Ruth Goodwin keeps two lists as she gets ready for winter. The longer one is all the chores she needs to complete.
The other, much shorter but more fun, are all the indulgences she savors in winter.
But the first one’s not working out too well.
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If you don’t live in a place that has real winter, you might not appreciate how much time it takes to get ready for the cold and snow.
As soon as Labor Day slides past, you can hear the snow tires of the mind begin to spin among Vermonters as they pick apples, watch the leaves fall, harvest their winter squash, and calculate whether this is the year to replace the old snowblower or not.
Now Ruth Goodwin’s a pretty well-organized person. While other folks jot their lists of chores down on random envelopes or paper bags, she keeps a sturdy, spiral-bound notebook on her kitchen counter “to keep track of myself.”
This morning, Ruth is basking in the satisfaction of going through her getting-ready-for-winter chore list for the last time.
“The best part about having a list is checking things off when they’re done,” she always says. “That’s why I hang onto them.”
She readies a red pen and begins.
Clean leaves out of gutters.
Cut back gardens.
Top up wood supply to use when we lose electricity.
And on it goes, right through draining the garden hoses, harvesting the last leeks from her garden, and storing her wind chime collection until the zephyrs of springtime waft again.
Check. Check. Check.
When Ruth got to the end of her chores list, she flipped the page to her second getting-ready-for-winter list, the one that includes the stuff she loves to do that she doesn’t have time for when the weather is warm and inviting.
This list is short but the execution of it is…well…as long as a winter in Vermont.
1. Stock up on the really good hot chocolate mixes when Andy has them on sale at the Coop.
Ruth strolled over to the special cabinet in her kitchen that held her Lake Champlain hot chocolate collection. It was time to indulge.
She reached for her favorite cocoa mug, filled it with milk, and placed it in the microwave to warm.
Check and double check on that one.
2. Line up small projects to make for holiday gifting.
Ruth turned toward her kitchen table. Or to be more precise, the table that is occasionally used for eating in her kitchen.
It was piled high with bright fabrics, a basket of buttons and ribbon, several gnomes in different stages of creation, a half-knitted hat, a flannel dog jacket waiting for a turn on her ironing board, and a pile of Christmas cards waiting for an excuse to cascade to the floor.
Ruth’s red pen hesitated during the check off process on this item. She had a nagging feeling there were half-finished ornaments lurking in a closet somewhere.
She sighed, and moved her pen to the next item.
3. Make small projects for holiday gifting.
The timer on her microwave dinged before Ruth had time to think about this perennial item on her list. No matter how hard she tried, there were always projects left over when the holiday gift-making season ended.
Yes, she could continue working on them, and get a jump on next year.
But somehow, the air went out of her gift-making mania every January 1, never to return until Thanksgiving rolled around again.
As John Lennon once sang: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
So much for item number three. Hot chocolate in hand, Ruth settled down in her favorite chair for item number four.
4. Scour the Swap Shed for good books to read on long winter nights.
Ruth gazed with a mixture of longing and anticipation at the carefully curated pile of novels and non-fiction she’d unearthed during the volunteer hours she spent sorting books at the Shed.
There were some old favorites, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and two trilogies—Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the delicious Forsyte Saga.
There was some new-to-her Wendell Berry, a book passed along by Edie Wolfe called The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust by Diana Henriques, and some schlocky mysteries to speed through when the power goes out.
Tucked away at the bottom of her great pile of winter readables was a volume Ruth had been salivating over ever since she found it. She liked its title—Sightseeking: Clues to the Landscape History of New England—and the way its letters sprawled across the center of the elegant cover.
Ruth Goodwin is a woman of many loves—her daughter Sarah, her dog R.G. (her beagle’s name was a spoof on the narrator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, Archie Goodwin), her friends, cousins, aunts, and uncles, gardening, and anything that involves thread, needles, yarn, pens, and paper.
But on a fine fall day, nothing topped tramping in the woods. Ruth knew every trail in Carding. In fact, she’d been instrumental in making some of them. So a book about the New England landscape was written just for her.
Now Ruth could be termed an impatient reader though she would dispute that. “I just don’t see any reason to waste time on a book I don’t enjoy,” she once explained to her book group. “If I don’t like a character or an author’s writing style by page thirty, why should I continue? There’s always another book, one I’ll probably like better.”
She sipped her hot chocolate, flipped the pages to Sightseeking’s prologue, and settled in for her first read of the season.
Her frown muscles were getting exercised by the end of the first paragraph.
“What is this?” Ruth muttered, flipping the book around to see the spine. “Damn, published by a university press.”
After college, Ruth had promised herself she would never, ever read another textbook or academic tome. But this book was about the New England landscape. Surely she could learn something from it.
She pressed on.
“While many archaeological methods will be creatively applied to landscape artifacts, our analysis is equally beholden to dialect geography, and in particular to what I call the Kurathian Hypothesis,” the author wrote at the bottom of page two. “This asserts that the distribution of vernacular artifacts follows subregional lines that reflect original points of settlement (hearths) and subsequent internal migration streams (settlement paths), both of which have strong geographical determinants.”
“Aaarrrgh!” Ruth flipped to page thirty and read: “Name-strings are coherent, linear distributions that can act as toponymic tracers of settlement movements.”
The thud of Sightseeking as it hit the far wall of Ruth’s kitchen woke R.G. out of a sound doggie sleep, and he barked furiously. Ruth snorted as she reached for one of her schlocky mysteries.
“Talk about a good book spoiled,” she told R.G. as he snuggled onto her lap. Then she raised her cocoa mug in salute to the bashed book on the floor. “And you know what you can do with your Kurathian Hypothesis.”