Always a Pleasure Doing Business with You: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Wood pileToday is a day of noticing in Carding—noticing the changing angle of the sun, the wind turning from the southeast to the northwest, and the end-of-season state of gardens.

Let’s meander around town together and check in with some of our favorite folks, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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Edie Wolfe’s cocker spaniel, Nearly, likes long doggie naps as much as the next canine. And like most dogs, he has his favorite napping sites.

Somewhere around Memorial Day at the end of May, he moves his post-breakfast napping site from a rug on the kitchen floor to the top step of the porch on the back of Edie’s house. From there, he can watch his human pottering about in the back gardens, picking green, yellow and red stuff of one kind or another. He can gauge the heat of the coming day, watch the ants parade through the grass, and sniff the different aromas of breakfast seeping from the nearby houses.

Stretching out on his side, Nearly began his morning survey in his characteristically casual fashion, moving his gaze slowly from right to left. The chipmunks, wise to the spaniel’s ways, made sure they kept their seed gathering out of his sight behind the wood pile. Otherwise, they’d have to play tag with the dog all morning.

Now dogs, being built much closer to the ground than their humans and having nothing like books or meetings or exercise classes to distract them, are particularly in tune with the details of life, stuff that the rest of us never notice. Nearly, a particularly attentive canine, always makes note of the sun and its location vis-a-vis his preferred spot on the back porch.

For weeks, the shining orb has been his constant morning companion, warming the step where he likes to lay and seeping down through his fur to the skin beneath. At this time of year, even when the weather promises to be too hot by noon, he welcomes the sun as an old friend.

But today the sun’s angle is sharper degree and Nearly has to readjust his position to accommodate it. He knows what this means and sighs with a resignation mixed with hopefulness. To Nearly, winter isn’t so bad because it means evenings by the wood stove sharing popcorn with his human.

Nearly loves popcorn.

Across town, Charlie Cooper is out in the garden with his partner, Agnes Findley, pulling waist-high (and now bitter) Romaine lettuce and exhausted beans from the soil. He can still smell the basil on his hands from yesterday’s marathon pesto-making session and the thought of the pizzas to come makes him smile as he pushes his wheelbarrow over to the compost pile to make a deposit. 

Agnes grumbles as she tugs stray stalks of goldenrod out of her beds. She considers weeds one of nature’s most offensive weapons, like mosquitos and stinging nettle.

“I wish this stuff wasn’t quite so successful,” she tells Charlie as she does every year. “I love its color and it doesn’t fall over like so many other tall plants. But if it goes to seed, it will take over, and I’ll never get it out of the garden.”

Over in the center of town at Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, owner Andy Cooper is checking in the morning’s produce deliveries when Lee Tennyson’s largest dump truck arrives, its tires a lot less than round because of the heavy load of firewood in the back. Andy sighs and shakes his head.

“It can’t be that time of year already,” he says.

“I know, I know,” Lee replies as he pulls on his work gloves. “No matter how we try to hide from it, the heating season isn’t that far off. Is your bulkhead locked from the inside?”

“Nope, I felt the wind change direction this morning and figured you’d be here so I unlocked it earlier. Just give me a minute to finish up with these veggies and I’ll give you a hand.”

The conventional philosophy about heating with wood—that it warms you twice—is not commonly accepted among folks who actually heat with wood. By Andy’s calculations, wood has at least seven opportunities to warm you on its way from tree to furnace.

  1. Cutting trees in the forest.
  2. Cutting the felled trees into log lengths.
  3. Splitting the lengths into firewood.
  4. Stacking the logs to dry.
  5. Getting the dried logs inside so they’re accessible during the winter.
  6. Stacking those logs so they don’t take up so much space.
  7. Stoking the wood stove.

When he was a younger man, Andy was involved with all seven steps, helping his father and brother fell trees then cutting, splitting, and stacking the beech, oak, ash, and maple they needed to get through a Vermont winter. Even now, when asked, Andy refuses to calculate how many cords of wood he’s moved in his lifetime because the total is staggering.

Over the years, Andy has spent some time figuring out how to pare his wood-warming opportunities list down from seven steps to one. 

He takes care of one through five by paying Lee Tennyson for the cords of dry, cut and split wood he needs to heat the Coop for the season.

“It’s so worth the money,” he tells himself every time Lee shows up with the 20 cords of wood Andy needs to keep the store and his living quarters warm.

Lee and Andy solved the problem of number five—getting the dried logs into the store’s basement—by constructing a slide with a couple of sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood and some 2 x 6 lumber. The result is so rugged, it easily bears the weight of Lee’s wood deliveries as they slide from his truck into the Coop’s basement.

Andy takes care of number six by hiring a team of high schoolers expressly for the purpose of neatly stacking Lee’s wood deliveries in the Coop’s basement. Not only is this easier on Andy’s back, it gives him the chance to audition potential new hires for the Coop because, in his words, “some kids work and some kids don’t.”

Which leaves Andy with only number seven on the wood-warming opportunities list to do himself—stoking the enormous wood furnace that heats the Coop and its customers. He never lets anyone else do this chore because it’s his way to escape the press of shoppers a few times a day, an escape that’s augmented by an old rocking chair, a stack of crossword puzzles, and a pen. 

