Now folks who farm such as the Tennysons of Carding, Vermont rarely get the opportunity to go on vacation because the animals and the gardens don’t take a rest. So they were quite appreciative when their friend Jacob Brown volunteered to watch over the farm so they could go to Boston to attend a wedding and spend a little time in the city.
It was also a good time for Cassie Handy to roll out her “yoga in nature” idea in order to take advantage of the last warm days of the year.
In part three of this story, the townsfolk of Carding figure that watching people do yoga in a meadow is the perfect excuse to be outside in the glories of autumn. (You can read part one, Houdini’s Rules, here and part two, Houdini’s Test right here.)
Houdini, the infamous billy goat owned by the Tennysons, has his own plans for the afternoon.
I hope you enjoy today’s Carding Chronicle. Please share it with your friends.
Carding is a fictional town in Vermont that’s celebrated in four novels (so far). The fourth novel—Lights in Water, Dancing—is now available for your reading pleasure. You can order it from your local independent book store or from Amazon.com. There are links to all of the books at the end of this story.
And once again, a big thank you to the folks at Wellwood Orchard, particularly yoga teacher Aggie, for allowing me to take photographs and use them in my story.
Even though he and Cassie had agreed to hold yoga classes at the farm in order to take advantage of the last warm days of the year, Jacob couldn’t feel easy about it until he’d cleared it with the Tennysons.
“So, are you okay with Cassie holding classes on that west-facing slope while you’re away?” Jacob asked during their daily phone call.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” Christine said. “Though I would check that portion of the fence just to be sure it will hold if the kids start butting it again.”
“I’m already on the case,” Jacob said. “I’m putting up a temporary curtain there, just so Houdini won’t get any ideas.” He added several pairs of vise grips and a drop cloth to the cart attached to the mowing tractor as he talked.
“I’ll ask Cassie to wait until you get home if you’d rather,” he continued. “It’s just that the weather is going to be perfect, and…”
“…we don’t have too many more warm days left in the year,” Christine finished. “And the view of the foliage from up there is the best on the whole hill. So I would go ahead with your plans. I’m sure you can handle it.”
“Don’t worry. It’s all under control,” Jacob said as he rang off.
Despite her reassuring tone, Christine sighed heavily as she ended the conversation.
“What’s up?” Lee asked when he noticed the pucker in his wife’s face.
“Yoga with goats,” she said.
“Cassie wants to do those yoga classes she was talking about on the slope by the apple orchard this week,” Christine said.
“Oh.” Lee thought about that for a minute. He knew, better than anyone, what havoc Houdini was capable of wreaking on any human plans.
But being farmers, the Tennysons rarely had the chance to get away, and he’d been looking forward to some “just us” time with his wife and their two boys.
“Jacob and Cassie are sensible people,” he began as the cinch in his wife’s mouth grew tighter.
“Yeah, but Houdini isn’t.”
Lee sighed. “If you really think we should go home…”
“Hmph, I don’t like being ruled by that old goat,” Christine said. “And we agreed to give Jacob a chance to see if he likes the farming life.” She slid her arms around her husband’s waist. “I don’t want to go home just because of him. I think we should take our kids to the planetarium tomorrow as we planned, and let the yoga classes run their course.”
“Now that’s what I was hoping to hear,” Lee said.
Jacob rose the next morning girded for battle. He watched carefully as the goats skipped and walked out of the barn. As the caprine family headed toward the high pasture, Jacob followed them up the slope,
Houdini glanced over his shoulder more than once but Jacob ignored him, turning his attention to the play of the young ones. They pranced close enough for him to stroke their flanks, and it took less than a minute for the smallest one to find the chunks of carrot he was carrying in his pocket.
Houdini shifted around noisily as he watched his children eating from Jacob’s hand. He understood why the human was attracted to the kids. He liked watching them too.
But none of the humans he knew ever fed baby goats like this. The interaction made Houdini deeply suspicious.
Jacob was busy all day, mowing and grooming the yoga space at the edge of the apple orchard. He cut the grass close, gathered up the clippings, and then walked the whole area looking for stones.
Cassie pronounced herself “very pleased” when she arrived. Her daughter Tupelo immediately ran to the center of the small field to try out her favorite yoga poses, downward-facing dog and eagle.
Satisfied that all was ready, the three of them stood to watch the sun droop over the western hills, enjoying the sky-high display of pink and peach and gold.
“What time is your class tomorrow?” Jacob asked.
“It starts at 3:30,” Cassie said. “It’s not quite sundown but it gets chilly fast so I figured earlier was better. I told folks that if they wanted to stay to watch the sun set, they’re welcome to do so. Any sign of Houdini and the clan being interested in what we’re doing?”
