This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

April 5, 2007 - When You See the Stork, It's Spring

About a month ago, I got a "martenitsa" in the mail -- a red and white bracelet of string with a couple of wooden beads. Per instructions, I tied it to my wrist, where I've worn it for weeks.

The martenitsa is a Bulgarian tradition. I wear it in honor of the Dora Gabe Library, in our sister city of Dobrich, over by the Black Sea. I visited there several years ago now.

There are lots of stories around the martenitsa. In Bulgarian folklore, according to Wikipedia, "the name Mart is related to a grumpy old lady whose mood shifts very rapidly." In essence, Grandma Marta represents winter, who is often crankily unwilling to retire.

At the time I got the token, I would have agreed. Winter seemed tenacious.

The martenitsa, a pagan tradition, is typically a gift from a friend (as mine was), and is supposed to be worn until the first sign of spring. One such sign is a stork.

It happens that I'm writing this from the Phoenix area, where I'm sitting in an Internet café (Caffeine Online, in Mesa). It's a sort of vacation, although my wife has spent a lot of time attending to various family business matters.

But yesterday, I saw a white crane rising from one of the flooded canals here.

After such a sign, you're supposed to take off the martenitsa and tie it to the branch of a fruit tree. It turns out there are a lot of fruit trees here, too. This is citrus country, as my allergies can attest.

So that's my task for the day: find an awakening orange tree, a harbinger of spring. Bless it with a brightly colored tassle from Bulgaria, to appease the stubborn wrath of winter.

I'm doing more than observing international traditions, of course. Much to my son's disgust, I've already visited one library here, and may try to squeeze in another. Maybe somebody's thought of something we haven't.

I also poked around Tempe's Changing Hands Bookstore, an independent that just won the Publishers Weekly 15th annual Bookseller of the Year award. It's been in business for 33 years. Tucked away in a suburban shopping center, and surrounded by a mix of offbeat restaurants and a grocery store, it's a popular place.

I'm noticing lately the new function that libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops have assumed in our society. The laptop crowd, many of whom are tourists, circles around, then lands, loads up on caffeine, and scouts out community options.

They email and chat with their friends and family, check in at work, and compare the choices for shopping (Fry's Electronics and IKEA) and culture (Rembrandt and antique cars at the Phoenix Art Museum!).

As always, I'm also aware of urban design. The Phoenix area now bristles with freeways -- but is also rolling out light rail, downtown condos, and other signs of transit-oriented development.

Traffic mostly serves, it seems to me, to separate people, one to a car, bumper to bumper with strangers, but eventually, people try to find a way to meet up with each other again, whether it's by hanging out in bookstores and coffee shops, or by sending martenitsas through the mail.

Which reminds me. Time to tie one to a citrus tree. It's spring!

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