Golden Dawn

Weekend Labors

I awake in the dark and wonder at the time.

I roll over and look out the window instead.

Only one light is in the sky. A bright star? No, a planet surely.


Homer called it the most beautiful star in the sky.


All the planets around this sun are dead.

But this one.

It is cold outside. 29 in the valley last night as I drove home last night. Up the bumpy gravel road to my mountain home. The temperature rose as I ascended. It was 40.

I wonder why? Cold air sinks? In the cold months, there is often frost in the valley, while up on the mountain, there is none.

The house was chilly when I went inside with the three dogs that are my housemates. There was a bed of orange coals in the woodstove. I brought in a canvas tote of firewood. Up went the steel lid and down went a couple of logs I cut last spring. Much of the wood I brought in this year never got stacked. It dried in piles on the gravel floor of the barn. That will be the first wood I burn. There’s no other choice. The piles are blocking access to the wood along the wall. Then I can access the neatly stacked bins. There’s enough wood for 2024 and I’m sure well into 2025.

I was tired and impatient though. I surrendered and turned on the furnace. It was 62 inside. I set it to 65 and hoped the stove would soon heat the house to 66 so the machine would switch off.

I was tired. Football was on tv. I was bored after a few minutes and switched it to Perry Mason.

I drank some fizzy water and decompressed for a while.

It had been a long day.

Up and moving about the morning routines and chores after 6. At work just after 7.

Facing books, reading titles, lifting, spinning and rolling carts, setting books in boxes or tubs.

All day Sunday.

Soccer and podcasts playing background diversion on the laptop.

Old tech. New tech.

Then down to Falls Church, Virginia to see the grandchild. Almost two months old. Wriggling arms and legs. Cooing and yawning.

A few miles away, the younger son was playing soccer. Young men running in the cold. The older son was refereeing. I sat on the unforgiving metal bleachers, pleased at this bit of frozen continuity. Once tiny boys, now grown men still playing the beautiful game with parents watching from the stands.

It helped that the younger son had a hat trick.

The dawn is a burned orange this Monday morning.

Burned Orange Dawn

It mirrors the hot orange in the woodstove.

What will today bring? Monday. The rest of the week?

There were so many cartloads of books on the weekend. While I was in London, several charities dropped off the boxes of books. They segregate the older books because I pay a substantial flat rate for boxes of books printed before 1940. I had them carted up Friday, spine out, so I can quickly read the titles and publishers.

Other problematic books are delegated to me as well.

Foreign books, for example.

I could parse that these are cookbooks.

Indian Cookbooks

The cover art helps. (LOL.)

I put them at a workstation where a woman with good language skills will tell me the titles and dates and publishing location. Most foreign language books are difficult to find new homes for. Cookbooks carry a unifying cultural connection, however. Cooking and eating are much the same as 100 years ago. People want to know what their ancestors made in the countries where they lived until some moved to this melting pot.

I was satisfied with my weekend’s labors.

Weekend Labors

I made space in the building. I helped “feed” the stores and our online listings and, the last resort for unwanted books, Books by the Foot.

Venus has risen above the roof over my bed. That’s her on Virgo’s shoulder.


I sometimes use the Sky View app. You aim the phone at a celestial area or object and it tells you what you are looking at. The planet isn’t visible anymore. The app can see through the roof, however. The morning has brightened.

The sun is just rising. A tiny orange dot on the horizon in amongst the orange and yellow and red leaves. 6:51.

Time to rise. Let the dogs out. Shower.


There’s a load of newspapers in the bed of the pickup.

Some hoarder’s mental aberration.

I’ll drive down to the paths below the house and unload them. With an empty pickup, I can go to the landfill where Frederick County recycles landscape debris into mulch. It is close to the warehouse where we recycle unwanted books.

I have a few thousand bulbs to start planting.

I need to get all the potted plants onto saucers so they’ll survive the winter with a bit of eastern light and water.

