Snowy Window

Back in the Saddle.

Sometimes when you get sick and it doesn’t go away and then you get sick with something else and it doesn’t… and something else and something else… and your brain is foggy (foggier than usual)…

And you despair. Is this the new normal?

Then things fade away. It doesn’t hurt to bend anymore. You don’t run into a wall of exhaustion in the late afternoon anymore. The cough you thought you’d live with forever stops wracking your bones and now you just clear your throat occasionally. You don’t look at a box of books with trepidation anymore. You just bend and pick it up. Then another 50. Then 50 more. The problem you discussed with your doctor that had been depressing you for a month vanishes overnight, and the tests you took are all for naught. You assess yourself, and the sum total appears to be that you’re back to normal—or whatever normal was last fall.

Muscle, mind, joints, lungs… check!

And you go into work and your body, mind, hands, back, knees… perform like it was 2023.

At the end of the day, you’re exhausted. But it is an earned and satisfying exhaustion. You survey the weekend’s work, and the results look bigger than ever.

It’s Monday. Things are looking sunny. Andrew is driving us to Gaithersburg. It is 50, drizzly rain, gray fog.

February has been an anomaly this year. My iPhone is predicting through the 21st. Highs in the 40s and a couple in the 50s. Unless the unreliable b###### is lying, maybe only March will be worrisome. I’d be fine with that. January, with its disease, injuries and 3 snowstorms, was winter enough for me.

So last week, things progressively and rapidly healed in my body. I also got acclimated to Maryland time, though it still feels like it is about 8 hours later sometimes.

When I got home Friday night, I put the 20-pound turkey in to roast.


I went into Walmart to get liverwurst. Pip went to the vet and got more antibiotics and cough medicine. The best way I’ve found to get a pill into a dog is to wrap it in a little ball of liverwurst. They inhale that without chewing. That Walmart is directly across the street from the vet’s office. That Walmart is also where the Wonder Book warehouse was located from 2003 to 2013-14.

I’ve written about this before, but here’s the short version.

Around 2010, the landlord notified us that they would not be renewing the current lease after the last option year ending in 2015.


That became our deadline to move or go out of business. I wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, there were all the employees and books that I couldn’t bring myself to cast adrift.

Things turned out fine in the long run.

Short term, there was frequent terror.

Would we ever find a new home?

We moved.

They tore down the huge old warehouse.

Old Warehouse

Walmart is booming.

It is as if we were never there.

But, still, whenever I go past and see hundreds of cars parked in front of the megastore, I recall our big (72,000 sq/ft) lonely warehouse surrounded by fields. Those were good years there. Growth years.

The turkey… what was I thinking? Maybe 98 cents a pound. Maybe I had turkey on my mind because of my recent sojourn to the distant exotic land. Maybe since COVID robbed me of Christmas and New Year’s dinners, I had a subliminal need for the annual lifelong big bird fix.

So I hefted a 20-pound frozen bird into my shopping cart, laughed at my folly a bit and continued rolling around the madhouse that is Walmart.

I roasted it on Friday night.

Roasted Turkey

The house smelled so good. I didn’t put any stuffing in. Nor did I mess around with any side dishes.

It was just me and the beast. (And three canines circling round the kitchen, sniffing and hoping.)

As a child, I had three older brothers. Many culinary traditions came from them. The post-feast turkey sandwiches are a beloved memory.

Tony was the prime motivator behind this.

The day after, sometimes later in the night of the holiday, the carcass would be lifted out of the icebox and chunks of breast sliced away. Back then it would be white bread—often Wonder Bread—toasted to give it some crunch and taste. Mayonnaise or Hellmans. Lettuce. All stacked high and the top piece of bread pressed down to make it more manageable. Then into the “music room” which is where the big black-and-white tv console resided. Then the feast, with a glass of milk, watching whichever of the three sole choices would be turned on. Lettuce and chunks of meat would fall out the sides and back. Mayo would ooze and plop onto the plate (perfect for future dunking.) You couldn’t let go of the sandwich. If you set it down, it would fall apart.


