Back Again

Glowing Gem

Sunday, March 3rd

The valley below is a sea of fog.

(Listen to the spring birdsongs greeting the dawn.)

I would that I could sail upon it to magical shores and grand adventures.

Sleep was so long and sweet. Dreams were happy and fun.

I was playing guitar in a cafe, and my fingers remembered all their old tricks.

Maybe the chronic tiredness was finally slept out of me.

I have suspected lingering COVID torments.

Maybe they have ended this morning.

The first big amaryllis is in bloom.


I potted the bulb late—sometime after Christmas.

It was a magical sunrise.

I went into work early because I knew my day would be interrupted.

It promised to be a very unusual day.

I was going to return to Lorien. The new owners wanted to meet me.

There were plans to visit over the last three months. Illness. Trips. Snowstorms.

One date after another got canceled by me or them.

Howard and Sue—New Market Plains Vineyard—had arranged it. They’ve been advising the new folks about the vineyard Ray and Jay had planted.

I was glad they want to continue it.

The time was set for 10:30. That’s an awkward time for me. Late morning on weekends is when I’m just getting into my book rhythm at the warehouse.

I haven’t gone calling in the morning since… I don’t know.

So, the dogs were gathered, and I pulled into the dockyard early.

I settled in and began looking at books.

This glowing gem came to hand and stopped everything.

Glowing Gem

Imagine all the work the binder put into this.

Imagine all the travels this small volume has seen in the last 130 years.

And to have survived in such pristine condition.

A “time traveler.”

Then it was time to go. I know the route. I’ve been there hundreds of times. But this visit would be different. For the first time, the owners now were people I did not know.

It was such a beautiful day. The best day of 2024 by far. The first teasing taste of spring and a rough winter’s demise.

I passed the tiny rustic graveyard Barbara chose to be buried in because it was so close to her beloved estate. She told me she wished she could be buried in Lorien but that there were rules against such things.

Then a left turn and down along the winding, dipping and rising country road and across the “new” bridge and then down the private road to the place that holds so many happy memories for me.

Long ago, the road was not a dead end. There was a very old small bridge over the creek. Barbara told me stories about it. Her lane was the only way over Linganore Creek in the whole area.

On all the previous visits, I pulled off the street and into the gated driveway. Up the slope and around the circular drive. Usually I would park so I would be pointing out. This time, the drive was blocked by a couple of vehicles. There’s work going on in the yard, gardens and vineyard.

Howard and Sue must have just arrived. The new owners were also out front. Gonzalo and Vicky.

I got out of my truck with mixed emotions. I felt I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the changes that had certainly been made.

I hate change—especially when it pertains to something so close to my heart.

My visits with Barbara had changed me. For the better.

“You can’t go home again.”

But I was curious as well. Curiosity mixed with hesitancy.

And shyness. I’m not good at meeting new people. My defenses go up, and I find it hard to relax, to be myself.

But there we were. Walking toward each other in the brilliant sunny anomalous winter day that had been turned to spring—if only for that one day, for that particular visit. Perhaps by supernatural forces—I actually think that way—especially in places where I feel there is some aura, some link to another, better plane.

Howard introduced us. I shook Gonzalo’s hand, but Vicky wanted a hug.

It was then I felt the presence of someone else at my side.


The severe front edifice of the stone home looked down on us. It is raised 8 or 10 feet above the street level.

The 5 (or 6) of us went up the stone steps to the front door. I had never entered the front before. Barbara would occasionally open it to look out across the open fields across the road.

I was inside Lorien once again.

I was led on a tour of the familiar rooms. All had been freshly painted. They glowed in the spring-like morning sun pouring in.

One third-floor room would be some kind of yoga retreat activities.

Lorien Yoga Room

For, I believe, the plan is to turn the property into a healing place.

I don’t really understand such things. I think I was only hearing about half of what was being said. My body was there, but my mind in two places. Past and present.

Plus, I was distracted by my invisible companion. Silent. But tugging at my psyche constantly nonetheless. Looking with an open mind and heart.

For I was there for two reasons. To meet the new people and see the changes—but equally to be in Lorien once again—in 2024 this time. I never thought I’d be back again.

Being of two minds, I found it hard to make conversation. I was distracted by all the memories pulling my eyes and mind into the past. And I was the new visitor struggling to pay attention and be part of the group of the living.

