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Monday, April 15, 2024

Where Shall I Go Now?

This is not how it looked. This was an unintended fancy setting.

The past is no longer there.


When I learned that my friend Hélène had died – and although she was my mother’s age, it came as a shock -- I knew that Paris would never be the same for me. It was in her apartment on the rue de Vaugirard that I rented a room for the month of May 1987, and one of my fondest memories from the long-deferred dream journey David and I made together in September 2020 was an evening in an Auvergnat restaurant in Hélène’s neighborhood, David’s young English friend, Justin, completing our international quartet. “We’re making beautiful memories,” Helene said to me, leaning her head on my shoulder for a moment. 

From album of that trip in 2000

Was that really 24 years ago? We always thought we would go back

After the expected yet deep pain of losing our old Sarah to old age, followed by the more tragic loss of poor little Peasy, the Artist and I had a few weeks (all too brief) in which we thought about making a much longer, more roundabout trip back to Michigan in May, going north into South Dakota (a state David had never seen but where I was born) and then to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, home of children and grandchildren we hadn’t visited on their own home grounds for too long. But that trip was not to be….


One of my sisters spends a couple weeks in early spring down in San Miguel de Allende and says I’d love it there. People I’ve known for years here in Leelanau have bought a house in the south of France and tell me the guest room is waiting for me. “But I have a dog,” I tell them. I’ve crossed the U.S. between southeast Arizona and northern Michigan three times with Sunny Juliet, so domestic travel presents no problems (even Canada would be doable, except for big cities), but how could I leave my little partner to go out of the country?



The foregoing I set aside without posting and eventually put up something else instead. Travel? Not in my cards at present.


Then along came Sunday morning, as it does reliably every week, and the sky was a cloudless blue, sun bright, barely a breeze stirring -- features of the morning that may or may not come together on any given Sunday, so hallelujah! -- and I realized that I had not been any farther from home than Grand Traverse County for almost a year. Several errand trips to Traverse City and one drive to Interlochen were the extent of my “travel” since return from Arizona in May 2023. Also, this year April 15 marked 32 years since the Artist and I exchanged vows for the second time (Kalamazoo, MI, the first time; Paris, Illinois, second). 

Paris, Illinois, April 14, 1992

My gypsy feet itched for the road, and I thought about Benzie County. Specifically, there was allure in the idea of following M-22 south of Empire. But there was a loose button on my shirt….



Surprise trip back


So I got out my sewing basket, and found when I opened it a little red notebook, a diary from April and May of 2015, that began with our last days in Dos Cabezas – that is, the last days of our first time there, a mid-January to mid-April stay. We were eleven days on the road home that year, stopping often and doing a lot of sight-seeing, and every day’s sights and every evening’s stop were recorded in this book. I began reading and couldn’t stop, mesmerized by the memories brought back by my own handwritten lines. 

The little red travel diary

When I reached the last page and closed the book, I looked out my window at robins on still-bare branches and felt as if I had just crossed the continent again and had aged nine years in half an hour. That is the power of written words.

April 2015


The road to Benzie


Most of the day remained after my half-hour in the past, however, so dog and I, with camera, binoculars, water bottle, and water dish, piled into the car and headed south. Without going into all the details and every road we traveled, here are a few highlights from our Sunday on the road:


These were the true colors of Benzie County's Platte River.

Old work by beaver artist

Best views of Long Lake were from the road,

where there was no room to pull over,

so a tiny boat launching area was the best I could do.

In Frankfort, Sunny Juliet and I lunched at the A&W drive-in. 

A real drive-in! Shades of my childhood!

From there we drove around Crystal Lake to rejoin M-22, and then it was back home again and dog play for Sunny and Griffin, followed by bedtime with book and dog for me, finishing up my reading of William Kent Krueger's Windigo Island. Sunny and I slept well. We had had a big day.

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Mood Wasn’t Right

Sunny and a plethora of leeks

Lame Excuses


In the past two or three weeks, I have begun and discarded at least four posts for Books in Northport. Titles were: Tough Tourism; The House That Had Everything; “You Should Write a Book”; and Where do I want to go? Abandoned, all of them (though the draft beginnings still reside on my laptop desktop), and I know such finicky self-judgment is probably misplaced, as the nearly formless meanderings I occasionally throw out into the world, posts without any central theme or narrative thread, are often more popular and gain more comments than others I labor over to achieve a “finished” feel.