Late at night. I awake to the sound of rain outside my bedroom. The sound of dripping and plopping of raindrops from the branches above the house is muted by the windows shut tight against the winter. All is blackness. The fog screens the distant lights I know dot the valley far below.

Now, a few minutes later, it is Tuesday.

One dog is pressed against my hip. He wants to share my love and body heat.

Shall I read or write or mess with the phone until sleep returns?

My body tingles from the physical labor I did, not today, but on Saturday and Sunday. Today, yesterday now, Monday, I got in to find people working on the work I did on my weekend.

Last weekend I was in Turkey. The Asia part early Saturday, the European part the rest. Streets and hills and views return in my mind’s eye. The chilly boat trip on the Bosporus—north up the Asian coast til the Black Sea was just out of view and then crossing over to the European side and going south. Those shores are part of me now. The palace and the mosques.

Maybe it is time to switch the light off and bid sleep return. The rain’s wet white noise will continue all night.

Today, Monday, yesterday now, I went down to Gaithersburg. Andrew drove. It was his first time down there. Certainly not an exotic trip like the spice market and jostling crowds in the Old Town of Istanbul. I had not visited my bookstore down there for about two months.

I went to Portugal in December. That took up almost two weeks counting travel and preparation time. Then, within a couple days of my return, COVID took residence in my body and laid me low for a couple of weeks. Christmas and New Year’s were mostly in bed coughing, dosing myself with cough medicine, bundling under comforters, aching, likely moaning occasionally, and then the snows came and ate up much of the rest of 2024’s first month. My back got injured in those struggles. At first, the pain was acute. Now it is gone. Just a memory. I do not think my body lists to starboard when I walk any longer.

Those events account for most of the reasons I had not visited until today. Yesterday now.

Well, I went to sleep about then and awoke to:

Snow. A blizzard, actually.

I will admit when I am wrong.

But I will also include mitigating factors by way of excuse.

The lying b###### iPhone said nothing about 4 inches of snow last night. Much less a blizzard.

It is also claiming it is 34 degrees up here.

But then it says it will warm to the forties after the snow stops around 9 a.m.

Well, I am not going to shovel, plow or salt. Enough of that this year.

I’ll just lie back and watch the show—after I put some more logs on the fire and toss extra sunflower seed into the feeders and onto the porch roof and, after I make a big mug of Harrods tea. Vithanakande Extra Fancy—whatever that means.

Snowy Window

The birds come in squadrons. Flitting down from the heavens and from the thousands of perch branches available to them.

Titmice, wrens, finches, junkoes, nuthatches, chickadees, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, cardinals… who else?

The seed attracts even more birds than usual, as this feast is not covered with snow.

The stores are all open on time. The warehouse staff has mostly shown up.

The weekend was awesome. I was able to plow through books at the pace to which I am accustomed.

I finally felt “good.”

The herd of carts was the largest in recent memory. The two other people who are trained to do these non-ISBN carts were absent much of the week—illness and a birthday vacation.

It was fun and physical. First editions of Florence Nightingale and Robert Graves’ Good-Bye to All That. (A great novel that shows first hand the futility and horror of the First World War.) I built five or six tubs full of books each for Madeline and Annika to research. These are books exotic enough to merit their special attention—that is, I can’t just wing it—or trust the computer to get it right.

I did wing it on a couple hundred nice books that will go in the glass cases at the Frederick store. Early or variant editions of classics like Alice in Wonderland. Later—but still early—editions of Hemingway or Vonnegut that are collectibles within reach of budget novice collectors who can replace them with the real things when their purses and opportunities can rise to the occasion.

A titmouse crashed into the window. I hate it when the birds do that. It was sprawled face down in the snow and splayed. I despaired of it but then got the fireplace shovel and stretched out the window and scooped under it. It stood upon the shovel, conscious but clearly dazed. I thought of bringing it inside but saw the problems with that. I transferred it to the plastic feeder attached to the window with suction cups. It has been standing there for about ten minutes.


Snow is now raining down from the covered branches. The north side of the trunks are still plastered with a thick white cover.

The thermometer reads 36 up here. I trust that.

The titmouse flew away. Safe travels. My good deed for the day.

Back to the herd of carts…

I came across three Richard Nixon titles. I’ve learned to look inside all of them. We get a lot of books autographed by politicians and other denizens of the DC swamp. These were inscribed to Walter J. Stoessel. The name clicked somewhere in my memory. When I was younger, I found politics interesting. Now it is mostly painful. But I remember the intrigue that General Alexander Haig brought to the government. He was almost a character out of Dr. Strangelove.

When Reagan was shot in March 1981 and DC was in turmoil, Haig was an early spokesman. The press queried, “Who’s in charge?” The former general replied, “I’m in charge!”

Here’s a recollection of Haig’s final tantrums in which Stoessel was to play a part.

I’ll never forget the conversation. I only heard Stoessel’s part, which went “Al? What do you mean, Al? Come on, don’t kid around, Al? What do you mean you’re resigning, Al? Don’t do it, Al? Al? What’s going on there?”

The conversation went on like that for a few more minutes.

Then Stoessel said, “All right, if that’s what you’re going to do.” He hung up the phone, looked at me and said, “Wake everybody up. We’re going home. Al Haig just resigned.”

I went downstairs, woke up the air crew, which had planned to spend the day at the beach, and explained that Haig had resigned, Stoessel was Acting Secretary of State and we had to return to Washington.

“It felt like there had been a coup.”

We stopped in Hawaii only long enough to refuel and talk to the CINC-PAC [Commander n Chief, Pacific Command] commander who had no additional information about what was happening in Washington. We landed at Andrews Air Force Base at night, it was raining, the place was deserted, and ours was the only aircraft.

We were met by a State Department van and a car for Stoessel. There was no one to greet us; no news; we had no idea what was happening. It felt like there had been a coup.

We got in the car, and Stoessel said, “Let’s go to the Department and find out what’s happening.” We did. Al Haig had turned in his resignation….

But Haig didn’t leave. His resignation was accepted by the President, but no replacement was named and Haig continued to come to the office and function as the Secretary of State.

This was a very critical period. A full-scale Israeli attack on the Palestinians in Lebanon had reached Beirut. The Israeli army had encircled the city, trapped the Palestinians inside and were threatening to annihilate them, including Yasser Arafat. The U.S. embassy in Beirut was shelled continuously. Ambassador Philip Habib was in Beirut as the U.S. negotiator.

Officially Stoessel was the Acting Secretary of State, but Al Haig was still there and still making decisions. We were involved in trying to figure out how to save the Palestinians from being annihilated by the Israelis.

On the July Fourth holiday, Haig went on vacation to Wintergreen [the famous resort in the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia.] The Department was closed, but Stoessel and I were in the office. Phil Habib was on the phone calling Stoessel from the ambassador’s residence in Beirut to tell him about the latest twists in the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

You could hear the shells exploding around the building.

Habib stopped every so often to say, “I can’t talk. I’ve got to get down. The shelling is too heavy.”

Stoessel was on the phone with Habib. I was sitting across the room on another telephone with Haig’s assistant who was standing beside a tennis court at Wintergreen where Haig was playing tennis. Between artillery bursts, Habib would talk with Stoessel who would give me the message. I would speak to Haig’s assistant who would wait until Haig finished his serve to pass along the message. The assistant would give me Haig’s reply; I would tell Stoessel who would tell Habib. The conversation went on in this manner for 45 minutes.

As it turned out, this exchange was one of Haig’s last acts as Secretary of State. George Shultz had been announced. Stoessel asked Shultz to tell Haig his time as Secretary was over.

Haig did not come back to the Department after his vacation.


Any way, here is Stoessel’s bio. Cold war ambassador to West Germany and the Soviet Union. Plenty of other stuff. And, briefly, U.S. Secretary of State during very tumultuous global upheaval.

Pretty impressive career.

Rabbit holes like this make bookselling fun. Like frosting on a cake.

Nixon Books

I see a good many of Nixon’s later books signed.

Nixon Books

I imagine he was lonely and missed the action inside the Beltway. It was a way for him to reach out to those still willing to talk to him and to recoup some of his image and history that had been couped away from him.

