The Last Wall

Last Wall

Friday, September 30

Another month behind us.

Hurricane Ian is steamrollering up in our direction.

The weekend will be a mess. Maybe a disaster.

October. The first freeze is only a couple weeks off, most likely.

The gardens are fading.

Soon the forest will light up with red and yellow, orange and pink.

The Last Wall

This will be the thirteenth year I’ve owned the property on the mountain.

I used to call it Lonely Mountain—after the dwarves’ Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. I even thought of having a rustic wooden sign made, but I’d rather remain anonymous. No one ever comes up there by mistake. But a Tolkien reference might be a magnet to some. It would be for me.

Lonely Mountain… it was aptly named for other reasons as well… LOL.

I love it up there. I feel I could be in remote Montana or Kentucky while still being 15 minutes from work and the wonderful city of Frederick, Maryland.

I’ve trod lightly on the land around me. There is little I could do to improve on nature.

Plus, my property is a conservation zone, so I’m not permitted to do some things… like farming or raising livestock.

But I have put up a series of stone terrace walls over the years. There are a dozen or so, depending on how you count them. Behind most of them, I have planted woodland plants.

This week, I began what is likely the last wall.

Last Wall

But who knows? Perhaps the landscape will speak to me and demand I bring more stone up the mountain.

It has always seemed a bit counterintuitive—bringing stone up a mountain. But a second definition of the word is:

Contrary to intuition or common sense.

Seems to be a motif in my life.

Last week ended with the visit of a film artist. She contacted us last spring:

…I make video installations for a gallery and museum context.

I have recently filmed in a book factory in Germany near the Black Forest; they produce buchatrappen (empty books) for furniture display and theatrical staging and this work will soon be shown at LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art), opening in the fall…

I am always nervous about visitors to the warehouse. You never know how they are going to spin their stories. I wrote a story about us being controversial long ago.

But now I think most people “get” what we do. Most seem to approve. It did take some convincing.

The rest of her correspondence conveyed excitement and book love. So, why not?

She had visited the warehouse while I was in England. But when she arrived Friday, I gave her “my” tour. Her cameraman came soon after with a load of fancy equipment. They filmed all day. I was on call for “after lunch.” They set up in my disastrous office. We had to carve out enough floor space for the two of them and a place for me to sit and talk books. She asked me to do some show and tell with my favorite books.

…Ummm… like which child is my favorite?

They stayed after we closed as well. She wanted shots of the dark warehouse devoid of humans, but not, I think, of the living spirits of the books. I wish you could come visit at night. Perhaps her film will convey the aura. The big building is always creaking and groaning. At night there are other sounds whose source is impossible to pinpoint.

I hope her project turns out ok. I’d hate to be hung in a museum looking like a fool.

Actually, I’d prefer not to be hung anywhere.

Or is it hanged?

That evening, I asked an old friend out to the fair. We hadn’t spoken much in 18 months. A disagreement. She said, “Let’s just get a drink.”

We went to the same place we went the night before all the restaurants closed in March 2020. COVID.

It was nice to catch up. We both said we should really do it again soon.

Saturday, I was rested up and ready to face all the carts that had accumulated while I was away for ten days in Oxford and London.

It was daunting, but I plowed through thousands of books on many, many 6 six-shelf, four-wheel metal carts.

That afternoon another old friend reached out and invited me to the Great Frederick Fair. He owns Smoketown Brewery (Frederick and Brunswick.) We used to hang out pretty often, but he has been so busy that we haven’t gotten together much at all since COVID began. He was set up in the beer hall. He met me at the gate with a pass and a beer. An IPA named Patsy. Patsy Cline used to perform at the firehall that is now his Brunswick brewery. It was a happy reunion. We walked among the strange folks that come to these things. We meandered through pathways and into buildings housing the strange creatures exhibited at these things.

Fair Goat

He needed to go back and help with the long line at his tent. I was hungry and wanted some fair food.

The fair. The sights and sounds… and smells.

The variety of food is always astounding.

Then there are the smells in the animal buildings—which I enjoy.

Inflation has hit here as well.

Fair Food

$20 for a smoked turkey leg. I wonder what a whole turkey will cost this Thanksgiving.

We did a little more catching up over a couple beers that he poured me under his tent.

“We should really do this again soon.”

I headed home and crashed hard from all the hard work.

Sunday, I made more great inroads into the backlog.

I found a signed Igor Stravinsky autobiography and an odd African American dreams/numbers booklet. Published Pittsburg, 1939. 5 copies on OCLC.

Genuine Afro Dream Book

There were other cool finds too.


The day ended, and I was satisfied. I’d done my duty.

Good work. Honest hard physical and mental work.

I took the dogs home and sat at the top of my steep quarter mile drive and tossed a golf ball down it. One at a time, Merry or Pip (my 11-year-old Jack Russells) would go careening after the balls and then trot back up the steep way with the ball in their mouth. Their muzzles have grayed a bit, but they haven’t slowed down. They won’t stop fetching until I give up.

Dogged determination.

I have been stressed because the week ahead was daunting. My younger son is getting married this Sunday. They have been prepping this event for a long time.

The week was full of other appointments and duties.

Doctors. Lawyers. A judge. All tests turned out ok. I’ll live a while longer. I feel Wonder Book and I have been fairly vindicated in court.

I hope it is over.

I hope COVID is over.

I tried on my tux for the wedding—just to be sure. It shrunk during COVID! It fit fine at my other son’s wedding in September 2019. So long ago…

Turns out, they’re wearing blue suits. So, I had to go buy a blue suit in a hurry.