Leaves of dogtooth violet, a.k.a. trout lily

Ah, but then someone visiting my bookstore says, “I always read your blog,” and a note from a friend (received two days after a post finally went up) mentions that she has been looking in vain on Books in Northport for something new, and I know it’s time to kick-start my online presence. You don’t have to be “in the mood” – or inspired – to write! You just sit down and do it! And in the case of a blog, call a draft post good enough and hit that publish button!

Random Fungus (until someone identifies it for me)




Beginning with Sunny Juliet never hurts (see again opening image), because most people love dog stories or photos, my girl is lively and photogenic, and we get outdoors a couple times every day. Even in this morning’s light rain, we were out for a good hour, and as usual there was so much going on (every day at this time of year bringing signs of new life) that I was pulling my phone out of my pocket over and over to photograph my finds. The rain had decided me against taking the camera, but by Saturday, or Sunday for sure, the sun will be shining and those spring beauties – all over the woods! -- will have opened their petals to the light. 

Spring beauties are biding their time.

Plentiful though the wild leeks are, I never harvest them for my kitchen. If you do, never take more than 5% of a patch, and try to harvest where no one else has taken plants before. That will leave enough for coming years, as leeks are slow to mature and proliferate. 

Leeks close up

Toothwort leaves -- no flowers yet

We all have different tastes, in food as well as in books. Toothwort, now, is a different story for me, and I look forward to those peppery-spicy leaves and flowers in spring salads very soon. 

Everything is beautiful in its own way, isn't it?


That fungus close up looks almost like a rose.

In the Bookstore


Thursday, between customers (all from out of town and all gratifyingly appreciative), I worked with the advertising department at the Leelanau Enterprise on an ad to run in next week’s paper. Since Monday, April 22, is Earth Day 2024, I’ll depart from my usual schedule and have the bookstore open that day – if I’m lucky, with my beautiful new canvas book bags to sell, in keeping with Earth Day’s theme this year, “Planet vs. Plastics.” My regular customers know by now that any plastic bags I put their purchases in have been donated for re-use by other customers, but we really do need to eliminate plastics from our lives wherever possible, in the Great Lakes and across the nation. Agree?

And there will be, as there are just about every week, new books and “new” used book additions to store stock. As for me, I’ve been reading a lot of books set in the West lately, books full of mountains and dry washes, scarce water and hard living. I also made my way through a new memoir – what I call a “grief memoir – by Amy Lin called Here After. Although her husband was so much younger when he died than was mine, there was much that resonated with me in her experience. This, for instance: 


We shared a language that was all our own. I am now the last speaker of it.

- Amy Lin, Here After 


What must it be like for older adults who have to leave a country they've known all their lives and go to make a new life in a strange land with a whole new language? I am blessed to be able to remain in familiar and beloved surroundings.

Finally, Sunny's Mystery Treasure

Smaller than my hand...

Something's -- someone's -- partial skull, but whose? 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Is Spring in the Bag at Last?

Daffodils are in bloom and wild leeks aplenty pushing up underfoot in the woods. Sandhill cranes are back from winters in the sunny South, announcing their presence vocally in Leelanau (so far overhead that I haven’t had a glimpse of them yet, but they’re definitely here). Only last week we had another big snow, and it could always snow again; however, the air feels as if the season has turned the corner at last, not teasingly but sincerely. We shall see. I’m enjoying the increasing hours of sunlight, anyway.


Sunny Juliet and I have not yet resumed our agility work, except on an ad hoc basis in the woods, where a large fallen tree is an opportunity for her to “Walk it!” and “Table!” the signal for her to jump up on a stump. She is very happy, though, to have a new neighbor playmate and to tear around with Griffin while humans stand by and supervise. “A tired dog is a happy dog,” we tell each other contentedly. Then, “Watch out! Not right under our feet!”

[No new photos because their play date last night was cancelled.]


School is back in session in Northport following spring break, families back from their self-prescribed “cabin fever” vacations, and summer people returning to open houses and cottages for the nonwinter months. The annual migration holds once again, for cranes and humans alike.


