. Concerned with what nonscientists think about science – what they think it is, how they think it’s done, and its body of accumulated knowledge – he also believed that no meaningful division could be made marking off the humanities from the sciences. 


As for books I’ve read all the way through since the last few I listed, here they are for the week past: 


122.              Gabrielson, Catherine. THE STORY OF GABRIELLE (nonfiction)

123.              Emerson, Victoria and James J. Thompson. INTO THE WORLD (juv. fiction/sex ed. – 1950)

124.              Bell, Derrick. AND WE ARE NOT SAVED: THE ELUSIVE QUEST FOR RACIAL JUSTICE (nonfiction)

125.              Hayes, Christopher. TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES: AMERICA AFTER MERITOCRACY (nonfiction)

126.              Richards, Eva Alvey. ARCTIC MOOD(nonfiction)


The Story of Gabrielle and Into the World were quick reads. (Into the World was frank talk to a young girl, with farm scenes playing a part, the fiction a pretty obvious narrative thread on which to hang the facts of reproduction.) My reading of Derrick Bell’s And We Are Not Saved, on the other hand, and Christopher Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites both stretched out over several days each. Bell and Hayes lean heavily on history, but each finds in America’s past social and political cycles that put our future in question. How did we get here? Where do we want to go? And how can we – can we? -- get there? Such are the questions posed by these two nonfiction books.


After that serious nonfiction immersion, when I turned for relief to a comfort book read many times over the years, it was nonfiction again, the story of Eva Alvey Richards’s first year as a teacher in the Far, Far North, Arctic Mood that soothed my middle-of-the-night insomniac attention.


Time now, however, for me to re-read The Waves, Virginia Woolf’s novel that I read for the first time only this past July. But July! It seems so very long ago as September takes hold!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Peasy Tales: From Sarah to Peasy

A friend sent me the link to an article on pet loss – and even as I type that phrase, “pet loss,” it seems wrong, the words trivial and inadequate to express an experience more properly called heartbreak, as the article describes so well. 


I’ve reached the stage now, though, where I can talk about Sarah and her death and her absence to old customers who visit the bookstore. I see some of them looking for her bed under the table by the window, and I see their hesitation. They’re afraid to ask. It’s all right. I can talk about her. But when I read this article, I cried once again. There will never be another Sarah. Sometimes, I admit, I think that even as I watch little Peasy bounding joyfully ahead of me on our morning walk-run.


Some people who have lost a beloved dog say they’ll never have another because they don’t want to – can’t -- go through the losing again. I understand what they’re saying. We all grieve and recover differently, whatever the nature of the loss. The Artist and I had each other after we lost Sarah -- but still, just could not stand not having a dog


Sarah had been a focus for the two of us outside ourselves, the third member of the pack when we were on the road, and my constant companion in the bookstore, as well as on outdoor explorations and rambles. My winter ghost town hiking partner and neighbor continued to invite me to join her with her two dogs, but without a dog of my own I felt incomplete, a kind of walking-wounded ghost myself.

Sarah at the bookstore

Sarah in the car

with friends in Arizona

with Michigan neighbors in youth -- all three gone now

So the Artist and I began the search, hampered because what we really wanted was another Sarah: female Aussie-border mix with big, soulful brown eyes, soft, floppy ears, and a beautiful plume of a tail. Maybe something smaller…. It didn’t matter, anyway, because “our” next dog was never waiting for us in the shelters we visited, and we couldn’t afford to go traveling the country in search of a purebred Aussie.


Well, you know how the story turned out, so I’ll cut to the chase. You know (and if you don’t, you can revisit it here and here and and on and on) how I took a chance on the dog no one wanted, the skittish little boy we thought was a girl, a skinny, wild thing with only a stub where his tail should be. You might remember that it wasn’t love at first sight but that I did grow to love the little guy, despite his “issues” and the challenge of getting him through and past his fears and defensive responses. 