Jacob glanced up the hill toward the goats as he pinned the drop cloth curtain to the fence with vise grips. “Not at all. Everyone seems content.”
Cassie’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t know whether that worries me or not, frankly.”
Jacob laughed. “Yeah, me too. Amazing how that old guy keeps us in his thrall, isn’t it?”
The first yoga class on Monday afternoon went off without a hitch. The goats were curious but they stayed put in the high pasture as Houdini gazed down the hill like an ancient tribal chieftain.
Tuesday was just as trouble-free. Still in Boston, Lee and Christine felt genuinely relaxed, and all the humans congratulated themselves on, for once, circumventing Houdini’s rules.
The number of students in Wednesday’s class swelled because word about the beauty of the location had spread through Carding, attracting a lot of drop-ins. Cassie was thrilled when three of them signed up for her regular sessions. The additional income would help with her bills during the winter.
On Thursday, the air temperature rose to the mid-60s, making it the warmest day of October, a perfect time for “yoga in the meadow.” What had begun as an experiment was now a local event, and all sorts of non-yoga types were making the trek up Belmont Hill to the Tennyson farm to see what was “going on up there.”
Jacob was glad to see that Cassie’s partner, Hunter Glass, came with her to help direct traffic along the winding dirt road. Some people spread blankets on the ground under the apple trees while others coagulated in small knots by their pickups and cars.
Armed with extra yoga mats, Tupelo meandered among the Carding-ites, persuading more than one of them to “give it a try.”
At seven years old and wearing a big grin, the little girl was hard to resist.
“All right,” Cassie called to quiet the hubbub, “make sure you have enough room to stretch out your arms while you stand in the middle of your mat.” She raised her own arms to demonstrate, and then waited for folks to make any necessary adjustments.
“Okay, let’s begin with a few simple breathing exercises.”
Jacob leaned against the fence to watch the class but his attention soon turned inward as he thought about the past week. He liked working on the farm, that much he realized. But did he like it enough to make the switch from driving truck for his father’s company to farming?
“All right, let’s move into doing a little dog and cat,” Cassie said as she placed her hands and knees on her mat, arching her back in a classic “Halloween cat” posture. The class followed her.
“Hey Jacob.” Hunter sauntered over to lean on the fence next to him. “Where’s that old goat that Tupelo’s always talking about? I’m kind of curious to see him.”
“Houdini? Oh, he’s up…” Jacob turned to point at the high pasture. But it was empty.
Sudden squeals made the two men whip around just in time to see the youngest member of Houdini’s harem, Boo, run into the middle of the class, chasing her little one.
The kid skipped from mat to mat, sniffing sneakers and experimentally tasting a sweatshirt or two.
Tupelo clapped her hands. “Look Mom, they’re all here.” The two other nannies, Bippity and Boppity, followed Boo, their four kids prancing and jumping from person to person. Everyone standing on the sidelines aimed their cell phones at the scene, each of them hoping to snap the perfect picture of the oncoming mayhem.
One kid leaped on the back of the new school superintendent, David Tarkiainen, and began chewing the earpiece of his glasses. Another tugged at Faye Bennett’s long hair. The tone of her squeal went up a notch when she realized the end of her ponytail was disappearing into the little one’s mouth.
Jacob, Hunter, and Cassie rushed in but the kids, now as excited as little humans high on sugar, began to run even faster—under folks, between legs, and over the mats.
Some of the bystanders rushed in to help but the sight of kids and nannies and nannies and kids provoked so much laughter, they found it hard to run.
Jacob finally managed to corner Boo, grabbing her by one horn. Before he could grab the second one, she turned on him, butting her head into a place no man wants to be hit. Jacob doubled over on the grass with a low moan.
As he tried not to move, Jacob felt a breathy nicker in his ear. His head snapped around and he lowered his shoulder, ready to counter another head butt from Boo.
But he found himself face-to-face with Houdini. The old goat and the young man stared at one another for a tense, elongated moment.
“Get them out of here,” Jacob said.
Houdini took a step closer, and narrowed his eyes.
“Please,” Jacob said.
Houdini stepped back, his eyes never leaving Jacob’s face. Then he raised his chin and bleated a harsh “Maaaa.” The nannies paused in their havoc. Then they raised their own heads.
“Maaaa. Maaaa. Maaaa.”
With a few last kicks of their heels, the five babies retreated, following their mothers back up the hill.
Jacob watched, momentarily stupefied.
With a last look over his shoulder, Houdini sauntered off, stopping to pull an apple from a tree in the orchard as he left.
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, Lights in Water, Dancing, has just been published! You can find them all on Amazon or you can order them through your local independent book store.
You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.
If you’d like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.