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Monday, October 30, 2023

Pointless Rambling Thoughts

How many leaves remain on this tree today?

We are slip-sliding into winter. Is that an excuse for my lack of focus? In my last post I used a French phrase, sous un ciel couvert, which means under a cloudy sky. Not actual rain but “menacing,” or (I would say) threatening rain. Here is another French word, one that moves easily and frequently from skies to moods: maussade, which means gloomy, dreary, dismal. 

A customer from France brought me this little souvenir!

I love French words the way so many of us also love music. It makes me happy to hear them, to speak the language (to the best of my abilities), to read and write the words. In an often cold, hard world, it is one of my little comforts, a small joy. Malheureusement (unhappily), we have been in greater-than-usual need of comforts if we’re paying attention to world news, but to imagine how comfortless their world must be for those in the midst of war is heartbreaking and goes far beyond first-world self-care.


I’m ditching most of what I had composed for today as a draft in the past week. The first frost in my garden feels like old as well as trivial news, along with that green tomato chutney project. Also, I’d written about a forecast for snow “in the coming week,” but now that forecast is only scant hours away. And other parts of the country have the same, so it’s hardly a headline story.


For no other reason than because it’s somewhat cheery, I’ll insert here a couple pictures of my latest kitchen production. It’s applesauce with pears cooked along with the apples and a homemade drizzle of black raspberry syrup added for color.…

I like it chunky.

And now I’ll use that food theme to segue to books and at the same circle back to the French. A friend tells me she doesn’t mind being alone but does mind eating alone. I told her I always have a dinner book nearby. The book that has seen me through many dinners lately, a few pages per meal, is Fernand Braudel’s L’Identité de la France


On our side of the Atlantic, in a country stretching from ocean to ocean, we tend to think of France as medium-sized and  unproblematically unified, but Braudel tells a different story. For reasons entirely different from those pertaining to the United States, as he sees it France is almost two different nations, north and south, with an intermediate buffer zone separating the two, and even that is an oversimplification. Histories, languages, soils, customs – la belle France is one nation politically in the larger world, but its peoples are diverse even from one village to the next.


But stop and think. Isn’t that the reality of human life everywhere? We may live under one law, but we inhabit multiple different and distinct smaller worlds. An Ethiopian friend of mine was astonished at how strong regional loyalties were in the United States, e.g., my ties to Michigan, she having expected we would all identify simply as Americans. My friend and I were in graduate school together for two years in Cincinnati (before I transferred to the University of Illinois), and in that unique river city – neither purely northern or southern, eastern or western -- each neighborhood had not only its own name (Clifton, Hyde Park, Over-the-Rhine, etc.) but also its own complete shopping district, so that the neighborhoods were like villages clustered to form the larger city but retaining their village identity. 


Similarly, in Leelanau County, still largely rural, every village (incorporated or not) and every informal lake community has, if not always its own grocery store or library, certainly its own history and traditions. Northport and Leland schools resist consolidation – that is, Northport resists being incorporated into Leland schools – because of Comet vs. Wildcat pride. Empire and Northport are worlds apart! I only get south to Empire maybe once a year and always feel, when I do, that I’m very far from home.

Now let me express my increasing crankiness about the term “community” that’s being thrown around so continuously and haphazardly in ways inappropriate to my ear and sensibilities. The word has become ubiquitous, with people (on the news, at least) now speaking of the “world community,” as in, “What has been the response of the ‘world community’ to the crisis in [fill in the blank]?” As if there could possibly ever be a unitary response across all the nations and peoples of the world unless we were invaded from outer space! A local union of musicians or plumbers or autoworkers or screenwriters may put out an official statement, but how long did it take to hammer out something on which all members could agree even in such a limited case?


