Sense of Place

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

So strange.

I was just in another world.

There were booksellers dropping in to visit. Some contemporary—I knew them—or at least their faces. Others… I don’t know if they ever existed or if they were from other times and places. I was out front to greet them and welcome them. It was a kind of party. One flew in—somehow—really flew in. When I went inside, a few had come in the back and were seated in the large living area with many couches and other seating arrangements. Some I had “grown up” with—started out around the same time as raw novices and were now… wherever we were. More were coming.

Then, like a switch, it was gone but for the memory. I was in bed. Warm, bundled against the fall cold outside. Giles was softly snoring, just within arm’s reach. I stretched and patted him. He stretched and raised his haunch for me to scratch his belly. I retracted, and I could tell he curled back up. An organic inanimate object, unmoving when in bed. He will only cock an eye at me if I get up for some brief need.

Dark. Silent. Warm below the comforter, cool above.

‘It must be six,’ I thought.

I stretched to my right and pressed the top of the Honeywell atomic clock that has served me so well and for so long here and in Pennsylvania. The soft red digital numbers appeared cast on the white ceiling.

“5:56? No. It doesn’t look right.”

I stirred my consciousness a bit and pressed the clock again—this time orienting myself a little better.


Digital 2’s and 5’s are very similar.

“Where am I? When am I?”

I curled back up and sought sleep. But it would not come.

Nor would the vision that I had left.

“This is no time for the living to be about.”

So warm and soft. But too boring for a conscious mind.

“Should I write or type?”

The dark silver gray laptop, the yellow legal pad and the green, cloth Federal Supply Service journal are within a couple feet of my left shoulder.

I am typing. Electric letters appear on the bone-white glowing screen.

Magic captured by geniuses who can manipulate electrons.

From my sojourn to that other place, these words stuck and needed to be recorded lest they leave like the faces I had been greeting not many minutes ago:

“A Sense of Place.”

Dawn is still a few hours away.

I rise to get something to drink. I cross the house to the cabinets loaded with fizzy waters—my new tipple. As I pass the Vermont Castings Defiant woodstove, I reach and touch it lightly.


Did the fire burn itself out to ash, or did I damper the last logs I set in it so much they smothered?

I switch on a light and lift the heavy steel lid.

The latter. Two eight-inch diameter logs are propped at a 45-degree angle. Somewhere beneath them there are some still living coals. I crumple some paper and push it under the logs. I take some of the twigs I brought in last evening in one of the big black canvas totes. I push them down atop the paper. I open the dampers. I strike a wooden kitchen match and reach in.

I go on and get a can of ginger-flavored water.

I cross back to the bedroom. Giles cocks one black eye in a sea of white fur up at me.

“We aren’t getting up are we?” he is inquiring.

I tap out these words, fold the laptop closed, switch the metal-necked lamp clamped to the bedstead off.

The warm orange glows twenty steps away.

‘My own heat,’ I think. ‘The work of my hands.’

I will curl up in the dark and hope to go some place wondrous.

Mercy took me places for a few hours.

I was in an old wood-filled tavern. Some old friends, a new friend…

Then on a dock overlooking very shallow water. It was lit by nightlights. Tiny penguins flew underwater below. A small flounder wafted in, settled and changed its color to match the sandy bottom. Other fish and sea life…

At some point, I put a soft pillow over my head so dawn would not wake me.

I did awake, and the timing was just right so I could get to the far side of the bed. I lifted the window and watched the sunrise beyond the valley made mystical with a translucent layer of morning mist.

Lucky day and night.

However, we are gifted these occasional visions, and they are a blessing, a respite and, I hope, a tantalization of what is to come.

The sunrise has left the stage.


But that’s just from the bay window. My bedroom window a little further north will have a view a little longer.


It is hoodie time. I have a souvenir hoodie collection. I got two in Cornwall last spring—The Lizard (a peninsula) and Land’s End. I also got one a couple weeks ago at the Bob Weir concert in Baltimore. I like hoodies. I feel I can hide in them.

The hearth has become the heart of the home again. Last night, it was glowing, alive with energy.

I am preparing for the winter ahead.

Soon, the potted plants will begin their procession inside. I haven’t counted them recently. Are there still over 70?

Yesterday morning, the chimney sweep knocked a sansevieria hybrid off the porch, and the clay pot smashed. He was quite sheepish about it.

“No problem.”

It needed dividing, anyway.

My house is so close to being in order. The housekeeper is feeling better and is coming on Saturday.

The floor in the great room is almost cleared.

That will bring my home back to pre-COVID appearances.

It is Wednesday morning. The thermometer reads 51. The phone says 45. But that may be down in the valley where the cold air sinks.

Last night, I spread a lot of bags of mulch on the trail that leads from the drive to the northern side of the house. I can drive the truck on it if I need to do chores in that area.


I dump the bags of mulch atop newspapers and scrap cardboard and worn-out cotton sheets and towels and rags. They will act as a barrier to weeds and maybe help the mulch last longer. The paper and cloth will decompose before too long. I feel better about doing that than just recycling the paper and tossing the rags. (Though we do recycle all our paper and cardboard at Wonder Book—about 100,000 pounds a month.)

If I’m in the mood, I’ll rake the mulch smooth tonight.

When I was done, I drove the empty bags to the driveway landing on the south side of the house and pushed them into the big blue recycling container that the county provides. Then I turned on the gas in the grill on the deck and cooked the big batch of chicken bought at Costco on sale. I’ll eat some, and some I’ll cut up for the dogs and mix it into their regular food over the next days. They are thrilled with real meat. And it is cheaper than most of the dog food I buy—canned or dry.

I enjoy the grilling. It reminds me of happy times—cooking out for family and friends. It smells so good and tastes wonderful. A bit of garlic salt is enough.


I sliced one piece up and put it atop chopped romaine with a bit of mayo. I forked some kimchee on the side. I have eaten a lot of romaine this summer and fall.

I was tired. I didn’t get home til midnight Monday. My son and I drove down to see the Caps hockey game in DC.

For some reason, I was really in the mood for it. I guess I’m shaking off the last of the COVID blues that kept me home so much.

We were invited to The Washington Post suite overlooking center ice. We do a lot of advertising with the Post. A LOT!

Washington Post Ad

I still use only the print version of the paper for these ads. The target for these book estates are generally older. They still get the paper delivered every morning.

It was an exciting game. It went into overtime and then into a penalty shootout.

The Caps won!

Alexander Ovechkin—Ovi—the Great 8—looked a little slow. His hair is silver now when he takes his helmet off. But it was only the second game of the season. Maybe he’s not warmed up yet.

He’s the greatest hockey player of this generation. There’s a chance he can break Wayne Gretzky’s all time scoring record.

(Coincidentally, we got a signed first of Gretzky’s autobiography in this week.)

I hope so. I’ve been rooting for him a dozen years or more.

It was a long drive home. But it was good to spend time alone with my son. It doesn’t happen so much any more.

Do you know this book?

The Little House

I got it many years ago. I kept it… why?

I don’t recall it from my childhood. I know I never had one for my kids.

I was thinking of parting with it. Adding it to my online collection. Annika did some research on it. It is a five-figure book. The book is near perfect. The jacket—with a little touch up would be brilliant.


The book has been noted for its insights on urban sprawl… 1943 Caldecott… one of the top 100 best books for children by the NEA 1999 and 2007 polls…

Well, I’m glad I saved it.

It is Friday morning. I let the fire go out overnight. It was almost 70 yesterday. Today will be in the high 60s.

Yesterday, Andrew and I went on a house call. It had been a calligrapher’s studio. She passed away 6 years ago. The husband was now getting things cleared out. To get there, we had to drive through a section of town that is full “development” mode. Thousands of townhouses are being crammed onto what had been farmland a year or two ago.


Does Frederick need more people, more students for overcrowded schools, more revenue?

The equation doesn’t make sense for Maryland’s “fastest growing county.” What is being “grown”? A better quality of life?

I used to be a newcomer. I opened the bookshop in 1980.

Back then, almost all my customers were “from” Frederick.