Part of me just wanted to “be” there. To walk the rooms and halls in silence, listening for… what… the voices and sounds of the past.

Then we were back down on the ground level. The dining room was laid out beautifully.

Lorien Dining Room

The room had been Barbara’s assistant’s office. It was the office and business center for Barbara’s writing and the estate. “BPM Manor.”

Ray and Jay had changed it back into a formal dining room when they moved in. We had some fabulous dinners there.

The lunch was wonderful. Just a tiny bit of wine. Bolivian (I think) empanadas. Soft but chewy rolls with cheese inside.

And conversation.

The silverware had honeybee motifs on it. (Not the little French Laguiole bees.) I think I heard that the honeybee is a kind of symbol for Vicky.

“Work hard to do good.”

I’d occasionally offer a memory or bit of fact.

“There’s no one buried under Phoebe Jones’ tombstone. Workers found it down by the bridge when they were taking it down. They brought it to Barbara. She erected it and put a little roof over it so it wouldn’t erode any more.”

There was some relief at that. Some of the contractors were spooked, working in the vicinity of a grave marker.

Then it was time to go outside to the gardens. It was in the mid 60s with brilliant sunshine.

A son-in-law, Chris, was working in the ponds above and below the waterfall. The old wooden bridge had been replaced with a nearly identical one. We crossed it and went up the stone steps to the upper ponds. Barbara used to keep lotus and papyrus in one.

The garden beds have been unaltered, and I suggested, “Don’t dig anything out until you see what it is. I think you’ll find many happy surprises sprouting as the seasons change.”

Vicky and Gonzalo have been careful to preserve so many things. I sensed tentative approval from my invisible companion.

The group headed up the slope. I stopped and looked back at the beautiful home. They had removed the old garage, which at first surprised me, but then made sense, as now the views were unobstructed.

Many trees had been removed, which at first bothered me. But then I noted the panoramas their absence created and recalled that the specimens were often ornamentals Barbara had planted decades ago, which had gone “native” and grown too large.

Vicky’s energy grew as we continued.

“Is she one too?” I wondered. “Like Barbara?”

She surprised me by asking me about six-word memoirs.

“What?” I asked, taken from the dreamland I was half in.

“Like Hemingway wrote. ‘Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.'”

I was confused, off guard.

“Ummm…” I responded sagely.

We went down the path past the pet graveyard and down toward the “temple” with its reflecting pool. Poor Discobolus has not weathered well. Howard is into dowsing, and I suggest he might be able to find the missing arm and fingers that no one seems to recall where they had been buried.

Much of the overgrown white pine and ornamental shrubbery had been cleared, and again I was surprised by a perspective of the house. I had never seen before.

New Lorien House View

Wherever we went, the eye was inevitably drawn “home.”

Then up to the fields, passing the dial garden and the rows of exotic apple trees, which were Barbara’s last gardening projects and which Ray and Jay added to.

There is a high fence surrounding the property. It was put in to keep the deer out. They could decimate the gardens. Vicky said the fence would come down so more of the sloping field could be incorporated into the plan.

As we went up the slope toward the vineyard, she seemed to grow taller.

“Maybe more vineyard and more bee hives…”

Then the group headed back down toward the house.

My companion departed at some point, and I was thrust fully into the present.

There were no objections. There was the sense of “What is next?”

We said our adieus, and I headed back to my work.

“If books aren’t life, what is?” I thought. My 6-word memoir. L’esprit du espalier. Is a contraction cheating?

And so I’d been gifted one more sojourn to Lorien. And, yes, there is still magic in the air there.

And perhaps the magic will continue. Vicky’s plan is to create a place for the “traumatized” to visit and find… Peace? Succor? Healing?

No. I think COVID is still festering inside me, moving from place to place.

I hit “the wall” last night when I was loading lumber into the pickup.

It was the second beautiful day of 2024. I left work early. Tired of the Sisyphean task of the never-ending carts of books piling up no matter how many I go through. I labeled all my work and went home. The sun was bright. The temperature in the truck read 71 degrees. It is as if spring was suddenly sprung upon us.

It may be a false spring. But the ornamental trees along the highway are coloring and will soon burst open like cymbals clashing in a symphony to announce something big. The return of life. More and more daffodils are opening in the warehouse gardens and on the mountain.

