Joe’s Puddle

365-29The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

New post on Carding Chronicle blog: February 5

Joe’s Puddle Pool Cancelled

by Little Crow

Well folks, this is a first, and I’m not sure it’s one to be celebrated. We all know that puddly place in the marsh at the end of Half Moon Lake, the one the kids skate on and call Joe’s Puddle, right?

And we all look forward to the PTA fundraiser that takes place here every April when we throw money in a pot, and take guesses when the Joe’s Puddle clock sinks through the ice.

The winner gets bragging rights, and half of the collected cash.

The PTA’s been raising money for kid sports equipment this way for over 20 years, and this is the first time the event has had to be cancelled because of warm weather.

In Vermont.

In February.

Russ Tensen, this year’s PTA president, called us this morning to say that there’s no ice on Joe’s puddle to put a clock on so there’s nothing to bet on—at least at this point. But the PTA executive board is meeting this afternoon to see if they can come up with some sort of a substitute.

There’s talk of a grilled cheese cook-off which sounds pretty good to me. Christine Tennyson, our lady in goat cheese up on the Tennyson farm, has offered to supply some of the product to get that effort started.

Or maybe we can all take a guess at when the maple sap starts running and the sugaring season starts.

In other cancellation news—there will be no fishing derby on the lake this weekend, and Bob Scoda sends word that he could really use a hand trying to float his bobhouse back to shore. Bob’s always the first one out on the ice, and said he really took a chance when he pulled his little shanty out on the lake on New Year’s Day.

“First time I ever saw the ice sag under my truck,” Bob said.

If you want to see Bob’s bobhouse bob, the best view is from the town beach parking lot.

As for downhill skiing, the owners of the Mount Merino Resort are still trying to make snow at night, and hoping it will last through to the next night. The mountain looks like a big mound of mud with a few white stripes running down the sides.

In other, non-cancellation, news, the pickup hockey games have moved to the town beach parking lot because the ice in the rink on the green melted. The asphalt end of the parking lot’s been swept free of gravel, and the surface is pretty good. Bring your own roller blades.

And Reverend Lloyd reports that the extreme frisbee group plans to begin their practice sessions two months early in the Episcopal church parking lot.

Sneakers and shorts.

In February.

In Vermont.

As Andy Cooper’s been saying, “This is the non-winter winter.”

I’ll be looking for you over at the extreme frisbee practices. Call me if you see any snow.

Little Crow | February 5 | Categories: Local recreation

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 12. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.

Interior Decoration

American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala
American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala

Back in 2006, St. Martin’s Press accepted my proposal to edit a group of stories by quilters. American Patchwork: True Stories from Quilters is the result. Published in 2007, the 65 stories in this collection range from the sad to the funny and back again.

One of my earliest contributors was a woman named Judy Bowden who lived in Strafford, Vermont. In the years since then, Judy became a friend, first through our mutual love of quilting (a hobby she picked up in 1971), and then through a love of books, travel, and the lure of ancient sites such as Stonehenge.

Judy died just before Christmas last year. Her deep, rich laugh and radiant smile are missed. This week, I wanted to share the story she wrote for American Patchwork in her honor.

After a close relationship of almost twenty years, I married and moved into my new husband’s home. Before the wedding, we had agreed that I could redecorate the interior of his home from “men’s dorm-style hodgepodge” to my preference of “antique French country with lots of color.” I have a background in many diverse fields, including interior design, so you can imagine how anxious I was to get started.

For the first few weeks of married life, we slept beneath an unzipped sleeping bag that had serviced as his bedspread for many years. That old and torn sleeping bag was just too much for a new bride but I knew it would take months for me to find the time to set up a work space to make my own quilt, and I just couldn’t wait that long.

So I purchased a lovely bargello patchwork in pastels of blue, rose, and white, complete with matching pillow shams.

And then I waited for him to notice what I had done.

I waited for two weeks but he never said a word. So I thought maybe he didn’t like it or thought it was too feminine, though he hadn’t objected to my Teddy bears. Finally, when he didn’t pick up on the hints I was dropping, I led him into the bedroom and asked if he noticed anything.

He looked around and after a while, he said, “No, I don’t smell anything.”

I gulped and pointed to the quilt. That’s when he finally realized that his old sleeping bag was missing. He assured me that he liked the bargello patchwork, and then asked if I’d made it.

I responded, “Of course, last night while you were at your meeting.”

I should explain that my husband is clueless about quilts and honestly has no idea how long it takes to make one. But this is not necessarily a fault, because he also has no idea about the size of my fabric stash (packed away in boxes) or the money I have invested in fabrics, quilting supplies, etc.

And I don’t intend to shock him with that information.

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 5. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.


Oatmeal Patrol

365-51The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

“How many do you think will show up?” Diana asked as her husband tried in vain to ease himself out of bed without waking her.

“Not sure,” he whispered.”How many idiots are willing to get up so early on a cold Sunday morning to make ice?” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Besides yours truly, that is.”

“Do you want my help in the kitchen?” She turned over to see the shape of his body outlined by the glow from their clock radio.

He leaned over to give her a kiss. “Nope, this is my gig. You stay in bed.”

She sighed, closed her eyes, and burrowed deeper under their quilt. “You don’t have to ask me twice,” she said. “Are the kids going with you?”

