Life Cycles

Winemaker Copyright

5:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 3

The sleep was hard and deep. I had dreams of clearing a long roadside slope of high grass and weeds. I had a helper, and we talked as we worked. He had a Boston accent, and in the dream, I knew him well. But awake, I know I’ve never seen him before. We talked about a special brand of potato chip from New England that comes in large bucket-like metal cans. They weren’t “Charles Chips.” The sleep was so good because of exhaustion, I think. When I got home after a long workday, I had thrown myself into gardening.

Spring is aging.

On Tuesday, I got the big pickax and slammed it into the gravel patio behind the house. That is where there were still a dozen or more small bleeding hearts. They had grown to 6 to 10 inches each. Their seeds had jumped from the walled garden above and taken root there. If I struck in the right place, the fleshy roots could be prised up from the gravel by pushing the handle forward. I dug 7 or 8 up and put them in the tub filled with composted manure. The tub was lifted into the bed of the ATV. I drove down the hill and planted them behind the farthest terrace wall. It runs along the mulch-covered path that is wide enough to drive on, so I can access the north side of the house. That wall needs some dressing up. It gets ragged in the summer.

Then I drove back to the paved drive and started on the redbud grove that has established itself in the narrow gravel strip that runs along the steep paved driveway. I’d brought the heavy mattock with me. I slammed that into the gravel about 8 inches from the saplings’ trunks. These were much more difficult to get out. I worked until I had extracted 4 from the rocky soil. The largest was over an inch in diameter and about 4 feet tall. I hoped I’d gotten enough roots that they would survive. I drove them down near the end of the drive where there’s a dirt mound. The sign that reads “Tree Farm” is on a post atop the dirt mound. I was given the sign by the Forest Service. Last spring, I had planted 4 store-bought redbuds on the mound. One had not survived. I was going to replace that with one I’d just dug. But when I inspected closer, I saw that there were some leaves down near the base of the trunk. Redbuds are tough. Once a 15-foot specimen I had planted got crushed by a much larger tree which had fallen across it. I despaired as almost all its crown had been broken off. But rather than cutting it down, I waited, and it had some leaves in the spring. Now it looks as though it was never damaged.

I planted the 4 bare root trees I dug up around the base of the mound. If they survive, there will be a little grove of them for me to admire as I drive down and up each day.

Tree Farm

I will water them on my way to work this morning. I’ll pick up the empty watering can on my way home this evening.

There are at least 20 more redbuds in that impossible patch. They can’t remain because they are only inches from the drive. I’ll need to find places for them around the mountain. It will be a lot of work.

After planting the bare root redbuds, I carried most of the 30 bags of mulch I’d bought and set them on the beds closest to the front of the house. The bags are very heavy from all the rain over the weekend. Those beds are full of hostas, rising from the earth in many shades of green and yellow. The soil around them is pretty bare. I was too tired to cut them open and spread the mulch.

In a fit of foolishness, I’d bought two big packages of pork. Cheap cuts for the dogs. Cutlets for me. I took them out to the deck to cook. I turned the cock on the gas canister beneath the grill. Then I twisted the knobs of all four burners. I spread the meat on the wire grilling surface. It smelled so good.

The deck is covered with maple “helicopters” again. There are also thousands of ash tassels which have floated down from above. I need to blow the deck and drive and walkways clean.

My phone says I took nearly 2000 steps between 7 and 8 last night.

The pork cutlet was delicious with some Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce atop it. I sliced it into a kind of pork caesar salad.

I went to bed pretty early. It had been a long hard day.

Sleep was delightful until the cramps came about 3. One calf and one thigh ignited on fire. Nothing I could do could assuage them. I got up and got a magnesium pill that my doctor had recommended. Then I drank a small bottle of Gatorade Zero.

One or both cures worked, and soon I was back in dreamland, bundled amongst the covers and pillows.

It was so cold I turned on the heat last night. It is 43 out this morning.

The week has been a disappointment in some ways. We had two enormous Books by the Foot orders pending. Both were rush orders with tight deadlines, but we could have pulled it off. Designers too often wait til the last moment and despair that they must receive them in a few days… in California, for instance.

Both had gotten to my attention last Friday. I agreed we could do both without a “rush” fee if they committed that day. The “rush fee” is a 20% markup we’ve added to deter these kinds of emergencies. It also helps mitigate things like drafting staff from other departments to help fill the order. These situations also force us to stop working on other peoples’ projects, and so we fall behind across the board. When I got in Monday, I was all ready to go to a store and send Ernest to another and start pulling almost 300 linear feet of assorted cookbooks. It would actually be a therapeutic cull for the stores. The books would need to be transported back to the warehouse and be measured and packed.

“Any news on the big orders?” I asked when I got in Monday morning.

“No. Nothing came in over the weekend.”

“Can you call them and ask the status? They’re in Connecticut, so it’s not too early. Just say we want to make sure we can meet their deadline.”

All she got was voicemail.

Ernest and I did other things while waiting to hear. The morning was aging.

