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?