“Sorry I had to raise my price per cord this year,” Lee said as Andy handed him a check.

But the older man just grins. “That’s quite all right, Lee. It’s always a pleasure doing business with you.”


I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

Do a bit of good in the world today.

Always a Pleasure Doing Business with You

Tomorrow will be a day of noticing in Carding—noticing the changing angle of the sun, the wind turning from the southeast to the northwest, and the end-of-season state of gardens.

I hope you can stop by so that we can meander around town together and check in with some of our favorite folks.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

SH-Wood pile

The Change of Seasons: A Carding Chronicle

SH-First touch of fallThe slide of calendar pages coincides with the roar of yellow school buses this week as folks in Carding start to walk a bit faster.

Even though the temperatures are still balmy during the day, you definitely need a sweater or light jacket in the evening. There’s a reason for the wide variety of outerwear (as the retailers like to call it) in everyone’s closet.

But before they fast-forward through fall, some folks are pausing at Edie Wolfe’s house to celebrate the change of seasons.

Let’s join them, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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Ruth Goodwin pulled back the curtain on Edie’s front window to peer across Carding green.

“Are you sure they’ll come?” she asked again.

Edie smiled as she fished a set of heavy wine glasses from the deepest regions of the most seldom-used cabinet in her kitchen. Though not to her more simple taste, Edie treasured the gaudy stemware. They’d belonged to her grandmother, Kitty Wolfe.

Edie always thought of her grandmother as a no-nonsense kind of lady. Oh, Kitty baked her share of cookies, hosted Thanksgiving dinners, and tended cuts and bruises with solicitous care. But Kitty preferred things in her life to be rather stripped down and practical.

So why in the world did she own a dozen fluted glasses in swirls of deep autumn gold with overripe eggplant-colored stems? They were so unlike her.

“Do you know if anyone has everything done yet?” Ruth called from the living room while Edie rinsed the drinking vessels under the tap and wiped them dry.

“I think everyone has made a start,” she said. “I saw Lydie in the Coop yesterday, and she’s cut down the small garden by her front door.”

“What about Agnes? There was a huge pile of wood in their front yard when I drove by yesterday afternoon,” Ruth said.

Edie craned her head around the doorway so she could see her best friend. Of the two of them, Ruth had always worried more about…well…about everything, really. Agnes often teased her about being the lady with the permanently puckered brow.

Ruth caught the glance, and laughed at herself. “I know, I know,” she said. “But at my age, I’m scarcely going to change, am I?”

“Do you want to put your rolls out on the table?” Edie suggested.

Ruth grinned. “So that I’ll stop fretting by the front window?” she said. “Sure.”

While some of the younger families in Carding relied on oil-burning furnaces for winter heat and the shelves of the Coop for fresh veggies, the majority of Carding-ites loved the deep warmth of their wood stoves and smothering their pancakes in applesauce they’d canned themselves.

Participation in these rituals means stacking wood, gardening, and picking fruit at local farms. These activities inevitably lead to what Edie calls “the delicate dance of autumn.”

“You have to hit it just right,” her friend Andy Cooper advises first-timers to the traditions. “If you start stacking wood too early in September, you’ll die of the heat while you’re doing it. It’s definitely a chore you want to save for a cool day. And let your gardens go as long as you can to get every last bit of the harvest.”

Of course, the trouble with this timing business is hitting the sweet spot of daytime temperatures cool enough to stack wood but not so cold that cutting back a garden means frozen fingers.

Locals figure that you can ignore the first swirl of frozen precipitation because “it doesn’t stick.” So their lawn furniture stays out because the wood and gardens take precedence. In general, this means that Halloween is a good target for “getting it all done.”

But one year, the first snow came on October 15th, and it was deep, about ten inches. And  it stayed cold.

“Froze my picnic table to the ground,” Charlie Cooper said. “And I still had half my wood to stack. That was a miserable fall.”

But none of that matters tonight. Now is the time for Edie’s annual celebration with her friends, the moment when they gear up for the race to winter readiness.

Hence the gaudy glasses, the ones that looked like harvest to Edie’s eye and, she suspected, to her grandmother’s as well. They’d fill and refill them with wine or sherry over their traditional supper of roasted chicken, squash from Andy’s garden, potatoes from Lydie’s, onion dressing courtesy of Agnes’s dirt digging, and applesauce made from the first fruit from the trees in Edie’s backyard.

She held one of the glasses up to the fading September light, admiring its rich color. There’s so much pleasure in the change of seasons.


I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

Do a bit of good in the world today.

The Change of Seasons

The slide of calendar pages coincides with the roar of yellow school buses this week as folks in Carding, Vermont start to walk a bit faster.

Even though the temperatures are still balmy during the day, you definitely need a sweater or light jacket in the evening. There’s a reason for the wide variety of outerwear (as the retailers like to call it) in everyone’s closet.

But before they fast-forward through fall, some folks are pausing at Edie Wolfe’s house to celebrate the change of seasons.

Let’s join them tomorrow, shall we? In the meantime, here’s a sample of what’s to come.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

SH-First touch of fall

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