One question bedeviling me occurred to a couple of friends, also, I learned when I mentioned it. We are struck by the number of fallen trees in the woods. It almost seems that there are as many big old trees lying on the ground, horizontal or nearly so, as there are upright specimens. Is this a misperception, or can it be true? And, if true, did the northern Michigan woods always have this appearance in the spring (and we are only now noticing), or has there been a recent massive die-off? Are all the fallen individuals perhaps ash trees and beeches, victims of recent pest invasions? Bottom line: Has the woods looked as it does now ever since county residents abandoned woodstoves for furnaces – or not?

Is there a forester out there with an answer to this question?


Three different people sent me the link to a story in The Washington Post (if you are not a subscriber, maybe a friend who is will gift you the article) about bookshops specializing in books that have been around the block before, and I appreciated most of the advice given in the article: Take your time; have a spirit of adventure; don’t crow to the owner when you find a book marked at a fraction of its value (just buy it and be happy, I say); look at the books and not at your handheld device. I loved the remark about small shops tending to be “zealously curated,” and I wanted to cheer at “Try never to leave a bookstore without making a purchase, if only a used paperback. It is the least you can do to support these defenders and bastions of civilization.” (Is that what I am? Not such small potatoes, then!) I was not as thrilled by “Bring a flashlight and expect to get dirty.” You wouldn’t want to eat off the floor of my shop, but then, it isn’t a restaurant, is it? 

In Northport, in addition to reorganizing subject areas in the bookstore recently to make room for new arrivals, I’ve also been planning for the future. Here are a few important days coming up on my calendar, which I urge you to put on your calendar, too:


Monday, April 22. Earth Day


Saturday, April 27. Indie Bookstore Day


Saturday, June 22. Visit to Dog Ears Books by author Bonnie Jo Campbell


In honor of the Earth Day 2024 theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” and as a belated brag on 2023’s 30th anniversary of Dog Ears Books, I will be offering beautiful new canvas book bags ($12), which will be no less appropriate on Indie Bookstore Day (always the last Saturday in April, and this year I’ll be here!) and perfect for carrying home your signed copy of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s new novel, The Waters -- plus, of course, any other treasures you find in my “zealously curated” collection on Waukazoo Street!

As we were in 2011 --

Monday, April 1, 2024

Leeks and Books -- Why Not?

Monday morning sunshine

We got through March! Did it go out like a lion, or would that be an exaggeration? I’ve already forgotten if the “wintry mix” that veered into big snowflakes happened Saturday or Sunday. Saturday, I think. Easter Sunday was just overcast and gloomy. But Monday morning was bright, as you see in the photo above, and those wild leeks, a.k.a. ramps, were popping up all over in the woods.

We might not have had a real winter, but chances look good for a real spring. And now that April is underway, here is my list of books read in March: 

44. Bartlett, Charles H. Tales of Kankakee Land (nonfiction). I bought this book for descriptions of the Kankakee River and Swamp before dredging, draining, and canalizing, and it was dreamy to picture it in those days. Later tales in the book, however, had more to do with human conflict. Sigh!

45. Cep, Casey. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (nonfiction). Furious Hours is divided into three parts. It tells of an Alabama man who took out life insurance on wives and other relatives who kept turning up dead, the lawyer who defended the multiple beneficiary and later defended another man who shot him in front of a large funeral crowd, and finally of Harper Lee’s career, from college until her death, culminating in her abandonment of this complex story. The Reverend, by Harper Lee, based on piles of documents and hours of interviews, never took final shape, victim of one of the world’s most well-known cases of writer’s block. But then, how many prolific writers have equaled To Kill a Mockingbird?

46. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (fiction). Finally! I finally read this novel, after saying for several years that “this year” I would surely read it. I began in the afternoon and stayed up until midnight. Terrifying!

47. Cady, Jack. The Night We Buried Road Dog (fiction). A novella and a collection of short stories, all highly original and compellingly written, this book was given to me by friends who brought it home from their travels, only to realize they already had a copy. Thank you, Walter and Marjorie, for introducing me to a writer I might not have encountered otherwise! 

