First Tree

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

This week, the folks of Carding are facing up the fact that summer is ending.


Even though the days have been growing steadily shorter since June 22 (the day after the summer solstice), no one seems to notice until the calendar reaches August. Suddenly, all over town, the lazing air of July takes on a new bite of urgency.

The town beach is crowded with families during the day and with teenagers trying out their night moves in the evening. The lines at the Coop’s ice cream window are longer, and there were more lawn chairs per square inch parked on the green for the summer’s last free concert than there have been all season.

But in the midst of the annual August hustle, people start watching a certain maple that gracefully arches over the waters of Half Moon Lake. Everyone in town knows that this particular tree’s precarious perch make it susceptible to “early autumnal onset,” as Andy Cooper once described it, making it a seasonal bellwether.

In other words, this is the tree that signals the oncoming rush of orange, yellow and red foliage.

Like so many other things in Carding, a friendly local competition has sprung up to see who spots the change first. The dynamic duo that does the weather on Dirt Road Radio started promoting it this year so interest has spiked.

The winner has to take a picture with a date stamp to prove the sighting. In return, she or he gets bragging rights, a T-shirt from the Coop, and a day’s ration of warm muffins from the Crow Town Bakery.

So who do you think will take the prize this year? Here are some of your choices.

Ruth Goodwin, in her position as the town’s splendiferous mail carrier, is usually the first one to notice the oncoming yellow because she drives Beach Road every day.

But Charlie Cooper, semi-retired lawyer and social activist, has been regularly commuting to the state capital, Montpelier, since taking on a consulting job last spring. There’s a gap in the trees just before he turns onto Route 37 where he can see the island. So he thinks he’s in a good position to get the scoop on Ruth.

Earlier this month, Wil Bennett vowed to paddle his kayak on the lake every morning in August, and he always circles Belmont Island so some of the early betting is on him.

His younger sister Faye, however, is not to be outdone. Much to her parents’ amazement, she has taken up sunrise running on the beach. She swears it has nothing to do with the fact that her new boyfriend, Brian Lambert, is also sprinting there but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Then, of course, there’s the ever-reliable angler, Bruce Elliott, who always stops to cast a hook in the water on his way to and from work as well as Mr. Yancy, the refugee from the tech sector who’s passionate about birds.

You can eliminate all of the people who own condos and houses on the golf course on Mount Merino. To them, Half Moon Lake, seen in the distance from the fifth, sixth, and seventh holes, is nothing more than an anonymous sparkle in the distant landscape. Years ago, their landowners association tried to purchase lakeside property but couldn’t scare up any willing sellers so they mostly ignore the lake in favor of their new pool.

It’s just as well because the folks who live in Carding proper have never granted any Mount Merino resident the status of “local.”

Tree watching has been the subject of friendly banter and passing-the-time conversation everywhere that town folk rub shoulders—the bank, the bakery, the library, town hall, and the Coop.

Andy’s going to post the winning picture on the community bulletin board at the front of his store. Afterwards, people will go back to filling the remainder of their summer days with a frenetic round of barbecues and biking dates while digging out a fleece vest or two for the cooling evening air.

And that rumble you hear in the distance is the sound of the school buses revving up for the start of another year.

Aah yes, change is in the air.

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