All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

The Great Amnicolist River Race: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Rubber DuckieThis is the last of three parts about Carding’s annual Amnicolist River Race, a contest of homemade rafts down the frigid waters of the Corvus River.

So far, we’ve been introduced to some of the rafting teams and their assortment of whimsical craft. We’ve also learned about the current state of angst among some of the town’s teenagers.

If you need to catch up, part one is here and the stuff in the middle is here.

This week, we get to watch the race and congratulate the winners.

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.

———————–

Excitement fizzed through the air on the beach in old Carding town as Charlie Cooper raised a bullhorn to his mouth. He’d been the master of the Amnicolist River Race ever since its inception. (If you catch him after a second glass of wine, he might even tell you how it all got started.)

Now it was time for this year’s race to begin.

“In order to make the race fair,” Charlie’s voice obliterated all other sound from the crowd, “everyone starts on shore behind this line.” He pointed to a white streak of lime across the still-greening grass.

“When I say go, you run to your raft, push it into the water, and get on top or into it as you can. Does everyone understand?”

“Yes!” the rafter yelled.

“Are you ready?” Charlie yelled.

The crowd roared back.

“Get set.” He raised a duck call to his lips.

“Go!” The magnified squawk matched the roar of the rafters and Carding’s annual Amnicolist River Race was on.

“Yeehaa!!!!”

The four teenaged Pirates pushed and pulled at their galvanized steel stock-tank raft. The rounded rocks in the water made their footing treacherous. 

Suzanna, being the smallest of the quartet, was challenged to keep up with the much taller Wil Bennett and his friend Dave. As they swung their waders over their craft’s gunwales, they just caught Suzanna’s hands before the current grabbed their raft and propelled it downstream. As Faye jumped in, she caught a glimpse of her grandmother flailing to get on the soda-bottle raft she’d made with the other Old Ladies, her friends Ruth Goodwin and Agnes Findley. 

As soon as it was launched, the raft made out of styrofoam coolers was sucked into an eddy and jammed against a rock as its crew applied themselves to their paddles with a furious energy. As predicted by the crowd, the air mattress raft began to sink.

The crowd roared with laughter and approval.

“Paddle,” Faye shouted to her shipmates.

“Get ’em girls,” Agnes hollered as she hauled Edie into place. “This is no race for pirates!”

The shoreline was crowded with bellowing spectators shouting advice, watching for spills, and cheering on the intrepid rafters. 

A crew from a college fraternity with a raft made of empty beer kegs were the first to overturn, tipped up by a succession of hefty rocks that the locals knew as the “shark’s teeth.” They were greeted with hoots as they waded to shore as the rest of the rafts swept downstream.

“Watch the curve! Watch the curve!” Dave yelled to his fellow Pirates. “Get to the inside. Paddle, paddle.”

Behind them, Faye heard her grandmother and her friends laughing and shrieking but she didn’t dare turn her head again to see what was happening. Suddenly, the frayed end of a summer rope swing appeared on her right. 

“We’re at the kettle hole,” she screamed, digging her paddle into the freezing water. The mad swirl of the kettle hole was notorious for eating kayaks and canoes. No telling what it would do to a leaky stock tank.

At that moment, the tank began to tip and water rushed into Faye’s waders. