It is Friday, October 2nd. We are driving down to Rockville to pick up a couple hundred boxes of books from Nelson Freck’s storage units. I don’t think COVID has been kind to him. Before COVID, he did well with many charity sales who had thousands of leftovers after the events ended. There are no more book sales. I don’t know when they will start again. What is happening to all the books that used to be donated to them?
Lost, maybe. We are buying a lot of books, but not that many more than the pre-COVID era. Actually, I think we are getting fewer. For one thing, Nelson isn’t delivering hundreds of boxes like he used to. He asked us to come down and pick up books to settle a debt. I haven’t seen him for a long time. We go back 40 years now. He was one of my first customers. When he was going through his bicycling phase, he would sometimes ride up to the store from Rockville. Imagine that now? I’m not sure what routes he took. Certainly not Interstate 270!
His storage units are a jumble. I wouldn’t have gone, but he is an old friend. What a mess!
Wednesday, September 30th was the first day the state of Maryland reported that no one had been killed by COVID.
When I awoke in the wee hours after a nightmare about 3am this morning, I glanced at my phone. The NY Post site reported the President and First Lady both tested positive for COVID.
The nightmare involved a large herd of deer outside my home. I was looking out a second-story window and dozens of huge deer were migrating below me. Some had enormous antlers. My two little Jack Russells—Merry and Pippin were outside. They would usually chase deer given a chance. (I don’t “give” them the chance. On rare occasions they escape.)
They stood and watched the deer parade by them and continue down the mountain. In my dream, I thought I should contact my neighbors below and warn them of the approaching masses.
The fall weather has been beautiful. The sunrises are just now moving into the view I have from the house. My Window on the World.
But I have not been happy. Business is excellent. We are moving to the next phase of building new warehouse space. About 100,000 square feet of it.
I just feel a gloom. Maybe a foreshadowing of some doom.
I don’t brood on it. I just try to keep very busy at work and at home.
But it is always there, like a weight on my soul.
This has been a terrible year.
Except for nature around here.
And except for the books which many people are ordering from our website and other sites we list on.
Like me, most people can’t go anywhere.
There are some movie theaters opening around here. I don’t go to them even in good times.
Many people find it comforting to be around books if they’re stuck somewhere.
I am very lucky. I can come to work 7 days a week.
There are always things to do.
Thousands of things.
So many things it is sometimes overwhelming. Often overwhelming.
I want to do it “all.”
I can’t. I just do what I can.
So many books…
“Chuck, I found an atlas of Frederick.”
I tend to walk through the warehouse with blinders on. Making eye contact with everyone all the time would be tiring.
I take the “no contact” approach out of shyness mostly.
I thought: ‘Is that voice coming from E******’s sorting station? Is that her?’ Sometimes different people use the same stations on different days. And the masks always require a second take.
“That’s cool. Do you think it is original or a reprint?”
The Titus Atlas. They were a sure bet in the old days. If one walked in, I’d pay hundreds. It would soon walk out for some hundreds more. Always in a matter of a few days. Maybe after a phone call or a few.
Now they don’t excite me much. Local history isn’t what it once was. Maybe the new residents of Frederick don’t have the interest that the old farmers and other multi-generational residents had.
20, 30, 40 years ago, there was great interest and competition for such things. I would sometimes hope my newest copy would be defective. If it was missing a map or two, I could break it in good conscience and sell the individual maps for a lot more money than the whole. You see, the town maps showed the homes and property boundaries and the names of the current owners (as of 1870-ish.) Frame that in your antique home, and you’ve got a visible connection to the 19th century.
I stepped over. Rebound. Pages repaired.
“Cool! Good find.”
I started away and was stopped by the sight of a honkin’ big old folio on cart awaiting my inspection with others.
Some 18th century sermons or other theological work, I assumed. But when I opened it…
The Laws of Maryland. 1765.
‘Eleven years before 1776! A colonial law book published in Annapolis!’ I thought. THAT tells a story.
Imagine the upheaval and transition from a very Catholic colonial Maryland to the republic that was soon to evolve!
Plus, the typography is gorgeous!
Imagine finding a law book interesting…I’m kidding!
I set it aside with the atlas to look at more closely later.
A day or two later, I showed it to Annika, who is learning how to research and evaluate collectible books.
“See what you can find on these.”
“What’s Avalon?” she asked.
I’d missed that.
“I dunno. Do some research,” I suggested.
Was Avalon a mystery colony around Maryland? I strained my memory and moved on.
I always loved history. I may have gone in that direction if I hadn’t had a terrible teacher in high school. Mr. C*****…unhappy memories of that guy. I had voluntarily taken a summer school history course so I could take an advanced history course in the fall. I was the only sophomore in that class, and this guy made my life miserable. Actually, he made many people in that class miserable. He would meander his bulk around the classroom and quite frequently slam a wooden yardstick down upon a desk. Sometimes this may have been to get that student’s attention. Most often he would do it just for corporal pleasure.
Do I recall the things breaking into shards occasionally? Probably.
This was a vaunted Montgomery County public school, mind you.
He must have been miserable, and this show of power and control gave him a modicum of pleasure. No one liked him. He would try to befriend some students by not slamming the “rod” upon their desks.
They pretended to like him to avoid the “Smack.”
Why did he focus on me? I dunno. Maybe because I was the youngest and was trying to advance myself ahead of the herd? For whatever reason, he gave me a low grade despite all my tests and papers being above 90. I tried to appeal to him.
“SMACK!”—this time virtually.
After a year with him, my love of history was dimmed somewhat.
Oh…and later he saw me remove my tie during lunch hour one time. I was playing soccer using a quarter with some guys on the polished floor of the school’s foyer. On the soccer team, we were required to wear a tie on game days. He squealed to the coach, and I got suspended from the team for a game or two. I lost my starting position then, and that hurt dreadfully at the time. My soccer career went downhill from there.
It was my fault though. I violated a rule.
I never took many history courses after that. In college, I focused on literary history in English and German. I did take some ancient history courses with Mary Louise Lord, which were wonderful. One should know a bit about Gilgamesh and Enkidu and Herodotus and Thucydides…and so on.
But things turned out ok for me.
I hope Mr. C found some happiness sometime.
It was a dreadful high school. No one I knew ever wanted to return for visits. Other friends in college would go on about their wonderful high schools and teachers and wanting to go back and see them. Likely we were complicit. Those were rebellious times. Although I never rioted, I did march for hunger and a few other things. We just walked. And my hair was about as long as it is now.
I learned history on my own, and literature is certainly tied into the times it was written.
Some weeks ago, I took home a stack of history mags. We usually recycle such things. We can’t sell or even give most magazines away. I set them in the bathroom for…ummm…casual reading.
This story caught my eye the other day.
I’d forgotten about the Barbary pirates and the depredations in Europe for slaves to be taken to North Africa. A million were kidnapped? The story goes on to relate stories of hundreds being captured in Ireland and Iceland in 1627. Some of those sold into slavery wrote memoirs. Imagine being swept out of your home in Iceland and being shipped to Algeria.
The magazine cited a new book. It contained the first translation of memoirs of one of the Icelanders captured and sold into slavery. This story said maybe a million were captured and transported to Africa. My oldest brother was a Marine. The story made me recall the Marines’ Hymn: “…to the shores of Tripoli.”
Back to the 1600s in Maryland.
So Annika told me about Avalon. It wasn’t one of Lord Calvert’s colonial provinces in the mid Atlantic. Avalon is a peninsula in the Canadian Maritimes. Calvert—who became Lord Baltimore—was granted vast holdings there. The land was named after the Avalon relating to old Glastonbury. That’s kind of cool. There’s a very tenuous Arthurian connection to Maryland. Very tenuous.
Things didn’t work out well, however. It was too cold, for one thing. Anyway, Calvert moved south in 1629 and founded Maryland, which was noteworthy for being a haven for Catholics fleeing religious persecution in England.
(People are always persecuting and fighting someone somewhere. Will it ever end? I doubt it. Human nature for violence is hard to subdue all the time—including this country.)
Why was the Calvert family still claiming Avalon 135 years later in 1765? I dunno. A title is a title. Looks good on the resume, I suppose. Just like a PhD.
But now I’d like to visit Avalon, Canada. I’ve never been to the Maritimes. My travel buddies had planned for a golf week there in August. The Plague canceled that.
Maybe someday I’ll get to Avalon.
So, it has been a “historic” week for me here at Wonder Book.
