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.
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This week, we’re paddling and musing in a kayak with Wil Bennett. He’s going to be a senior in high school this year, the time when most teenagers dream about leaving home. But Wil has a different point of view.
Adults forget so many things when they reach a certain stage of maturity. They forget how to hide vegetables they don’t want to eat. They forget the joy of scribbling with crayons.
They forget the thrill of getting their driver’s license.
But most of all, they forget how scary the leap from childhood can be for those standing on the precipice.
Wil Bennett won’t tell you but the prospect of leaving home does scare him. It’s not going to college that bothers him. He’s a better than average student. It’s just that he already has what he wants, and if you already have what you want, why should you leave?
Oh, he complains about working at the bakery that his parents own, and he complains about his teachers, and curfews, and homework. But deep down, he’s clinging to the green that marks the center of Carding, and the baseball games played at night on the high school field, and the hushed thump-thump of a paddle hitting the side of his kayak as he launches it on Half Moon Lake.
When August rolled around, Wil promised himself he’d get up and out every morning until the first day of school. In his opinion, the best time to be on the lake is when the cool air of the departing night meets the warmed surface of the water, creating a ghostly fog that makes the world disappear.
If only for a little while.
“So what if I want to stay here? Is that so bad?” he whispered to himself as he launched his boat.
He dipped his way forward until the mass of Belmont Island was just visible. Then he swung the back of the kayak around to paddle toward the head of the lake where the Crow’s Head Falls crashes into the water.
Wil was headed toward the marshy cul-de-sac near the base of the falls, a place of low water and fascinating bog plants such as carnivorous sundews and pitcher plants. It was his favorite spot on the whole lake. Just to his left, a neighborhood beaver smacked its tail on the water to register her displeasure at having her morning routine interrupted by a human. Then a pair of Canada geese grumbled out of Wil’s way, and a fish broke the surface with a subdued splash.
As he raised his paddle so he could drift, Wil was startled to realize there were tears in his eyes. “Why would anyone want to leave here?” he asked himself again. And even though his parents felt the same way about Carding, he could hear their questions: What are you going to do? How are you going to make a living?
His kayak bumped into a rock just under the surface, stilling any forward motion. Who did he know that had stayed in Carding, and how were they making it work?
There was Lee Tennyson, the current owner of his family’s farm. Lee raised and sold any number of crops—strawberries, blueberries, apples, corn, and pumpkins chief among them. He cut wood with a team of Belgian horses that he’d rescued from a former owner. In late winter, Wil was part of the Tennyson maple sugaring team who helped boil the sap and bottle the syrup. He loved that.
Lee’s wife, Christina, raised goats for their milk, and last year, Tennyson chevre won the “best of the fest” prize at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. Lee will tell you all about it without any urging.
Do I want to be a farmer, Wil wondered.
Then there was Andy Cooper who was the the fifth generation in his family to manage Cooper’s General Store and Emporium. Do I want to own a store, Wil asked himself.
A subtle shift in the light urged Wil to pick up his paddle. It took more than an hour to get around the lake, and he was scheduled to caddy up at the country club at 9:30 so he had to get moving.
Would I want to run a country club? Wil’s nose wrinkled up at that notion. Every time he saw the club’s general manager, the man looked like he was being chased by those Harpies that feature so prominently in ancient Greek myths.
Dip, splash, paddle. Dip, splash.
Wil sighed big and loud, startling a nearby crow who wasn’t any more pleased by his presence than the beaver had been. Just about every adult he’d consider emulating in Carding ran a family business.
He stopped moving as he considered the ramifications of that thought. Would he, given the chance, want to own the Crow Town Bakery?
Did the key to his future lay in blueberry muffins and coffee?