So Vermont

sable-december-2015-for-webWhen the leaves turn up here in the north country, our roads get crowded with “folks from away” who prowl the thoroughfares looking for the best views to appreciate autumn. But as anyone who lives through a tourist season will tell you, there are aspects of the influx that aren’t fun for the locals.

Locals like Andy Cooper, the owner of the Coop, Carding’s everything-you-need place to shop.

I also wanted to let you know that copies of all my books—the Carding novels as well as my works on book publishing and a collection of quilting stories—will be available during my Book Sale starting October 5. There will be lots of good deals. Stay tuned.

And please do your part to boost tourism in Carding by sharing these stories with your friends and family.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont.


Andy Cooper had long made a habit of celebrating the autumn equinox by turning the face of his kitchen calendar toward the wall. Of all the tourist seasons that ebbed and flowed over Vermont—skiing, fishing, hiking, hunting, and just plain old summer enjoyment—the only one he dreaded was the monthlong peak-of-foliage season.

“Leaf peepers,” he’d snort as soon as his eyes opened in the morning. His dog Sable made eyebrow tents at him, gauging her response to his words by the vehemence of his voice. This morning’s opening outburst didn’t sound too bad so she lifted her head and let the luxurious curl of her tail thump against her bed.

Andy grunted as he leaned over to massage one of her ears. “Just let me get a little breakfast, and we’ll be on our way,” he said.

Now you’d think that Andy, in his capacity as the owner of the Cooper General Store and Emporium, would welcome the annual flood of “people from away” with open arms. And he probably did when he was younger.

But it seemed to him that tourists were more aggressive nowadays. Between the hustling tour guides and the Chamber of Commerce and the hype-hype-hype of the changing of the leaves by the inane exploding heads on television news shows, the tourist expectations of “Vermont Land” had become just plain unrealistic.

The truth was, Andy had grown weary of explaining that he was not personally responsible for the reds, yellows, and oranges or any lack thereof. And the next person who complained about the dearth of pre-carved pumpkins in his store was going to get a good solid whack upside the head.

He growled into his granola, and Sable paused in her morning kibble devotions to see what would happen next. But then Andy heaved a big sigh, and seemed to settle down. Sable hoped this foretold a longer walk than usual to start their day.

Breakfast over, man and dog quietly padded out the back door, and headed toward the path that connected them to the town’s trail system, a skein of byways that ambled over the hilly terrain on the south side of Half Moon Lake. As soon as they were out of hearing distance of the store, Andy muttered “You go, girl” and the dog sped off.

Edie’s right, he told himself, I am becoming a grump about the tourists. And it’s ruining fall for me. Maybe it is time to step back and let the boys take the store over.

He grinned as he watched Sable dive into the underbrush, and then emerge decorated with chains of tiny green burrs down the middle of her back. He clucked, and she obediently stood still while Andy plucked the worst of the mess from her fur. Then she sped off again after a quick parting pat on her backside.

As much as Sable loved hiking around Carding, she never lost sight of her real job—keeping track of Andy. So she stopped at every fork in the trail to wait for him. When they spotted one another, Andy would point to the left or right, and then she’d hightail it down the appropriate path.

They each considered this a good relationship. Andy was left to his musings while Sable was free to keep the local squirrel population on its toes.

Should I step back and let the boys take over the store, Andy asked himself again. Barry and his wife Joan would probably be up for it. They’d been running the most popular coffee shop in Montpelier for six years now, and they were really good at it. And recently, they’d been making noises about moving on because the place would never be theirs.

From what Andy could tell, Barry was a good front man. He had an eye for trends, introducing new flavors and gizmos long before any other coffee shop in the city. Joan, on the other hand, had become a number-cruncher extraordinaire, a far cry from the young woman who once had movie aspirations.

They’d be a good fit for the Coop, Andy thought, and the timing is probably right.

But then there was Jack, the younger brother with a life that just never seemed to gel. He’d been only three months away from his high school graduation when their mother, Andy’s beautiful Rose, had died of cancer. Blinded by his own grief, Andy didn’t realize how badly the boy had been hit until it was too late.

In spite of everything, Jack had insisted on going off to college that fall. After all, the University of Vermont wasn’t that far away from home. So Andy let him go even though his instinct was to keep the boy in Carding for another year.