Early on, our outdoor rambles with Therese and Buddy and Molly were a great success. Another hurdle was the cross-country car trip back to Michigan, something the Artist and I had both dreaded, fearing the worst from our special-needs dog, but he was as good a traveler as Sarah had been. 

His issues remain, however, and we have to make special arrangements when out-of-town guests are expected. Sarah loved the whole world and always welcomed company. Not Peasy. He was and remains wary and nervous with strangers, apparently as concerned for our safety as for his own. He is going to need a lot more practice to develop anything that could be called “social skills” with human beings outside his own family.


But he loves having a family and a home, and when the three of us come together again after the end of a human work day away from home, he nearly turns himself inside-out with happiness, dancing around us and emitting tiny little yippy moans of ecstasy. We have grown accustomed to his little ears, his amber eyes, and his goofy little stub of a tail. As I say, he has established himself in the winter ghost town neighborhood pack, too, and proved himself like Sarah in being a dog for all seasons.


Peasy is not a replacement for Sarah, and no dog could ever replace her. She was the dog of a lifetime, for both the Artist and for me. But little Pea and the Artist are finally bonding (it took them a while to begin, long after Pea and I had fallen in love with each other), so that coming-together at the end of the human workday is joyful for all three of us.


And while what my friend Helene said of people, that “No one replaces anyone else,” is true of dogs, also, it came to me the other day that a large part of my comfort and happiness with Peasy comes from the fact that he has displaced not Sarah but the pain left by Sarah’s death. There has been no empty time to drag around and sob over the dog no longer with me since needy little Pea came into my life. 


Yes, he needed me. He needed a family and a home, no one else wanted him, and without me it’s likely he would still be in prison, if alive at all. 

Good wait!

But I needed him, too. I needed a dog that needed attention and training and love and exercise, a little being I could bring out of the darkness and into the light so that we could explore the big bright world together. He was my dog when I adopted him, the Artist emphasized. The Artist could have lived “dog-free” without our practically perfect girl and would certainly not have voted to take on a “dog with issues.”  Even I have had periods of hopelessness when Peasy backslides and shows one of us his Mr. Hyde face -- which happens less and less frequently as time goes by, thank heaven! So, all in all, it was months before the Artist said, in a tone that managed to combine affection and resignation, “Peasy, I guess you’re our dog now.” 


We have challenges yet to overcome with this guy, but he has definitely won a place in our hearts. It isn’t Sarah’s place. It’s his own place.

Monday, September 6, 2021

We Survived Another Summer!

(Because EVERY day begins with Peasy!)

It is the evening of Labor Day, and a beautiful day it has been, perfect for celebrating our survival of another summer and the busiest we have ever known in Northport. The Artist and I did a few little bits of work around the home place, but not too much, because this was a holiday. And so my images for the day are from our holiday-making this sixth day of September, 2021, though they have little or nothing to do with the books discussed in this post. 

One morning recently, before sunrise, I finished reading the self-published memoir of an Army veteran and police officer, a book titled Memoirs of a Public Servant. The book had no indication inside of an address other than “Made in the USA / Middletown, DE / 05 October 2017.” The author’s name, Charleston Hartfield, appeared on the cover of the book but nowhere inside. I’d been drawn to it by an arresting cover image. And despite misspellings and typos and many small, easily correctible proof-reading and copyediting errors, I found the book to be strongly written. The author’s voice came through clearly, with effects of difficult experiences he had had in childhood and youth, in the army in Iraq, and later in the course of his law enforcement career, told honestly and without self-pity. 


On the eve of his 32nd birthday, he wrote, 


Life has been good and I have been the recipient of many blessings. I am thankful for each of them, as I am equally thankful for my challenges. As they have all made me the man that I am today collectively. I can only hope to receive many more years of experiences. Experiences that may not have always been positive, but they have been mine. I own them; they are my stories to tell, my visions to store, my truths to unfold, and my miseries to despise. I own them all, good, bad and indifferent.