“Send them an email and tell them there will be a 20% rush fee if we don’t get a commitment by noon. Ernest and I will go out and pull a lighter cookbook cull just in case—to get started.”

So, I went to the Frederick store and Ernest went to Gaithersburg with a bunch of plastic tubs. I enjoy the physical aspect of pruning old or duplicated stock from shelves as low as the floor and as high as 8 feet.

When I got back a couple hours later, I asked, “Any news?”

“Not on the cookbooks. But the big vintage order agreed to the rush fee. They don’t want to pay til next week though—when they ship.”

That was a double problem.

It was now VERY late to even fill the order in time to get them to California by their deadline. They need to be pulled, reviewed for accuracy and cleaned up individually. That involves a lot of payroll hours. If they change their minds and don’t pay, we are stuck and have a load of boxed books and payroll hours wasted.

It has happened before.

“Tell them we can’t do it that way. We will do the best we can to ship them quickly as soon as payment goes through, but that we can’t guarantee their deadline.”


From both clients.

Sigh… they were both great sales. So much revenue disappearing. I visualized two big checks fading into nothingness. Mid 5 figures… gone. Don’t count your chickens.

I wonder what the clients are doing. Can anyone else do this faster than us? Who else has a couple thousand linear feet of cookbooks to choose from? Who else has 35-45,000 vintage books shelved and ready to be picked and packed?

I guess I’ll never know.

“Save the cookbooks Ernest and I got, just in case they call us back.”

3 a.m. Thursday morning

The bedroom’s light leaks out the window. Golden green leaves glow just beyond the porch roof. The rest of the world is black, blacker than the night. A month ago, those branches were bare twigs. The farmer delivered the fertilizer today. A big steaming pile of brown friable compost. It signals that summer will spread on the gardens. Then fall will color the leaves. Then they will dry and brown. Will all the sweet soil be moved by then? It does not matter. Winter will stop all life. Then one black night I will look out my bedroom window. Only supple spring green leaves will reflect the bedroom’s lamplight.


The manure comes from an innovative dairy farm just north of the Mason Dixon Line. They somehow “squeeze” the methane out of raw manure. They use that gas to power the big farm. The rest of the manure gets “cooked” killing any weed seeds. What I bought is the leftover byproduct. It doesn’t stink. It has a sort of sweet earthy smell. Its texture is almost like peat moss. It retains moisture well.

The ferns are rising like fairy fingers from the forest floor. Acres of fernbrake cover much of the forest floor on the mountain.


The deer don’t eat them. They emit a chemical that suppresses most competing plantlife. The young ones are very light green. They unfurl their croziers and the fronds are lace-like when young. The vast patches glow, especially in the morning light.

It is Friday morning. I am awake and writing at 5 a.m.

The new normal.

The horizon is brightening a bit. Sunrise is at 6:06. It is cold. Low 40s.

May’s first five days have been chilly and damp. Today the sun will be out, and it will get to the mid 60s.

It has been a week of planting and transplanting. The warehouse gardens have 60 or so tomato and pepper plants. I may get the sunflower and other seed packs open today.

So much to do…

Spring is aging.

Last night, I dug up and transplanted more redbud trees and bleeding heart perennials. Getting the trees out with enough roots to survive is hard labor.

More Transplants

This year and last I think I’ve transplanted 80 or more redbuds. Some are mere sprigs. And there are many more to go.

I need to try to find all the new transplants and give them water this morning. There’s no more rain predicted til Monday.

I’ve cut open the latest 30 bags of mulch. Perhaps I’ll dump and spread them tonight.

So much to do…

Spring is aging quickly.

Last weekend was all carts all day, all Saturday and all Sunday. The volume is up, so it is a struggle just to stay even. The time I’ve spent away this year hasn’t helped.

I’ll never get caught up. There are many things waiting for my attention. I pass them every day. I try to become numb to their calls.

I cannot ignore them. It hurts.

Meanwhile, neat new old stuff comes flowing in. Hundreds of thousands of neat new things each month.

Saturday evening was the banquet for Malice Domestic. The giant Marriott Hotel in Rockville was filled with authors and fans. Many dressed the part. Nearly flamboyant colorful dresses and hats. Were they in costume? The stereotype of a cozy mystery writer or reader? Or is it their style? Their native dress.

I got there about 5 to meet Beth, Barbara Mertz’s daughter, who has done a masterful job keeping the luster on her mother’s legacy shining bright. We sat alone in her suite and chatted about family and memories. Then others started appearing. One of her children, a niece, cousin, old friends… The room was crowded, and we trooped out to the bar. The lobby was filled with characters out of central casting. About 80% were women. Maybe more. All were engaged in conversation, I presume about books and writing and plots and other authors and successes and failures, agents and editors, publishers and publicists, reviewers and readers.

Then to the banquet hall. I’d guess about 100 round tables with ten seats each. We were at the front, just below the dais. After a few introductions, Beth got up and spoke about her mother’s legacies—one of which was this convention of mystery writers and fans. Barbara was awarded with a “ghost” honor—for a giant who is no longer with us.