There are stones to move and make into walls. I’m almost out of places to build them. Well, that’s not true. My land is nearly infinite for that kind of thing. But the property around the house is pretty well demarcated. Do I really want to extend the invisible boundary between semi-tame and wild? I bet most people couldn’t tell the difference.

And books. There will be lots and lots of books. My lifelong “chore.”

And business. Tedious paperwork and people problems—the things I can’t delegate to those who are much better at that stuff than I.

Monday the 13th

A beautiful brilliant azure day. The phone says it is only 44 degrees, but it doesn’t feel that cold.

Some of the staff are returning from the plague.

Ernest and I are heading west, over the mountains to Hagerstown.

I’m covered with sawdust and smell like mulch.

I had an epiphany this morning that instead of all the bagged mulch I’ve been buying, I could get a load of loose mulch in the pickup truck. I did some online searches early this morning while still in bed. Then I remembered that Frederick County has some kind of recycling initiative. I looked it up online. The dump is only a few minutes from the warehouse. I figured it was worth a try. I used to pick up loads of composted manure in my pickup in Pennsylvania. That gave me the foresight to bring a tarp and some rocks to hold the tarp over the mulch. I got to the landfill, recycling center—whatever it is called now—about 10. There are lots of vehicles coming and going. Mostly big trucks. There are two entry lanes, and I guessed I should go on the one with a scale. The woman was very nice. She weighed the truck. I was handed a sheet of paper and given directions. I saw a huge mountain of mulch and pulled next to it. A guy in a giant loader waved me in another direction. I went that way and knew I wasn’t going to the right place. I turned around and went back to mulch mountain. A guy in a yellow vest came up to me in a golf cart.

“I want to buy some mulch.”

“Oh. They said you asked for compost.”

“Maybe I said the wrong thing.”

“Go over there, and he’ll be right over.”

He pointed to a smaller mountain across the access road.

Soon, the guy in the giant loader came over. He told me where he wanted me. I hurried to get the 4 big stones out of the truck bed so they wouldn’t get buried. He scooped up an enormous amount of mulch and shook it over the truck bed. He dropped only about half a scoop in and filled the bed, plus about 4 feet above the truck rails.

‘Too high. Should’ve brought a shovel,’ I thought.


So I climbed up and started pushing the stuff off the truck with my hands. I also pushed it down into voids in the corners. That’s why I’m covered in brown dust and smell like a garden center.

I pulled the tarp over and placed stones on the tarp corners.

“Am I legal?” I wondered. There was a police car on the shoulder of the county road near the entrance when I pulled into the vast dump and recycling complex.

“I guess I’ll find out.”

I pulled onto the exit scale and was told I owed $9.54. A truckload of bags would be about $200.

I gingerly pulled out onto the 4-lane road and watched the cop car out of the corner of my eye as I drove by. His taillights didn’t blink on.

What a deal!

I’ll be back—a lot.

I’m a sucker for a deal.

9 bucks!

Ernest and I are heading back to Frederick. It is just after noon. We did some fast and dirty culling, but the store was actually in great shape.

So many moving parts in Wonderland.

The forests along the Interstate are about 50% denuded. The remaining leaves are yellow, gold, red, orange and brown. Fall flew by. Leaves are flying off the trees as we pass by as well.

I think we will have a tough winter. There are dozens of chipmunks around the house. They go bouncing on the stone walls and dive into holes and crevasses. The mourning dove population is higher than I ever recall as well. Population explosions are usually followed by busts.

I think we will have a tough winter. There have been too many mild ones lately.

I dread the hard work of plowing and shoveling.

The results of the Asian cookbook research are ready. The notes say the cookbooks are written in Gujarati—a West Indian dialect. I’ve never heard of it. It is amazing what bookselling is like in 2023.

Another cookbook caught my eye this weekend.

Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as Cook

Do you think Emily Dickinson did much cooking? The booklet is very stained, as if a previous owner used it in the kitchen. As infinite as the internet is with information, books still offer up surprises.