“No, I don’t think either one of them is interested in anything that happens at 4 a.m.,” Stephen said, pulling on his jeans and fishing a pair of heavy socks out of his drawer. “There’ll just be a few of us hockey heathens, no more. I’ll see you later.”

Stephen kept his boots off until he eased the back door of their second floor apartment closed behind him. Then he quickly shoved his clonking footwear over his toes, and clattered downstairs to the Crow Town Bakery.

Shadows moved. “Yeow,” he yelled, leaping back from the bottom step.

“Jeez, Dad. What kept you?” his daughter Faye said. “Wil and I were going to go back up and wake you.”

“What are you two doing here?” Stephen asked as his fingers darted over the security keyboard to turn off the bakery’s alarm system. “I figured you were good for at least a couple more hours of sleep.”

“Oatmeal,” Wil said, nodding his head from somewhere deep between his shoulders.


“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it,” Faye said. “Come on, Dad, let us in. We’re freezing out here. Who changed the security code again?”

“Your mother and I…,” Stephen began.

“Wow, look at the crowd,” Wil said before his Dad could finish. Stephen’s head jerked up. Six heads bobbed up and down by the front door.

“Hey, where have you been?” Ted Owens said as he stepped inside with his niece, Suzanna, and four more people behind them.

“I thought I was trying not to wake my family,” Stephen said as he reached down a large pot, and filled it with water. “But that turned out to be a waste of time. Any idea how many more are coming?”

Faye and Suzanna slid a large tub of rolled oats onto the counter while Wil retrieved a measuring cup and salt. “I know Lee Tennyson’s coming with his kids,” Wil said. “And my friend Brian. He’s never seen anyone make ice before.”

The front door of the Crow opened and closed twice more. “Could someone give me a head count,” Stephen said as he measured oats into the water. “I hope nobody minds golden raisins in their oatmeal because I love them.”

“Can we have cranberries too?” Suzanna asked. “I’ll cut them up.”

“Sure,” Stephen said as he sprinkled salt into his palm then tipped it into the pot followed by a good shake of cinnamon and a slurp of vanilla.

“Mmmm, oatmeal,” Paula Bouton said as she slipped up behind Ted to hook her arm in his. “I love this stuff.”

The bakery door opened again, and the din of excited voices rose a notch. Stephen twisted his head over his shoulder. “Faye, would you go see how many folks are out there?” he said. “I want to make sure we’ve got enough.”

Faye was back in a minute. “Twenty-one,” she said. “Should I get some of the cooked bacon out of the freezer, and heat it up?”

“Twenty-one? What’s going on? I thought there’d be just six or seven of us,” Stephen muttered, measuring more oatmeal. “And yeah, good idea on the bacon.”

“Well, last year was the first year for the rink, and I think most people thought you were a little crazy,” Faye said, her head disappearing into the large freezer. “But then then you and Ted got the pick-up hockey thing going, and now everyone wants ice time.”

“What about you? I thought you didn’t like hockey?” Stephen said.

“Hmm, yeah,” Faye said, spreading out slices of cooked frozen bacon on a cookie sheet. “But I’m thinking it might be more fun to play hockey than to watch it on TV.”

Just then, Stephen saw his daughter’s eyes flick in the direction of Wil’s friend Brian, and he swore he saw a quick blush color her cheeks. Could it be…?

Out in the front of the bakery, Paula piled bowls on a tray while Suzanna extracted a large jug of maple syrup from the refrigerator. As Ted counted out spoons, the excited talk reached a higher level, and then Stephen called out, “It’s ready.” He lifted the steaming pot of hot oatmeal from the stove, and everyone cleared a path so he could set it on the bakery’s counter.

Lee Tennyson’s youngest son, a boy of only four, squeaked as he jumped up and down. “Ice. Ice. Ice,” he chanted. Behind him, his two older brothers imitated the slap and whip of a hockey stick meeting a puck.

Bowls were filled, swirled with syrup, and puddled with milk. Everyone ate standing up while Faye circulated among them with a platter of hot bacon. Ted and Paula dispensed coffee in between bites of their own hot cereal.

“Anybody know what the temp is outside?” Andy Cooper asked.

“It was seventeen at our house when we left,” Lee Tennyson said.

“Whoa, here come the firetrucks,” the four-year old squealed from the front windows.

Two gleaming red engines eased their bulk over a low spot in the sidewalk surrounding Carding Green, their brakes hissing in the dark. Boots stomped, hats appeared out of deep pockets, and scarves were threaded around everyone’s neck.

Then the bakery’s doors opened, and Carding’s ice-making team clomped out into the snap of a January morning in Vermont.

“Okay folks, let’s roll. We can’t keep these trucks out too long,” Stephen called. “Ted, Andy, and Paula are in charge of the hose crews. Wil and Lee, you head up the perimeter detail. Everyone choose your team, and let’s go.”

The trucks’ pumps clicked on, droning mindlessly while water gushed out of their tanks. Three teams of three maneuvered the hoses so that the flow evenly filled the rink they’d constructed before Thanksgiving when the ground still accepted a spade. Wil and Lee set everyone else at regular intervals around the rink’s plastic liner to make sure it stayed in place.

