Blackberry Lily

(Phantasie—from the Greek phantasia—apparition.)

The lilies bloom in July.

There are monstrous ones in the warehouse beds.

Warehouse Lilies


The flowers are so large they weigh the sturdy stalks down. I should stake them up, but I haven’t had time.

On the mountain, I have fewer lilies. Up there is so much shade. And if a rodent discovers their soft creamy white bulbs, then they disappear. However, the gemlike blackberry lilies are incredibly successful. There are hundreds in the various beds.

Blackberry Lily

They almost look like orchids. The flowers are only a few inches in diameter. The flowers turn into seed heads that look very much like little blackberry “fists”. I’ve helped propagate them by stripping handfuls of the hard ball bearing like seeds and scattering them where there are no lilies.

Chucky Lilyseed.

A good gardener treasures successes. Some failures should be expected and seen as an opportunity to put something different in the vacant space.

Sometimes, plants can be too successful and cause problems by dominating too much space. The bleeding hearts just a few paces from the side porch steps have grown into a near hedge. They are stunning in bloom and their tender fernlike foliage is graceful. But they have propagated and grown so high I can’t see the stone wall or even the raised bed sloping up to the forest behind them.

What can I do?

Well, when they start to die back—bleeding heart plants fade early and actually get a bit unattractive in late summer—I’ll inspect things closely and see if a solution reveals itself.

For some reason, a number of plants also prefer growing in the Delaware River stone gravel patio to the soil beds above the rock wall that rises separating the two. The platycodon (balloon flowers) long ago abandoned the garden. Their seeds leapt off the wall and the plants are now flourishing in the gravel. I’ve tried to reestablish them in the beds, but to no avail.

Balloon Flowers

It is time to think about fall planting. I ordered more trillium varieties this week. Almost all the ones I bought last year failed.

I’ll just try again.


I slept well but for some reason awoke too early. The first dawn light is faint. It barely defines objects I can see from my bed. But when I first opened my eyes only minutes ago, the room was in blackness.

Outside my bedroom the trees are black silhouettes against a uniformly gray sky. Soon, the view will all be green and blue. The summer view is millions of leaves.

Sleep is a mysterious thing. Sometimes, the mind demands it. Other times, it steadfastly refuses it.

5 a.m., and I am awake. I may as well try to write.

I didn’t wear my nanny watch last night, so I don’t know when I went to sleep. Therefore, I don’t know how long I slept.

The day will likely tell me if I got enough rest.

Will I drag through it? Or will I fly?

Yesterday, I was very productive.

So many books. But, then, that is every day.

When I got home last night, I was in the mood to work. Monday, I had been miserable. But more about that later.

I still have the huge mound of composted manure. It doesn’t smell, and when it is dry, it has the consistency of peat moss. It was quite moist and therefore quite heavy. But it was time to move some. And I wanted the workout. I set a goal of ten cartloads and followed through on it. In my thirteen years up here, I have created… how many… beds. I will have to count them.

When that was done, I decided to cut wood. There were a lot of deadfalls near the front of the house. I’d dragged the wood from the forest to get it closer to the front porch. That was so it would be easier to get the firewood to the cast iron rings that stay out there all year. I keep some wood on the lower front porch as insurance. If I need dry firewood and it is raining hard or I’m snowed in from the “barn”, I have that backup supply. There’s a good deal more wood out in the forest not too far from the house. I went out and cut some of that into manageable lengths that I could carry or drag to the house. There is a standing dead tree out there too. I looked at it from several angles. It has some widow makers high up. When a tree is long dead, it can shed branches quite easily. If one falls on you, it can turn your spouse into a widow. The vibration of the chain saw can cause such wood from high above to break off. I didn’t want to mess with notching it, so I gingerly cut through three quarters of its trunk. I glanced up constantly, just in case. Also, it wasn’t one hundred percent clear in which direction it would fall—that’s where notching would help. So I just backed off and walked away. It will fall on its own now sooner or later. A bit of wind or enough deterioration, and it will fall harmlessly in the woods.

When it falls, if I’m not around, will it make any sound?

Then it was time to go inside and eat. There was leftover Greek salad and half a tuna sandwich from lunch. The sandwich had been Ken Karmiole‘s. A good friend and mentor, he’s also a brilliant antiquarian bookseller. We went to the Mountain View Diner, which is in the same shopping center as the Frederick Wonder Book. But more on his visit will have to come later.

I opened a bottle of wine. I took a glass of it and the salad into the great room.

“What should I watch?”