I waited out the driveway melting. It went pretty fast. 4 inches of fluffy white became slush.

Driveway Melting

More 2024 mattress time.

I took care of the dogs, giving them some of the turkey I had butchered the night before.

I headed down the driveway in 4 wheel drive and low gear… a little tentatively. By the time I got to the bottom, the lane had completely melted. The storm knocked down a lot of branches. I either drove over or around them and got to work at the crack of noon.

The parking lot was clear. I had called to cancel when Clif had told me it was already melting much earlier there. (It costs a small fortune for them to come out—even if there’s really nothing to do but push some slush around.)

By Sunday evening, I had made several “mountains” of boxes.

Here’s a young man labeling one of them Monday morning.

Labeling Boxes

He’d already whittled away about a third of that particular box pile.

I did so many carts that I created a logjam in the data entry area. There was no weekend help to wheel them up to Books by the Foot and anything that distracted me from reading spines and title pages meant that much less of the work, which only I could do, would be accomplished.

Many Carts

Plus, I liked the idea of the Monday crew arriving and being surprised (and perhaps a little disgruntled) at the work I’d created for them!

But I get plenty of unwanted labors forced upon me.

I have a 97th U.S. Open Official Annual that is in mint condition and the whole thing is printed backwards and upside down. Was wondering what it’s worth is if anything. Thanks.

And this gem painstakingly researched with a handwritten slip inserted to help guide me in my instruction.

The Sea Around Us

Spines, title pages, copyright pages…

Often thousands every day.

A glance is enough 99% of the time.

What if it has no spine?

This charmer was one amongst many sent on to me—spineless.

Das Kapital

I must look inside.

Unless it is another volume in identical boards to the other spineless volumes of a once sexy bonded leather Ridpath’s History of the World …up to 1887.

Looking inside, this one yielded a Karl Marx title page. “Zweite Auflage”—second edition. I need go no further. It gets kicked upstairs (metaphorically) to Annika, who will parse out the rest of the title page and copyright page data and see if this is just interesting or extraordinary.

Annika feels it is a $500 book.

I came home early. My plans to go see Swan Lake on Wednesday night were dashed. A friend canceled. “Crowds…” I understand. I don’t want to go by myself. So I emailed into the ticket office and donated my tickets. Some lucky person will enjoy the Russians flinging themselves around the stage in Frederick, Maryland.


The dogs were happy.

I gave them some turkey scraps. They were thrilled. The bird that keeps on giving.

I have had a turkey sandwich every night since Friday—except last night I met the family out for dinner.

Comfort food. Breast meat. Toasted bread. Romaine. Mayonnaise. Dill relish. A little salt and herbs. I am a kid again. The days after Christmas and Thanksgiving. Comfort food. The tryptophan makes me sleepy, and I doze off watching Morse dealing with murder and personal angst and maybe a potential love interest. I awake to see the credits rolling.

Well, what is next tonight? A turkey sandwich. Some wine. And Morse.

Giles is snoring on the bed next to me. A little while ago, he was howling in his pen at my neglect. I failed to release him the second I got home.

A busy day. Book after books.

Spines, title pages and copyright pages.

A nice old Christmas book.

Speaking o' Christmas

Something clicks.

I look closer.

“Paul Dunbar? Have had this before?” I dropped it off to Annika before I went to the office to wrap up so I could go home.

The Caxton set I just unpacked from Jim Owens at Thorn Books.

Caxton Set

What should I do with it?

Books don’t get much more beautiful than that.

Than those.

He included a book of his own.

The Assertion of the Celebrated Arthur King of Britain by John Leland. Jim translated the 1544 Latin into English. It looks like during COVID. The publication and introduction are dated 2022.

A gift.

He inscribed it to:

Carol Roberti Filio
Magna Cum Translatoris Admiratione
[James J Owens]
Tusconense, Arizoniae… Feb 2024

(Any typos are my fault.)

That stopped the rat race of spines, title pages and copyright pages… and instinct.

“Manicus Interruptus.”*

(*Maniacal Man Interrupted.)


What am I doing with my life?

It is flying away.