Okay, back to my sheep. My Ethiopian friend was proud of the fact that her country had never been a European colony, but she acknowledged that it had been “colonized from within” by the Amhara group, who dominated politics under the country’s period of monarchy. One could say of France, also, I suppose, that it was “colonized from within” by the powers of the Île de France region, as it was their language that eventually became the official national tongue, edging out Latin (brought by the Romans), Basque, Provencal, Occitan, etc., etc. Free, mandatory, secular education instituted in 1882 prohibited regional languages in French public schools after, as I understand it, the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) convinced the government that in times of war, soldiers needed to understand each other and their commanders. A young generation growing up across the country with one language was also ripe for the subsequent age of empire – wars and annexations and conquests around the world – but that’s another story. Colonialism within preparing the way for colonies overseas? 


Years ago, when we lived in Leland and started our mornings with coffee at the Early Bird, the Artist and I sometimes had conversations with an older man who had been – or his father had been; I forget which – superintendent of county schools here. It was he who made the decision, finally, that all public instruction should be in English. Before that, various small country Leelanau schools conducted classes in the dominant language of that area’s immigrants. Note: As for Catholic schools in Leelanau County, St. Mary’s School in Lake Leelanau had classes in English, but Holy Rosary for a long time had Polish nuns teaching Polish-American farm children in the Polish language. Then there is the history, now well known, of Native American children in boarding schools being forbidden to use their native languages, which was the case for many Ojibwa and Odawa from Leelanau. 

And now, all over at least the Western world, the Odawa, the Irish, the Welsh, etc. are reclaiming the language lost by the generation before them.


Curious, I looked up sites discussing the Tower of Babel and found this one interesting, but the idea of verticality led me to think of homo sapiens beginning to walk upright, and then I questioned the writer’s conclusion that humans seek verticality to escape the earth’s surface. Did early bipedal humans want to escape the earth’s surface or simply be more at home on the ground than in the trees?

My friend Laura calls this the coming-home tree.


I have no conclusions today, only questions and sadness, because what more can we ask other than to feel at home on the earth, wherever we are? But being driven from home, cut off from the place of memories, or having that place invaded and stolen – sadly, this is a major theme in human history. Une idée maussade, vraiment. Truly a dismal idea – but accurate, isn’t it?


If only humans could see difference among our species as enriching rather than threatening -- 

Le monde est un souk énorme!

My plan for my next post is happier and more book-focused. Although the year is not yet at an end, I am too impatient to wait: I want to share with you a few novels I read this year for the first time (not necessarily newly published, in every case, but I’m not including those I re-read) and highly recommend without reservation. Maybe you will want to think about your top fiction picks for the year so far, too. I’d like that. 


Happy Halloween (if that's your thing)!

New Bohemian Cafe folks do holidays well. (They do everything well.)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

That Was Then, This Is Now

 A Bit of Bookstore History (Northport)


The little shed in the photo above once stood on Waukazoo Street. Long gone now, it was the original Dog Ears Books in 1993. By 2008, the year the photograph was taken, so much vegetation had grown over the entrance that the shed had the air of an enchanted fairy tale hut. Only one pure in heart would know the magic words to utter for the door to swing open! Ah, but the treasure was gone by then, the bookstore at home in a new location, north and around the corner on Nagonaba Street.


By now, late 2023, we have been back on Waukazoo Street long enough (since winter of 2005-06) for an entire Northport generation to get born and graduate from high school. Kids whom I remember from their middle school days are running their own businesses now, and only the other day someone reminded me, “You’re hardly a spring chicken!” I’m not? Gee, thanks!



Mortality With Friends, a book of essays by Fleda Brown, speaks to me, because “who would inhabit this bleak world alone?” It is good to have friends! Some of my friends, when they heard that I’m staying in northern Michigan all winter this time around -- for the first time in eight years – asked if I would have the bookstore open. The question amazed me. Yes, of course! I can’t imagine staying home in my old farmhouse week after cold winter week, seeing no one but my dog! The artist next door (in my husband’s former storefront studio), Deborah Ebbers, will be around, too, and I’m thinking the two of us may have to cook up a little snow season merriment now and then because, even with a forecast predicting that Michigan will not be as wet or cold as usual this winter, there are bound to be a few gloomy days, days that will need brightening up, and what better than friends and laughter to do just that?

I had a general thought about friendship the other day. It came as I was musing on something I’ve often heard people say after losing a pet: “Oh, I couldn’t have another one! It’s too hard when they go! I can't go through that again!” Couldn’t someone say the same of friends? 

