the slow and steady pace of renewal: a carding chronicle

Up until 2011, Vermonters had a tendency to shrug off hurricane warnings.

“They always say we’re going to get hit but then it all peters out on its way north,” they’d tell one another.

It’s one of the reasons why Hurricane Irene was such a shock.

But life goes on, as is its habit, and renewal and recovery have progressed in fits and starts. Agnes Findlay and Charlie Cooper have renewal on their minds today. Shall we join them?

Agnes Findlay has been living with her partner, Charlie Cooper, for nearly two decades now. When they met, Charlie was weathering a tumultuous divorce and Agnes was treading water working in the field of environmental law in Connecticut. 

They met at a wine bar to which they had both retreated while attending a conference. Charlie was behind her in a line when Agnes turned around, stepped on his foot, and they’ve been together ever since.

At first, Charlie’s ex-wife Angela tried to scare Agnes away by staging dramatic scenes in her lawyer’s office while negotiating child custody issues. But Agnes just laughed at her, and Angela, who never really wanted custody of her daughters unless it came with more money from Charlie, eventually retreated to a somewhat dicey living situation in California, never to be seen in Carding, Vermont again.

That left Charlie and Agnes to be happy together.

Agnes was born and raised in southern Ohio where winters are relatively mild affairs. So her first experience of a true Vermont winter was something of a shock. But as she made friends and learned the rhythm of the seasons, Agnes became one of the most vocal Vermont lovers you will ever meet.

Not too long after she moved into Charlie’s house out on the River Road, she began exploring the wetlands that stretch from the edge of his backyard to the banks of the Corvus River. And as with any neighborhood, she learned the names and growing schedules of the wild profusion of plants that thrive on the silty soil.

In the wetlands, Agnes didn’t have to decide whether a plant was weedy or wanted. For example, garlic mustard was anathema if it encroached on her gardens. But in the wetlands, she could observe how it marked its territory around trees, how it formed seed pods, and even enjoy chewing its spicy leaves without guilt.

In spring, she jumped for joy when the first curled leaves of the wild leeks appeared followed in close succession by trout lilies, coiled ostrich ferns, and willow catkins.

She discovered wild ginger crouching under the lowest branches of honeysuckle run amok and where the yellow dogtooth violets bloomed.

And as summer deepened, she played with the shed bark of sycamores lying on her favorite path.

The botanical community along her path became her friends and she thought their relationship would last forever. But in 2011, after an extremely wet summer, Hurricane Irene dumped nearly fifteen inches of rain on Vermont, the Corvus River rose thirty feet, and her wetlands were covered by debris and 24 inches of silt.

It took a very long time for her to adjust, and a lot of work to reopen the path to the river.

“Hard to believe it’s been ten years now,” Agnes commented as she and Charlie strolled the path after supper. Agnes loved the way the low slanting light caressed the greenery.

“I never thought it would come back,” Charlie said. “I should have known better but it was so desolate down here those first few years. But the ferns are back and the dames rockets and the Joe Pye weed is thicker than ever.”

Agnes stopped for a moment to lay her hand on a leaning box elder festooned with fox grape vine. “Yeah, it’s all come back except that maidenhair fern at the bottom of this tree. Remember when we first found it?”

Charlie nodded. “I’d never seen a fern come up in a dark red coil like that. It looked almost alien”

Agnes sighed and toed the ground. “I think we have to consider that one gone, an old friend passing.”

Charlie took her hand and raised it to his lips to kiss her fingers. He still couldn’t believe she was part of his life. “Maybe we could adopt some maiden hair fern from a nursery and find a place for it in our gardens.”

She squeezed his hand. “And maybe put a bit of it back down here. Yeah, I think so.”

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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