There were a lot of unusual pamphlets as well. I think about 20 old Custer items passed through my hands. A handful were written by characters who claimed to have survived the final battle.

“I Was with Custer at Little Big Horn.”

There were a bunch of “Mad Anthony” Wayne booklets as well.

Somebody spent years finding and collecting these unusual objects.

So many things pass through. It seems that every day I handle something I’ve never seen before. Some days it is many things.

“Things.” Is my life too focused on “things”?

Well, it could be cats. Or football. Or sitting on a rock and dreaming.

When describing my London trip, I didn’t devote enough attention to the amazing British Library Fantasy Exhibition.

It was overwhelming. And other events kept flying by so fast there wasn’t enough time for written introspection.

But the British Library has been hacked. Likely ransomware. That’s why they could only accept cash for the Map to Fairyland and the big hardcover exhibition catalog.

Their website is still down.

Maybe next week I will write more about the things I saw and learned there.

But some prompts from the website would help.

Maybe they will be unpacked by then. Or pay the ransom.


Ernest and I are driving back from Gaithersburg. That store had another great month in October. I’ve learned over the years not to “coast” on success. Things can stagnate very quickly. An opposite and concurrent concern is “don’t mess with success.” You can do more harm than good. So, while I was culling down there, I was thinking, ‘Is there anything we can expand—that deserves expansion?’ In order to do that, we would have to contract something else.

Maybe the landlord will miraculously come up with more space for us—at an affordable rate!

Last night, I watched The Princess Bride. I hadn’t seen it for a long time. It is a miracle of a movie. When it first came out, I was a struggling bookseller unsure of the future—personal and professional. CDs were still a pretty novel invention. I recall playing the soundtrack in the store a lot. I like Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits a lot as well.

As you wish…

I wish things had turned out like a “storybook story.” Things were pretty wonderful for a very long time. I should take solace in that. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost…”

I would start all over again, for there is nothing better.

Thursday morning, 6 a.m.

I stoked the fire, and it has come to life 12 paces away. The warm orange dragon’s eye glows through the ornate glass and iron doors. It is the only light in the house beside this laptop propped atop a pillow on my supine torso.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. It will be different than all the rest. The first that won’t be in Pennsylvania in nearly fifty years.

That part of life is getting smaller.

So much of life is getting smaller.

But my booklife keeps getting bigger.

“Through a glass darkly.” Those words came to me out of nowhere in the wee hours. I’m glad I forced myself to have enough consciousness to write them down.

All of life, past, present and future, is seen as through a glass darkly. My eyes sometimes lie. What I see is skewed by the mind behind the eyes. Family that was. That is. That will be.

Work and projects are the parts of my life I can push. I know no other way to go than full speed ahead.

The week has been very busy. I have visited all three stores. The excitement of the upcoming holiday season is just starting. The plans have been made for the big Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

I hope the public “Thinks Used” for gifts this year.

Outside in the dark, my truck is parked on a path in the woods. It is laden with a second load of wood mulch. Bringing wood into a forest seems counterintuitive. I have spread one load already—atop hundreds of pounds of old newsprint paper.

Newspaper on Wood Path

The Washington Post newspapers from the 90s and early 2000s are quite heavy. Every day, a pound and a half of paper was printed for each reader. Hard to believe. But I have boxes and boxes of proof. Now most news is delivered digitally—invisibly—weightlessly—through cyber space.

Two truckloads of newspaper. Likely four truckloads of mulch. The broad path from the paved drive, below the terraced garden beds and then turning uphill toward the deck, will be transformed by this project. Eventually, it will all be absorbed by the earth. But the path will be richer for that. The once bare soil covered. The occasional weeds subdued. It already looks much better.

Mulched Wood Path

Why? I felt I should put all that old news to good use.

Tonight, I will attend Moby Dick at the Weinberg Center. Wonder Book is sponsoring the 1956 movie. I am very much looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay. He also wrote a book about the experience—Green Shadows, White Whale. The movie was shot in Ireland and was no easy experience for the fantasist.