Having reached the era of life when every week, it seems, brings a loss, we hardly wish not to have had those friendships! One old friend (now “late,” as people say in the Botswana novels of Alexander McCall Smith) used to say he didn’t want to make any new friends, but even that seems short-sighted. There’s no shortcut to a long friendship, it's true, and it's certainly true that old friends can never be replaced, but, as we used to sing in those long-ago Brownie troop days, of old and new friends, “One is silver, and the other gold.” 



My Neck of the Woods

I live ever so slightly north of the 45th parallel, a geographical smidgeon closer to the North Pole than to the Equator. The bulk of Leelanau County, however, lies below that imaginary line. At any rate, I make no apologies for the title of a new book on how best to see Northern Lights (which have been spectacular this year), Below the 45th Parallel: The Beginner’s Guide to Chasing the Aurora in the Great Lakes Region, by Melissa F. Kaelin. As the founder of Michigan Aurora Chasers, this author is well suited to provide advice to the novices among us, whichever side of the line we call home. I suppose one piece of advice she will give, though, involves bundling up and getting outside in the middle of the night. Sigh!


On Saturday morning the 45th parallel stopped me alongside Grand Traverse Bay. I didn’t remember seeing the stone announcing the Line on previous occasions when I’d pulled off M-22 to enjoy coffee and views, but the big rock got me out of the car, and I was then able to frame the road curving north.

(Getting out of the car for dog-walking is something we don’t do on the highway, only on back roads.)



A Swiftly Passing Season


Grey skies notwithstanding, fall color was spectacular these past few days -- pretty white birches with happy, quivering yellow leaves, brilliant reds and oranges and golds of maples, blazing scarlet sumac, and the deep blood-red of osiers and chokecherries. Beech leaves in the fall always make me think of buttered toast dripping with honey. Almost every bend in the road gave reason to gasp and pause, même sous un ciel couvert, though we were all, locals and color tourists alike, rather pining for sunshine and blue skies.

We get what we get in this life, though, and what we got was spectacular and isn’t over yet.

Despite the eye-popping, brighter colors of other trees and shrubs, to me nothing speaks the truth of autumn’s poignancy more eloquently than the soft, subtle tones of the ash. Even its name, ash, reminds us that all lives, individual, are destined to end, even as Life, the force, springs renewed after each winter’s sleep. 

Butterscotch to plum

And because the emerald ash borer so devastated Michigan’s adult ash population in recent years, I cannot bring myself to discourage seedling and sapling ashes on land I otherwise want to maintain, loosely, as open meadow. Autumn olive is not welcome there, nor are black walnuts or silver maples (any of those three species would gladly take over the meadow if I let them), but volunteer ash trees and hawthorns are under my protection.

Baby ash tree

Haws (hawthorn fruit)

Farmer-author Gene Logsdon, whom I met once at a book trade show in Dearborn, Michigan, believed that ash trees would make a comeback, with young volunteers gradually maturing to take the place of their late departed elders. I hope he was right. I am rooting for the trees.


Hunting Season


Bow season is now, to be followed by firearm deer season, muzzle-loading, and then back to bow. Sunny isn’t crazy about her high-visibility costume, but it’s important to me that she doesn’t get mistaken for a deer when we’re outdoors. Please be very careful out there, friends!

Against her will, Sunny Juliet models hunter orange this season.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

More Armchair Travel (because there is no such thing as “enough”)

But first, a Northern Michigan fall sunrise --

And then, oh, the advantages of armchair travel! Let me name a few of its wonderful features: You don’t need reservations, the weather is always fine, there are no layovers or long delays in airports, and whatever you’re wearing – sweatpants, pj’s, a shirt with half the buttons missing – you are properly dressed for the occasion. Costs are minimal, schedule super-flexible, hardships nonexistent. So curl up and get cozy. You can do it because others have made the trip for you. 


We are going to Ireland.

