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Friday, June 30, 2023

River Dreams -- and More

That was then....

River Dreams

This past Sunday for me was what you could call a lazy Sunday, even an old lady Sunday. I bought a print copy of the Sunday New York Times and spent most of the day on my front porch with the newspaper and a book, reading and dozing and dreaming, the book one I’d pulled from a shelf in the dark the night before. I’d gone to the shelf holding our river books, so I knew that anything my hand reached would be fine, and back in the light I saw it was Mark Twain. 


…The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book—a book that was a dead language to the uneducated [steamboat] passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparklingly renewed with every perusal.

-      Life on the Mississippi


The Artist and I were always more river people than big lake people (much less ocean people). Our boat world was that of paddles and oars, maybe -- very occasionally -- a quiet trolling motor (borrowed), and more often a silent, nearly effortless floating and drifting glide downriver. Eyes constantly roving, alert for partially submerged obstructions in the stream, we were alive as well to roses and cardinal flowers on the banks, wild iris in the shallows, and turtles the size of garbage can lids sliding with a plop! into the water at our approach or a kingfisher swooping across our line of sight. The Paw Paw, the Little Rabbit, the Crystal, the Cedar, the Sucker – those were our rivers, small and intimate, each with its own personality. Although we read and re-read Harlan Hubbard’s Shantyboat and dreamed our way down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans with Harlan and Anna, their riverside life at Payne Hollow was more our speed. No Mississippi for us!  


And of course there was the Artist’s own homemade houseboat on the Leland River for years…. Is it any wonder I found myself slipping a bookmark into the Mark Twain book now and then and setting it aside for my memories?



When we are feeling oh-so-holier-than-X about our environmentally-friendly choices and passing negative on judgments on those whose decisions don't fully match up with our own, we might want to stop and think that we are not accurately measuring and comparing our respective carbon footprints by looking at one or two behaviors. Do what you can, and I'll do what I can.

Belatedly, A Guest Book!

Why didn’t I think of it sooner? I used to have a guest book at the bookstore but haven’t for years now, and it only occurred to me the other day that having people write of their visits would be the perfect way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dog Ears Books. I had the thought, then lost it, then had it again – and again – as longtime annual visitors from St. Louis were here … a man from Cincinnati made the drive from Frankfort just to come to Dog Ears Books … the woman who photographed my dog Sarah with her phone and kept the photo on the phone for years came in with her family, boys now quite grown up – and someone else who told me, “This is my favorite bookstore in the world!” Really?! I’m not kidding, he said that. But his words were nowhere recorded!


So now, when you visit this summer, you can record your compliments (or complaints), memories, and future hopes in my new keepsake book from the Pennington Collection! Good idea, yes?


Busy Times For Us All

Illinois got tornadoes, everyone is getting smoky air, but our end of the Leelanau peninsula did not get rain that was forecast for earlier this week. (After I mowed my yard the night before, too, just to be ready!) Farmers market started a week late in Northport, because of new paving in the marina parking lot, but it was going strong today, and I finally got my maple syrup from Al and Margo Ammons. I’m going to take my usual Sunday off this weekend but will probably bend the schedule to open on Monday, since Tuesday is, after all, the 4th of July – thirty years since my first bookstore opened in that little, long-gone shed down Waukazoo Street. In retrospect, time does fly. Sometimes the moments fly in passing, too. A pause every hour, even for half a minute, can be important. Ah! We’re here now. We're here now.

Thank you, Heather!!!!!

Sunday, June 18, 2023

My Wingèd Memories

Great blue heron, Florida, 2009


The Encyclopedia of North American Birds, by Michael Vanner, is far too large to serve as a guide in the field (or woods or mountains), but the big book is unsurpassed for indoor browsing and remembering. The wood stork and roseate spoonbill take me back to Aripeka, Florida, and the house on the island where the Artist and I spent several winter months with our beloved Sarah. A red-bellied woodpecker sometimes visited behind the house, and on the way out into the Gulf of Mexico from Weeki Wachee (other Florida years), on the road to little Pine Island, we saw sandhill cranes on their nest and raising young. The beautiful photographs in Vanner’s book bring the birds very much to life and give fresh color to my memories.


