Red Bellied Woodpecker

I thought I’d missed getting a photo of this Red Bellied Woodpecker at my bay window.

Lucky miss!

Sunday, 6 a.m.

58 inside. 13 degrees out.

The phone says it is 9 down in the valley.

If I had known it was going to get this cold, I would have stoked the fire better last night.

I was only paying attention to the snowstorm coming this afternoon.

The phone says it might begin at 2—40%. From 4-8—100%. Then changing to ice til 1 a.m.—100%. Then raining at lower percentages til …? The good news is that after midnight, the temperatures will rise to the 40s. Any snow there was will melt off by sunrise.

If that’s correct, I just need to get home from the warehouse today before it gets too deep and then wait it out.

I’m glad I loaded the big cast-iron rings with firewood while in isolation. Otherwise, either the wood or I would get wet bringing more from the barn.

In Luxor, it is 61. The low will be 39. Wow. I didn’t think it would get that cold. I was planning on taking a sweater. No raincoat though… LOL. I’d be exploring a temple or something today.

At the warehouse, it was me, Travis and the “kid.” It was brutally cold outside. I brought the kid in from unloading and loading vans to warm up. There were other projects he could do inside.

I was bored with carts. I’d done a lot of them on Saturday. The ones that were left were loaded with problems—difficult material to assess and process.

I got into the record mess around Dock 11. Ridgeley does good work with the LPs and stuff that comes along with them. But he’s been putting things “aside”—I guess to get into in the future. There were boxes of jacketless 45-rpm records. Those I just send to the stores for 94 cents without looking at them. Let some treasure hunters make a “find.” It’ll get them to come back and search again.

I started poking around, and then stacks of boxes and loose LPs started falling over toward me. I backed away in frustration. I saw some really good stuff in the avalanche.

I got the kid and went back there with him.

“Put all the loose stuff in tubs. Put the tubs and all these crates and boxes on a pallet and bring them up to me where I can sort through them.”

I was making new work for myself. Why not?

(During my 2-day COVID quarantine, I’d done a LOT of things around the house and grounds. Things I’d been putting off or perceived as too hard or tedious—I forced myself to do them. Vacuuming under things I hadn’t looked under in years. Wiping down long neglected corners. Putting things away. Doing new “old” things was the story of my COVID week.)

Then I saw a pallet on Dock 2 the kid had unloaded from a van earlier. About 30 avocado flats. I glanced at the top layer. Old German books. Those will be sent to me, anyway. I might as well skip the middleman.

I got a pallet jack and moved the collection to where I could sit and have my laptop streaming stuff—first soccer and then the football playoffs. I’ve avoided the NFL a lot in the last couple of years. I don’t like politics and political correctness with my sports. But Tom Brady was playing, and I like the idea of an “old guy” finishing strong. Every time he touches a ball, he sets a new record that is likely to never be broken. They won. It was Brady’s 35th postseason win. Next on the list is Joe Montana with 16.

All the while, I was working with old German books. It was a woman’s collection. She was an educator. A PhD. She was some kind of completist in mid-20th century literature. Hundreds of paperbacks. Mostly the DTV publisher series with the numbers on their spines. There wasn’t anything really great.

German Books

But there’s always something. Annika will be getting a little stack to research. Unfortunately, the Hesse’s, Kafka’s, Mann’s, Grass’s, Boll’s… were not first editions.

But this reminded me that Alan James Robinson has sent an image of Kafka and the bug man from Metamorphosis.

I had asked Travis to keep a weather eye on things. He works on media Gaylords at a loading dock. Each loading dock door has several little windows. He’s usually at #11 because there’s a huge dumpster parked outside that dock. There is a lot of trash in the charity Gaylords. Empty CD and DVD cases, other plastic detritus… It can’t be recycled. He opens the dock door periodically and tosses it out. But Sunday Dock 11 was a mess of LPs.

I also went to the docks and looked outside periodically. One time I checked, the new plow guy rumbled into the parking lots spraying salt everywhere.

Each time—nothing.

The kid goes to lunch at 2. I told him to go on home then. The phone was sure the snow would start soon. 100%.

At about 3, it began snowing. And sticking right away because the ground was so cold. Travis took off. I began labeling all my work so it would make sense if I couldn’t get in Monday. That took awhile. I had a lot of odds and ends to pick up and put away.

Finally, everything was in order—well, everything I’d messed with on the weekend.

