Modern Inconveniences: A Carding Chronicle

sh-modern inconveniencesWeather is always the dominant topic of conversation in Vermont in winter. No matter what else is going on, precipitation in its various forms and amounts is the primary fact of life.

It’s always been my opinion that if you’re going to thrive in northern New England, you have to learn how to have fun in the snow. Yesterday’s blizzard in Carding has given a number of people the chance to do just that.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

This is the last of three parts, by the way. You can read part one here, and part two right here.

By the way, the Zeb Norris who works for Dirt Road Radio in Carding actually works for the PointFM in real life. Great station. Tune in if you get the chance.

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“Here’s the latest on the weather,” Dirt Road Radio’s morning voice, Zeb Norris, announced. “The storm that brought us a foot of snow overnight is tapering off, moving from east to west. The snow has stopped in White River Junction but the winds, from 10 to 15 miles per hour, are making the morning commute and road clearing difficult.”

Early-rising Carding-ites sipped their caffeinated beverages of choice and studied the weather outside their windows as they listened to Norris. In Carding as in every section of the state, every town, every ridge and every valley qualified as its own micro-climate. Each slight rise in the land or twist of the river dictated the number of inches of snow one received in winter as well as the amount of rain in summer.

So everyone accepted the fact that the weather you heard on the radio or found online was a general guideline. When it came to the depth of the white stuff outside your front door, what really mattered were the specific geographical conditions pertinent to the place you called home.

“Green Mountain Power has reported spotty power outages across the state overnight but the crews have been busy turning people’s lights back on,” Norris continued. “The leading edge of the storm has crossed the border into the Adirondacks. Areas of Vermont east of the Greens will see diminishing winds and clear skies by mid-morning. Montpelier and Burlington will see the same by mid-afternoon. School closings are statewide. You can check on your local school by visiting our website.”

Edie fed another log into her stove. Even though power had returned to Carding in the wee hours of the morning and she could turn on the furnace if she wanted, there was nothing like wood heat to warm a body on a cold winter day.

The house rumbled under her feet as the town plow passed by. Edie knew she’d have to wait for her own plow guy, Martin Luey, to clear the snowy rubble from the end of her driveway before she could move her car. So she poured herself a second cup of coffee and stood closer to the stove.

She’d already started her own clean-up, making a path for Nearly from her back door, across the lawn between the raised gardens that produced vegetables and herbs in summer and into the shrubby area that marked the end of her yard. The cocker spaniel had done his best to help, leaping into the air to catch the snow that flew from Edie’s shovel before diving head first into the white stuff, his tail a blur of joy.

“You do realize that it takes me twice as long to shovel a path when you help,” Edie told him. Nearly’s whole body jiggled in excitement as he anticipated his special person’s next shovelful and she laughed. “But I’d forget how much fun it is to play in the snow if I didn’t have you around, wouldn’t I?”

Over at Cooper’s General Store, Corker Smith was busy re-stocking the wine shelves while Andy and his brother Charlie handled the dairy and bread aisles. “Lucky thing we got a delivery in before the storm,” Andy remarked as he watched the store’s first customers dribble through the front door.

Charlie held up a loaf of wheat bread in his hands. “Why do you suppose it’s always bread and milk that folks rush out for when we have a storm?”

Andy shrugged. “I’m not sure but a storm’s as good an excuse as any to make hot cocoa and cinnamon toast.”

Out in the Coop’s parking lot, Martin Luey directed his crew in the most efficient way to clear the store’s parking lot. He knew that his best chance to get at the bulk of the blizzard happened in the first hours of the day. Once the main roads were open again, Cooper’s parking lot would become a throbbing mass of shoppers as well as those who just needed to get out of the house.

“Are you guys all set for the moment?” he asked. When the drivers nodded, Martin swung up into his own truck and headed off to tackle his driveway clients.

One by one, he dug into the roadside snowbanks mounded up by the lumbering town plows, pushing white waves of frozen water to this side or that. The Elliott boys were already outside in their front yard making a snow fort by the time Martin arrived. He grinned as he lined up his plow for the first pass as Bruce Elliott struggled to hold back his kids.

“Make a BIG mountain,” the youngest boy screamed. “Really, really, really BIG!”

Martin rolled down the window. “I’ll do my best. Just wait until I’m gone before you start playing on it, okay?”

The boys obeyed, mesmerized as Martin pushed the bulk of their driveway’s snow into one massive pile. Since school was closed, he knew that the chance to play “King of the Mountain” would keep the Elliott boys entertained all day and out of the hair of their grateful mother, Cate.