Stephen raced around the edge, eyeing the deepening water level, hoping they’d done a good enough job leveling the ground under the plastic. Last year, an unseen lump at one end froze in place before anyone saw it, and caused everyone playing goalie at that end of the rink untold troubles.

“I want to play forward this year,” Suzanna told Wil as she smoothed out a small plastic fold.

“Are you sure?” Wil said, eyeing his sister’s best friend. He knew Suzanna was quicker than half the team when she was on skates. But, in the words of his grandmother, she was no bigger around than a minute. “What about checking?”

“Aww, nobody on the other team will ever catch me,” Suzanna said.

“Yeah, I know. But what about you checking someone on the other team?” Wil said.

On the opposite side of the oval rink, Faye chattered with Lee Tennyson about speed skating while Agnes Findley dreamed of gliding around the ice in perfect figure eights. The Tennyson boys abandoned their posts on the perimeter in favor of practicing their victory dance steps after making a goal.

Plans, dreams, and visions of victory soared high over the chug of the water pumps when suddenly, Faye realized she could see the features of Brian Muzzy’s face. She quickly turned away before he realized she was looking at him to see the colors of the sunrise reflected in the surface of the rink.

Her intent gaze caught the attention of everyone else, and they all turned to watch. Andy Cooper wiggled the end of the hose he’d been directing to free it of any stray drops of water then extracted his phone to check the weather forecast yet again.

“What’s the good word, Andy?” Ted called.

“Not supposed to get over 26 degrees today,” he said. “And there will be more clouds than sun this afternoon. I predict we’ll have ice by supper.”

A collective “woohoo” rattled around the green as the fire trucks reeled in their hoses before lumbering back to the station. Stephen slapped his soggy gloves against one another as the whole crew trooped toward the bakery to draw up schedules for hockey games, skating lessons for the kids, and to make room for general ice time for those interested in making perfect figure eights.

The scent of steaming wool mittens and hats soon made its way up to the Bennett family’s second floor apartment. When Diana detected the odor, she stretched then turned over, a smile on her face. Ice season had begun in Carding, and if she timed it right, the bakery’s kitchen would be clean before she got downstairs.

How perfect was that?

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on January 29. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.



An Excerpt from The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Hi all,
I’m in the midst of editing the third book in the Carding, Vermont series called The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. I thought you might enjoy an excerpt from the start of the book.
Remember, if you are enjoying your Friday visits to Carding, please tell all your friends. When the book is ready, I have something special to share with subscribers .

Here you go.

“Whoa. Whoa there. Steady…steady,” Stephen Bennett murmured as he eased a large cage into the back of his truck. The red-tailed hawk nipped at his gloved fingers.

“She’s a beauty,” Suzanna Owens breathed softly as the ferocious eyes turned in her direction. “Where are we taking her?”

“Not sure,” Faye Bennett said as she scanned the paperwork from the bird sanctuary. Suzanna crowded in to look over her shoulder.

“What does this mean, Small Farm?” She pointed to one of the lines on the form.

“I don’t know too much about it except it’s at the far end of the lake,” Faye said. She flipped to the second page to look at a minuscule map. “Wow, do you think they could spare the ink,” she said. “Dad’s going to need his glasses to read that, and I don’t think he brought any.” She pointed just below the X marking the hawk’s release spot. “Can you make out that word?”

Suzanna took the paperwork from her friend’s hands, and peered at it, tilting it toward the light coming from the sanctuary’s office. Even though it was supposed to be spring, the sun didn’t seem interested in dispelling the early morning gloom.

“I think it says Sunrise Hill,” she said, looking up with a shiver. Even though she wore her heaviest jacket, the damp air of early April penetrated all the way through to her bone marrow. She glanced at the caged bird as it rocked from side to side, repositioning its feet. I got up early just to see this, she reminded herself. I’m not going to mind the cold because we’re setting a bird free, and that’s important.

“Faye, Suzanna, can you attach the bungee cords to the inside of the truck for me?” Stephen called. The two girls jumped to his side.

“Now, I’m going to hold the cage in place while you set the hooks,” Stephen said, gripping the sides of the cage. “Mind you keep your hands…”

“…far away from the cage,” Faye ended the sentence for him. “We know, Dad.”

“Just making sure. I felt that last bite all the way through my glove,” Stephen said. He turned his head to smile at Suzanna. She was still lean, dark-haired and quick, very much like she was the day her infamously insensitive mother dumped her in Carding a year ago. A year? Had it been a year already?

“Did I hear you say we’re going to Sunrise Hill?” he asked.

Suzanna nodded as she hooked the last bungee cord to the inside of the truck. “I’m pretty sure that’s what the map said. The X for the release spot is next to something called Small Farm.” She shook her head. “Does that mean it’s tiny?”

Stephen chuckled. “That’s not a bad guess. It was a very small farm—as in not-very-big—on the west end of the lake, just beyond Mount Merino. You drive over Sunrise Hill to get there. But it’s also true that the last owners of the property were named Small. So I guess you could call it the Small small farm.”

“That’s pretty lame, Dad,” Faye said, wrinkling her nose.

Stephen laughed then tested to make sure the cage wouldn’t move. He rechecked the padding on its bottom and halfway up its sides. The hawk looked on, bored but on guard.