Wednesday night, some buddies I haven’t gotten together with since… you know… rented a limo bus, and we went down to DC. It was about $100 each for the trip. Well worth it. We didn’t need to find a place to park! We went to Jack Rose’s Saloon in Adams Morgan. We had a great time. The hardest part was deciding which scotch to sip. They have a lot to choose from.

Jack Rose's Saloon

It was fun doing something social—reminiscent of the times… before.

I finally had some time to do some transplanting. Some of the plants up here are too successful at reproducing. The bleeding hearts and balloon flowers (Platycodon) actually prefer self-seeding in the gravel patio below the raised beds. Others do as well.

Garden Bed

Those I need a big mattock to get out. I push the gravel away on the far side of the young plant. I raise it up and then slam it into the earth. If I hit it right, I can then lift the plant out with little damage to the roots. Then I take them elsewhere in the yard to try to start new colonies.


The low temperatures have settled in. It has been in the 40s every night for a while, and it will continue to be as far ahead as the phone can predict. I still keep my windows open a bit, but now I have a faux fur blanket atop me over night.

Soon, I will need to begin bringing the potted plants indoors.

The sunrises continue to inspire. I keep an eye on my phone, so I know just when to get to a window.

And now Hurricane Ian is approaching. Will it hit Maryland hard? Will the wedding be ruined?

It has devastated parts of Florida. I’ve been in Florida during hurricanes. The whole world goes feral. It is a prehistoric feeling. Nature is in charge. All you can do is shelter. Or run.

I feel I need to go over a bit more of the Oxford trip. It was such a biblio-immersion I feel I gave it short shrift in the last few book stories.

Monday, September 12 was “College Day.” The folks behind the ILAB Congress had arranged a privately curated visit for us to 5 to 4 colleges. Christchurch (1546), Merton (1264), University (1249) and All Souls (1438.)

My group’s first stop was at “Univ” (you-nivv.) Percy Shelley, C S Lewis, Stephen Spender and V S Naipaul are among its former students. We toured the grounds and the old library. In a new building, we were provided a display of Oscar Wilde material. They even had a large stained glass window of the man.

We had a bit of time before the second college, and a few of us found Sander’s Print Shop. I have no business looking at prints. I have stacks of them. But an 18th century print of Paradise Lost caught my eye. My first impression was it was Blake.

No. It would be ridiculous to buy and carry home a fairly large matted print.

From there, we headed to All Souls College.

These colleges were created during very tough times. Their exteriors tend to be almost defensive. Walled, as it were. It is when you get inside that you sense the joy of the place.

And we were allowed inside each of them.

All Souls is built around a very large courtyard. (Or is it a quadrangle?)

The library is vast and stunning.

Then it was lunchtime. I skipped that and went and bought the Paradise Lost print.

Paradise Lost Print

The sale was entered by hand in an old-fashioned ledger.


Old-school bookselling.


Then I lucked upon a 5th college open to the public. (Most had signs that they were not.)

New College (1379.)

I was on my own here.

The chapel was stunning.

New College Chapel

There’s an el Greco hanging in it as well and a lot of walls of stained glass.

I wandered around the cloister—some scenes in a Harry Potter movie were filmed there. Then out into the vast Elizabethan Garden. It has a large mound in its center. That was created so that views over the garden and the old city wall were possible.

New College Garden Mound

The longest herbaceous border in Britain runs along part of the wall.

New College Garden

I reconnected with the group, as they were finishing lunch.

We headed to Merton.

I was looking forward to this because Tolkien taught here while he was writing much of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

The young guide was quite passionate about his school.

“The King James Bible was, in part, written up in the room,” he pointed out.

He led us out into the street to show us a large relief set into the wall outside the porter’s lodge.

Merton Revelations Relief

It depicts scenes from the Book of Revelation. The book in the center is the Book of Seven Seals. When those seals are broken, the second coming of Christ occurs, the Apocalypse begins. Soon The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be released.

Then our group was switched out to the librarian. She opened the big ancient door and led us up stone steps to the oldest continuously functioning library in the world (1373.) She clearly loved the place.

“I sometimes feel the need to pinch myself. I am so lucky to be able to come here to work every day.” (I understand that feeling. I frequently have it myself.)

She had set out some treasures, including a Caxton Chaucer. The first major English work printed.

Caxton Chuacer

It was highly illuminated by hand, and the typeface gives the printed book the feel of a calligraphic manuscript.

But the real stunners were the two low ceiling library rooms.

Merton Library

The oak paneling is from 1502-1503.

Merton Library

They even kept one of the books on its chain. Chained libraries dated from the time when books were so precious that they were kept chained to their shelves so they wouldn’t walk away.

The last stop was Christ Church. It had been such a long day that I was pretty much toast. But it, too, was beautiful.

And we were in the building where Alice in Wonderland was written. “Lewis Carroll” was a sub-librarian here during that time.

Christ Church Library

That is a very brief overview about the time I attended five colleges in one day. There was actually much more to it. I barely scratched the surface of the rare treasures and rarely seen scenes we were permitted to view.


2 Comments on Article

  1. Gregory commented on

    I thought your reasoning about why not to buy a large print was very sound. As was your decision to go back and buy it anyway.

    Thanks for sharing all those pictures of Oxford!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you!

      There’s a saying in the book trade:
      “The only book you regret is the one you didnt buy.”

      I’d be longing for that prin t if I hadn’t returned.

      Thanks for reading and writing!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *