It should have been an ordinary bike ride.
For 22 miles under the glare of late-May sunshine, 48-year-old Paul Moran pedaled his green bicycle past lobster traps and sailboats along the Massachusetts coast north of Boston. He liked taking the backroads from his Salem home to Singing Beach, a popular destination in an otherwise sleepy seaside town.

When he approached Beverly Farms, where Easter egg-colored colonials are flanked by hydrangea shrubs, Moran wound down the street where the novelist John Updike lived. This was in 2006, three years before Updike’s death. Updike had moved to Beverly Farms in 1982, and though his presence there may have been understated, it was no secret. Moran often rode by Updike’s house on his scenic bike route. This time, as it turned out, the writer was ambling outside as Moran approached. In his hands were two bulky plastic bags with blue drawstrings. And as Moran cruised by, he began to wonder what Updike was throwing away.

Eventually, he circled back down Updike’s street. He saw an open recycling bin and thought he might find a copy of The New Yorker stickered with the writer’s name and address—something that would make for a quirky conversation piece. And so Moran decided to hop off his bicycle and walk over. He noticed that one of the garbage bags next to the bin had already been torn open—perhaps, he thought, by someone seeking aluminum cans or glass bottles, which can be returned for 5 cents apiece in Massachusetts. Spilling out of the bag, he saw smooth rectangles of red leather. Upon closer inspection, he realized Updike had thrown away a collection honorary degrees from schools like Dartmouth College, Bates College, Emerson College, and Salem State College, all in pristine condition.

Boxes of slides taken on various Updike family trips and holidays (Paul Moran)