And I, like a dazed titmouse coming to its senses, get back to flight, freedom, survival, struggle and another sunset followed by another dawn.


The ground is too cold and still snow covered up here. I can’t plant more lilies like I did on Monday morning.

Good. I am in no mood to be hacking at the earth.

The bulbs are in great shape. I think they’ll be fine. Only a couple hundred or three to go, and my “fall” planting will be complete.

The first daffodil opened over the weekend at the warehouse. It must be the earliest ever. The snowstorm bent it a bit, so I had to prop it up for its portrait.

First Daffodil

Winter is not the deadest time. In January and February, there is always something going on. Some green thing rising from the earth.

The world is at its deadest at fall’s end. When everything is finished and not one thing is beginning.

It is Friday morning.

Thousands of lights are twinkling down in the valley. It is so clear this morning they actually illuminate my bedroom a bit.

All the outdoor security lights are on. There was a windstorm last night that must have triggered them. The howling through the trees awoke me at some point. There was nothing to do but hope no trees would fall on the house. I just crawled further under the comforters and vainly pushed back at the dogs pressing against me.

I had very disjointed dreams as well. Maybe it was the turmoil outside. Maybe the turmoil inside had something to do with it—dinner last night was turkey tacos. I spread refried beans on 10-inch tortillas and dotted them with jalapeno slices. I baked them till little crunchy and tossed turkey and lettuce and some spices on it. Then I squirted some Hellmans onto them. I guess they were more like tostadas.

They were so good.

If a bit spicy.

It has been a turkey week. And there’s plenty left for me and the dogs. I haven’t tired of it yet. If I do, I can freeze some or sacrifice it to the dogs. Currently, they are getting the stuff I don’t like—the “underneath” meat and “things.” That’s a good return on the $20 investment.

It has also been a wild turkey week. In the morning, the flock can be heard gobbling up in the woods.

Which reminds me, I left out about half of the Turkey trip in the two previous stories.

I think I left off with a member of the tour falling and breaking something in his knee. The guide did a great job getting him treatment. The bus stopped outside the modern-looking hospital in Bergama near the ancient healing site of Asklepion/Pergamom where the injury occurred. When the guide was sure he was in good hands, the trip continued to the resort city of Kusadesi. We spent three nights in different seaside hotels on the Aegean. Though it was too cold to do much but walk outside, the sunsets were beautiful.

Aegean Sunset

The next morning, we headed to the Roman city of Ephesus. I’d been there about a year ago on the Greek islands tour, but it was well work a second look. We got there near dawn. You start at the eastern entrance and walk down the streets through the city. Taner, our guide, kept a walking monologue with us through the “whisper” devices we wore around our necks. It was by no means a repeat of the tour I had last year. And it was far different with the morning light at our backs as we strolled down streets and into buildings where people lived and worked thousands of years.

The highlight of the city for me was, of course, the library. It dominates part of the city. Seeing the sunrise on its facade was glorious.

Ephesus Library

A lowlight was the public toilet where the ancients would sit shoulder to shoulder and do their business.

Ephesus Toilet

Far different from our current sensibilities.

We had lunch at the same rug-making facility as last year. They grilled chicken for us and put on a spread of excellent Turkish fare. Then they put on the show of tossing or rolling out dozens of rugs and carpets with the audience, us, seated on benches around the room. It was a great show of colors and styles and shapes.

I bought two rugs last year, so I couldn’t be tempted this time. I like my rugs and see them every day—a reminder of a great experience.

Then it was back to the bus and a long ride toward the interior of the country. It was an interesting trip with snow-capped mountains on our left and vast fields of raisins (sultanas) and other crops all around. It was pomegranate season and the exotic things—a common crop there—were everywhere and served with most every meal.

The goal was Pamukkale with its geologic wonders and Hieropolis—the ancient Holy City built atop the thermal mountain.

We stayed at a large thermal resort hotel. There were hundreds of Turkish families there on holiday. Steaming pools of people stewing. Mud baths. Massages. And whatever else one does at those kinds of places. I didn’t bring a swimsuit, but I could have bought one there.

