Today is a day of noticing in Carding—noticing the changing angle of the sun, the wind turning from the southeast to the northwest, and the end-of-season state of gardens.
Let’s meander around town together and check in with some of our favorite folks, shall we?
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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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Edie Wolfe’s cocker spaniel, Nearly, likes long doggie naps as much as the next canine. And like most dogs, he has his favorite napping sites.
Somewhere around Memorial Day at the end of May, he moves his post-breakfast napping site from a rug on the kitchen floor to the top step of the porch on the back of Edie’s house. From there, he can watch his human pottering about in the back gardens, picking green, yellow and red stuff of one kind or another. He can gauge the heat of the coming day, watch the ants parade through the grass, and sniff the different aromas of breakfast seeping from the nearby houses.
Stretching out on his side, Nearly began his morning survey in his characteristically casual fashion, moving his gaze slowly from right to left. The chipmunks, wise to the spaniel’s ways, made sure they kept their seed gathering out of his sight behind the wood pile. Otherwise, they’d have to play tag with the dog all morning.
Now dogs, being built much closer to the ground than their humans and having nothing like books or meetings or exercise classes to distract them, are particularly in tune with the details of life, stuff that the rest of us never notice. Nearly, a particularly attentive canine, always makes note of the sun and its location vis-a-vis his preferred spot on the back porch.
For weeks, the shining orb has been his constant morning companion, warming the step where he likes to lay and seeping down through his fur to the skin beneath. At this time of year, even when the weather promises to be too hot by noon, he welcomes the sun as an old friend.
But today the sun’s angle is sharper degree and Nearly has to readjust his position to accommodate it. He knows what this means and sighs with a resignation mixed with hopefulness. To Nearly, winter isn’t so bad because it means evenings by the wood stove sharing popcorn with his human.
Nearly loves popcorn.
Across town, Charlie Cooper is out in the garden with his partner, Agnes Findley, pulling waist-high (and now bitter) Romaine lettuce and exhausted beans from the soil. He can still smell the basil on his hands from yesterday’s marathon pesto-making session and the thought of the pizzas to come makes him smile as he pushes his wheelbarrow over to the compost pile to make a deposit.
Agnes grumbles as she tugs stray stalks of goldenrod out of her beds. She considers weeds one of nature’s most offensive weapons, like mosquitos and stinging nettle.
“I wish this stuff wasn’t quite so successful,” she tells Charlie as she does every year. “I love its color and it doesn’t fall over like so many other tall plants. But if it goes to seed, it will take over, and I’ll never get it out of the garden.”
Over in the center of town at Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, owner Andy Cooper is checking in the morning’s produce deliveries when Lee Tennyson’s largest dump truck arrives, its tires a lot less than round because of the heavy load of firewood in the back. Andy sighs and shakes his head.
“It can’t be that time of year already,” he says.
“I know, I know,” Lee replies as he pulls on his work gloves. “No matter how we try to hide from it, the heating season isn’t that far off. Is your bulkhead locked from the inside?”
“Nope, I felt the wind change direction this morning and figured you’d be here so I unlocked it earlier. Just give me a minute to finish up with these veggies and I’ll give you a hand.”
The conventional philosophy about heating with wood—that it warms you twice—is not commonly accepted among folks who actually heat with wood. By Andy’s calculations, wood has at least seven opportunities to warm you on its way from tree to furnace.
- Cutting trees in the forest.
- Cutting the felled trees into log lengths.
- Splitting the lengths into firewood.
- Stacking the logs to dry.
- Getting the dried logs inside so they’re accessible during the winter.
- Stacking those logs so they don’t take up so much space.
- Stoking the wood stove.
When he was a younger man, Andy was involved with all seven steps, helping his father and brother fell trees then cutting, splitting, and stacking the beech, oak, ash, and maple they needed to get through a Vermont winter. Even now, when asked, Andy refuses to calculate how many cords of wood he’s moved in his lifetime because the total is staggering.
Over the years, Andy has spent some time figuring out how to pare his wood-warming opportunities list down from seven steps to one.
He takes care of one through five by paying Lee Tennyson for the cords of dry, cut and split wood he needs to heat the Coop for the season.
“It’s so worth the money,” he tells himself every time Lee shows up with the 20 cords of wood Andy needs to keep the store and his living quarters warm.
Lee and Andy solved the problem of number five—getting the dried logs into the store’s basement—by constructing a slide with a couple of sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood and some 2 x 6 lumber. The result is so rugged, it easily bears the weight of Lee’s wood deliveries as they slide from his truck into the Coop’s basement.
Andy takes care of number six by hiring a team of high schoolers expressly for the purpose of neatly stacking Lee’s wood deliveries in the Coop’s basement. Not only is this easier on Andy’s back, it gives him the chance to audition potential new hires for the Coop because, in his words, “some kids work and some kids don’t.”
Which leaves Andy with only number seven on the wood-warming opportunities list to do himself—stoking the enormous wood furnace that heats the Coop and its customers. He never lets anyone else do this chore because it’s his way to escape the press of shoppers a few times a day, an escape that’s augmented by an old rocking chair, a stack of crossword puzzles, and a pen.
“Sorry I had to raise my price per cord this year,” Lee said as Andy handed him a check.
But the older man just grins. “That’s quite all right, Lee. It’s always a pleasure doing business with you.”
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