Monday, January 15, 2018

Post # 12

Quote of the Day: "If all the lumber cut in Michigan during the white pine lumbering era (1860-1900) would provide enough boards for a solid row of out-houses around the world, as some writers stated, then the amount of whiskey consumed by lumberjacks, tough guys, drummers, and plain drunks during the same period would have made another set of Great Lakes bubbling over with pure whiskey."  Roy L. Dodge, Ticket to Hell: A Saga of Michigan's Bad Men. 1975.


Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, 3rd ed.
by Richard Dorson

I dislike admitting it, but I have rarely, if ever, found a university press book to be sheer, unadulterated fun. Yes, I've found many that were very good reading, eye-opening, and  engrossing but until this book, I've never cracked a university press book that is just such a delight to read. Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers is all of that and much more. When it was first published in 1952 it was hailed as "extraordinarily interesting, rich and bizarre," and was recognized as an instant classic of American folklore. What initially grabbed me by the collar, had me turning pages, and randomly dipping into the book was its fantastic collection of UP folklore, stories, and jokes.

In 1946, the author received a fellowship from the Library of Congress for the study of American civilization. In April of that year, Dorson set off for five months to study American civilization in of all places -- Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He came to the UP to listen, collect, and record tall tales, superstitions, local stories, jokes, and customs that were brought to the rugged peninsula by Native Americans, loggers, and a veritable melting pot of immigrants. Here in the iron, fish, and timber rich peninsula the ethnic stories, folklore, and customs were warped, moulded, and mutated by the UP experience until a new culture and folklore emerged. Dorson called the Upper Peninsula, "one of the richest storytelling regions in the United States."

The strange bouillabaisse of Finns, French Canadians, Ojibwas, Cornish, Poles, Italians, and Slovenians mixing their local customs, love of stories, bawdy wit, and extravagant tales are here enshrined in 300-plus pages. This 3rd edition of Dorson's original work is graced by a new introduction and the addition of newly collected gems.  I didn't read the book cover to cover because I had more fun dipping into it here and there as if panning for gold. I found it in abundance, from cunningly mischievous characters, and weird tales of shape changers, to ghost ships, sly and cunning tricksters, and a huge helping of simply laugh-out-loud jokes and stories.  

Here's a sampling, bits and pieces in a few cases, of some of  my favorites. When a lumber camp ran low on food a committee was selected to make for the nearest town to buy supplies. When the committee returned the resupply consisted of "several cases of whiskey and a couple of loaves of bread. After staring silently at this exhibit, one jack dourly remarked, "What are we gonna do with all the bread?"

"A Swede goes back to the Old Country and is asked how he liked America. "Py Yesus, it take me twenty year to learn to say yelly and den dey call it yam."

And my favorite is told in a Finnish dialect. A Finnish tavern owner by the name of Frank Uotila from Mass, Michigan visited Hancock. On his return home he had a small sign reading "Nineteen-F-U-twenty-eight" placed on his tavern. When asked why he put those letters and numbers on his building he replied, "Well, I peing up py dat Hancock blace, I seen pilding up dere, it saying nineteen-oh-von-A-D. I asking someone what dat meaning and dey tellin me dat meaning Anno Domini. I saying tis: If dat dem Dago, he putting his 'nitials on his pilding, I put my 'nitials on my pilding."

A truly unique book about a unique corner of our world.

Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk traditions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Richard Dorson, 3rd ed. University of Wisconsin Press, c2008, 371p. $24.95 pb.

Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure
by Maureen Dunphy.

There is no better time to plan an exotic getaway to an enchanted island than during, or when enduring, a long, cold, bitter, Michigan winter. And we’re not talking about a long flight to a Caribbean Island but planning a summer retreat to one of the 30,000 islands found within the Great Lakes. Every island has its own magic and singular ambience, and with Dunphy’s book in hand it is easy to match your perfect island getaway to one of the nearly 50 islands described in Great Lakes Island Escapes.

This very thorough and authoritative book gives readers all the information they need to choose the island that fits their dream vacation. The author tells the reader how to get there, and how to get around on the island whether by car, bike, foot, or even canoe. Also included in each entry is the availability of overnight accommodations, food, whether a day trip is possible or you need to plan on a longer stay, and the cultural and historical aspects of the island. The author also highlights special events that take place on the island, such as an Indian Pow Wow or a Blue Grass Festival. Often the best part of each descriptive write up is the author’s personal take on the island and what she experienced during her visit.

The breadth and diversity of the islands is staggering. From Isle Royale in the western end of Lake Superior to the islands in the St. Lawrence River is a distance over 600 miles as the crow flies, if the crow so desires, or about 900 miles by car if the bird has a valid driver’s license. The islands vary from being overrun by tourists, to pastoral working farms, municipal parks, true wilderness experiences, or just out-of-the-way, uncrowded getaways.

