The Kurathian Hypothesis: A Carding Chronicle

SH-SightseekingSo what do you do if you start a book and don’t like it? Do you keep plugging along, hoping it will get better? Or do you cut your losses and move on to the next volume?

Her getting-ready-for winter chores finally done, Ruth Goodwin is about to embark early on her winter reading season. It’s not going to turn out quite how she expected, however.

Let’s plunge in to see how she handles it, 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.

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.

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If you don’t live in a place that has real winter, you can’t appreciate how much time it takes to get ready for the cold and snow. 

As soon as Labor Day slips into the past, you can hear the snow tires of the mind begin to spin among Vermonters as they pick apples, watch the leaves turn from green to yellow, 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 checklists 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.

Check.

Cut back gardens.

Check.

Top up wood supply to use when we lose electricity.

Check.

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. Then use them.

Check on the stocking part of this to-do. How about the using of them?

Ruth strolled over to the cabinet in her kitchen reserved for her Lake Champlain hot chocolate collection. She’d had to put on a fleece vest in the house this morning because it was a little chilly so she figured it was time.

She reached for her favorite cocoa mug, filled it with milk, and placed it in the microwave to warm.

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. She had a nagging feeling there were half-finished ornaments lurking in a closet somewhere. 

The timer on her microwave dinged before Ruth had too much 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 making them, and get a jump on next year.

But somehow, the air went out of her gift-making mania in mid-December never to return until Thanksgiving rolled around again. Which is why this item was a perennial on her to-do list.

As John Lennon once sang: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Hot chocolate in hand, Ruth settled down in her favorite chair to contemplate item number three. 

3. Organize books scavenged from the Swap Shed or given by friends so they’re ready for reading 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 like Jane Austen’s Persuasion and two trilogies—Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the delicious Forsyte Saga.

There were some new-to-her Wendell Berry and two non-fiction books passed along by Edie Wolfe. One was called The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust. The second one was by Robert Macfarlane called The Old Ways.

And of course there was a handful of mysteries to speed read by flashlight when the power went 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 at the Shed. She liked its title—Sightseeking: Clues to the Landscape History of New England. She liked its cover. It beckoned to her, asking to be read first.

Now 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.

There are a lot of dedicated readers in Carding. They keep the public library busy, swap books with one another, and carry on enthusiastic conversations about their shared addiction to the written word.

One of the liveliest discussions among readers at the counter of the Crow Town Bakery concerned when—or if—readers are obligated to finish every book they start. Some, like Agnes Findley, will churn their way to the last page no matter how bad the book.

Others, like Ruth, think that’s a waste. “I just don’t see any reason to spend my precious reading time on a book I don’t enjoy,” she once explained. “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.”

Ruth glanced at her calendar and at her checked-off chore list. Then she sipped her hot chocolate, picked up Sightseeking, and settled in for her first read of the season.

Her frown muscles were getting exercised by the end of the first paragraph.

“Who published this?” Ruth muttered, flipping back to the copyright page. “Damn, it’s a university press.”

After college, Ruth had promised herself she would never, ever read another textbook or academic tome because their prose style is so stodgy and boring. But Sightseeking had the potential to be different because it was about the New England landscape. Surely she would 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 30 just in case it got any better. “Name-strings are coherent linear distributions,” she read, “that can act as toponymic tracers of settlement movements.”

The thud of Sightseeking as it hit the wall of Ruth’s kitchen woke R.G. out of his sound doggie sleep, and he barked furiously. Ruth snorted and muttered as she tossed the offending book into her recycling. Then she reached for one of her schlocky mysteries. 

As she settled back on her couch, R.G. moved in for a snuggle. 

“What a perfect way to spend the afternoon,” she sighed as she stroked her dog’s ears. “Chores done, cocoa and a good mysetery.” She raised her mug in salute to her recycling bin. “And the Kurathian Hypothesis in its proper place.”


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