I sorted through the sprawl of DVDs on the green marble-topped sideboard. It is a massive piece of furniture that rests below the 80-inch flat screen that is hung on the wall above it.

Lord of the Rings! Two Towers came into my hand and I put it on. I haven’t watched it in… I don’t know.

The Two Towers is my favorite part of the trilogy. There are so many threads going on all over Middle Earth in it. I sat and ate while the movie played. When I’d finished the salad—it was wonderful—I got down on the floor to go through boxes of books.

My own books.

I go through other people’s books every day. Sorting my own collection is a far different proposition.

Old friends came out of the boxes. Books I’d sought and collected as a much younger bookseller were revealed one at a time. My younger son has been boxing the collection up in Pennsylvania and bringing them down from the third floor library there and then bringing them southeast, across the Mason Dixon Line, to Frederick, Maryland.

“My John Gardner’s!”

I could part with them now. Except the first edition Grendel with its orange dust jacket. It is very difficult to find a copy whose spine is not faded. The orange ink must be especially photo reactive. Much time in a sunny room, and its spine whitens. I kept The Wreckage of Agathon too. That was a fun read. Agathon lived in ancient Greece and ate only onions, I recall…

Keith Roberts! No relation. What happened to him? There was a clutch of Kerosina Press limited editions. I could part with them. I’m not sure why I collected his books.

Baseball books. Baseball nostalgia and collecting was very hot in the 80s and 90s. There was a baseball card craze and prices boomed. Now, not so much. I was a Dodgers’ fan. I reluctantly parted with the Walter Alston first edition… I kept the signed Sandy Koufax.

I guessed at prices and wrote them on Post Its with a Sharpie. I added any notes (e.g. “Ltd Ed” or “signed”…) I thought might assist the data entry person that would be tasked with putting these books online.

When I’d run out of steam, there were four boxes by the door to go down the mountain and across the valley to the Wonder Book warehouse.

Chuck's Collection

How many boxes are left?

All the while, the movie played up on the wall above me.

I climbed back up onto the couch to continue watching the hobbits and wizards. Elves, dwarves and men.

A small tear seeped out a few times.

Were they for the evocative parts of the Tolkien story? Or the departing books that have been part of my life for decades? Or the birthday that comes on Friday? Or the gift I was given Sunday night (or was it Monday’s wee hours)? Things got fuzzy about then.

Maybe it was bits of all those four things.

That is certainly enough to flood the mind as the evening aged to night.

Certainly enough for an eye to release the soft warm trail of salty liquid occasionally.

Tuesday was very productive.

I’m back home on Wednesday.

It was another hard day’s work.

It was another hot day.

I plowed through thousands of books. When I stepped away and then returned, more books had arrived and filled any void I’d created. Like digging a hole in the sand on a beach, it is never long that my work area looks as though nothing had ever been done there.

An interesting mini collection came in over the last few days. As is so often the case, I have no idea whence they came. I was passing Ernest’s workstation and noticed a bunch of old basketball “textbooks.” One had an old envelope protruding from its top edge. I slipped it out, and it was addressed to Morgan Wootten. I pulled the letter from the envelope and read an Ohio high-school coach’s request for advice from the legendary coach in 1958.

“Did anything else come with these?” I asked Ernest.

That began a search for other sports books that may have been in the same lot. Ernest did lots of digging and found a small archive of books inscribed to Wootten.

Wooten Books

I thought we had found all we were going to find when Caryn mentioned she had found a book about another legendary coach—John Wooden—inscribed to Wootten.

“Do you know where it is?” I asked, trying not to show too much excitement.

She hadn’t known about the other group and that we had put them online as an archive.

“I just sent it in with other autographed books.”

Caryn gets the carts that carry all the modern autographed books. Most are worthless. Well, worth no more signed than unsigned.

I was going to send a memo to data entry managers to keep an eye out for it. A book that somehow connected two of the greatest basketball coaches of all time would certainly need to be handled specially. Then she came into the conference room with the book in hand.

The Wisdom of Wooden

Sadly, it was not inscribed by Wooden, but it was signed by his biographer and friend.

The Wisdom of Wooden

Wooden had died before the book got published.

So, it was close to greatness.

I wondered what else had slipped through. We had caught some, but I was certain not all.

Some is better than none, though. Some are…?

Maybe more will appear.

Another mystery at Wonder Book.

Monday, I was a zombie.

I couldn’t sleep Saturday night at all.

Anticipation? Or was it apprehension?

I worked all day on Sunday.

Cart after cart of books.

My nephew arrived late in the afternoon. He brought a bunch of vintage comics I’d let him take to grade and price.