There’s Mackinac Island with its hordes of tourists, fudge shops, full service high-end hotels, art and souvenir shops that will drain the pocket book, historical treasures to experience, and stunning natural beauty.  Mackinac Island receives 900,000 visitors a year. But if you want to experience the Straits area sans fudge, tourists, and endless souvenir shops try Bois Blanc Island. It receives about 200 annual visitors a year, has miles of flat gravel roads for biking, great views of Lake Huron and the Straits, and boasts a heavily wooded, quiet, pristine beauty. There is a small, rustic campground, a B & B, a few cabin rentals, a small grocery store, all of 47-year-round residents, and the state’s smallest one-room school. The island shelters 200-foot tall white pines, a lighthouse, a Coast Guard Life Saving Station, and a museum. The only thing you might have to stand in line for is the ferry from Cheboygan.

Dunphy introduces readers to the Great Lakes largest and only delta. It’s found where the St. Clair River decants into Lake St. Clair and the “Flats,” as they’re called, is home to some fascinating island destinations. Harsen’s Island has been called the Venice of America because of its profusion of canals. The island’s flat roads make for fine biking with great close-up views of freighters plying the river that carries more freighter traffic than the Panama and Suez Canals combined. There are a few tourist type boutiques in a quaint village to browse through if one lives to shop. Next to Harsen’s Island lies Russell Island. The latter is open to the public one day a year for six hours.  And across the river is Walpole Island which does not belong to either Canada or the U.S. The island is unceded land that has never been included in any treaty with the original setters of the continent, making Walpole Island, First Nation Land. The island contains the greatest biologically diverse habitat in the area, and includes a remnant tall grass prairie. The author was told the famous war chief Tecumseh is buried on the island. There is a museum, unique Native American craft shops, rare plants and a strong sense of community. Two of the best times to visit are during the spring Pow Wow or the Fall Fair. A trip to Walpole Island is a ferry ride to a whole new world.

The writing of this book demanded a staggering amount of research and deserves to be called THE guide for planning a trip to any Great Lakes island reachable by bridge or ferry. The book tells the reader everything they need to know for planning a one-of-a-kind vacation, and I’ll let the author speak for herself as a writer who can put together memorable sentences. She writes, “Isle Royale is simply where you go to return the wilderness to your soul.”

This is the definitive guide and travel companion to Great Lakes island hopping.

Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure by Maureen Dunphy. Wayne State University Press, 2016, $29.95

Unnatural Causes: A Dr. Katie LeClair Mystery
by Dawn Eastman

I knew doing this blog would challenge my long-held reading habits, and introduce me to genres and subjects I had either avoided over the decades, or simply not encountered in my years of reading. So here I find myself reading and reviewing for the first time, what I believe is called, a "cozy mystery."It was not an altogether unpleasant experience, but definitely new and different compared to the likes of Elmore Leonard, Chandler, Tom Franklin, Steve Hamilton, Joseph Heywood, Estleman, and any gritty Irish mystery writer I can lay my hands on.

Dr. Katie LeClair has finished her medical degree and joined a family practice in the small town of Baxter, MI some thirty miles west of Ann Arbor. The work load is enormous and learning the ins and out of a family practice, the diversity of health problems faced by her patients, and finding a way into the tight knit little community of Baxter are all a challenge. Her life and job is totally disrupted when one of  her patients apparently commits suicide. She is shocked to learn the victim used a prescription of sleeping pills with Dr. LeClair's name on the bottle to do the deed, yet Katie is sure she never wrote the prescription. 

Kati decides to look into how her name got on the prescription, and if somebody in her office set her up. It is then discovered the woman didn't die from the sleeping pills but an overdose of Demerol administered by injection, and the suicide is relabeled a homicide. Of course, this just spurs Dr. Katie to undertake her own investigation which leads to some long held secrets in the small town and a number of possible suspects.

Dr. Katie is a strong lead character in what appears to be the first in a series built around the doctor. The author is a former family practitioner and the depiction of a young doctor's introduction to life in a small town, family practice seems very authentic. The book is smoothly written, Eastman is in tight control of her plot, and introduces a host of characters who could all be potential suspects. The author keeps all  the suspects in play like a gifted juggler --  I just had trouble keeping them all sorted out as one left her hands and was tossed in the air while another came to hand.

I was struck by how low key the mystery felt. It was virtually free of real menace until the last few pages, and it would be wrong to call this a thriller. There is very little violence on the page, and you won't find a four-letter word in the book. Neither will you find a sex scene. There is one chaste kiss and and a somewhat more heated hug later in the book. In many ways the book reminded me of an Agatha Christie puzzle. If the Grand Dame of Mysteries is your cup of tea this mystery might be just be a perfect pot of orange pekoe.

Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman. Crooked Lane Books, 2017, $26.99

If you are considering the purchase of any of the reviewed books the easiest way is to click on the cover which will take you to Amazon where the price is probably cheaper than the price quoted by the publisher.

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