Arizona winters felt even birdier, either because we were older or because we spent more time sitting outdoors behind the cabin (especially in the spring of 2020), watching birds. 

Meep, meep!

The cactus wren was our morning rooster, the roadrunner always amusing entertainment. In the nearby Chiricahua National Monument we saw the striking acorn woodpecker, and sandhill cranes by the thousand drew us frequently farther south in Cochise County to Whitewater Draw (where I was thrilled to spot a white-faced ibis, also, one day), although we could see hundreds of the cranes just outside Willcox any day of the week. And in fact it was there, by what the Artist and I called “the ponds,” officially Twin Lakes, outside Willcox that I saw my first vermilion flycatcher, recognizing it from the pages of my field guides. 

Acorn woodpecker: He is really there.

Vermilion flycatcher

Sandhill cranes


In the spring of 2020, we stayed in Arizona late enough to see Gambel’s quail chicks. The whole family would come for a morning drink of water, filing along the old railroad ties that served to keep the backyard from washing downhill. They came in single file, and in single file they disappeared again down the hill after their visit. They made me think of a middle-class French family dressed up and out for a Sunday stroll.


Down at a neighbor’s house one morning, hoping to see a phainopepla (it never made an appearance that morning), I unexpectedly sighted a painted bunting (like the vermilion flycatcher, a bird recognized only thanks to repeated perusals of field guides) and also had an opportunity to watch orioles (I forget which kind) feeding their young under the porch eaves. Another neighbor had more hummingbird feeders, and thus more hummingbirds, than I’ve ever seen in a single place before. I had a single hummingbird feeder and the occasional black-chinned hummer. 


The dearest Arizona bird memory, though, brought back to me by Vanner’s book, is of the little canyon towhee. A canyon towhee would hop around the cabin backyard and under our car, not at all disturbed by our presence. One of my Western bird field guide authors called it the “most confiding” of the towhees (perhaps he meant confident?), and somehow the Artist took that to be its name. “Is that the confiding towhee?” he would ask me. There was something homey and comforting about that bird’s presence in our outdoor, near-home life that spring, such a troubled season in the world at large. I have searched photo files for a picture of it, unsuccessfully, so here is Vanner's:

Canyon towhee in Vanner's book

As you see, he is in many ways just another little brown bird (LBB), but I tell you, he has personality! The feathers on the top of his head are usually semi-erect and give him a perky look. Perky, yes. That word fits the confiding towhee we knew so well.


Two Michigan summers in a row, a pair of bluebirds nested in a dead popple tree near enough to our outdoor dining table that the Artist and I could watch the parents feeding their young while we enjoyed our alfresco suppers. That particular popple is history, but I bought a bluebird house at a yard sale on Saturday and hope it’s not too late to attract bluebirds again to my yard. Just have to figure out how to get the box up….


Hooded oriole in Dos Cabezes, Arizona

So many birds, so little time -- and so many memories, and they but a small fraction of the memories!

Friday, June 16, 2023

Adding and Subtracting

Who was the first person to speak of sculpting marble as releasing the figure from the surrounding mass of stone? Looks like it was Michaelangelo. At least, he is first credited with the idea (I wonder if sculptors in the ancient world thought of their work that way), which has now become common currency among the public at large. But Michaelangelo’s way of seeing the task of a sculptor applies only to subtractive methods of sculpting, not to additive methods used by artists working in clay or wax, which naturally comes to my mind since the Artist in my life worked in wax. 


What occurred to me today, however, was a question about writing: Is writing additive or subtractive? The argument could go either way, couldn’t it?


Writing as an additive art: One begins with a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen. No words appear until the writer adds them. The result may fill hundreds of pages (forming a novel) or produce only a few lines surrounding by empty space (as in a haiku).


Writing as a subtractive art: Artists of the written word have at their disposal entire languages, and produce work by selecting words and sequences of words. In the editing process, what has been written in draft is often further pared down (e.g., eliminating an adverb by choosing a stronger verb).


Shall we take a vote? 