Then four well-known mystery writers came out one after the other dressed as characters out of her Elizabeth Peters’ and Barbara Michaels’ books. They performed a skit. Each was searching for a missing teapot (the “Oscar” for best mystery etc… is a ceramic teapot called an “Agatha.”) It was fun and funny.

Mystery Writer Skit

Sunday afternoon, we had a reunion of sorts at her longtime home outside of Frederick. “Lorien.” The house and gardens and waterfall and reflecting pool… have all been renovated. I felt sure Barbara listened in to all the reminiscences of her friends and family. Her little loyal army celebrated—mostly how lucky they were to have known her so well. Barbara Rosenblat gave a reading from one of the earliest Amelia stories. She is an actress and also does many audiobooks. She gave voice to Amelia and Emerson and even baby Ramses. It was delightful.

My old friend lived again for a weekend.

So it is May.

The columbines are magnificent this year. I haven’t planted one for a decade. They keep self seeding. Often they end up in odd spots like the middle of a path. You just have to walk around them.

This one decided to grow in the middle of a stone step!

The colors and shapes are always a surprise. They hybridize (is that the right term?) themselves. Serendipity is always a joy for a gardener.

We met about the April sales’ results at the three stores. BOOM! All were substantially up from April 2022. It is so heartening that new generations are discovering the joy (and serendipity) of used bookstores. The stock at each is so lush and varied. I spend a lot of time at the warehouse deciding which books should go to which store. The bagged ephemera and prints continue to flow to them in profusion as well. Toys, games, LPs, comics, graphic novels, antiques, bric-a-brac, CDs, DVDs, silk ties (!), retro sodas, exotic (and normal) candies…

I visited my primary care doctor this week. I was concerned that my “wellness” check with a specialist had turned into two more daily drugs and the fear of the unknown. He talked me down with facts and numbers and scores and…

I feel wonderful. No symptoms. All my tests are normal. But… now I’m “prone” to something possibly serious, and these things will prevent or mitigate should I have some internal “accident.” My nanny watch hasn’t recorded any anomalies. It gives my wrist a little vibration when it gives me an award for achieving some physical goal it feels is significant.

Maybe I’ll get over the non-issue. My “scores” need to improve. But my scores are actually good!


Annika has been busy preparing rare and collectible books for the Georgetown Rare Book Fair on May 19-21. I’ve told her not to overthink it. The book factory will generate far more book sales that weekend than we could dream of making. Still, there will be some wonderful books and things on display in our booth.

Books for Georgetown Rare Book Fair

The contractor was in yesterday. He cleaned off the deck-zilla and porches and barn siding. Now I can stage the potted plants on their wooden wine crates “plant stands.” Maybe I should have a cookout. Would anyone come?

If I attempt it, it will have to wait til I return from Venice.

A nice collection of autographed books from a senator’s estate came in. (I’m not supposed to mention the name.)

I sent a large collection of Life magazines to the stores. Many are from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. The cover images are iconic.

Since I’m the only one who has a good grasp of what to do with ephemera and other non-book printed items, all that stuff is sent my way. I grasp it by the seat of my pants. It is tough work to quantify and market. What do you do with a large calligraphic vellum indenture from the 1850s? I really don’t know. I refolded it and put it aside.

Indenture Agreement

Larry asked for a separate appraisal on a couple of books.

Winemaker Copyright

The Benjamin Rush title on yellow fever looked promising. The binding was gorgeous. When I checked for the edition, I discovered the title page and about five more were missing. So were the last five or six pages. Did someone use it for toilet paper? The 1695 Family Physician was battered from use, and the text block had been crudely re-glued to the binding. But I was intrigued by the notice on the copyright page that it contained “the right Method of making English-Wines, or Metheglin.” Metheglin is a kind of Welsh mead. I made an offer on both. That was conveyed by Larry to the owner via text. The owner refused the offer. He must be crazy. (I was crazy for making any offer.)

The sun is up.

Morning is aging.

I need to water a bunch of new plantings.

Then bump down the mountain and see where my priorities lie.

Book priorities.

Two bonus poems below:

May Day

I have crested the rise
A lifetime’s journey
to get to the top
The view is long
A vast plain spreads
to a far horizon
What is beyond that [limit]?
No one may know
until you have crossed over
I pause and look back
over my shoulder
down the path I took
A soft smile spreads
The view becomes indistinct
a distant mist comes slowly
approaching from behind
I cannot tarry
lest it close upon me
I turn and gaze forward
The soft da Vinci smile returns
A deep breath fills my chest
And I take that first step
down a gradual slope
to that far horizon


The bedroom’s light leaks out the window.
Golden green leaves glow just beyond the porch roof.
The rest of the world is black, blacker than the night.
A month ago, those branches were bare twigs.
The farmer delivered the fertilizer today.
A big steaming pile of brown friable compost.
It signals that summer will spread on the gardens.
Then fall will color the leaves
They will dry and brown.
Will all the sweet soil be moved by then?
It does not matter. Winter will stop all life.
Then one black night I will look out my bedroom window.
Only supple spring green leaves will reflect the bedroom’s lamplight.

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