The tail end of autumn doesn’t have the vibrant foliage of September or October. No, the joys of this time of year are more subtle.
There’s the hug of a fleece jacket, the comfort of a wood stove, the ease of warmed slippers.
It’s getting colder in Carding, Vermont. Let’s see what everyone is up to this morning, shall we?
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The weather had been deceptively warm—too warm, really—for so long that the first real cold of November caught everyone by surprise.
Edie Wolfe’s winter jackets were still packed in the back of her closet. Andy Cooper couldn’t find his heavy gloves, and Ruth Goodwin stayed up late after she heard the weather report so she could swap her summer shirts out of the closet to make room for the turtlenecks she’d packed away in April.
That morning, to add an edge of interest, the wind stepped up its activity from ambling to blustery, spinning a sprinkle of cold rain into tiny balls of snow that coagulated in the hollows among the brown leaves hugging the ground.
Edie pulled on an insulated sweatshirt as she stirred up her kitchen’s wood stove, laying small logs on the embers to get the fire hot. It was quite the juggling act, placing the wood just so while hopping from one foot to the other in an attempt to warm herself.
It was tempting to turn on the furnace for a few minutes to warm up the house while she waited. But every time her eyes strayed to the thermostat, Edie heard her father saying: “Real Yankees don’t use oil when they can use wood.”
She jumped around some more, wishing she didn’t agree with her father.
Across the green at Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, Andy hitched the old rocker he kept in the basement closer to his wood-burning furnace. Over the years, he’d hired out the stacking parts of the store’s heating system to a series of high school students who worked under his watchful eye. But he reserved the stoking of the furnace for himself. Not only was he sensitive to its many eccentricities, Andy thoroughly enjoyed the daily opportunities to bask in its heat.
“There is no heat that warms you quite the way that wood does,” he told himself with a sigh, his hands wrapped around a large mug of cocoa laced with strong coffee.
Ruth carefully spread her jeans and a thick sweater out on the floor of her bedroom while her coffee brewed in the kitchen next door. Her small and tidy home was one of the many rewards she’d reaped from her first—and so far, only—husband when she divorced him. And he had been a devotee of radiant floor heating.
A few minutes later, Ruth sighed with satisfaction as she pulled on her pre-warmed clothes.
While their humans acted like so many heat-seeking missiles, the dogs in their lives parked themselves close to the doors that led outside, each of them ready for a morning frisk.
Edie’s cocker spaniel, Nearly, rocked from side to side, excited little whiny noises escaping from him from time to time. This was his kind of weather and with the die-back of the thick undergrowth, it was his kind of terrain as well. There would be so many new smells to investigate.
Ruth’s beagle, R.G., made a vain attempt to herd his human toward the door but his human misread his signal. Coffee in hand, Ruth opened the back door to see if he needed to relieve himself but R.G. made it clear he was not leaving without her.
“Oh, all right, all right,” she muttered. “I supposed I can grab a bagel at the Coop.”
R.G. tilted his head back and howled with joy when Ruth grabbed his leash. Then he rushed out the open door, his tail lashing the cold morning air.
Sable, Andy Cooper’s rescue dog, tried to be a bit more diplomatic. She sat close by her human’s rocker, her chin up, shoulders back, and ears tipped forward.
“You look like you’re getting ready to salute,” he said, his hand cuddling her chin. Sable had been rather a surprise in his life. Andy thought he was done with dogs after he lost his chocolate lab a few years back. The heartache had been almost unbearable.
But he’d never regretted Sable for a moment. “It was a mutual rescue,” he’d confided in Edie.
He drained his morning mocha then stretched upright, pushing his hands into the small of his back. “Let me get my boots on, and we’ll be off,” he said. Sable was up the stairs, and seated at the store’s back door before the last word was out of Andy’s mouth.
“Hmph, I guess we’re in a hurry,” he muttered.
Sable got more excited by the second as she watched Andy draw on his boots and pull a hat over his ears. As soon as the back door opened, she exploded into the yard to run several yards up the path leading to Half Moon Lake, their favorite walk, and then ran right back again, barking joyously in the cold air.
Andy had just grabbed his favorite walking stick to follow the dog when two cars pulled in next to his truck.
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” he said as Ruth and Edie swiveled out of their seats. The barking index rose several notches as the three dogs greeted one another, ran, pivoted, and then ran some more.
“This cold sure does wake them up, doesn’t it?” Edie said as they watched the canine greetings.
‘Yeah, sure does.” He looked at his two friends. “Would you be in the mood for bagels?”
“I sure would,” Ruth said. “R.G. had me out of the house before I could finish my coffee, never mind grabbing anything to eat.”
“Be right back,” Andy said.
And so shiver season began in earnest that morning with a quick-stepping walk down a path through the woods, the dogs taking ten strides for every human one as they darted through the shriveled undergrowth to follow every promising scent.
November can be a very good month.
Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Miss Ruby Royce.
The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:
The Road Unsalted
Thieves of Fire
The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life
Light in Water, Dancing