Sadly – and this really does make me sad; I shake my head in sorrow – as I was doing a search for additive vs. subtractive sculpture, wanting to include a link to a broader discussion, a site popped up with a woman’s face and an invitation to chat with her about my project, with the promise that a “completely original” essay could be written for me and delivered to me in three hours. That is, I could buy something and pretend it came out of my own head and heart. No, thank you. (And I want to add, “And you should be ashamed of yourself!”)


This post was NOT written by “artificial intelligence” (I always want to call AI “so-called”) but by one aging, human, small town bookseller, musing (as she so frequently does) on the subject of words. I have had guest bloggers write occasional posts, but they are all real people, too, presenting their own thoughts and words. Comments by real people, willing to write and speak for themselves, are always welcome, too. 


If you comment, how will I know you are real? You can verify my reality by stopping in at Dog Ears Books, 106 Waukazoo Street, in Northport, Michigan, because mine is a real bookstore, an open shop, where you get to see and touch the books in person before you buy. What a concept! Real indie bookstores – adding to the lives of community for hundreds of years! Dog Ears Books hasn’t been around as long as Livraria Bertrand, but we are celebrating our 30th birthday this summer, so do stop by when you’re in the neighborhood.

This was 2015. Still have the same sandwich board in 2023.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Timing? Time? Something Else?

This past week the timing has been right for black locust perfume in the air

Sometimes timing is everything. Other times, as the Artist said so often, it’s lighting that makes all the difference. Then of course (for restaurants and retail stores) there is “Location, location, location!” and (with rare books, especially), “Condition, condition, condition!” This past weekend, fortuitously, my timing was perfect for planting on Saturday evening perennials purchased that morning at the Northport Women’s Club’s first perennial sale, which I hope will become an annual event. 

Beautiful aliens, I can't help loving them.

Earlier in the week we were promised three straight days of rain – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – with the 10-day forecast showing rain for every daylight hour those three days. By Saturday, however, the chances had thinned out, and only one measly hour was showing rain for Sunday morning. We need rain so badly! But I had gotten my three new iris (white), three lady’s mantle, and three pots of Shasta daisy plants (more than three plants in those pots) into the ground on Saturday evening, although it meant moving a few other things first and preparing soil in one new place to accomplish the task. They don’t look like much yet but will, I’m confident, be splendid additions to my outdoor surroundings. For now, iris and annuals provide lively color.

And then, Sunday morning – beautifully overcast, with a very gentle rain falling like a Sabbath benediction. Everything green seemed to be taking deep, happy breaths of cool, moist air. A perfect day for me to stay inside, vacuum floors, clear away clutter, make a pot of chili, and take reading breaks as needed. – Oh, yes, and breaks to throw tennis balls for Sunny Juliet, of course.

Busy in Northport bookstore and gallery and outdoors at home with dog and yard, I’ve been in drifting mode lately with my reading. My dinner companion on the porch most evenings is one of Jim Harrison’s novels in a French translation (strange to read the northern Michigan town and road names in such a different-feeling context!), and my Audubon Society wildflower guide is next to that novel on the table, as I have reason to consult it on a fairly regularly basis at this time of year as I consider what else to include in a planned wildflower area between barn and chicken coop. 


Next to my bed are Tom Springer’s The Star in the Sycamore: Discovering Nature’s Hidden Virtues in the Wild Nearby (doesn’t that sound like a book I would love? I do!); Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things; and Paul Harding’s Tinkers. Recent bedtime reading included a Saul Bellow novella, The Theft, and Michele Harper’s memoir, The Beauty in Breaking. Since drafting this post, I have slipped into the long ago of One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World, by Michael Frank, a time when Jews, Greeks, Turks, and Italians lived peacefully together on the island of Rhodes. At least, that’s how and where the book begins. I’m afraid it may go somewhere darker before it ends, but I will go with Stella wherever she goes….


On a lighter note, this coming week at Dog Ears Books should see delivery of neighbor Robert Underhill’s new murder mystery, One Cold Coffee. Customers have been clamoring for a new Underhill novel for the last couple of years, so the first two copies he brought me went out the door before I could even open one myself. “I hope you’ll read it, too,” Bob said. Well, of course! 

[Update: 6/13, 12:45 p.m. It's here now!]