“Okay, this is going to be a long, slow ride so we don’t rock this beauty too much from side to side,” Stephen said. “Let’s saddle up, shall we?”

“Oh, Mr. Bennett, just a minute,” a woman called from the door of the bird sanctuary’s office. “I have one more piece of paperwork for you to sign. Sorry about that.”

“Sure, sure,” Stephen said with a just-barely-suppressed sigh. He could feel his wife Diana wishing he were back at their bakery, helping to get it ready to open. Still, it wasn’t every day you got to release a red-tailed hawk named Freya back into the wild.

“You two wait here,” Stephen said as he trudged away.

The two girls craned their heads to check out the woman at the door. In a place where female makeup was the exception, not the rule, she stood out with her very red lips and shadowed eyes.

“What time in the morning do you suppose she has to get up to put all that on?” Suzanna asked as the woman fluttered her bat-wing eyelashes at Stephen.

Faye frowned. “Do you think she’s trying to flirt with my Dad?”

Suzanna watched in silence for a minute. “Sure looks that way, doesn’t it?”

Just then, Stephen stepped back from the woman, handed her a clipboard and pen, and marched back to the truck, his mouth a thin, straight line.

“I would say your Dad is not pleased,” Suzanna said.

“Yeah, that’s the way he looks when my room needs cleaning,” Faye said. She raised her chin toward the woman’s direction whose red, red lips were pinched up in a tight circle. “She doesn’t look too pleased either.”

The girls stayed quiet as Stephen got into the truck, turned the key, and eased it into gear. Finally, Faye decided to risk a question.

“Who was that, Dad? I’ve never seen her before,” she said.

“Hmph, Margie Rosen,” he said, his tongue squishing the syllables of the woman’s name against the roof of his mouth as though it was food gone bad. “She’s the sister of the new school superintendent.”

He slowed to a stop at the end of the bird sanctuary’s driveway. “Now, let me see those instructions and map so we can get Freya to her date with destiny.”

It started to mist as they rumbled their way past the ski resort, the type of light drizzle that stays liquid in the air but turns to ice as soon as it hits a windshield, roadway, guardrail or sidewalk.

“Great,” Stephen muttered as he turned the truck’s heater up a notch, and directed all its warmth toward the windshield. But the persistent damp chill on the outside still made the glass fog up on the inside. “Suzanna, see if there are any paper napkins in the glove box,” he said. “Our breath is condensing on the windshield, and I either need you both to stop breathing or see if you can clear this off.”

The two girls rubbed vigorously, Suzanna taking the passenger side while Faye, sitting in the middle, cautiously reached across to clear the glass in front of her father.

“Better?” she finally asked.

He reached over to give her single long braid a friendly tug. “Better,” he said with a smile. Ever since Faye’s entry into her hormonal years, she’d become prickly and unpredictable. There were times when Stephen was sure that he and Diana had given birth to Frankenstein’s monster so he cherished the moments like this, when she was his little girl again.

The truck slowed more as the road turned from paved to dirt then narrowed and climbed up the backside of a hill. Stephen stopped when they reached a flat spot at the bottom of a sharp curve to roll down his window and look at the road conditions.

“The ice is building up,” he said.

“How much further do we have to go?” Faye asked.

“The old farm is just at the top of this curve,” Stephen said. He sighed, looking ahead. “Once I start up, we can’t stop or we’ll lose momentum.”

“What if someone’s coming from the other direction?” Suzanna asked, looking down the slope falling away from the road.

“Good question,” Stephen said as he laid on the horn. “Hopefully, that will be enough warning to let someone know we’re coming.” He looked at the two girls, and unconsciously compared them. Even though they were only three months apart in age, his Faye (and her developing body) looked so much older. He wondered if Suzanna’s Uncle Ted was having Frankenstein monster problems at his house. He’d have to ask.

All three of them breathed a sigh of relief when they finally rounded the last curve, and saw the standing timbers of what had been the Small family’s sheep barn. The sun managed to find a chink between two raggedy clouds to lift the gloom a bit.

Freya screamed from the back of the truck. “Sorry girl,” Stephen murmured as he lifted the back window of his cap and let the tail gate down. The bird glared at him as if he was just so much dead rabbit. Stephen twisted his head around to look the site over. “Those pines were a lot shorter the last time I was here,” he said to the girls. “I’ll bet it was a pretty lonely place even when the Smalls lived here. So, where do you two think we should set Freya free?”

Faye was already tromping over the old snow, her back to her father and best friend. She stopped when she reached the far corner of a cellar hole, the remains of the Smalls’ house. She stared for a moment then spread her arms wide with a big shout. “Wow. Suzanna, you gotta see this.”

Faye stood on an outrcopping of lichen-stained granite, perched as close to its edge as she could get. As Suzanna approached, a view of the whole Corvus Valley opened up at her feet. Like everyone else in Carding, the girls were used to viewing Half Moon Lake from its eastern end, the place where the Corvus River plunged headfirst over the Crow’s Head falls. But now they stood on a rise at the opposite end of that body of water. The faraway falls glinted in the pale light. Here and there, fingers of sunlight slanted just right through the smoke rising from Carding’s woodstoves, turning it pink.