In between, my day will be… surprises.

The new warehouse buildings are almost done. I’m told one tenant can take possession in mid December. That building is a large truck tire and vehicle repair facility. The other building will start generating rent in February—a complex deal—while that company—a German-based but global portable data center fabricator—is working on it.

The drainage pond has gotten more and more complex. I thought it would just be a large declivity filled with rubble to absorb runoff. It has evolved into a complex multilayer pond-like construction and will have layers of gravel and soil and who knows what else. I’m sure there’s some engineering reason for all the expensive work.

New Warehouse Pond

Crazy. Seems way too complex for its function.

The sunrise was blood red just now. It has moved south to where I can see it without raising my head from the pillow.

I will rise soon. Perform my morning routines. I will go down into the yard and spread more newspaper and shovel mulch atop it from the truck bed.

“Through a glass darkly.” The words that came to me in the wee hours and I was conscious enough to write them down. St Paul wrote them in his Epistles.

I was in Corinth and Ephesus last spring—places where he preached and wrote.

In essence, he means we don’t see everything clearly in this life. But all will be understood in the next.

Yes. I would appreciate some answers when the time comes, thank you very much.

London lingers with me.

So many aspects of the visit I didn’t write about.

Saturday, for example. I was anxious to get out and about should Gerry and his friend have any plans for me. I texted him that I was going to the Victoria and Albert and to let me know if anything was on.

(His friend lives across the street from the V&A. How cool is that?)

I timed my departure so I would arrive right at opening.

I took the Tube from Paddington to South Kensington. I know the area very well and started up the stairs when I saw a sign over a pedestrian tunnel “To the Museums.”

Why not?

I was underground walking for about a half mile, it seemed. (London below the surface must resemble Swiss cheese with all its subway lines and other excavations.) Then to the right was a mundane entrance with a sign “Victoria and Albert.” Up a dozen steps, and I was in the museum! Amazing. It opened in 1852. It is a vast place, mostly organized geographically. You can wander through old and ancient China, Africa, Asia, North America…

The current special exhibition that is on was entitled “Diva.” I had no interest in that.

My favorite area is the medieval Europe area. I headed there first. In a basement gallery at the easternmost part of the building, I knew there is a small gallery dominated by a tapestry that fills an entire wall. The Boar and Bear Hunt—4 meters high and 10 across. It is a fascinating glimpse into medieval courtly life and symbolism. I had the room to myself! I sat on the bench before it and immersed myself. A set of wired headphones was next to me. I put them on and listened to the courtly music and academic explanations. On one woman’s sleeve, the words “Monte de Desire” are embroidered—”Desire increases,” the recording explains. The hunt is a metaphor for the search for love—the pursuit of the quarry. The audio also relates the story of Sir Gawain and his resistance to the intense “pursuit” by a nobleman’s wife in the castle in which he was a guest. Facing the large and complex scenes, I almost felt I could enter the scene. It was a peaceful and contemplative hour I spent there. I wrote a bunch of notes while I sat. Where did they go?

Then I started walking the miles of aisles. The building covers twelve and a half acres. So many wondrous objects. Humans can create marvelous things. The museum doesn’t have many paintings, but one gallery had some Blakes and this treasure:

The Day-Dream

Rossetti’s The Day-Dream using his favorite model and lover Elizabeth Siddal. Hers is a fascinating story unto itself.

The Day-Dream

These iconic things up close, personal, in person create such emotion in me. Far more than pictures in a book or on a screen.

I don’t usually find much of interest in the silver galleries. This enormous modern Bible with intricately chased metallic boards was impressive.

I was just walking past glass cases, giving cursory looks at the metal plates and urns and pitchers and flatware…


I stopped and turned back. I think she was on a shelf at thigh level. I bent at the waist and studied her.


A reliquary bust of a woman was what had stopped me in my tracks. Some objects speak to you, call to you. Why she called to me amongst the 10,000s of other things I passed, I don’t know.

