Like many of my Carding Chronicles, this three-part story was inspired by real events.
In this case, it’s the annual (or at least it has been for the past 44 years) raft race down a three-mile stretch of the Ottauquechee River in Bridgewater, Vermont.
It’s a fundraiser for local nonprofits, a good party and a lot of laughs.
So of course, Carding needed a raft race on the Corvus River.
This one got its name long, long ago from someone who liked browsing through the first dictionary of the English language, the one by Dr. Samuel Johnson.
So consider this your word of the day:
amnicolist n.s. [amnicola, Lat.] Inhabiting near a river.
—from the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And 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.
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The notice on the community bulletin board was short, sweet and in big red letters.
“Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The annual Amnicolist River Race is upon us! All hearty lads and lasses are summoned to the Beach in Olde Carding Towne on Saturday, May 4 at noon. Be prepared to propel yourselves downstream in a raft. May the spring be with you!”
Brian Lambert sometimes wondered what sort of alternate universe he’d dropped into when his family moved from Martha’s Vineyard to Carding, Vermont. In Carding, they played volleyball on snowshoes in February, skidded down the longest hill in town during frost heave season just to see who could get to the bottom first, celebrated recycling with the same fervor other folks reserved for high holy days, and stayed up all night to boil sap down to the brown sweetness of maple syrup because it was “fun” to feed small pieces of wood into the bottom of a condenser until enormous clouds of steam vapored out of the vents in a cupola somewhere high overhead.
Brian had come to the conclusion that it was all part of tribal rituals with origins so far in the past, no one remembered how they began.
Or maybe it was all just a good way to prevent craziness during the long winter months.
But this latest ritual—this was ridiculous.
“Are you telling me you’re going to make a raft out of a metal stock tank, put it into the Corvus River and paddle downstream in that freezing cold water?” he asked Wil Bennett as they hiked toward an open field surrounded by trees that were just starting to think about the color green.
“Yeah, why not? It’s for a good cause—raising money for the library. Besides, it’s weird enough to be fun,” Wil said as they emerged from the trees. “Look, there’s Amos. I figured he’d be cleaning up after sugaring season. I’ll bet he’s got a stock tank we can borrow.” He raised his hand to hail one of Carding’s better known eccentrics while Brian shook his head.
Weird enough to be fun, he thought. Yeah, that’s Carding all right.
“Hey Amos,” Wil called. “Have you got a stock tank we can borrow?”
Amos crinkled up his face while thinking over his answer. He knew Wil Bennett well enough to trust him not to be as stupid as most males under thirty.
But stock tanks, especially the kind that Amos got for free because he was willing to patch them up, were precious and thin on the ground.
“You lookin’ to get in the raft race?” he asked as he wiped down the sap spigots lying at his feet.
“How many of you are gonna be on the raft?”
“Three most likely. Four at the most,” Wil said.
Amos nodded toward an upside down stock tank on the lee side of his truck. “That one needs a patch or two but if you’re willing to fix it, you can use that one. Mind you’ll have to heft it back to my house when the race is over.”
Wil ran his fingers over the rusty bottom of the tank, probing gently for weak spots. He flicked a rust flake away and tapped the metal—or lack of metal—revealed underneath. “Is this the only spot that needs fixing?” he asked.
“On the bottom, yeah. But I’m suspicious of that area of the seam,” Amos said, pointing. “You’d need to set it up off the ground and run a little water into it to find the right place. It’s a slow leak.”
Brian watched the whole transaction with a dubious frown on his face. “Do you even know how to patch this?” he asked Wil in an undertone.
“Me? Nah, my welding knowledge doesn’t cover anything more than light soldering,” Wil said. “But I already talked to Gideon Brown and he said he’d fix it for me in return for helping him take the snow plows off his company trucks.”
Amos pushed his knitted cap off his head, revealing a bald pate surrounded my a wild fringe of white hair. That made it easier to scratch while considering the implications of Wil’s words. Gideon wasn’t the best welder in Carding but for patching up an old stock tank, he would do. Besides, it would save Amos the trouble of fixing it himself.
“You two gonna hike this down the hill now?” he asked. He wondered about Wil’s friend. Amos had the impression that Brian had been a stranger in a strange land ever since he landed in Carding. Once he graduated from high school—an event that was just six weeks in the future—Amos was sure they’d never see the young man again.
Wil didn’t seem to notice Brian’s reluctance. “Yeah, if that’s okay with you.”
“You planning on attaching anything to the sides? You know, to make it less tippy in the water,” Amos said.
Wil considered that suggestion for a minute then shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. The race is short, no more than half an hour. And I checked the water level yesterday. It’s pretty much down to normal so even if we tip over, we can always walk to shore.”
“Walk?” Brian gasped. “That water is cold!”
Wil laughed. “Yeah but that’s what gets the crowd excited, waiting to see if your boat tips.”
Brian backed away a couple of steps. “I’ll help you carry this thing down to your Dad’s truck but during the race, I’m watching from shore.”
Wil shrugged. Even though he’d never say it out loud, over the course of the past year, his opinion of his friend had shifted to coincide more with Amos’s way of thinking. Brian was far more of a city boy than he cared to admit.
“That’s fine. Dave and my sister and her friend Suzanna all want to race so I’ll have a full crew,” Wil said.
“Your sister wants to race in this thing?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, you know Faye. Up for anything.” Wil pretended not to notice the downward tilt of his friend’s expression. Faye and Brian had once been more than friends. Nowadays they were just sore subjects to one another.
“Thanks for this Amos. I’ll make sure you get it back,” Wil said. “See you at the race.”
Then each of the young men got a grip on his side of the stock tank, hefted it and started the trudge downhill.
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.