Priced Comics

We went to the New Market Plains Winery, and I had a glass with him before heading out to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for a year. We had dinner alfresco at Monocacy Crossing. That’s another place where eventful evenings have occurred over the years.

We celebrated the reunion with wine.

Cliquot, Caymus, Caymus…

And the evening was epic. Rare books and LOTR swords and a prop cowboy revolver, belt and holster that feels like the real thing.

And then…

And then it was morning. So many moments packed into a dozen hours.

And they will never happen again.

Gone to the far side of the world, never to be seen again.

Makes you wonder what “it” is all about.

Maybe it is about moments.

Late Monday morning, the Rescue Mission truck came to pick up about a thousand cans of food. We do food drives every other month or so. We give out coupons for you to visit the next month. If you bring the coupon and a can of food, you get some kind of big discount. We get so much food now that the Mission volunteers bring a truck with a pallet and a Gaylord to make it easier to transport all the food.

Over the weekend, there were plenty of interesting finds.

Works of Bacon

Who doesn’t like bacon?

And for some reason, this odd volume fell open to a Teddy Roosevelt bookplate.

Teddy Roosevelt Bookplate

More signed Ansel Adams.

When I was finished on Sunday, some of my work looked like this.

An epic weekend that didn’t conclude until “Ave Maria” was sung a cappella in the vast empty cathedral of the new warehouse building in Monday’s wee hours.

(The buildings are now getting windows and doors.)

New Warehouse

When I got back to work late Monday morning, the warehouse looked as if nothing had happened.

The moment had fled. Gone but for the memory.

Tuesday was July 11. 7/11. I got a free Slurpie when I went in for my coffee.

Long, long ago, I worked at a 7-11 in Rockville. My dad had died suddenly the summer before. My mom was in and out of nursing homes. Why did I take a job working the graveyard shift? I don’t remember. Maybe I wasn’t in school and wanted something to do when I wasn’t watching her. I saw some pretty insane things at that place. I’ve come a long way since then. Was that the bottom? Maybe. There were a couple of “lost years” until I finally finished my degree at George Washington University. The courses I took there gave me enough credits to graduate from Connecticut College.

I was going to go back in the fall—to grad school and maybe become an English professor. The head of the department liked me and kept urging me to get my application in.

Sometime in June 1980, I was selling books I no longer wanted to Carl Sickles at the Book Alcove in Gaithersburg.

“Do you ever hire summer help?” I asked offhandedly.

In retrospect, his response in the affirmative has made all the difference.

Do you believe in guardian angels or muses?

I do.

It couldn’t have been just luck or coincidence. Could it?

The Two Towers

All this got me thinking about why that movie weighed so heavily on my week. The book came out in 1954. That’s one coincidence. I also remembered while I was watching it in my home on Tuesday night that Barbara and I went to see it at the old Frederick Towne Mall on the day it opened in 2002. 21 years ago. I remember she gasped and grasped my arm in shock when Boromir decapitated one of the orcs—one of Saruman’s Uruk-Hai.

Well, this last evocative period of contact with Barbara and our old group of friends and family over the last few months should be closed now.

You’re probably tired of hearing me drone on and on about the memories and grand times, about how lucky I was that we had so much in common and that she would often carve out time for us to sit and talk together—most often at Lorien.

Let me give you a few more addenda, and then you and I can move on, to the future.

Here is a drone video to give you a far better idea of what Lorien looked like just a couple months ago. The images are not what Lorien looked like 20 years ago when Barbara lived there, but you’ll get the idea.

And here is what happened to much of what she physically left behind. The following two links are courtesy of her daughter, Beth, who has worked so hard gathering and organizing her papers and manuscripts and other bits and pieces of her mother’s life. The best book people and librarians do wondrous things like this archive at the Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington.

I miss you, old friend. But there are thousands of moments I can draw on. I’ve recorded many of them here in these stories over the last 6 years.

Yep. Six years. Pretty obsessive.

If I get another one out next week, it will be six years and not a single Friday deadline missed.

That is bittersweet as well.

An ending and another new beginning.

I promise I won’t cry.

I really hope I do a good job.

Friday, July 14th. My birthday. It came whether I wanted it to or not.

It is just another day.

I hope it rains. The gardens are dry.

I have to go on a house call at ten this morning.

Fridays… always so much going on.

I have an adage, “Never do it on a Friday.”

(“It” being any project that might go awry and can’t be repaired until Monday.)

Fridays are always a handful, just getting through the day.