On Monday, a photographer arrived to shoot pictures for a potential story. I won’t give away the details. I don’t want to scoop the magazine. Also, our story might not make the cut! There’s so much history being made right now we might get bumped. Who cares about old books? I thought he would just take pics of the place and the various “Wow” book vistas here. But he also wanted to take pics of me! Dozens of them, I think. “Turn your head that way.” “Hold this book like this.” … I wish I’d dressed better. It might be funny to have a portrait with my lengthy COVID hairdo. (Or hair don’t…LOL.) I don’t like pictures of myself. I avoid mirrors. But I’ll take one for the team.
“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille.” (I wonder if I have a “good side.”)
It is October. I think this my favorite month. I like all the seasons. They help divide the year. October is cold and crisp. The mountains become a riot of color when the leaves change. The winter clothes begin migrating from the cedar closet. The shorts and other summer clothes march down.
(Except these and a half dozen other pairs which will become mulch. “Farewell, old pants.”)
Soon the potted plants will migrate indoors before they freeze.
The woodstove will certainly get lit sometime this month. I’m ready. I cut a LOT of wood in the beginning of the Terror this year. It was “chainsaw therapy.”
I enjoy cutting and hauling (almost always dead) wood. Right now, there’s no place to stack any more until I start burning the back “log.”
My only (and fairly remote) neighbor texted me last weekend. He told me he’d heard a tree fall down below up. He went and found the tree at the foot of my quarter mile driveway had fallen. It was a calm day. I wondered why. When I got home, I discovered it had no roots!
I’ll cut it up when I have a place to put it.
That tree had my warning signs hung upon it:
This Means You!
Well, not ALL those. I don’t want to appear to be a crank.
It’s rare anyone gets that far. I’ve only had a handful of unexpected visits by strangers in the decade I’ve lived there.
I’ve put in more stones I hauled up the mountain, including another bed for hostsas and ferns and…
A friend who reads these—one of the golf buddies—gave me three buckets of hostas he had thinned from his property.
I have no idea how many hostas and other things I’ve planted or transplanted during the Plague.
There’s much more to do. Next spring the 5 or so nursery beds of baby hostas will need to be transplanted too. That’s another hundred or so.
Then there are a few thousand bulbs coming from Van Engelen. I got a little crazy ordering for fall planting. I blame it on the Plague.
Going directly home almost every evening seemed odd for quite a while. I liked meeting friends for happy hour and occasional dinners. Then there were all the trips…
Life is different now. I’m used to the solitary home life, messing about the woods or reading or writing or…drinking…too often.
And I’ve been eating practically for free lately. Almost every night I’ll slice up some homegrown tomato, cucumber, jalapeño… Set them on some hard rye bread. Put some cheese atop that. Maybe sprinkle some dill and garlic salt. Turn on the grill and stare out into the woods from the deck until they are just about to burn.
I’m so lazy! No pans to clean. One dish. One wine glass.
They taste great. I haven’t tired of them yet. And I like eating what I’ve grown.
Sometimes I record dreams before they vanish. This one was very vivid.
Except I never saw who “You” was. Or is it more proper to say: “Who was ‘you’?” There are a couple suspects. But maybe my dream mind conjured a mystery someone up as a surprise.
Any way… It came out like this on the legal pad I sleep with:
You and I
We went to the river you and I
Stepped, slid down the grassy bank
It was summer’s end
Bright, blue, crisp, windy
The wind pushed against the water’s flow
We sat upon a fallen tree
and watched the elements skirmish
The distant fire of sun warmed our backs
We rose and stepped to the water’s edge you and I
Stood silent upon rattly pebbly stones
The water reflected blinding flashes
Sunlight pierced the water
We saw sand upon the river’s bottom
Daytime fireworks danced and played
upon the moving waters
and the underwater land
All was in motion but for you and I
Cold water flowed below us
Chill air flowed all about us
Warm light bathed us both
We watched the waters flow before us you and I
From the mountains, past us
and onto the sea
We stood shoulders touching
So very far apart
Always a loner you said
A gust blew from behind
A shower of golden leaves floated from above
They settled upon the river
and joined the journey down to the sea.
We turned and climbed the slope you and I
Erect then bent
then using our hands to gain purchase
At the top we turned
We looked down upon the changeless river you and I
The sun bouncing off it
up into our squinty eyes