Turkish Swimsuit

But simmering in a Petri dish of humans was not something for me, having still some remnants of my first COVID experience.

Wow. The sunrise is already in view! The pruning I had done widened the vista more than I anticipated. Maybe I’ll have a month of sunrises.

New Sunrise at Home

Back to Turkey…

The next morning, we left early for Pamukkale the mountain. I really didn’t know what we were in store for. In the dawn’s early light, we passed balloons being filled on the ground.

Then I saw the white mountain.

The bus circled up to the summit, and we were led along paths along the precipice of the “Cotton Castle.”

It was stunning, though the dawn’s light actually stained white travertine golden. A mountain built of calcium carbonate deposits from thermal springs adding more and more to the mountain constantly.


And then the balloons began rising before us.

Pamukkale Balloons

I stood in stunned silence for a bit before snapping phone photos.

I even forced myself to allow a travel mate to take my picture.

Chuck at Pamukkale

To add to the glory, you can wander through the vast ruins of Hieropolis—another well preserved ancient city.


Some of the city’s necropolis is actually being swallowed up in white stone. Ancient tombs being buried forever in travertine.

We had plenty of time to wander and wander and wander.

Then on to the city of Bursa. It was a long haul of 280 miles, but you do what you gotta do. We arrived in early evening and walked through another vast mosque—in stocking feet, of course. The adjacent silk market was interesting, but I had no need for silks. And there were plenty of colorful food stalls. The candied chestnuts were a local delicacy, but I preferred those dipped in chocolate.

The next day was our last. There were some early Christian sites. The large lake Nicaea was where the Nicene fathers met and codified the early Christian Church. St. Paul was there and preached to the Nicenes.

Then onto Istanbul approaching the vast city from the east.

Many of us opted for the optional Bosporus cruise. The boat first went north along the Asian coast and then crossed to the European and south to the “Old City.”

(I think I may be repeating a little.)

The cruise was delightful. The homes on the shores are apparently worth millions.

Bosporus Shore

I really got a feel for how the narrow body of water controlled so much of the ancient and modern politics and military conflicts.

In the Old Town, we were guided through the vast Spice Market. It was colorful and had a very Arabian Nights vibe to it.

Then to a local and traditional restaurant. Taner, the guide, of course, knew the owners and staff and we were treated royally.

The tour ended that night. It was certainly a whirlwind, but I don’t think it could have been done any other way. The best sites are far apart and, though fascinating, were mostly taken in during the time we were allotted. That is, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend another day at any of them necessarily—except Istanbul—which I did.

The memories are of colors and flavors and people and history and an ancient and exotic country I never thought I’d experience.

The Globus company did another great job—to my tastes.

The last week was also a whirlwind.

Last Saturday was in the 60s.

My sudden recovery from many ills—mostly COVID and weather related—allowed me to work as hard and as fast and as long as ever.

I was “back.”

The rare book show was on in San Francisco, and I regret not getting out to see friends and wondrous books.

I did buy some books there—via photos texted to me by trusted friends and booksellers. When they arrive, I’ll show you some pictures.

My wacky nephew came on Saturday afternoon with his fine young son. He brought me some goofy stuff I didn’t really want, but I still wrote him a check, and I’ll figure out what to do with the old toys and things he thought were so great. I rejected his Big Little Collection though. I told him the collectors for those were all long dead. He said he could do something with them on eBay.

Then we went to see my friends Sue and Howard at their New Market Vineyards. They’re closed for the winter but opened for us. It was warm enough to sit out on the enclosed porch and sip wine and talk about—everything.

New Market Vineyards

The rest of the week was books and then home to my turkey binging.

2 Comments on Article

  1. Gregory commented on

    Hi, Chuck. For what it’s worth, Vithanakande is a tea producer in Sri Lanka. Fancy teas are often identified by the plantation where they’re grown. I’m not sure if this place’s teas are unique, but it’s a good marketing hook for Harrods.
    Welcome back from your journeys.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Ah, that’s interesting.
      Harrods makes a big show on presentation.
      The Victorian repro tins are cool.
      I’d probably pick Tetley in a blind test … LOL.


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