Whatever happened, I felt compelled to sit on a nearby bench and put these words down:

It is Thursday early afternoon. It is another glorious November day. Mid 60s and clear. The trees along the Interstate are mostly bare now. Fall is falling fast. We are bumping along in one of the three little box trucks we have now. It is built on a truck frame, so the suspension gives a bit of a rough ride.

The sun warms me in the passenger seat.

“I would like to be back in London. It was just so interesting,” I reverie.


Or Paris…

Is there enough time to go somewhere before Portugal?

Maybe I’ll go to the Philadelphia Rare Book Show. I haven’t been in the “city” for years. My friends Ron and Jeff are exhibiting. We could have dinner.

We will see how much energy and motivation I have for that place though.

Memories flood into my mind as the sun warms me. So many trips with different friends along this route.


It is another Friday already.

I did so much lifting of books and mulch and other things this week. My arms and shoulders ache this morning.

I opened the dampers on the woodstove before I let the dogs out. I went out with Pip. The rich and heady scent of wood smoke and leaf mold was delicious. A feast for the sense of olfaction.

It was a golden dawn. The sunrise shone on yellow leaves and acres of yellowed ferns and the vast carpet of fallen leaves. Gold on gold.

I went to see Moby Dick on the big screen at the Weinberg last night. I had to force myself up to go. I was tired, sore and sleepy—even though the movie didn’t begin til 7:30.

I’m glad I went. It wasn’t a big crowd when I walked in at the last minute. I avoided eye contact and hurried up front to the third row. I was alone, with no one around or in front of me.

I’m so glad I went. It was another immersive experience, another in person experience which far exceeds an at home viewing.

The acting was as huge as the great white whale.

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

I think the others there appreciated it as well. There was applause at the end.

It was a good to sponsor its showing. It was also a bit selfish. I wanted to see it.

The books were great this week. So many wonderful surprises. The stores will have great things to choose from.

Some went to be researched.

A signed limited Kerouac Visions of Cody.

A sammelband with two Thomas Paine titles bound in with another book.

So many others…

And gold. GOLD!

Someone’s collection of vintage Golden Books.

Vintage Golden Books

They are perfect and from the time when I was a small child.

My mom would buy me a Golden Book if I behaved on a trip to the “supermarket”—Vons IGA, I think it was.

Golden memories of some of the first books I was permitted to pick out for myself.

Books can cause time travel.

6 Comments on Article

  1. David Bowling commented on

    Wrong. The only dead planet in our solar system is Mercury, because it doesn’t have an atmosphere. All the other planets still have an atmosphere. Please correct yourself.

    Thanks, Dave

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      NASA says there are four possibilities in our solar system.
      Earth, Mars, Europa, Enceladus – but the last three are unlikely.
      I’d love to think there are sea monster under Europa’s ice.
      I do think there is life in the universe – infinite life.
      Thanks for reading and reaching out!

  2. John Carrigy commented on

    Hi Chuck,

    Really enjoying living vicariously through your stories here! I hope Portugal is enjoyable – it is a great book country and the food is amazing.
    Your comment on time travel struck a chord. If you have the time, watch a show called “Detectorists” (free on Youtube but dvd if handier) – it captures that very idea that objects are the closest we will get to time travel. It’s warm, funny and intelligent so I think you might get a kick out if it in the winter months.

    All the best,

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I’ll look into that.
      Great to hear from you!
      Thanks so much.


  3. CDM commented on

    A friend sent me the link to your blog. I just turned 54 and started visiting your store (the small, original one) when I was 13. You may (but probably don’t) remember two blonde girls – my older sister and me – sitting in the aisles reading for hours and buying stacks of old, weird books. Now that I’m typing this, it’s possible we helped you pay your rent each month and make room for new books. In return, your store was a true “wonder”-land when we, two grieving kids, really needed it. I still visit and come out with stacks! Thanks for everything.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I do remember!
      A golden era.
      Thank you for reminding me

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