The days are getting longer and the warming sun has alerted the trees that they’ve got only a few days until the first of spring. So the sap has started to flow in the sugar bush that Amos Handy tends up on Sunrise Hill.
Sugaring is one of the oldest traditions in the Vermont calendar. Folks smile when they see the plumes of maple-scented smoke rising from the louvers atop tiny houses up on the hills.
If you’re lucky, you just might get an invitation to boil sap up at Amos’s place.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont, the little town that no one ever seems to be able to find on a map. There are additional Carding Chronicles to read here as well.
Enjoy and please spread the word.
You can’t drive to Amos Handy’s house, if house is what you want to call the place where Amos lives. As far as he’s concerned, you can call it whatever you wish. He calls it home.
The closest you can get to it in a car or a truck or a van is a five-minute walk from the end of the rugged cart way that Amos carved out of the earth when he was a younger man just settling into the wayback woods of Carding. And the only reason he’d even considered a cart way was because he wanted to get a portable saw mill close to his preferred home site.
I don’t think anyone in Carding can pinpoint the day or even year when Amos came to town. For a while,he just floated around like autumn mist hovering over the Corvus River, present but not especially noticed.
Anyway, Amos has lived in Carding for so long now, most people figure he was born there. He certainly owns property in town, a 32-acre lot (give or take) way up on Sunrise Hill. It’s on the west side of Carding, bounded on one side by a stretch of the Appalachian Trail and on the other by a rocky knob where the Small family once raised sheep.
Even though the Small farmstead boasted one of the finest views of the Corvus River Valley, it was seldom visited because getting there is so out-of-the-way.
Andy Cooper probably talked to Amos more than anyone else in town. The garrulous owner of the town’s famous general store made it a point to get familiar with all of his regulars but even Andy made little headway with the intensely private Mr. Handy.
“I think he retreated here after the war in Vietnam,” Andy told his best friend, Edie Wolfe. “He’s the right age, and I know he takes the bus to the VA Hospital in White River at least once a year for what he calls a ‘tune-up’ so he is a veteran. He once told me that he’d earned his own peace the hard way, and that’s why he makes it so difficult to get to his place.”
Not that Amos was unfriendly. Not at all. He loved company, and if you were the right kind of people, you might even get invited up to “the Handy estate” in March to boil sap for maple syrup. Edie and Andy go every year just to inhale the edifying aroma of the wood-and-maple scented steam rising from the evaporator.
The boiling event always includes a walk through Amos’s “sculpture park” to check out his latest additions. Last year, it was a dinosaur made from a scrapped tractor and bed springs. The year before that, it was a delicately balanced kinetic piece that looked like a dandelion going to seed one minute and a flying bird the next. And there was always something new in what Edie called the “heron rookery,” wading birds welded out of discarded gardening tools.
“What do you suppose he’s added this year?” Edie asked as she and Andy sloshed up the muddy track in their rubber boots.
“No idea,” Andy replied as they stepped around a half-frozen puddle. “Melvin Goode tells me that Amos has been collecting cans of white spray paint and old bicycles lately, if that gives us any clue.”
Edie laughed. “Remember when Amos got that warrant article through town meeting to build that swapping shed at the dump? Who knew we were creating his art supply store at the same time.”
They’d just come around the last turn in the path to the sugaring shack when the two of them stopped short with a collective gasp.
“Oh my.” Edie’s voice had a little tremolo in it. “Oh, that is just wonderful.”
She grinned up at the white dancing sculpture while Andy laughed in appreciation. “Well, that does beat all. What would you call that, a dancing eagle?”
Then Amos stepped into the path, his arms crossed over his chest. The smile on his face could best be described as smug. “So what do you think of it, Edie?’
A smile on her lips, she inspected it closely, recognizing the straight pipes and fenders of bicycles, part of an old shovel, and what looked like the cover from a barbeque grill. “Oh Amos, you have really outdone yourself this time.”
“Yeah, I thought so.” He let his hand rest on the sculpture’s bent knee. “I’ve been trying to push my creative expression, you know, challenge myself.”
“So what are you calling this one?” Andy asked as he slowly circled the eight-foot figure.
“Well, I heard this song on Dirt Road Radio the other day when I was giving this a second coat of paint, and I like the name. ‘Dancing Nancy’ it was called.” He gave the knee a fatherly pat. “What do you think?”
Andy squinched up his face as he shaded his eyes from the sun to admire the sculpture. He had to admit, it was one of Amos’s best efforts to date. “Doesn’t it look more male than female? Maybe it should be ‘Dancing Ned’.”
Amos tilted his head up too. “Could be. I dunno. Maybe we should call it ‘Transgendered Nancy.'”
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):