48. Wagamese, Richard. Indian Horse (fiction). Like #46, this is another novel I could not stop reading once started. From the pristine Northern wilderness to the horrors of a Catholic school for Indian children to clashes and catcalls of professional hockey, Saul Indian Horse is someone whose happiness the reader passionately wants him to find. “One of Canada’s foremost writers.” I’m glad to have discovered him at last.

49. Block, Lawrence. Hit Parade (fiction). Block is lauded as a mystery writer, and yet these tales of a professional hit man hardly fit the genre. The charm (if one can call it that) of this novel, as no doubt is true of others in the series, lies mainly in the clever dialogue between the hit man and the woman who acts as his agent, sending him out on jobs that come their way. The hit man is also a serious collector of postage stamps.

50. Chater, Melville. Two Canoe Gypsies (nonfiction). A New York couple whose apartment building is due for demolition decide to canoe and camp their way through Belgium and France in a custom-built canoe, a journey between the two World Wars, when the “back door country” had not yet been modernized. Oh, if only we could travel back in time for real!

51. Parker, Robert B. Ceremony: A Spenser Novel (fiction). Read my first Lawrence Block on Sunday and my first Robert B. Parker on Tuesday. Kind of like popcorn.

52. Paterniti, Michael. Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain (nonfiction). A quirky and bizarre, one-of-a-kind road trip, with reflections on personal relationships, history, science, and America in general. For a while, I set this book aside, not sure if I would get back to it, but I did pick it up again and read to the end. Uncategorizable. 

53.             Erdrich, Louise. The Painted Drum (fiction). Definitely one of my second category of page-turners (explained in this post), as mother-and-daughter antique dealers follow an artifact back in time and into their own history. I should probably have read this after rather than before other LE novels, but jumping in anywhere is worthwhile. Do it!

54.             Lystra, Don. Searching for Van Gogh (fiction). Coming of age in the early 1960s was so different from today that it’s hard to remember how naïve many of us were. Still, every generation must discover the world for itself, as Lystra’s 17-year-old protagonist does in this moving novel that doesn’t show all its cards at once. Surprises aplenty! Guest review here. Lystra will be part of the Leelanau Township Library’s summer author series in July.

55.             Erdrich, Louise. Tracks (fiction). I read this book much too quickly and so, the day after I finished my first reading, I started again at the beginning while all the characters were clear in my mind. I should probably be reading her books in order, but my reading is never that organized. Which is your favorite?

56.             Hoffman, Alice. Faithful (fiction). I had some of the same feeling about this story that I had about a very different novel, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, i.e., how is it possible for these people to keep running into each other time after time, in such a big, busy city? Contrived, maybe? But I was carried along by the flow of the story and was cheering for the protagonist all the way to overcome trauma and dare to live again.

57.             Mason, Daniel. The Piano Tuner (fiction). Mesmerizing, dreamlike story of a Englishman whose 1880s wartime assignment is to travel to a remote village in Burma to tune a valuable French piano for a for an eccentric, peace-loving British general. Many shorter stories are included inside the main narrative. The writing is vivid and compelling.

58.             Mosley, Walter. Touched (fiction). A strange, short novel, quickly read, and I have no idea what to say about it, fan though I have always been of Mosley’s writing. Did the author dream the whole thing? I can imagine that being the case.

59.             Chabon, Michael. Manhood for Amateurs (nonfiction). Personal essays in this volume are grouped by theme, rather than chronologically, so some are funnier than others, a few not funny at all. I laughed out loud more than once and also appreciated the serious moments. If you’ve ever been a parent – or a kid – this book is for you.

60.             Strong, David. Crazy Mountains: Learning From Wilderness to Weigh Technology (nonfiction). Strong teaches philosophy, and this is a very philosophical book. The back cover says it is written in the tradition of Walden and A River Runs Through It. There are very personal stretches, as well as deep stretches of Aristotle, Kant, and Gabriel Marcel, to name only a few. Strong wants something he finds lacking in previous environmental ethics: a strong case for an ethics that would protect wilderness from exploitation, generally, and specifically save the Cottonwood Canyon in the Crazies from timbering. Though sympathetic to his philosophical project, I’m not entirely sure it succeeds – but what could ever convince a timber company owner to give up his business for hiking?