Shoulda listened to my gut, he told himself for the millionth time. That boy was adrift and I knew it. He wondered how Jack would react if he asked Barry and Joan to take over the store. Would he want to come home and work with his brother?

Would Barry want that? What was fair?

Sable’s deep brown eyes detected a slowing of her hiking companion’s step as they neared the place where the Appalachian Trail veered off from the Carding trail system. She thought it might be a sign that he could be persuaded to take the long way round so she stood to the left, giving her tail a small wag to indicate her preference.

Andy stopped. It was tempting. Wandering through the woods on a fine autumn morning with a great dog. It didn’t get much better than that.

But he felt the store pulling on him. Yeah, his staff was fine without him for a time. His head cashier, Britta, had everything she needed to open. But it was the busiest time of the year, and he really should be there.

He sighed, and let his hand trail over Sable’s soft fur. “I think we’d better go back, girl,” he said.

So they turned right to hit the path that led back to the Coop, Andy’s head down, and his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans. Sable, her initial burst of morning energy now quelled, trotted at his side.

All was quiet until the duo hit the edge of the store’s parking lot when Andy’s thoughts were drowned out by the low rumble of an empty tour bus at idle.

“Why don’t you turn off that thing while you’re waiting?” Andy growled at the driver lounging against a nearby tree.

The guy squinched up his face. “It’s only a short stay,” he said. “Thirty minutes. They like to get in quick and get out quick. They keep a tight schedule.”

Andy growled again, and was about to head for the store’s back door when he heard a multitude of camera clicks behind him. He spun around just in time to see a small forest of tourists hold up their phones to take more pictures of him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

A smiling man on the far edge of the crowd beamed at Andy. Sable ducked behind his legs as the smiler’s hand swept the scene. “Notice how rustic,” he announced while the tourist heads bobbed. “So Vermont.”

“What the…?” Andy scrabbled in his pocket then raised his own phone to his face.

Click.

“Ooh, so tourist,” he said.

Click. Click.

“I’m gonna put these in my scrapbook,” he said, stepping closer. Some of the tourists turned to their guide, asking questions in a language Andy didn’t understand. The tour guide’s smile looked a little less certain.

“Just taking picture,” he said to Andy.

Click.

“So am I,” Andy said. Click. Click. Click.

The tour guide raised his hands to guide his flock toward the safety of the bus while Andy continued to click. As soon as they were out of sight, he tucked his phone away, and headed back toward the path.

“Come on girl. I’ve decided today’s a good day for a really long walk.”


 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other green peak moments from Vermont.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Sunrise Hill

backyard-maple-for-webIn my latest Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, Stephen Bennett (co-owner of the Crow Town Bakery) is in a serious truck accident. This story, “Sunrise Hill,” takes place several months later.

Copies of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, plus copies of all my other books, will be available during my October Book Sale starting October 5. There will be lots of good deals. Stay tuned.


Stephen Bennett wasn’t much of a morning person. Even though he could stand, sip coffee, and talk before nine, his wife and kids knew better than to expect him to do much of anything else before then.

So Faye and Wil could be excused for being a bit unnerved by the sight of their Dad whirling around their home kitchen when they filed in for breakfast as he filled the three parts of their stainless steel tiffin with a variety of foods.

Faye glanced at the clock. “Whoa, Dad. Is the house on fire or are you really just that glad it’s the first day of school for us. It’s only seven o’clock, you know.”

Stephen grinned as he arranged a tier of cherry tomatoes stuffed with guacamole in the top tin. “It’s also Monday, the bakery’s closed, and I’m taking your mother for a picnic,” he said.

The back door opened, and Diana stepped in with a bottle of milk she’d retrieved from the restaurant below. “Hey, first day.” She shook her head as she looked at her two kids. “Wil starts his senior year. That is so hard for me to believe.”

“Mom, I think you’ve said that on my first day of school every year since first grade,” Wil said as he shoveled granola into a bowl, and grabbed the milk from his mother.

“Yeah, how come you don’t say that to me?” Faye said.

Stephen stopped for a moment to take in his daughter. She’d managed to lose the last bits of her little-girlness over the summer, and her body now had a shape that he knew attracted attention. Suddenly he leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “I think it’s because you’re the youngest, and every time you cross a threshold, your Mom and I just want to slow everything down. It makes it more real if we say it out loud, somehow.”

Wil and Faye traded eye rolls as their parents sighed. “It’s a long way from September to June, Dad. Forever,” Wil said.

“So where are you two going for your picnic?” Faye asked. “In case we need to launch a search party, that is.”

“Remember where we let that hawk go last spring? The one named Freya?” Stephen said.

He felt his family squirm uneasily. The hawk’s release was the same day he flipped his truck off the Hooke Road bridge, and nearly died.

“Look, I know that none of us like to think about that day,” he said softly. “But I’m tired of feeling so tender every time I think about what happened. I don’t want to live with that fear any more. My accident doesn’t make Sunrise Hill any less beautiful, especially on a day like today. We’ll be able to see clear across the valley to the valley beyond.”

Diana lifted her chin. “We used to go up there when we were in high school to…to…” She blushed and stopped.

Wil snorted into his cereal. “Really, Mom. Faye and I know what goes on up there at night. The top of Sunrise Hill is pretty remote, and some kids don’t hide what they’re doing.”

Diana opened her mouth to ask Wil if he had ever been up on Sunrise Hill at night but then decided she didn’t really want to know.

Faye caught her brother’s eye. “She’s dying to ask, you know.”

“Hmm, but she won’t because then we might guess what she was doing up there.” He looked up at his mother, and winked.

Diana tugged at his hair. “Smart guy.”

With that, the Bennett family crashed through the rest of their morning, making lunches, figuring out who was going to be where and with whom after school, cramming parts of their lives into backpacks, and then Faye and Wil disappeared down the stairs. Carding Regional High School’s opening day had begun.

The air in the kitchen seemed to vibrate with the back door’s slam. Diana strolled over to the coffee maker to top up her cup then leaned against the counter next to her husband. They sipped in silence for a few minutes, savoring their closeness.

Finally she sighed. “You’re sure you want to do this.”

Stephen nodded. “Yes. No. But seriously yes. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to make my fears go away but this is as good a place to start as any.”

He looked down at his wife. Small wrinkles now gathered regularly in the outer corners of her eyes, and worry lines appeared in her forehead more often than before. He kissed her.

“Let’s go.”

The winding dirt road up Sunrise Hill was a constant source of disagreement in Carding. Only one family, the Handy clan, lived up there any more, and everyone knew they used Temptation Road to get in and out of their enclave. Temptation was a mile longer but less steep than Sunrise, and a lot less curvy.

But over the years, Sunrise had become a beloved byway for hikers, cross-country bikers, birdwatchers, and amorous teenagers. Everyone in town agreed that each view from the road across the Corvus River Valley was more spectacular than the last as you walked or drove to the top.

So far, the Sunrise Hill lovers had prevailed over the town’s cost-cutters to keep the rough dirt road accessible for recreation though they had managed to keep the road crew’s attentions restricted to clearing trees, and reinforcing the outer slopes of the tight curves.

In other words, no plowing, no salting, no grading, and no sanding.

Stephen and Diana oohed and aahed like tourists during foliage season all the way up the hill, laughing at themselves. “You’d think we’d never seen this before,” Diana said as the low-hanging arm of a large maple arched over the road in front of them, half of its leaves orange, the other half yellow.

“This is why we live here,” Stephen hollered over the rumble of his truck. “What’s the sense of living in Vermont if you don’t appreciate the foliage?”

They parked by the remains of an old shed, its timbers weathered to a fine gray, its metal roof a study in the myriad colors of rust.

“Oh, will you look at that?” Diana said as she ambled through the tufts of long grass toward a bulge of granite where the land dropped away into the forest below. The day was clear, the last of summer’s haze now dissipated. Off in the distance, the land rippled and folded in muted tones of red, orange, yellow, gold, and cinnamon brown. To their left, the Crow’s Head Falls glinted in the sunlight.

Diana sat cross-legged on the lichen-stained rock, soaking in every detail. She reached up to encircle Stephen’s calf with her hand. “You okay?”

He sat down next to her with a deep, deep sigh. “Yeah. I needed this.”

A breeze swept up the hillside, and they both breathed in the earthy scent of fallen leaves. Diana took her husband’s hand, and let the silence stretch on.


 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other green peak moments from Vermont.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

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