Time to go. I let Merry and Pippin out of their pen and headed out the door. Snow covered everything. The parking lot. The street. Everything. It was coming down so heavily you couldn’t see a hundred yards.

I got Merry and Pip into the big black 4WD Dodge Ram pickup with the extra nubby tires. I set it for 4-wheel drive “High” and headed out. The roads were deserted. All roads were covered with snow already. The Interstate. US 15 which is 8 lanes down to 4 lanes. I got to my 45-mph country road turn off. I crept along at 30 or so. The snow was crunchy, not icy. But still…

I got to my dead-end side-street and turned on the private lane. It wound up and up. The truck had no problem digging its heels in and pulling me up, up, up to end of the end. Home.

It was snowing hard. I went in and stoked the fire and settled in.

I had a well-earned Martini.


I put a pan of well water onto the woodstove to heat for truffle pasta. I wandered about puttering, organizing, putting things away. That became a habit during my two days of “forced vacation.”

I started listening to Pandora again recently. I plug my iPhone into a small Sony “stereo.” The sound booms out as good or better than the huge audiophile speakers I’d invested so much in as a youth.

I’d created a “Ralph McTell” channel recently. When you do that, Pandora plays a couple McTell songs and then spins off into songs it believes you would like if you like Ralph McTell.

(If you are of a certain age, I recommend you DON’T create a Ralph McTell channel unless you want to have frequent epiphanies of sadness and lost youth and weepings at songs you thought were sad love songs when you were young but had no idea they would eventually come true—with a vengeance—with loss—with emptiness—with there is nothing you can do about it—so many years later.)

And the snow continued.

I made truffle pasta on the stove.

I packed away some of gifts of cookies and snacks and desserts from Christmas to take into work and distribute there. I have to lose the COVID weight I’ve put on.

It got dark and snow swirled. The winds picked up. I took some videos from my bedroom window.

It was magical. Like ghosts and fairies swirling around in the spotlight that usually exposes the grounds, but that this night could not see past a few yards.

I watched some football, though I didn’t really care who was playing.

Eventually, I crashed in a fog of cocktails and work exhaustion and the end of a long day that began well before dawn.

As I lay in bed, I heard the storm rising. The trees outside were rattling and cracking as they swayed, their thousands of branches whipping against each other. The mountain winds howled and wailed and the storm buffeted against my home trying to penetrate the walls and windows into the warmth where I and two canines bundled in the warmth and protection with only inches of wood and siding and fewer than inches of glass separating life from exposure and certain death.

Every couple hours, I’d stir to drink something or rise and load more wood in the stove.

At one point, something bothered me, and I rose and crossed from the northern end of the house where my bed frame hugs that wall to the southern side where the door to the outside opens onto the broad paved upper landing. The Barn is about 70 yards away. A man was walking from the wild woods above and crossing in front of the Barn. He had triggered the security lights and was walking through that pool of illumination. He was bundled from head to toe. Tall. A wide brimmed slouch hat pulled down. A scarf wrapped round his face. He wore a long jacket that fell below his knees and was flapping in the gusts. He was partially obscured by the millions of snowflakes falling between us. I was threatened. What was he doing up here? How could he even get up here in the storm? Fear… Should I get a gun? The machete. How could he be here? How would he survive? He must either be up to no good or insane.

He seemed to have come down the mountain from the west—there is only wilderness in that direction for many miles.

Is he some Man of the Mountain? A spirit from long ago—who still walks the forests on drear nights?

Then I half woke and realized this was a dream. I was in bed. I had not risen and gone to the door. There was no man. But the man had seemed so real. He could not be up here unless he was supernatural.

The storm roared. I heard branches cracking and falling on to the house. I wondered if trees were blowing over. Would I have to cut my way out tomorrow?

Out in the blackness, I knew trees were whipping themselves and neighboring trees as they flailed in roaring winds.

If a tree fell and cut the house in half, could anyone come help?

I got up and walked across the house to the door from which I had dreamed of seeing him. The security lights were on, creating a large pool of light in front of the Barn. The wind or snow or falling branches could have triggered them to come on.

I shuddered.

I watched a bit and then locked the door. No one was out there. I turned and returned to bed.

I curled up wrapped in blankets, cradling pillows and buried beneath the huge faux fur “rug”* covering everything. Nothing to do but wait it out. Wait until the false dawn’s light and the beginning of sunrise.

* The big “fur” blanket. I’d purchased it from Restoration Hardware years ago as a memento of when we had our largest project ever with them. I need to write that story sometime. That was a crazy, huge event.