61.             Van Dyke, Michael. Radical Integrity: The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (nonfiction). The name is well known, Bonhoeffer a Lutheran theologian and pastor whose opposition to Nazism cost him his life only weeks before the end of World War II. This book almost reads as if written for a YA audience. Its strength is in making clear the questions and concerns and values that drove the man who made a sharp distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘faith.’

62.             Vida, Nina. The Texicans (fiction). He had no intention of helping anyone, no desire to become involved. Joseph only wanted to be left alone, on the trail to Texas as in life generally, but life had other ideas for him. A colorful cast of characters and an unusual story of the West, probably truer than most literary and cinematic romances. 


So there you have it. Now either pick up a book or get out in the woods, one or the other, because April will be over before you know it! Or, you know, whatever makes you happy....

First spring beauties, petals still furled

Sunday, March 24, 2024

I Never Trust an East Wind

Strange sky on Sunday morning

The weather forecast for Sunday morning was for a couple hours of rain or snow, but the east wind was a monkey wrench thrown in that prediction. No way we would have rain, with air as cold as it was, the little no-name creek frozen to silence again except for the miniature waterfall section. Sunrise had no warmth to it, either. Were those grey clouds in the north moving our way? No, they seemed at a standstill, sun and wind pouring between two completely different sets of clouds. But then, an east wind always makes for strange weather.


Now it’s spring break. – Not for me, but for many. Northport School is closed. New Bohemian Café is closed all week, too, as are Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern, 9 Bean Rows, and heaven knows how many other purveyors of food and coffee, so those of us staying behind in Leelanau will have to be resourceful to get through the remainder of March. Don’t we always, though? One way or another….


Several people have asked if I found it worthwhile to have the bookstore open all winter. Since it wasn’t my first bookstore winter, I knew what to expect, and that did not involve crowds of book buyers carrying out piles of treasures! A few bibliophiles now and then were grateful, however, to find the shop open, and several large inventory intakes kept me busy pricing and shelving and rearranging whole subject areas, which means I’ll be well stocked when “the season” arrives.

Young people on left, classics on right

Older children's books, YA, and school readers

Then, too, I’ve been keeping my weeks and days short: Wed.-Sat., 11-3. It only makes sense. Projects at home, not to mention work and play with Sunny Juliet (mostly play), are more important than looking out at empty downtown streets until 5 p.m.

Now, though, Northport is moving toward establishing a “social district,” which is apparently (and I didn’t know this before) a term for official sanction to take alcoholic beverages from restaurants and bars out onto the sidewalk and into the parks. I haven’t taken a position pro or con on the plan and won’t be taking one, as younger generations are driving now. They’re putting in a lot of time and energy, and it’s their turn, while my business and I are Old School and will never be anything different, so I’ll just watch and report from the sidelines. 

And a week from now it will be time for me to post my “Books Read” for the month of March. Will I finish that very philosophical nonfiction book in time to include it, or will I continue to be pulled off-task by one novel after another, currently The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason. And will the piano tuner ever reach Burma? I’m beginning to wonder, and the only way to find out is to keep reading. (Juleen, I know you've already read the book, but don't tell me what happens!) Sunny Juliet had a bath this morning, so we will be spending the day indoors, and I should have time for quite a bit of reading, letting that strange east wind do what and as it will.

What a clean dog girl!

Closing note about one of those projects at home: A metal frame table with wood surface has been my “desk” in the office but in a few weeks will be put into service as a seedling nursery, and I’ll move desk work to the actual desk. The table, covered with Con-Tact paper in the past, seemed ready and willing to give up that covering, so with putty knife and fingers I started stripping it down. 

Looking a little shabby

Stripping it down....

Then the table’s identity suddenly came clear to me: It was the table from the houseboat! David’s homemade houseboat, moored for years on the Leland River, just upstream from the Riverside Inn. I got out photos, and yes, there it was. 

The same table

Houseboat and rowing skiff on the Leland River

So now even those discolored rings revealed on the surface are dear to me. Recover it? Paint it? don't think so. Like Harlan and Anna Hubbard, continuing their "shantyboat life" on the banks of the Ohio in their new house, I will keep my past close going into the future, whatever the future brings.