But something doesn’t feel right. It is too early.

I let the fire die out Sunday morning. There was no reason to light it for Monday.

I could have opened the windows!

When I got home, I had to decide which of the myriad of chores should be faced first.

I chose to knock down the thorny fronds in the fern brakes around the house. Ugly, red twigs that shoot up and are an eyesore in the fern carpets. And winter is the only time to get at them. It doesn’t do to tread upon the tender ferns when they first emerge. Once the ferns are up, you can’t knock down the thorns without hitting the beautiful lime-green hay-scented ferns.

So, the orange Husqvarna weed whip was fired up for the first time in… how long?

When I hit all the nasty things I could find, I put the machine away and headed inside.

I hit “the wall” and was suddenly exhausted. It was all I could do to put some of the turkey I’d roasted into the oven to heat so I could have a sandwich. Turkey, bread, Miracle Whip, lettuce, some spices… heaven for its taste and its context—the post-holiday sandwich of my childhood and the rest of my life.

I was to have those sandwiches every night this week. That is perhaps enough. But not too much.

It is 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. Outside my windows, all is blackness. But I can tell it is raining by the gentle “plopping” of drops upon the roof.

Did I leave anything out last night?!

Yes. The ragged old green “yard coat” was laying exposed draped on the porch edge. I turned the outdoor light on, and the rain was exposed. Thousands of silver streaks dashing down from the sky. The coat was just damp. Atop it was a statue I’d come across since returning from Ireland.

I bemoaned the lack of a gift shop in the Irish National Archaeological Museum last week. Sure enough, three pieces appeared at Wonder Book when I had the odds and ends of the heavy-smoker priest (who may have had a double life) carted up for my review and pricing. They’d been “resting” for well over two years to let the acrid smell of stale cigarette smoke dissipate.

(Ah, the romance and glory of the old book biz.)

Most of it was jun… um, not to my taste.

But I found a few things I couldn’t resist.

These look Scandinavian to me.

Scandinavian Statues

The two statues are heavy stone. The figure riding is old wood.

Viking facsimiles?

They almost look like oversize chess pieces.

They will clean up nicely.

(It is chilly. 62. Some tea would be good. And the stirring in the other room tells me Merry and Pip want to go out. Giles thought he wanted to go out but changed his mind quickly in the cold rain.)

Well, they’re close enough. When I look on them, I will think of my strange trip to Dublin in the winter of 2024.

My plan this morning was to empty the firewood out of the truck. I’d backed it up to the barn door last night when my energy hit “the wall”, and my physical labors were done for the day.

I heated some turkey breast. (Yes. I roasted another turkey over the weekend. It is something to do. Easy. The results are wonderful. The dogs are thrilled with the by products.) 8-grain toast. Miracle Whip. Chopped romaine. Pepper. A few dashes of hot sauce. It makes the house smell great.

And I settled in to watch Inspector Morse for a couple of hours.

As I predicted, it has been a Morse winter. I don’t know how many episodes are left. Not that many. I will have watched the series from beginning to end.

There won’t be any wood unloaded this morning.

Ernest and I are heading west on I 70. After two glorious spring-like days, it is wet and cold. And gray. And foggy. There’s no hint of spring colors west of Frederick.

I will be lighting a fire tonight.

We are going up to pull Books by the Foot subject orders.

It has been a while.

The place looks great.

The employees outnumber the shoppers 5 to 1.

Well, I can’t micromanage everything.

Though I would like to! LOL…

This weather is making me sleepy. I need to buck up. I’m told all the carts are full at the warehouse.

Maybe it is a new lingering COVID symptom. Lunchtime yawning.

What should I do with over 6 feet of letterpress Shakespeare?

Letterpress Shakespeare

I acquired these from my old friend and mentor Ron Cozzi in 2015.

They’ve been sitting on a pallet in the warehouse ever since.

I’m a sucker for Folio Society books. Especially their limited editions. I used to have 400 or so of the regular editions, but deaccessioned most a couple of years ago to make room for books from my old library in Pennsylvania.

I finally decided I should do something with them.

I stacked them in my (heated) garage last night.

I stood back and appraised the memorial, the temple, the great pile and wondered, “What was I thinking?”

They are so beautiful.

And they are so big.