Two Leslie Lee books to start you off on your trip

Leslie Lee did the actual transatlantic travel with her sisters, while I only had to drive as far as Traverse City to visit her studio -- and actually I wouldn’t have had to go to town to pick up the books, but by making the trip I had the chance to see her wonderful space and can now share a few glimpses with you.

Where future magic will take place --

A different angle --

Possibly a pop-up retail space? She will let us know.

There is even a Betty Beeby room!

(This is why Betty Beeby's name sounds familiar to you.)
Leslie’s research into Irish prehistory and the DNA strains of Irish peoples is deep, but she also has light-hearted tales of inns and pubs, castles and ruins, and accounts of meeting Irish relatives she and her sisters never knew they had, all of her stories (as well as the little guidebook) illustrated with quick sketches made on the scene, watercolor added in later. Like the books of artist Frederick Franck (whose book The Zen of Seeing has never been out of print), Leslie’s illustrations are enchanting, and I am happy to have added her books to my bookstore offerings. You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate them, either, but if you are you’ll find them irresistible!

This week's front table focus

As you can see, Leslie’s books are sharing table space with the poetry of Richard Gilmore Loftus. The time of year prompted me to showcase copies of his collection entitled “Autumn,” and no sooner had I done that (before UnCaged, which was September 30 this year) when a message came from Rick about a new book, so here are signed copies of that book, too. In his new collection, “Canvas,” the poet’s focus is on the journey, not the destination, so we can travel with him, also – by boat, by car, and never far from water.

Rick's new poetry collection

We are never far from water with either Leslie Lee or Richard Gilmore Loftus, as we are never far from water here in Leelanau County, and if you are not physically here right now, you are here virtually if you are reading these words and perusing these images. Berries bright and red (haws) have set on the hawthorns, milkweeds are beginning to release their first seeds, and on the cloudiest day there is light somewhere in the sky, often over Lake Michigan for a few moments at day’s end. Thanks for coming to see me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Surprise! I'll Be Here All Winter!

What is the PLAN?

All (if any there are) who have been frustrated by not knowing my winter plans for the bookstore can put my name on the top of the list. My winter has been up in the air for months, which means there could be no plan at all. There was a possibility (one that sounded like a wonderful adventure!), but it was just that – a possibility. And then time went by, and more time went by, and the possibility grew ever dimmer, shrouded in heavy fog. Yet it had still not been definitively ruled out! So, as I say, up in the air…. 


Now, however, the situation has clarified, and I will not be taking off for an adventure in the West but will remain in northern Michigan this coming winter, as the Artist and I did many, many winters in the past. Of course, we were younger then (2015-16 our most recent winter in the farmhouse), and he was with me, so this season will be very different, but it feels good to have the question settled. And who knows what adventures Michigan may present before the long hours of spring daylight return? 

I plan to be here!

One thing my winter plan will mean (now that I have one) is that the bookstore will not close for the season, though it will operate on a somewhat truncated schedule. September already saw a cutting-back to Wednesday through Saturday, with Monday and Tuesday “by chance or appointment” days. (During the summer only Monday was BCOA, with Sundays always closed.) On the dedicated early fall open days, though, I was at the helm until 5 p.m., whereas beginning in November I’ll close at 3 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday and stay until 5 only on Saturday. All of this, of course, weather and roads and transportation permitting!

Because sometimes winter looks like this.

All along, though, I told myself that whichever direction the winter took would be okay, that I was leaving it “in the hands of the gods,” as the Artist would say. Pros and cons looked about evenly divided: different challenges and stresses either way, different pleasures and rewards to be expected, but it would be all right, here or there. So while I am disappointed (the situation I had reached for would have been new and exciting), I am also reasonably content. That is not a contradiction.

Sunny Juliet in Arizona snow --

Sarah in Michigan winter past --

It will be Sunny’s first Michigan winter. She experienced snow in Arizona, but nothing like what could come our way here in Leelanau County – although as I was saying to my neighbor only the other day, every year is different, so we can’t really predict in October how much snow there will be in December or January (let alone March!) or how often we’ll need to have our joint driveway plowed to get in and out from the highway.


