Writing a series about a town (as opposed to writing a series about a single character) gives me the opportunity to roam through this teeming mass of individuals to find just the right ones to tell my stories.
For example, The Road Unsalted takes a close look at the endless sparring between Edie Wolfe and her pugnacious ex-husband, Harry Brown, and its ramifications in Carding’s political arena.
Thieves of Fire examines the impact of one man’s obsession on generations of the Talbot family.
The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life shares the perspective of Faye Bennett, a girl on the threshold of womanhood, and how the very real threat of mortality tips her life sideways.
The fourth novel, which is currently flowing from my pen, is called Lights in Water, Dancing. In part, it’s a detailed view of one of Carding’s most idiosyncratic tribes, the Handys. The tribal elder is a man named Amos. He made two brief appearances in Dazzling but now he and his family are taking center stage in my work.
Today’s edition of the Carding Chronicles was also inspired by a wonderful song called “Ice on the Pond” that I recently heard performed by an impressive local band, Hot Flannel, led by fiddler Patrick Ross. The song was written by his father.
If you live in the area, you owe it to yourself to check them out in concert. Great performers.
Welcome to Carding.
You have to watch the weather close as the calendar veers toward the end of October in Vermont. Even though it is absolutely our most beautiful time of year (and the locals love it as much as the tourists) everyone’s mindful that there’s just so much time to get the wood in, the boots out, and the gardens cut back before it snows.
So we take our autumnal pleasures where we can find them. For example, you take extra moments to admire the just-so slant of light as it washes over the hillside when you straighten up from the garden. Or you take the time to hike one of the many spurs off the Appalachian Trail, breathing in the spicy perfume of goldenrod mixed with the leaves scuffing around your feet.
We take foliage rides, mostly on unnumbered roads to pay annual homage to the stand of old maples in a blaze of yellow and orange then stop at a local farm stand with its stack of blue hubbard squash, fat pumpkins and bags of apples.
Like all of us, Amos Handy loves autumn. In fact, it could be argued he loves it more than most because he spends more time in the woods than most of us.
Amos has never felt the need of a calendar nor does he tune in to Dirt Road Radio for the weather forecast. He likes to feel the earth for himself, sniffing the wind, watching the leaves fall (too early? too late?), the scud of clouds, and the phases of the moon.
He can sense an icy whisper in the air before anyone else which means he can predict an oncoming frost before anyone else.
“No clouds in the sky,” he’d explain to his pals around the coffeemaker in Andy Cooper’s store. “Nothing to keep what heat we have left close to the ground. We’ll have frost on the full moon, you’ll see.”
Now, if you’re smart and have lived long enough in Carding, you’d know to pay attention to Amos on the topic of weather. Or gardening. Or the proper way to prune shrubs. Or the raising of chickens.
But if you’re not smart, all you’ll see is the man’s perpetual Hawaiian shorts (summer and winter) and the array of scarves (always red) worn around his neck to hide the scar Amos brought back long ago as a memento of a “foreign police action,” as he prefers to call it.
And you’ll miss out on knowing someone special. You really will.
On the morning after October’s full moon, Amos was not surprised, not surprised at all, to witness a rimed landscape outside his front door. The last green ferns that edged the path from his house to his shed lay flat against the earth, the delicate design of their fronds etched in white. Crystals twinkled from the kale still standing in his garden, sweetening its dark green leaves.
“Time for a walk,” Amos announced to the woods. Then he ducked into the house for a couple of apples to fill his pockets, and one of the day-old sweet rolls that Diana Bennett sold him at half-price from the Crow Town bakery.
Then he was off on his fall inspection tour to re-acquaint himself with the places he hadn’t been able to reach through the dense underbrush of summer.
First stop was a small stand of pines on the far edge of the place that locals simply call “The Pond.” It’s part of the Corvus River system, south of Half Moon Lake, an outcropping of shallow water kept in place by a beaver dam with an ancient lineage. At this time of year, it’s shallow, a favorite haunt of great blue herons bulking up for their long flight south.
The gloomy November rains will fill it again, and when the conditions are just right, it will be dotted with ice skaters in high winter.
But right now, it’s not much more than an oversized puddle sitting in the shadows cast by the pines on a cold October morning.
Amos could see his breath as soon as he stepped under the trees. The Pond was always the last place to thaw in spring, and the first to freeze up at the approach of the cold months.
He stopped to appreciate the thin ice that had crystallized around the edge of the water. It looked like a lacy ruffle, a band of white marking the place where land met water. Amos bend down to touch the delicate structure and a shard broke off in his hand.
To Amos, water was magical. The shard he held was crisscrossed with geometry that mimicked quartz crystals, and yet it was so thin, he could see through it.
As he watched, the warmth of his fingers released the ice from its bonds, and the shard quickly disappeared, leaving drops of water on his hands. In the center of the pond, mist slowly rose in ghostly wraiths called to the sky by the sun’s early light.
Which of the other elements—earth, air, fire—could do that?
Amos shivered so he moved out from under the pines to stand at one end of the beaver dam. He always thought about her here, Mellie, his high school sweetheart. The two of them had shared a love of ice, and probably skated on more bodies of water than anyone else in Carding.
His favorite memory of them together was on a January afternoon, the last day of a cold snap that had thickened the ice on Half Moon Lake to nearly twelve inches. They were the last ones left after an impromptu hockey game, and the light was dimming rapidly, casting their world view into shades of gray, grayer and grayest.
A wind came up, and the two of them opened their jackets, spreading them out like bird wings to catch the current. Amos remembered how they squealed as they sped over the surface.
Again and again, they fought their way across the ice to their starting place, just for a few more seconds of squealing delight as day disappeared into night.
The ice boomed as it adjusted to the drop in temperature.
EEEeeeEEEEeeeeEEEEEEEE! Loose chunks at the base of the Crow’s Head Falls ground against one another.
Amos and Mellie stopped, suddenly aware they had no idea which shore was the right shore to get off the lake.
Then they wrapped themselves around one another so tight, they just about wore each other’s jackets. Amos grinned at that memory. It was his favorite part of the story.
Suddenly, a beaver slapped its tail on the water beyond the dam, bringing Amos back to the present. He and Mellie had finally reached the shore, of course, inching their way to safety by the light of a rising crescent moon.
After that, they remained close all the way through two proms and graduation. But eventually, time and distance changed their friendship. She eventually married to a rather nice, bland man, and according to what Amos heard, she’d raised two nice, bland kids.
He’d seen her once, at a picnic on Carding Green during the annual fair. Everything about her matched—her skirt, her blouse, her shoes—and Amos smiled as he remembered how uncomfortable she looked when she introduced him to her husband.
That’s when he knew that Mellie didn’t skate any more. But Amos still did, and he still opened his jacket to sail over the ice on windy days.
He smiled and saluted the beaver before resuming his walk. The way Amos saw it, that Mellie story had ended just the way it should.
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 (on Fridays), and other green peak moments from Vermont (Mondays and Tuesdays).
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):