Reading the book, I was drawn in and terribly moved, feeling that I was getting to know an imperfect but wonderful human being. Someone truly exceptional. And as a bookseller I couldn’t help wanting to introduce him to other people. This book, I felt, deserved a good copyediting (nothing more) and a publisher to market it seriously to a national audience, so later that morning I did an online search for “Charleston Hartfield,” hoping to find him and send him a message. 


Shock! Off duty but on the scene, with his beloved wife, during the Las Vegas massacre in 2017, where a single shooter from a high hotel room window killed 58 people, “Charlie” was one of the victims --  shot and killed even as he tried, with all his Army and police training, to remove others in the crowd from danger. What a tragedy!


That night I needed a comfort book. You know, like you sometimes need comfort food? My choice was my mother’s old copy of Anne’s House of Dreams, and it did not disappoint. 



Back in my bookstore the next day, I began reading Choteau Creek: A Sioux Remiscence, by Joseph Iron Eye Dudley, beautifully written memoir of life growing up on a South Dakota reservation in the year following the Second World War. The author went to live with his grandparents after his parents divorced, and when his siblings go to live with their father, he stays behind with the old people. It is a life poor in material things but rich in love. His first Christmas at his grandparents’ house without his siblings, for example –


The five presents I received were a handkerchief, a pair of socks, a ballpoint pen and a tablet to go with it, and a box of chocolate-covered cherries. I could expect to get those items every Christmas from then on, for the next eight years, until I was sixteen years old. I not only expected getting them, I looked forward to them. And the year I stopped getting them, I missed them, and did so for several years afterward.


There were no presents for his grandparents and never had been, unless the children had made something in school to give them, but his grandfather would give his wife a morning kiss and a “Merry Christmas, my love” when he took his coffee to their bed to share with her on Christmas morning, and she would make a special roast chicken dinner for the holiday.


As I grew older, it became apparent that their Christmas gifts to each other were themselves. …And every year I received from not only a handkerchief, a pair of socks, a ballpoint pen, a tablet, and a box of chocolate-covered cherries, but also the gift of Grandpa and Grandma.


One of my Northport customer-friends recommended this book to me because, among other reasons, the author’s beloved grandfather “…had been born in a place called Northport, Michigan,” where he lived until he was 17 years old, summers on Fox Island, winters in the village on shore, the very village where my bookstore came into being back in 1993 and remains to this day. We’re not told whether the grandfather’s “Fox Island” was North or South (the grandson doesn’t say), but I’m guessing the great-grandfather may have been lighthouse keeper on South Fox, because he exercised that profession periodically, so South Fox in summers would make sense. 

A gift book that came my way is a contemporary novel in French, filled with challenging contemporary slang (challenging to me, at least), called Leurs enfants après eux, by Nicolas Mathieu. Time will tell how I do with this one. At least I am able to picture the setting and action pretty well in the first few pages, but I put it aside for something else when the holiday weekend arrived.

Coming out of the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Delta variant prompting many of us to return to our mask-wearing and avoidance of crowds, I was drawn to Betty MacDonald’s 1940s memoir of her spell in a TB sanitarium, The Plague and I, a book that is on many pages laugh-out-loud hilarious, despite the setting and subject manner. For me, it was good medicine.


Even better medicine, however, was our long walk along a beautiful northern creek and then through a meadow of bracken fern, goldenrod and asters, horsemint and horsetails. More than a walk, it was a stroll down memory lane. Despite amazing changes the years have wrought, some places still hold our hearts.


I hope you all had a good Labor Day, whether it was a holiday or a work day, and if the latter, I hope tomorrow will be your well-deserved holiday. 

Books read since last listed:


118. Hartfield, Charleston. MEMOIRS OF A PUBLIC SERVANT (nonfiction)

119. Montgomery, L.M. ANNE’S HOUSE OF DREAMS (fiction)


121. MacDonald, Betty. THE PLAGUE AND I (nonfiction)