The girls didn’t move, their breath steaming around their heads. Then Suzanna finally sighed. “It looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it?” Tears stung her eyes.

Faye sniffed. “Yeah, it does. Mom’s always telling me how we live in the most beautiful place in the world. I guess sometimes she’s right.”

Suzanna turned to look at her friend, and realized Faye was blinking as fast as she was. “Why are we crying?” she asked.

Faye wiped her face with her sleeve and sniffed again. “Mom says it’s hormones,” she said with a shrug. “All part of being a girl, I guess.”

Suzanna sighed again. “I guess that’s not gonna change any time soon, is it?” She blinked some more, wiped her face, and then unexpectedly started to laugh. Faye’s head whipped around but then the giggles caught her too. Soon the two girls were leaning into one another, gasping for air as tears poured from their eyes and laughter from their mouths.

Stephen and the hawk looked on from the truck, the man slowly shaking his head from side to side. “Aliens,” he said to the bird. “I think all of you women are aliens.”

Freya shook her head. “Chip-chip-chip,” she scolded.

In the end, Stephen carried the caged bird to the spot where the girls had watched Carding turn pink. “Oh, I’d forgotten how beautiful it is up here,” he said as he set it  down. “I need to bring Diana up here for a picnic…after the roads dry out.”

The hawk rocked nervously from one foot to the other then plucked at the cage door with her beak. “Do you think she knows we’re freeing her?” Suzanna asked, pushing her always-disobedient hair away from her face.

“Yeah, I do actually,” Stephen said. “This is her kind of place, open in spots where she can hunt. And the marshy end of the lake is just beyond those pines. There’s places that never freeze over so there’s fresh water for her to drink and bathe in. What’s left of the Smalls’ barn could be shelter from bad storms, and we’re not too far from where Freya was shot so she’s already in a familiar place.”

Suzanna shook her head. “I don’t understand why anyone would shoot Freya. She’s amazing.”

“People used to put prices on the heads of all predators because they hunt some of the same things humans do, like rabbits and quail,” Stephen said. “It’s only been in the last fifty years or so that the feelings about these birds have changed. But some people still do it.”

“But shooting hawks is illegal,” Suzanna said.

“Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s not done.” Deep creases set in on both sides of Stephen’s mouth as his mind strayed back to his encounter with Margie Rosen. He hadn’t liked being the target of her barely-veiled innuendos at the bird sanctuary. He hoped he’d read her wrong.

But he doubted it.

Faye tugged Suzanna around to the front of the birds cage. “You see those two latches on top of the door?” Faye said. “Dad’s going to open them. Then you pull on the string, and the door will open.” She handed the knotted end of a long string to her friend. “I got to do one last year, before I knew you. Freya’s yours.”

“Are you sure?” Suzanna asked.

“Oh yes,” Faye said. “Freya’s yours.”

“Okay Suzanna, you and Faye back up a little bit,” Stephen said, “and I’ll flip the latches.”

Suzanna stepped backwards, her eyes glued to the now-quiet bird. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Ready?” Stephen called.

Suzanna wound the string around her hand. “Ready.”

Stephen flipped the latches then joined the girls. “Just pull nice and steady,” he said.

Suzanna took a deep breath then started gathering the string in her hands. Freya stayed still until the door was fully open. Then she strutted forward.

“You’re free,” Suzanna breathed.

“Fly,” Faye whispered.

“Soar,” Stephen urged. “Try the wings. I think you’ll find they work as good as new.”

Freya moved closer to the edge of the granite bulge, snapping her head left and right. Then she raised her wings high above her head, letting the breeze ruffle her feathers. Then she settled, advanced, tried the wings in a new position, and settled again.

“Is she going to fly?” Suzanna whispered.

“She’s just testing her equipment,” Stephen said. “It’s been four months since she’s done more than glide from one end of an enclosure to the other in the sanctuary.”

Freya reared up to flap her wings again. The sun provided backlighting that gave her small audience a moment to appreciate the reddish glint of her feathers. Her sharp eyes soaked in every detail of her terrain then she turned to her left, glanced at the trio watching breathlessly, and rose to catch a current of air that gently lifted her above the earth.

Stephen and the girls whooped and jumped, clapping and squealing with excitement.

“Did you see that? Did you see how she looked at us?” Suzanna asked as they collected the cage, string and Stephen’s gloves. “Oh, I wish she would come back to visit some time, tell us how she’s doing, and about all her adventures.”

Stephen laughed as they piled into the truck. “Now that was worth getting up early, wouldn’t you say?” he said as he shifted into the lowest gear. “Are you all buckled in? We’ve got to creep back down the way we came up, and then how about some breakfast?”

“Oh yes, please,” Suzanna said. “I’m starving.”

The girls chattered so much, neither one of them noticed the way Stephen’s hands clenched the steering wheel on the blind curve that dropped down from the Small farm. He’d driven too many icy roads not to have a healthy respect for their power to surprise. If the girls hadn’t been so excited about releasing the hawk, he would have refused o\to release her.

But a little adventure now and then was a good thing, was it not?

Dear Uncle Dan

365-5050The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

Dear Uncle Dan,
I’m supposed to be studying for a history test but if I have to read any more about ancient Greece, I think I will scream. Besides, we haven’t seen you for a while, and I thought you might be homesick for Carding so I figured this would be a good time to send you a nice long email.