My view of the valley in the dark this morning has more and more 24/7 lights on all the time. My “little house”—so secluded—will it someday be gobbled up?

I went through 7 more boxes from the old Pennsylvania collection last night. There were some exciting finds. I’m parting with about 5 boxes.

Some are a part of me still, and I will hold on to those. Most will go up in the garret where there’s still plenty of shelf space.

I came across the book written by Judge Delaplaine in 1927.

The Life of Thomas Johnson

I had forgotten the warm inscription.

The Life of Thomas Johnson Inscription

I was just a scruffy bookseller in 1985. Not much more than a kid with a very uncertain business future. The judge was very old, but with a magical twinkle in his eyes. To my surprise, he liked me. But then he was a book nut.

He wrote a number of books from the 1920s into the 1980s. Imagine that. Most were about Maryland.

Back then, the region wasn’t the magnet for wealthy—or those seeking to live off the regional wealth.

There was a Sense of Place.

When I got a set of Williams’ voluminous History of Frederick County, Maryland or Scharf’s History of Western Maryland, it meant an excellent payday for the bookshop. I could cover the rent and maybe cash a paycheck.

Now… not so much.

And others were publishing local histories all the time. Anne Hooper’s Braddock Heights. And Nancy Bodmer’s Buckeystown books. (Both my woodstoves came from the Bodmers. They closed the stove shop in 2019, but Nancy is still firing commemorative plates.)

Local history was a big seller.

Now most of the population has no interest in what came before. Local history is what new international restaurant is opening soon.

The calligraphy center was in a very old wooden building in an alley in Woodsboro. There were thousands of pens and nibs. Thousands of sheets of handmade paper.

‘Is this an opportunity or a distraction?’ I wondered as we toured the rickety rough-hewn place.

The husband is mostly looking for someone to salvage things from the space.

There aren’t many books.

Andrew and I rolled out two large metal bookshelf carts and tilted them into the van. The man was very happy to see them go where someone can use them. And it opened up some space in the cluttered rooms.

“I took a lot of pictures. I’ll review them with people at work to see if we can use any more of the fixtures,” I told him.

(A chill just came over me. Someone walked over my grave, perhaps. I wish now I’d stoked the fire last night.)

My sense of place?

I had three different homes with my parents. Buffalo, Baltimore (briefly) and Rockville.

I’ve had three homes as an adult. All within 20 miles of here. Gettysburg, Waynesboro and Frederick.

But my home is really with the books. 43 years. They are calling to me right now. In the dark, across the valley and up the steep slope of the mountain.

I’ll shower soon and head down. I’ll be bringing four boxes with Post Its affixed to add online.

One more box I’ll ask Annika to evaluate.

Two boxes will go up into the garret. A handful of books I’ll keep downstairs to look through.

I had no recollection of the tall thin “press book.” Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”

There’s a facsimile of the poem tipped in as a frontispiece.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

One of my youthful dreams was to come across an original. Doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

I do have a good number of signed Yeats’ books though.

This book has a very unusual limitation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bibliographic term “a few” before.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree Limitation

Maybe I’ll read through it tonight in bed—with a fire glowing.

Friday at work.

So frustrating.

So many moving parts.

Often it is the little things that bother me, get under my skin and distract me from my missions.

Not getting much sleep doesn’t help either. I’m not sure why. I did 11,000 steps yesterday.

When I got home last night, I went into the woods and brought some heavy deadfalls out to where I can get the truck next to them. Then I made a salad with leftover grilled tuna and yummy sauerkraut from Costco. All was atop chopped romaine lettuce.

I settled in and watched some more Maigret. I’d like to go to France. Paris.

When I was done eating, I sat on the floor and sorted through the boxes of my old life.

Problems Cart

What’s this?

I guess I’m supposed to figure it out.

I designed a way to display multiple titles for Books by the Foot. The carpenter followed my instructions exactly.

BBTF Pallets

I figured you could have 50 copies 16 different titles on the two pallets. Then you could pull from three sides for speed and efficiency.

I had three of them built. Someone loaded each with a couple hundred copies of only 6 different titles.