Bruce waved when Martin finished then let his boys free.

“Well, they ought to sleep well tonight,” Martin said as he paused at the end of the driveway.

Bruce shook his head. “I sure hope so. Amazing how much energy those three can generate. Hey, would you do Cate a favor while you’re out?”

“Sure, if I can.”

“You plow Gwen Kiever’s place down the hill behind us, right?”

“Yeah, sure. Why?”

“Well, Cate keeps an eye on Gwen this time of year and we haven’t seen any lights on down there this morning and she’s not answering her phone. Could you give her a blast on your horn to make sure she’s up and about?” Bruce asked.

Martin nodded. “Sure thing. I’ve give you a call to let you know what I find out.”

Just then, an exuberant scream from the snow pile made both men turn their heads just in time to see the youngest Elliott, his cheeks snapped apple red by the cold, finish his first sled run to the bottom of the pile.

“Hey, Martin just plowed that all up. Don’t push it back into the driveway,” Bruce said as he walked off. He lifted a gloved hand in Martin’s direction. “Thanks.”

Martin slurped coffee as he turned into the next driveway and then the next and the next  until he reached Gwen Kiever’s place. He paused, suddenly uneasy at the sight of the older woman’s dark windows. He located the top of her chimney and stared at it hard. But try as he might, he couldn’t detect a hint of smoke curling skyward.

“Oh jeez,” he muttered, lowering the plow for his first sweep, aiming as close to Gwen’s front door as he could get. “Please be okay. Please be okay.”

Leaving his truck running, Martin yanked on his hand brake and jumped to the ground, phone in hand. “Gwen!” he yelled as he banged on her door. “Gwen, are you in there? Are you all right? Gwen?”

His hand was halfway to the knob when the door opened. Martin blinked at what looked like a pile of quilts standing in the dark. The only human feature he make make out was a pair of brown eyes.

“Gwen, what’s wrong?” He reached around the door jamb to flip on a light switch but nothing happened. “Are you still without power?”

The quilt on the top of the pile nodded. “Since last night,” she said.

Martin stepped through the door, his fingers flying over his keypad. It was almost as cold inside the house as out. “I thought you had a wood stove,” he said as he waited for Bruce Elliott to pick up his phone.

“I converted last summer to a wood pellet stove,” Gwen said. “And it went out.”

Martin shook his head. He was a regular wood-stove guy himself. Why buy bags of wood rolled into little balls when you could cut logs? “Let me guess, it’s got an automatic ignition system, am I right?”

Gwen nodded. “No electricity, no ignition and no phone.”

“Hello?”

“Hey Bruce, I’ve got Gwen here with me. She hasn’t got her power back yet…”

“…and she put in one of those pellet stoves last summer.” Martin could hear Bruce shaking his head. “Damn things. Worst idea since coal.”

“Yeah. Listen, I’m going to put her in my truck to get her warm while I clear her driveway but…”

“Cate will be right there to pick her up, and I’ll call the electric company,” Bruce said. “Tell Gwen more help is on the way.”

Martin pocketed his phone and stretched his arms out to the older woman. “My truck is warm, Cate’s on her way, and it’ll be quicker if you let me carry you through the snow. Have you got shoes on your feet?”

“No, they won’t fit over three pairs of socks.” A grin appeared from deep inside the quilt pile. “I can’t remember the last time I had the offer of a young man carrying me over a threshold of any kind. This should be fun.”

With a whoop from Gwen and a deep grunt from Martin, they started toward the truck. Under ordinary circumstances, it would have taken no more than a minute or two to cover the distance from house to truck. But the uncertain footing made their progress slow.

Cate Elliott skidded to a halt at the end of the driveway just as Martin reached his truck.

“Gwen, are you okay?” she called as she slid her way forward.

“Well, I’m awfully glad to see both of you but it’s too bad you got here so soon,” the older woman said.

“Too bad?” A question mark formed between Martin’s eyebrows. “How so?”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to ride around in a plow truck after a storm. It looks like such fun and what’s the use of snow if you can’t have fun in it, right?” Gwen’s eyes were twinkling.

“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking,” Martin said.

“Oh, I don’t mind you asking. Past a certain age, who cares? It’s only years. I’m going to be eighty-three in February.”

Martin laughed. “Cate, do you mind waiting for a few minutes? I think Gwen and I need to clear her driveway.”

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Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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