Everyone’s pretty good here. We haven’t had much snow so far this winter so there’s not much skiing which means most of the people in the Crow Town Bakery are locals which makes it nicer. I know that tourists are supposed to be a good thing but I get really tired of their snooty attitude, waltzing around town in their Lycra outfits and upscale jackets. You can pick them out a mile away, all black, pink and lime green.

Andy Cooper says the only people who look good in that stuff are twelve-year old girls because Lycra leaves “nothing to the imagination.” Personally, I think he’s right. I saw a guy yesterday, wearing Lycra, who looked like he was carrying a kangaroo in a pouch.

And he was smoking A CIGAR. Gag! Do those things taste as bad as they smell? He cleared the whole sidewalk with the stink of that thing which Wil said was his way of showing how important he is. Smoking something really stinky proves you’re important? Really?

I’ll never understand men so I’m glad I never have to be one.

Did you know that Peter Foster and Ted Owens bought the old insurance agency next to the bakery, and they’re starting a brewery? They bought this rig with lots of conveyor belts that move the bottles from the place where they get filled from the vats to the place where they get capped and then to the place where they get packed in boxes.

I think they’re still working the bugs out of the system because last night, a bunch of full bottles slid off and exploded all over the floor. The noise was BIG, you could hear it all over town. Luckily no one got hurt, and the beer smell got rid of the cigar smell so everyone was happy about that.

The Tennyson twins are back in town. They’re calling themselves Ginger and Goldie now. I don’t know what was wrong with the last names they had, Starr and Summer, or the ones before that. Seems like every time they go away on a trip, they come back with new names and hairdos. Mom says their last trip was to Las Vegas.

Anyway, they’re living in the house next to Gram’s, and I heard that they have plans to open a tea shop in the big front room if they can get the right permits. Andy doesn’t seem too pleased about it all. He keeps asking people “what kind of tea do you think they’re going to sell over there?”

Gram says that the Tennyson now called Ginger was always sweet on Andy when they were in high school together, and that Andy’s never recovered from “that relationship,” whatever that means. I notice he jumps a mile and gets away as quick as he can whenever Ginger shows up. And it’s hard not to miss her because she wears this perfume that Mom says is called  patchouli. In a way, it’s almost as bad as the cigar.

When I asked her why Ginger had to wear something so strong, Dad kinda rolled his eyes, and Mom said something about keeping people off the scent. I didn’t get what they meant but they didn’t want to explain more so I’ll have to get Wil to tell me.

Suzanna and I decided to go to the rally for our basketball team last Friday. Wil’s playing guard on the varsity squad this year, though he’s only second string. There’s this new girl hanging around him. She’s got a funny first name, Xylan, and she giggles every time Wil opens his mouth.

I know that Wil can be pretty funny, and you should see him imitate the tourists that come into the bakery. But this Xylan laughs when he says hello. So far, he’s not annoyed by it but I’m hoping he is soon.

The rally was okay until the end when Brian Muzzy came up to stand next to us during the last cheer. Brian plays guitar in the Shades, the band that won the talent show last fall, and Wil says he’s pretty good.

Brian never, ever says anything to me, not even “Hey.” Instead, he just stands there and looks at my shirt until it creeps me out.

Suzanna and I kept trying to get away from him but every time I turned around, there he was again, staring at me. So I finally told him that if he didn’t cut it out, I was going to break him where it counts the most. I said it real loud, too, and he finally left.

I guess he figured I was telling the truth even though I would never break anyone’s hands.

When are you coming to Carding again? Wil and Suzanna and I found a new entrance into the big cave down by the Crows Head Falls, and we want to explore it but Mom says we can’t go in there unless we have an adult with us. She says you’ll do in a pinch.

Love you and miss you,

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on January 15. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.

A Quilter’s New Year’s Resolutions

The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story will be delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

I wrote this set of resolutions when I was president of my quilt guild in 2013. Even if you’re not a quilter, I’ll bet you’ve got a passion that lights your fire like this one.
Sonja Hakala

January 1, 2016: I resolve not* to buy any fabric this year. I will sew only with what I have in my stash.


• Unless it’s something really pretty that just came into Hen House Fabrics in White River Junction or Barnyard Quilting in Fairlee.

• Except for something really cool that I find on sale in the back room of Country Treasures in Chester during the Vermont Shop Hop in March.

• Or anything else I find during the Vermont Shop Hop that I know will get sold out quickly if I don’t buy it now, especially when I am encouraged to think this way by the friends fellow enablers that I’m Shop Hopping with.

• Except for shopping the vendors at the Vermont Quilt Festival in June because I often find things there that I just don’t find anywhere else.

• Unless it’s fabric at a summer stash buster sale put on by a guild member fellow enabler because I know the prices will be incredible.

• Unless it’s something at the Textile Company in Greenfield, Massachusetts because I’m driving south on Interstate 91 and I rarely go that way so I might as well stop.

• And while I’m at it, I should probably stop at Frank’s in Charlestown, NH on my way south on Interstate 91 to see what he has on the shelf.

