WQ-FlowerageThe Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

But you can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from me to you every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

The aroma hit Ruth Goodwin in the face as soon as she stepped out her front door. The scent of the deep purple lilacs in her yard was nearly overwhelming. Across the hill, she could see white clouds of blossoms covering the apple trees in the Tennysons’ orchard.

Her beagle, R.G., hesitated on his way to the Jeep where he had planned to ensconce himself in the passenger seat for the first of his many daily naps. Why was his human sniffing the air like one of his fellow canines?

He snorted and sat down. R.G.’s first law of dogdom was to never waste energy trying to figure out people.

“What an incredible spring,” Ruth murmured. “Time to break out the colored pencils and camera. Be right back, R.G.”

The dog yawned then shook his head until his great floppy ears whirled about his head. Waiting sounded like a good plan to him.

For years, Ruth Goodwin had had a secret. In the world at large, it would never be considered a big deal. In fact, folks in Carding would have been floored to find out that Ruth had any secrets at all because she’d always cultivated a reputation as forthright and open. But we all have our little privacies, don’t we?

Ruth’s was her drawing, particularly her colored pencil drawings.

Particularly her botanical portraits.

As a child, she’d adored the tales of Beatrix Potter, inspired by the detailed illustrations of her favorite author. In her teens, Ruth had been appalled to discover that Potter’s lifetime ambition to be a botanist had been stymied by her father because he did not deem it a suitable endeavor for a woman. That’s why Beatrix had turned her keen eye toward illustrating children’s books, much to the delight of millions of readers.

But still, ambition thwarted is ambition thwarted, in Ruth’s opinion. So Ruth, unencumbered by male opinion, decided to pursue a private career in botanical illustration in honor of her heroine.

And in order to remain unencumbered by male opinion, Ruth kept her efforts a secret.

While Beatrix Potter had wielded watercolors to bring Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck to life, Ruth eventually decided to use colored pencils because they were far more portable, no water necessary.

In the winter months, she sketched the purple and white glory of red cabbage and the seedy interiors of squash. In summer, Ruth turned to beets and watermelon and beans and zucchini from her garden.

Fall, of course, was dedicated to brilliant leaves, acorns, and goldenrod.

But spring—aah spring—that was the season for flowers. And in Ruth Goodwin’s opinion, this was one of the most glorious springs she’d ever witnessed in her beloved Vermont.

R.G.’s wait was soon rewarded when Ruth bustled out of the house to stow her pencil case and camera under the Jeep’s driver seat. “Come on, R.G., let’s hope the mail is light. We’ve got blossoms to visit.”

But as often happens when we’re in a hurry, Ruth’s morning tumbled downhill from there. The delivery truck with its tubs of mail had had a flat tire so it was late. Which made Ted Owens, the postmaster, late sorting Ruth’s deliveries.

And instead of a light mail day, her mail totes were stuffed with Memorial Day sales flyers and festival announcements. Then her daughter Sarah called with a reminder about their Saturday date to pick out a wedding dress, and Ruth had to catch herself before admitting that it had totally slipped her mind. Sarah’s fiancé was nice enough but Ruth remained unconvinced that he was the right guy for her strong-minded daughter.

“Not my choice. Not my choice,” she chanted to herself while aloud she said: “The Bridal Place. I remember. I’ll be there, rest assured.

All of which meant that by the time Ruth and R.G. got on the road in earnest, they were already 45 minutes behind schedule. Then they got stuck behind the Tennyson hay wagon and then they had to detour around the asphalt patching on Route 37 which made them just in time to get behind the kindergarten school bus delivering its tiny passengers home for lunch.

With a sigh, Ruth tuned into Dirt Road Radio to catch the noontime weather which hadn’t changed much from the morning forecast—rain, clouds and drizzle for the next three days. Not good drawing weather by a long shot.

By mid-afternoon, Ruth still had one heavy tote of mail left in her back seat and R.G. had turned his mournful eyes in her direction, a signal that it was time to stop so he could stretch his legs. Ruth gazed up the hillside to her right and thought about the remnants of an old orchard tucked into a fold up there. Some of those old trees were crabapples renowned for their ecstatic pink hue, like no others in the whole Corvus River valley.

Ruth knew that turning up the hill on the backside of Mount Merino would make her late with her last deliveries. But how often do you get a perfect spring in Vermont, she asked herself.

So she turned up the hill…and never regretted it for an instant.

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