(Makes sense to me.)

Why bother?

We got someone’s collection of Agricultural Yearbooks in. These were published I think from the 1850s until 1990s. I guess they were distributed free to farmers?

Agricultural Yearbooks

We got about 40 in. Certain years have chromolithographs bound in. Usually the images are of some new variety of a fruit, but there were some years when color plates of birds or diseases were put in. The books are worthless now… except for the plates. I had someone flip through them all and segregate those with color plates. Then I had someone else remove the plates and price and bag them.

I think they can be pretty attractive as far as vintage color plates go. (Except the diseases.)

Agricultural Chromolithographs

We’ve pretty much filled up every available space to pin these things up though. That got me brainstorming. What if we extended out into the air using those metal hangers you suspend things from using pegboards?

But you’d need bags with holes in them…


Pegged Bag & Hang

Now we need to see they will sell…

I got three new pairs of clogs in today.

The last three have worn out.

I originally got them when a nurse recommended clogs after the appointment with a surgeon to fix a heel spur that could be excruciating when it flared up. The surgery was butchery, and the recovery period many months. I think she saw my glazed look and took pity on me.

I’m not a “cloggy” guy.

The spur disappeared after years of appointments with podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons and…

My regular MD gave me a run of prednisone for something else, and the cycle was interrupted. My Achilles heel is history (I hope.)

I got used to wearing them though. They are very comfortable and so easy to slip into and out of—like in airports.

They’re from a Danish company and are apparently still made in Europe.

So, now I AM a “cloggy” guy but don’t read any cultural implications into that.

They just work.

New Clogs

And I don’t want to go around London with battered and stained footwear…

7 Comments on Article

  1. Alison commented on

    I (a Millennial) remember an elementary school teacher or librarian reading The Little House to us.
    I’m actually interested in the chromolithographs of diseases for my mom who is a plant pathologist. Hope they’re in the Frederick store!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      They should be right up front – but many were livestock maladies.
      Explore through out the store and you might find more – including black and white.
      Thanks you so much for reading and commenting!

  2. Lauren Baker commented on

    I have purchased a few things from the bags and enjoy looking at them while I’m wandering around at the store. The problem is if it doesn’t catch my eye on the front I don’t very often search them. Just too much to go through. The hangers could help with that I think. Doesn’t seem to be organized by subject. I could be mistaken there but I think if you arrange them by subject on the endcaps near the same subject (like baseball by baseball and trains by trains). You might be able to move a lot more. Interesting stuff definitely turns up.
    Very cool that the little house book is worth so much.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much!
      It is a “work in progress” – part of the plan is to get people to explore areas they don’t usually “shop”
      (That’s why we are putting “art” on the floors along back aisles.)
      But we may go in that direction.
      I’m so glad people are exploring – so much of the material is just too to let go – thinking outside the box has increased the bag and hang ten fold in the past!

      Thank you so much for writing!


      PS All three stores have quite different things in bags.

  3. Kathleen Arnold commented on

    Wow! Wonders of the web! My daughter pulled up a site just now that reads books to you & there was The Little House. I remember it from grade school & have thought of it often when walking through Pimmit Hills. We lived there in the late 60s when it was almost unchanged from its postwar veterans’ housing vibe. Little houses on 1/4 acre treed lots. Now vanishing at a great rate for McMansions on sale for $1 million+. Our old house is still there, with added BR and garage, est. market value $872,000. You could have bought half of Pimmit for that. Is it too late to get a historic easement for your property? Happy trails!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      You can’t go home again?
      I’m trying to buy the lot next to me v- which is good old boys hunting grounds – it would be hard to build there but just in case.

      I think everything below or above me is unbuildable – cliffs.

      But if they make it so neighbors can subdivide their 30 lots that would be a blow.

      Fingers crossed – it is just “mountain” land

      Thanks for writing!


  4. Gregory commented on

    That Yeats book was quite interesting. Could you imagine being the typesetter trying to read his writing? And since it’s poetry, you can’t assume that you can guess the next word that isn’t really legible. Someone had to work overtime to set that manuscript into type.

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