• Of course, I only get to Keepsake Quilting once a year when I go to my guild’s Geneva Point retreat so I have to stop to see what’s on sale, and besides, I may need some new Christmas fabric.

• And then on the way home from Geneva Point, I should also stop at North Country Quilters because when will I get to Rumney, NH again this year?

• And then there’s the stuff on sale in the bathroom at Quilted Threads in Henniker, NH which is not that far off Interstate 89 on my way back from a visit to the New England Quilt Museum.

January 1, 2017: I resolve not to buy any fabric this year because I have run out of space in my stash cabinet, and my husband says he’s not building me another, and I’ve run out of places to hide fabric in the house.

The Tennyson Free-Range Christmas Tree Farm

Quilted Christmas tree for webOf all the symbols of the season at the cold end of the year, none is more revered than the tree. Touching both earth and the sky, trees are the channels of life in many spiritual traditions. I wrote this story to honor the trees in my life.

Wishing all of you the very best of this special time of year!
Sonja Hakala

As the glower of November settles into the sustained chill of December, the good folks of Carding, Vermont begin to think seriously about the coming holidays. One of the first signs of Christmas-to-come is the appearance of a particularly thick and creamy brand of eggnog on the shelves of Cooper’s General Store. Andy Cooper, the seventh Cooper to own and run the rambling everything-you-need emporium, always gives Benson’s Special Nogg pride of place in the first cooler you see when you walk in the front door, just to the left of Carding’s Creamy Ale.

Word spreads through town when the Benson’s shows up so you’ve got to be quick to get your share of the seasonal treat.
One of the other signs of the approaching holidays are the trays of Carding Crunch Cookies that Diana Bennett makes over at the Crown Town Bakery. The pungent scents of ginger and cinnamon leak right out the bakery’s windows and doors, causing passersby to drop whatever they’re doing to buy a dozen while there are still some left.

But perhaps the most anticipated holiday signal in the whole town is the appearance of a smal sign at the end of the dirt road that goes up to the old Tennyson farm. The sign was once white with a green triangle in the center to represent a Christmas tree. But over the century since that sign was first painted, the white has faded to the gray of a winter sky, and all that’s left of the tree symbol is a faint shadow.

No matter. Generations of Carding-ites, who start watching for the sign on Thanksgiving, know exactly what it means—the Tennyson farm is open for the cutting of Yuletide trees.

Lee Tennyson, the seventh Tennyson to own the farm, will be the first to disclaim any credit for this special plantation of spruce and balsam firs. If asked, he’d be glad to tell you how they were planted by the first Tennysons to live on Belmont Hill. His name was Alfred and his enchanting wife’s name was Elayna.

If you talk to the old timers in Carding, they’ll tell you lots of stories about Fred Tennyson. He wasn’t native-born, first of all. He came from New York City but he left a good job there to come live in the Green Mountains. You’ll hear how he was the only person in Carding to vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the the 1932 election, and how right he was to fight to get electricity in Carding in 1943.
Green tree from wallhanging for web
Fred Tennyson didn’t marry a local girl, though there were plenty who would have been happy to have him. No, as soon as Fred finished building the small cabin that eventually grew into the Tennysons’ large farmhouse, he sent a letter to a faraway country to ask for a certain young lady’s hand in marriage. Her name was Elayna, and she accepted Fred’s proposal without hesitation. No one in Carding ever learned much about her past but Fred always said that when Elayna left her homeland, people wept.

As a general rule, people like to live our lives among people they know. So it’s no surprise that the folks in Carding were prepared to keep Elayna Tennyson at a distance for four or five years while they got to know her. But somehow—and no one was quite sure how—Elayna blossomed easily among them, just as if she’d always been there.

A number of Carding-ites accounted for this by remarking on the pleasant aroma that wafted through the air whenever Elayna was around. The scent was like fresh-baked cookies, one part ginger, two parts cinnamon with butter in the background. But when asked, no one could ever recall seeing her bake.

Another contingent, mostly children and those enjoying the peak of gray-haired longevity, treasured the way Elayna touched them. Some described her caress as soft as the brush of a snowflake on a cheek while others said it felt like the first warm sun on a cloudless March day. But when asked, they could not recall ever being embraced by Mrs. Tennyson.

Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that the green hills of Vermont were once treeless, stripped bare by decades of logging. But that’s the way they were when Fred asked Elayna to marry him. The brown hills made him feel sad, and he promised his wife-to-be that he would replant them with maples, oaks, beech, and “some spruce and pine so the little ones of Carding can have Christmas trees once again.”

The treeless plight of Vermont’s hills touched Elayna’s heart so she arranged for a special wedding gift for Fred—a dozen magnificent balsam firs from her faraway land.

It took the newlywed Tennysons a while to choose just the right spot for their Christmas tree farm. But they finally picked a southwest-facing slope that was protected from the worst of the winter winds yet was open to the light of the summer sun.

One of Elayna’s special balsams was much larger than the others, and it became the center of their tree farm. After they planted the first, Fred collected spruce seedlings from local hollows and copses to fill in the spaces among them, and the tree farm flourished.
And so did the Tennyson family. Elayna gave birth to a girl named Arabella just before they celebrated their second Christmas as man and wife. Little Arabella soon had three brothers—Alfred junior, Cedric, and Wesley—and then she had a little sister named Rose.