Now that using up stores in my larder in a few weeks is not an issue, I got back to work on my jam-making on Sunday. Getting the berries into jam and the jam into jars means room in the freezer for other items, e.g., fresh-frozen neighborhood sweet corn. And maybe I’ll make more applesauce than usual instead of cutting up the larger portion of my apples for the dryer. Homemade applesauce will be a treat on cold winter nights.

It's apple season in Northern Michigan.

Maybe I’ll have a Christmas tree in the bookstore again. I’m already thinking of holiday gift-giving (for those who do not eschew giving gifts) as I make out my new book order lists. And when spring does roll around, I’ll be starting my garden seeds earlier. No more waiting until May in 2024, as I did in 2023.

Long-ago decorated tree 

This year's tardy garden

Meanwhile, for now and only slightly belatedly, here is my list of books read during the third quarter of 2023, i.e., July-August-September: 


92. Harris, Tara Shelton. One Summer in Savannah (fiction)

93. Cook, Matt. In the Small of My Backyard (poetry)

94. Tekiela, Stan. Fascinating Loons (nonfiction)

95. Jenkins, Peter. Along the Edge of America (nonfiction)

96. Goldberg, Natalie. Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America (nonfiction)

97. Arkin, Alan. An Improvised Life (nonfiction)

98. Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy In Spite of Herself (fiction)

99. Hanff, Helene. Underfoot in Show Business (nonfiction)

100. Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy is a Junior (fiction)

101. Glaude, Eddie S., Jr. Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons For Our Own (nonfiction)

102. Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy and Joe (fiction)

103. Buttigieg, Chasten. I Have Something to Tell You (nonfiction)

104. Sundeen, Mark. The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America (nonfiction)

105. Gloss, Molly. The Hearts of Horses (fiction)

106. Griffin, Susan. Women and Nature (nonfiction)

107. Griffin, Susan. Pornography and Silence (nonfiction)

108. Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking (nonfiction)

109. Sempé. Marcellin Caillou (graphic fiction)

110. Corbett, T.C., ed. Wm. A. Corbett. The Drums of War: An Autobiography, 1917-1924 (nonfiction)

111. Page, Susan. Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power (nonfiction)

112. Yourcenar, Marguerite. Mémoires d’Hadrien (fiction)

113. Wiesenthal, Simon. The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (nonfiction)

114. Brooks, Geraldine. Horse (fiction)

115. Horwitz, Tony. Confederates in the Attic (nonfiction)

116. Murdoch, Iris. The Sandcastle (fiction)

117. Kropf, John W. Unknown Sands: Journeys Around the World’s Most Isolated Country (nonfiction)

118. Petro, Pamela. The Long Field: Wales and the Presence of Absence, a Memoir (nonfiction)

119. Leon, Donna. Trace Elements (fiction)

120. Shumate, David. High Water Mark: Prose Poems

121. Grosz, Stephen. The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves (nonfiction)

122. Russell, Mary Doria. Women of Copper Country (fiction)

123. Dorris, Michael. Yellow Boat in Blue Water (fiction)

124. Campbell, Bonnie Jo. Once Upon a River (fiction)

125. Campbell, Bonnie Jo. Q Road (fiction)

126. George, Alex. A Good American (fiction)

127. Roth, Michael. Being An Introduction

128. Harrison, Jamie. The Edge of the Crazies (fiction)

Friday, October 6, 2023

Please forgive me for going on and on about this.

Call this a spoonful of sugar.

Someone who read my previous blog post said that current political conflicts are nothing new and that they are “nothing that a simple healing patch of behavior can end.” Whoever suggested the divisions in our country could be ended with a Bandaid? Not I. There is no magic pill or, God forbid, silver bullet, either.


The hate-filled divisions are real and heartbreaking. The cruelty is heartbreaking. And yes, the seeds of division and hate have always been there, from the beginning of our history, and – let’s admit it – there is no way for all Americans to come together completely and permanently

Storm clouds!

Where does that leave us, though? Having faced that reality, what are our choices? What do we do now? 


- Continue to scream at each other and escalate the domestic arms race – until what happens? 


- Or give up and retreat into bitterness, each of us, for the rest of our lives? 