I’d check the phone periodically in between dreams, waking dreams or some loud noise waking me. The temperature was not rising… much. 34. That means freezing rain turning to ice on the extremely cold ground and pavement.

I awoke with morning’s light. The snow had stopped. Everything was covered with a white shiny layer. Thousands of branches, twigs and other tree detritus were embedded in the top crust.

Snow and Fallen Branches

That is the driveway underneath that mess, believe it or not.

Stepping out, I was walking on a crunchy layer. My foot would drop through that to 4 or 5 inches of soft snow.

Plowing was going to be a problem. I suspected underneath it all I would find a layer of ice from the periods of higher temperatures.

I went out and began plowing. The ATV had no problem pushing through the ice-covered snow. There was the constant “crunching” of the top layer of ice breaking up. Down and up the steep drive. Down and up. There was indeed a layer of not entirely hardened ice at the bottom—sticking to the pavement. No matter how many times I went over it, I couldn’t get down to bare pavement. It wouldn’t melt off unless the sun came out, or the temperature rose. The phone predicted neither of those things would happen.

I went inside and put the teakettle on the woodstove.

I’d drunk a lot of tea during my quarantine.

Gandalf Tea

Texts started coming in from managers. The warehouse wouldn’t open til 11. Should we try to open the stores? I didn’t know. I live in a different world up here.

“I don’t know. What are the roads like down there?”

Eventually, the three stores opened but the warehouse stayed closed. That was odd. A few people showed up to work at the warehouse. There was a power outage at one of the managers’, and the mass texting we use to notify people couldn’t be sent.

I went out and plowed again. I got some bare pavement exposed. I put a bag of salt in the bed of the ATV and drove down slowly tossing scoops on the worst ice patches.

I wasn’t going anywhere. I’d have another day trapped in paradise.

During my COVID lockdown, I’d put together a device I’d bought several years ago. I’d thought it was a kind of Swifter thing. Turns out it was a Shark steam cleaner for wood and tile floors.

“Might as well try it.”

Usually, the thought of such a task is anathema to me. Often the actually “doing” of the task is not as bad or boring as predicted. It was so in this case. The thing has a broad flat plastic head over which a kind of towel pocket slips and is attached with velcro. You just push and pull it over the floor and steam hisses through the “towel.” It went quickly and the wooden floors glowed and shone.

There was a sense of accomplishment when I awoke on Tuesday. A lot of put off stuff was done. On Friday, I’d even dragged myself under the back porch and used the gas-powered leaf blower to push out a mountain of leaves that had built up under there. That was an awkward and acrobatic exercise.

Cleared Porch


My driveway was bare and dry. No problem. But when I got to gravel lane, it was covered with ice where a neighbor had plowed it the day before and slush had hardened into a slick black sheet. It was white knuckles all the way down. I try to keep two wheels off the road where I hope there is traction. At one point I slid off the road into a ditch, and the truck tilted deep left. I rocked back and forth a few times and was greatly relieved when the beast pulled itself out of the ditch. I can’t imagine how I could have been towed. When I got to the bottom, the public roads were clear and dry.

Another adventure on the mountain.

I’d sent an email to the shelf builder that we could meet in Hagerstown anytime and brainstorm the renovations.

He called that morning, “Today would suit me very well.”

Well, I hadn’t planned on doing it that quickly, but with contractors, I’ve learned to take them when you can, otherwise you might not get them again for weeks or months. I checked the availability of Clark and Joey, and at 3:30, 5 of us gathered. That included two of the store managers.

We walked around looking at the place, which has been virtually unchanged since we moved in about 17 years before. We had extra-wide aisles in the video rental area from the days when we were so busy with those that we needed the space to accommodate the customers browsing. Now the rentals are on their last legs. We could put a whole new row of 8-foot bookcases in! There were a LOT of crappy pre-fab low video display cases. Those would go away.

Then it became hard to visualize.

A few goals were certain. We want to have a vast low open space in the center of the store. LPs deserve more space, and we would build more bins for them. We want to put in a few of the huge glass display cases to showcase and protect collectibles. The new arrivals and “premium” book displays should be enlarged and given a more prominent location. The 5 heads bounced ideas off each other until a few building projects were decided upon. Those would provide the framework—the bones. We could flesh out the open areas in middle when that was done.

I said, “The space will tell us what to do when everything is cleared out and we have a blank canvas.”

This may be the last big store renovation. Frederick and Gaithersburg have had theirs—with many thanks to COVID.