I went to a friend’s for an oyster feast last night. He has a buddy who is a shucker. There were just six of us. They laughed about their Caribbean boating and island adventures. I never did any of that crazy kind of stuff. Why? Sounds like fun. Maybe…

Yesterday, I went through a cart of books Annika had evaluated. I was in the “photo room” that doubles as her office. She was at her desk nearby, studying something obscure.

There was a signed copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A beautiful Canadian (true) first. That’s a hot book.

The Handmaid's Tale

I almost blew by a stack of tedious looking small green vinyl bound titles. The first couple weren’t autographed. I glanced at one that was and almost set aside for a small sum.

“Wait, that’s Anthony Kennedy—the Supreme Court Justice!”

I slowed the process. There were four more signed by Supremes and a couple more legal luminaries.

Books Signed by Supreme Court Justices

“Annika, please hit me over the head with these kinds of things. I had no idea they were special.”

It took a relatively long time to go through the rest of Annika’s loaded “Chuck cart.” Many of the books were fascinating but obscure.

“None on OCLC. No auction records. None online,” Annika’s notes read.

“What do I do with that?’ I pondered.

I should install a dartboard in there.

Hard work.

But if I have a talent, it is for hard work, I think.

So the second week of July is ending.

Pretty amazing.

An otherworldly strange interlude.

Unforgettable moments.

A momentous poem below. It is an amalgam of several friends and the moments of memories that sometimes sneak up on me when I least expected it.


Sometimes late at night
when all is dark and silent
and I’m not ready for it
my mind will think of you
The thoughts are not of my choosing
But I am a willing companion
And after a moment or five of hurt longingly
that face round my mouth relaxes, softens
The smile would be invisible
even if the light was on
Some distant moment will replay
on the video screen
that is the back of my eyelids
In that moment or two
the sadness, anger, disappointment, regret
—all those horrible things and more
are gone and the near invisible smile
carries contentment and happiness
Because I am back there
at some scene we shared
on a stage we two shared
for a moment or more
just we two
The moment departs and I wake
or return to sleep
But sometime that moment will again return
Or a moment like that
My mood will lighten
My face softens to
what I fancy
is a Mona Lisa smile
Enigmatic. Half hearted. Thoughtful.
Bittersweet happiness
And it will be a new moment
Different because it is now
as well as then
A newly replayed—reprised—old moment
And I will thank the phantasie
for breathing new life
into that which has lain dormant
Deeply archived somewhere inside
That which was hid was revealed
and I smile at the remembrance

12 Comments on Article

  1. Mary Hill commented on

    A very merry birthday to you, Chuck! I never cease to be interested in reading your stories and adventures.

    All best wishes,

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Mary – especially from a great book person like you!
      Thank you so much!


  2. Ken Jacobs commented on

    “Old friends came out of the boxes.” So true.

    Thanks for the videos of the enormous warehouse and of Lorien. Its a magical place where memories are lovingly created.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much!
      I really appreciate your taking the time to write!

  3. Gary Fowler commented on

    Belated birthday blessings, unmet friend!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much!
      I really appreciate it!

  4. Charlie Downs commented on

    Happy belated birthday and Bastille day! Have you ever celebrated you.m birthday in Paris on July 14? If not, you should.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I need to look into that!
      Thanks Charlie


  5. Richard commented on

    [Late birthday wish] May goodness and mercy accompany you today and all the days of your life. Ror every storm, a rainbow. I hope that today, you dance and others sing as you celebrate with joy your best birthday. Happy Birthday!

    And Fun Fact: “The great thing about getting older is you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” [Madeleine L’Engle]

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Richard!
      Thank you!
      Sage advice!

  6. Patricia Lawrence commented on

    Charles – You’ve done it again. I can’t always read your blog weekly and have to catch up on a few at time. This one truly spoke to me.
    I lost my husband in January and left a comment back then that we shared your poem Addendum (with your permission) at his memorial. It was perfect because we lost our own Mr. Fix-it (anything!) when he passed.
    Only now, months later, memories of him have become somewhat less sorrowful and heavy as more beautiful moments of our 47 years together appear without warning in my everyday thoughts.
    I just returned from a visit to Shenandoah Park which we had to give up visiting because of his health. I wanted to reclaim it again with more pleasant memories and those mountain vistas, like your own on the mountain top, did just that for me.
    Thank you for putting into words in Phantasie what I feel in my heart and can’t always express on my own.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Dear Patricia, I am very honored by your correspondence. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It makes me feel I am doing something of some consequence here.

      I’m glad you are out making new memories while revisiting previous ones.

      Thank you so very much,


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