Please forgive me if I reject those as viable options. 


Let’s me make the question personal for myself. Who am I going to be for the remainder of my life on earth? Do I want, while alive, to add to the world’s storehouse of love or to its arsenal of hate? Will I be grateful for my life or choose to be miserable and blame my misery on evolution and world history? Take the most selfish view possible, if you like: As far as I see, it points in the same direction as altruism. 

Both sides now --

This morning (still dark, these long mornings of autumn’s waning daylight, and I am in the autumn of my life, too, my time growing ever shorter), it occurred to me that America’s present crisis is deepened, if not entirely driven, by grief. We have all experienced loss, and it hurts, and we don’t know what to do with that pain. Readers of this blog, as well as my close friends, know that personal grief has been with me for a while now. Grief. Shock. Paralysis. Disbelief. Mourning. Life torn apart, never again to be a shining whole, the companion of my days and nights forever gone. 

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,” wrote the poet Auden in his own grief. He ends his poem with, “For nothing now can ever come to any good.” Is that what you feel about your country? The world? Your life? 


(Had Auden been wrong, as he writes in this poem, to think that love would last forever? What do you think?)


For myself, I can’t afford to let myself feel that “nothing now can ever come to any good.” Two seven-year-old boys, great-grandsons of the man I loved, are at the beginning of their lives, as are so many little children whose lives are only now beginning. It’s too big a job, yes – I can’t control the course of the future, true – but I can’t give up and crawl into a hole and die, either.

I live in a beautiful place.

I realize that I am a lucky woman, spared the anger that many people suffer in the throes of grief. My husband was 85 years old and had followed his passion and found success as an artist. The beauty of his work lives on. The two of us had a second chance to make a rich life together, to make our dreams come true, even (priceless gift!) to grow old together. And at the end, we had time to say goodbye. So Fate spared me anger and resentment and gave me gratitude, and I am grateful to have had that through the grief his death brought. 


But despair? Heavens, yes! Grief goes on and on, and despair, while it doesn’t fill every hour, lurks around every corner, ready always (especially in those first, early, dark hours of morning) to jeer sarcastically, “What’s the point? Why bother? He is never coming back!” And that, my friends, is hard.


Like a wounded animal, I needed to be alone before I could face the world again, and I still need time alone even now, but already in those first weeks a demanding puppy did not allow me to stay in bed with my head under the covers, and once back in Michigan there was my bookstore to open, David’s gallery to arrange, grass to mow, the puppy to exercise and train. Looking back at May 2022 from October 2023, I see now that it was good for me not to have available the escape of total isolation.


Anger. Despair. Pain. What about exhaustion? Grief is exhausting. So much of life can be exhausting! The ongoing crisis mode of American politics is exhausting. So yes, we all need to take time out when we need to, when we can. 


And then? What?

Even under cloudy skies, with winter coming --

Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes not to give up, to keep living. Whatever it takes not to be cruel, not to be mean, not to seek revenge. A cat to feed, a dog to walk. Grass to mow, books to sell. Books and poems to read and write. Flowers and trees to plant and tend. Other people with their own griefs, who need an understanding listener as they struggle. Whatever it takes. One day, sometimes one hour at a time – which is the only way we ever truly live, anyway.


Not simple. Not easy. Often – let me say a challenge. (Let me say challenge rather than a struggle. Though either word is descriptive, I seek strength in choosing my words.) 


In every era, certain words get overused and lose their power in daily speech, but consider – amazing, awesome. The gift of life is one none of us had to earn. Human beings did not invent or build this glorious planet. Who, reflecting on the gift of life, can see it as anything less than amazing? Who, looking at the beauty and force and age of the universe, can see it as otherwise than awesome?

Unquenchable life!

Let me end today with an idea from my most-beloved philosopher, Henri Bergson. (Here is an interesting take on Bergson that I hadn’t read before but found congenial.) One of Bergson’s most basic and important insights was this: 


The “road ahead” (the future) is not there. 

We build our road as we travel through life.


My images today are from the world around me. Thanks for reading.

Always renewing.