I doubt I’ll ever open another bookstore.

But then—they are doing so well. They are no longer in the post internet decline. Maybe if the right deal came along… nah, that would be crazy. Only a booknut would consider such a thing.

It is Friday morning. 14 degrees.

The week flew by.

I reviewed a lot of books Annika has been working on. Then there were the carts in her room that had been there for months. Stuff I couldn’t pull the trigger on at the time. There were a lot of Doreen Feng’s books. They’d been put aside until we were pretty sure we’d found them all.

There’s an unrecorded Mexican book (none online/none on WorldCat) with hand colored engravings. There are the two James Beard first editions warmly inscribed to her.

Feng's Beard Books

A group of her bullfighting books will require some more research. I kind of fell in love with her. She was so accomplished in so many areas. And a groundbreaking feminist and Asian American woman breaking impossible barriers. Beautiful as well. Leave it to me to pick a dead one. Well, I’d likely not be exciting enough for her, anyway.

But maybe if I took up bullfighting…

There were also the Kerouacs (and an oddball Bukowski… Buke… I don’t get it) I’d put aside.

Feng's Kerouac Books

A dealer friend secured a file box collection by Tolkien’s “favorite photographer” from another bookseller in England.

Tolkien Collection

I haven’t had a chance to go through the hundreds of documents. Nothing signed by him, unfortunately, but some tantalizing things—including memoirs of two visits with the great man.

He thought he ought to patent HOBBIT.

Pamela Chandler
Tolkien Collection

Nothing earthshaking—but still something nice to be one step away from my hero.

While I was on quarantine, a friend and colleague posted an image of these “horrid” novels on Instagram.

Horrid Novels

I jumped on them the “INSTANT” I saw them. They are Jane Austen associations.

Horrid Novels

That reminds I also found a very small pamphlet at home during quarantine that records “Prayers” by Jane and siblings. It has no publishing information anywhere on it. Where do I begin with such a thing…

Oh, and I made reservations for Luxor again. This time I’ll test negative Inshallah.*

* God willing.

8 Comments on Article

  1. Ken Karmiole commented on

    I was sure you were going to find footprints in the snow made by the mysterious mountain man.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I was too scared to check!
      Thanks Ken!


  2. Andy Moursund commented on

    “At one point, something bothered me, and I rose and crossed from the northern end of the house where my bed frame hugs that wall to the southern side where the door to the outside opens onto the broad paved upper landing. The Barn is about 70 yards away. A man was walking from the wild woods above and crossing in front of the Barn. He had triggered the security lights and was walking through that pool of illumination. He was bundled from head to toe. Tall. A wide brimmed slouch hat pulled down. A scarf wrapped round his face. He wore a long jacket that fell below his knees and was flapping in the gusts. He was partially obscured by the millions of snowflakes falling between us. I was threatened. What was he doing up here? How could he even get up here in the storm? Fear… Should I get a gun? The machete. How could he be here? How would he survive? He must either be up to no good or insane.”

    Chuck, that was probably just Rick Marsh, who wanted to know if you’d gotten in any new military books.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      He would be able to get upon there I bet!

  3. Rick Banning commented on

    Hi Chuck, thanks for the lovely snowstorm…..I could have watched it for much longer. And the zig zag yellow and black cover Kafka book, did it have any illustrations inside? I’m reminded of the version illustrated by R. Crumb, quite striking. A big hello to Andy M……I really miss his store in Bethesda. Regards, Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Rick!
      Yes I took about 10 minutes of videos – but for Instagram 1 minute is the max.

      No illustrations in the Kafka


      1. Michael Dirda replied on

        Just getting caught up now with the blog–I was away in New York for five days for the Baker Street Irregulars Weekend. I’ll be happy to sign those copies of “Browsings” when we next get together. Of course, you might be in Luxor now, a couple of weeks later than expected. Oh, and by the way, you do make that pasta sound delicious, though I hope you’re adding a bit of protein and veg to your diet. –m
        P.S. Those look like the Folio Society edition of the “Horrid Novels” edited, I think, by Devendra P. Varma.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Michael.
          If my test is negative I go Saturday and return Feb 9.
          I need to eat less of everything due to Covid girth growth. But that truffle pasta w the olive oil I got in Italy is just amazing.
          I hope I can source more oil somehow.
          Yes a Folio imprint but not the “Society”.”Folio Press”. 1967. The box is not scalloped as most Folios are. (Nor bulging from the front edge of the slipcase as much older Folios are.

          Hope to see you soon.

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