The Tennyson children shared their mother’s luminous qualities, and that’s probably why people believed they were conceived in the moonlight under that great balsam fir. Of course, no one but Fred and Elayna could have testified to the truth about that story. But generations of Carding women who were wooed by Tennyson men told stories about walking in the woods with them at night.

The family began selling Christmas trees the year Arabella turned twelve. Fred made the white sign with the green triangle that year, and nailed it to a post stuck in the ground where the cart track up to the farm met Belmont Hill Road.

Only a handful of families made the trek that year but the welcome they received was memorable. The Tennyson children guided everyone right up to the back door of the farmhouse where they were met by Fred and Elayna. Fred was dressed in a dark green jacket while Elayna wore a patchwork apron with deep blue pockets on its front. Fred carried an axe to do any cutting while Elayna directed the selection of “the right tree for the right family.”

She was quite particular about this, asking the Carding families about their lives, their dreams, their hopes and travails before picking out a tree. Some folks may have thought all that chat was unnecessary but the people who walked in the woods with Elayna didn’t seem to mind at all.

As they walked with her, Elayna told tales about the trees. It seemed she knew the life story of each spruce and fir intimately.
“Look at those three here,” she’d say when the walkers reached the top of the hill. “They were planted on the same day but look how the one in the middle is smaller than the others. That’s because its top broke off in an ice storm. But see how the one on the left and the one on the right have moved together to protect it? That’s how life should be, don’t you think, us protecting one another from storms.”
Multi-color tree from wallhanging
Then later on, when the walkers reached a clearing near the big balsam fir, Elayna would execute a little dance step in her heavy winter boots, and laugh in her soft, sparkly way. “Happy Christmas,” she’d say. “Happy Christmas to all.”

And everyone who heard her could smell the tang of spruce and hear the whisper of the balsam firs. Then suddenly, they’d be right back in the barnyard where Fred would help them load their special trees into their wagons, Elayna would give them tin cups full of hot cider, and the Tennyson children passed out the first Carding Crunch Cookies.

“Just bring back the trees when Christmas is over,” Fred said as they drove away. “You can leave them right at the end of the drive. I pile them up for windbreaks around Elayna’s flower gardens.”

And that’s how the Carding Christmas ritual began. Year after year, families in the village waited for the Tennyson Tree Farm sign to appear, and then they’d trek up Belmont Hill, turn right on the old cart road, and then follow Fred with his axe and Elayna with her stories until they found the perfect tree.

Remarkably, everyone’s selected evergreen always fit perfectly in the spot chosen for it.

Remarkably, every Tennyson tree filled its home with the tang of spruce and the whisper of balsam fir, especially on Christmas morning.

And remarkably, on the day after Christmas, all the trees were left in a pile at the end of the cart track that led up to the Tennyson farm.

What stayed behind in the homes and mills and farms of Carding were the stories that Elayna always told about the evergreens. All Carding’s children learned the tale about their family’s particular tree like the one about the spruce with bent branches and a strong heart or about the wispy fir that held a family’s-worth of ornaments with magnificent pride or the pine that whispered words of comfort to people facing grief.

The people of Carding grew so accustomed to visiting the Tennyson tree farm every year with Fred in his green jacket and Elayna in her patchwork apron that it came as a great shock when they learned that she had died.

“She just hung that apron of hers, the one with the blue pockets, on its peg in the kitchen,” Fred said, “and took to her bed. She was gone by morning. She just said it was time.”

The Tennysons chose to bury Elayna in a special place just down slope from the spot where people left their trees after Christmas. You could see all of the Corvus Valley from there—the glittering ribbon of river, the shimmer of Half Moon Lake, smoke rising from Carding’s chimneys in winter, and the sparkle of snow-covered Mount Merino in the far distance.

It was a simple ceremony. The whole town was there. At the end, Arabella and her brother Cedric planted a balsam fir to watch over their mother.

As people turned to go, they told one another that Christmas would never be the same because the Tennysons wouldn’t sell trees now that Elayna was gone.

But they were wrong. On the morning of the winter solstice, Cedric hung out the white sign with the green triangle. The news spread through the village faster than a roll of thunder, and soon a line of cars were turning right up the snowy track to the farm.

Arabella and her sister Rose greeted everyone wearing patchwork aprons of their own making with two bright yellow pockets on the front because that was their favorite color. Father Fred waved from his kitchen window where he was keeping warm by the wood stove while his three sons Al, Cedric and Wesley stood at the ready to help folks cut and load their chosen Yuletide evergreens.

This went on year after year with Carding family elders passing on their Christmas tree stories to their family youngsters. But somehow, in all that time, no one’s noticed that they always find their special tree in the same place they did the year before. And somehow, they never notice that the one they pick has the same broken branches or misshapen trunk as the year before.

What they do remember are the stories they heard as children, and walking up the hill among the trees in the dark. And then, after they gather their special yuletide greenery, they wander to the center of the wood to stand by the great balsam fir that Elayna Tennyson brought to Carding so long ago. Then a little breeze comes up then. Snowflakes drift past their cheeks, and they hear a soft, sparkly voice whisper: “Happy Christmas. Happy Christmas to all.”

© 2014 by Sonja Hakala, all rights reserved

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.