Does all this drifting from book to book make me sound like a shallow consumer of the printed word? I was heartened recently to read of a study showing that reading anything in a series of short sessions, rather than all at once, actually helps us remember better what we have read. We remember longer what we don’t read all at once. Immediately I thought of meeting in a small group for eight consecutive sessions to discuss James Joyce’s Ulysses. Despite everything we have read and discussed in years since, the Ulysses experience for me was our never-equalled benchmark in terms of meaningful reading, because we took so much time with it. I think of this kind of involvement with a book as not just reading but living with and in the book day after day.


One June I was immersed in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy for the entire month. Another time it was The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865, by Van Wyck Brooks, a history of American literature during those years of the 19th century. I recommend the Brooks literary histories as “slow books.” He doesn’t rush his story, and a reader cannot rush through, either. One settles down to a 19th-century pace.


Now as the summer solstice is fast approaching, it can seem as if we are careening toward that longest day, a day that comes all too soon, after which there will be increasingly less daylight to fill with summer activities through July and August. To slow time down now, even if you can only do so in quarter-hours here and there, make it a point to read slowly, wander aimlessly, to putter, saunter, loll, etc. Think of the best words you know to describe the voluptuous sense of wrapping yourself in slow moments....


Maybe, like the short reading sessions, twenty minutes of any kind of undirected leisure here and an hour there is what we will remember best and longest when winter returns – for instance, that lovely, surprising morning coffee moment when the house wren landed on the windowsill! Ah, yes! I hope so!



Grief Notes:


When it comes to grief, though, time is almost nonexistent. One can count weeks and months following loss, but there is no measuring its depth. One does not “get through” or “get over” it. You are involuntarily exiled from the beloved and familiar and transported overnight to a strange new place. You will never return. You will never forget. You simply go on, because there’s nothing else to do, because you are alive, because the one you loved “would want you to,” and so on and so forth. 


The sun shines, clouds form, rain falls. Birds sing and nest, flowers and trees blossom and grow. Young couples fall in love, and babies are born. The earth continues its revolutions, and night and day alternate, as they always have. Sometimes you smile or laugh. Everything is the same as it’s always been, and -- nothing will ever be the same again. 


It is love that is everything, and you had love, its joy and its pain. Now you have memories, a volume of images and remembered conversations that come throughout the day and in dreams at night. To live without this grief would be “never to have loved,” and how could anyone wish for that?

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
   I feel it, when I sorrow most;
   'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

A Dog in a Paris Bookshop

W  O  R  D


Sometimes I play around with possible book titles. Certain words, I find, have an irresistible quality to them, bait on hooks we can hardly keep ourselves from biting. A few such are:























East of Eden, okay, but is ‘east’ an irresistible word? Does it have romance in it? What do you think? Anyway, you see what I mean about magic words?


Numerous new releases and fairly recent book titles feature other words that have magic for many of us, telling me I am certainly not alone in being drawn in by them. I've noticed a lot of books with these words in their titles:






Hence the title for today’s post, because – well, didn’t it draw you in? I don’t know of anyone who has used this exact title, but I offer it to anyone ready to write the book, and my plea has an addendum: You must, please, include lots of details about Paris and the bookshop and the dog, because as lovers of Paris and dogs and bookshops (please let there be used books, and let the dog be of mature years!), we your readers want a generous literary getaway and can never have too much of what we love.


(*Two of my all-time favorite books set in Paris are nonfiction, and neither one is new. Elliott Paul’s The Last Time I Saw Paris tells of his time on the tiny Rue de la Huchette in the years leading up to World War II, while Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, essays originally published in the New Yorker magazine not all long ago--in my sense of time--, introduce the reader to places and experiences that few tourists would uncover for themselves. Both these books give a quirky alien insider’s perspective on Paris insolite.) 

So once more I ask: Where, where, where is the Paris bookshop dog story? And could the dog have been Pierre’s dog in another life?

What words are irresistible magic for you in book titles? Because I know my list is only a beginning...

Practical matters: Dog Ears Books is generally open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 to 5, but will close early today (June 8, closing at 2 p.m.) and may have to fudge on a few upcoming Tuesdays, but whenever the bookstore is open, David Grath's gallery next door is also open. It's the 30th anniversary year for the bookstore and the last summer for the gallery, so please don't miss visiting.