In my novel The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, Stephen Bennett slides off of an ice-covered hill and flips upside down in a brook, almost dying as a result. Earlier that same day, he’d been up on Sunrise Hill with his daughter Faye and her best friend Suzanna to release a hawk back into the wild.
Now Sunrise Hill is a beautiful spot, one treasured by the folks of Carding, Vermont. But for Stephen, the place has become haunted by his memories of what happened that day.
Now Stephen is not a man who relishes fear so he’s decided it’s time to return to Sunrise Hill. It’s a beautiful day. Why don’t you come along?
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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Stephen Bennett wasn’t much of a morning person. Even though he could stand up, sip coffee, and talk before nine, his wife and kids knew better than to expect him to do anything that required planning or organizing before then.
So his children, Faye and Wil, got a bit unnerved by the sight of their Dad whirling around in the kitchen before breakfast, filling the three tins of their stainless steel tiffin with a variety of foods.
Faye glanced at the clock. “Whoa, Dad. Is the house on fire or are you really just that glad it’s a school day. It’s only seven o’clock, you know.”
Stephen grinned as he arranged a tier of cherry tomatoes stuffed with guacamole in the top tin. “It’s also Monday, the bakery’s closed, and I’m taking your mother out for a picnic,” he said.
The back door opened and Diana stepped in with a bottle of milk she’d retrieved from the Crow Town Bakery, the business that the Bennetts owned. “Good morning.” She shook her head as she looked at her two kids. “My Wil is in his senior year and my daughter is a junior. That is so hard for me to believe.”
“Mom, I think you say stuff like that every year. We’re growing up. You’re just going to have to deal with it,” Wil said as he shoveled granola into a bowl, and grabbed the milk from his mother.
“Yeah, pretty soon it will be just you and Dad,” Faye said.
Stephen stopped for a moment to take in his daughter. She’d managed to lose the last bits of her little-girlness over the summer, and her body now had a shape that he knew attracted attention. Suddenly he leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “I think it’s because you’re the youngest, and every time you cross a threshold of some sort, your Mom and I want to slow everything down.”
Wil and Faye traded eye rolls as their parents sighed. “It’s still a long way from now to June and graduation, Dad. It’s forever, in fact,” Wil said.
“So where are you two going for your picnic?” Faye asked. “In case we need to launch a search party, that is.”
“Remember where we let that hawk go last spring? The one named Freya?” Stephen said.
He felt his family squirm uneasily. The hawk’s release happened on the same day that he flipped his truck off the Hooke Road bridge, and nearly died.
“Look, I know that none of us like to think about that day,” he said softly. “But I’m tired of feeling so tender every time I remember what happened. I don’t want to live with that fear any more. My accident doesn’t make Sunrise Hill any less beautiful, especially on a day like today. We’ll be able to see clear across the valley.”
Diana lifted her chin. “We used to go up there when we were in high school to…to…” She blushed and stopped.
Wil snorted into his cereal. “Really, Mom. Faye and I know what goes on up there at night. The top of Sunrise Hill is pretty remote, and the kids don’t hide why they go there.”
Diana opened her mouth to ask Wil if he had ever been up on Sunrise Hill at night but then decided she didn’t really want to know.
Faye caught her brother’s eye. “She’s dying to ask, you know.”
“Hmm, but she won’t because then we might guess what she was doing up there.” He looked up at his mother, and winked.
Diana tugged at his hair. “Smart guy.”
With that, the Bennett family crashed through the rest of their morning, making lunches, figuring out who was going to be where at what time and with whom after school, and cramming various parts of their lives into backpacks. Then Faye and Wil disappeared down the stairs.
The air in the kitchen seemed to vibrate with the back door’s slam. Diana strolled over to the coffee maker to top up her cup then leaned against the counter next to her husband. They sipped in silence for a few minutes, savoring their closeness.
Finally she sighed. “You’re sure you want to do this.”
Stephen nodded. “Yes. No. But seriously yes. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to make my fears go away but this is as good a place to start as any.”
He looked down at his wife. Small wrinkles now gathered regularly in the outer corners of her eyes, and worry lines appeared in her forehead more often than before. He kissed her.
The winding dirt road up to Sunrise Hill was a source of disagreement every time Carding-ites got together for town meeting in March. Only one family, the Handy clan, lived up there any more, and they used a back way—Temptation Road—to get in and out of their enclave. Temptation Road was a mile longer but less steep than Sunrise and a lot less curvy.
Over the years, Sunrise had become a beloved byway for hikers, cross-country bikers, birdwatchers, and amorous teenagers. Everyone in town agreed that the view across the Corvus River Valley was spectacular from the top, making it one of the best kept secrets in Vermont.
So far, the Sunrise-Hill lovers had prevailed over the town’s cost-cutters to keep the rough dirt road accessible for recreation. That meant that the road crew kept it clear of winter-felled trees and graded it twice a year but there was no plowing, no salting, no grading, and no sanding.
Stephen and Diana oohed and aahed like tourists all the way up the hill, laughing at themselves. “You’d think we’d never seen this before,” Diana said as they passed under the low-hanging branch of a large maple, half of its leaves orange, the other half yellow.
“This is why we live here,” Stephen hollered over the rumble of his truck. “What’s the sense of living in Vermont if you can’t appreciate the foliage?”
They parked by the remains of an old shed, its timbers weathered to a fine gray, its metal roof a study in the various shades of rust.
“Oh, will you look at that?” Diana said as she ambled through the tufts of long grass toward a bulge of granite where the land dropped away into the forest below. Off in the distance, the hills rippled and folded in tones of red, orange, yellow, gold, and cinnamon brown. To their left, the Crow’s Head Falls glinted in the sunlight.
Diana sat cross-legged on the lichen-stained rock, soaking in every detail. She reached up to encircle Stephen’s calf with her hand. “Are you okay?”
He sat down next to her with a deep, deep sigh. “Yeah. I needed this.”
A breeze swept up the hillside, and they both breathed in the earthy scent of fallen leaves. Diana took her husband’s hand, and let the silence stretch on.
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