I won’t be able to overlook them where they stand.

Something will come to me.

Maybe I’ll build an addition on the house.

My “Shakespeare Wing.”

Can I build a Library of Babel?

Well, in my dreams, perhaps.

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.


And here’s an anecdote from the Portugal trip I’ve been meaning to include for a couple months—the months lost to illness and injury.

The first Portugal book story related how I had been surprised by an Antoine St. Exupery display at Livrearia Lello—the “most beautiful bookstore in the world” in Porto.

A day or two later, we were visiting a winery northeast of Porto—out in the countryside. We were being led through a vast early 19th century manor house garden when texts started coming to my phone.

It was my friend Gerry, an expert in autograph material.

“Do you want to buy some original Little Prince artwork? They’re going up for auction now.”

He sent some images and their auction estimates. I think the sale was in Paris.

I laughed at the paradoxical situation of touring an ancient winery and garden in Portugal while bidding on beloved artwork in Paris via a friend in New Hampshire.

The morning wore on, and Gerry would update me with the current bids. It wasn’t a live sale but rather a timed sale. There was a deadline when the bidding would end.

The prices rose and rose, and I dropped out of the nicest ones, which rose astronomically from low 5 figures into 6 figures.

Then the end was near, and Gerry asked if I wanted to bid again.

No. I was out of my comfort zone.

Do I have “underbidder’s remorse”?

No. It was just not meant to be.

Still, it was a fun experience, and I sat down to the tasting with mixed emotions.

That I could even be “in” that world was a long way from where I’d started.

The Little Prince Artwork Bids

I liked the vinho verde best but opted not to lug any home.

It is Friday morning.

Sun is pouring in across my bed. The three dogs are white and black bags of muscle and fur. They have no deadlines. They can lie around all day and consider it a job well done.

There are hundreds of daffodils in bloom in the gardens. But I think it is not even 10% yet. Seems early though. I hope they don’t get slammed by a hard freeze or late snow. The 10-day forecast has us in the 50s and 60s every day. But the iPhone has been known to be a blatant liar and betrayer before.

The “book” week evolved into some happy surprises.

Finding one JFK inscription is pretty rare. But three?

And a nice Robert Frost inscription. He had forgotten to bring a copy of his poems to a reading and needed to borrow one.

Robert Frost Inscription

And where did this Ovid come from? It needs restoration but is “all there.” 1640. Shakespeare had only been dead a couple dozen years.

And so it was a week of unexpected surprises.

And turkey sandwiches like Proustian Madeline’s. (But when I was a kid, I assure you—no lettuce or spices.)

10 Comments on Article

  1. Gary Fowler commented on

    Always look forward to your blog on Saturday morning, tagging along on your journeys, enjoying our mutual love of all things bookish… so my thanks to you again and still. That line about the dogs stands out, seems classic, shouldn’t be lost: “They have no deadlines. They can lie around all day and consider it a job well done.” Take care, and my best wishes always.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Imagine lying around all day and not feeling guilty about it!

      Thank you so much for the kind words Gary.


  2. Tawn o’Connor commented on

    Lauren Zummo owns Quarto Conservation in Braddock Heights. She does work for museums and universities, and she could restore the Ovid.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That would be great.
      See if she wants to see the warehouse and discuss it. (Or at least just see the warehouse).
      Thanks Tawn – I’m looking to get a number of things restored.

  3. W. White commented on

    What would be really interesting with those JFK books is if you also had the authors’ signatures. You certainly cannot say that those three books are signed by the author, despite how they are credited.

      1. W. White replied on

        With all due respect to Cecil Adams, whose Straight Dope was nearly always edifying, we now know much more about JFK’s writing or lack thereof. Historian Craig Fehrman’s research for his book, “Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote,” has put the nail in the coffin of JFK’s literary reputation. “Politico” ran an excerpt when the book was published in 2020, “‘I Would Rather Win a Pulitzer Prize Than Be President,'” that I would encourage you to read, if you do not have time to read Fehrman’s book:

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Well, another myth debunked…

  4. Jeff H commented on

    Thank you for writing these. I look forward to reading them each week. Have you considered having #Physicalmediaforever on the next batch of shirts?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      We have – just recently! But your comment may help push us over the inertia threshold.
      Thank you so much for reading AND commenting.


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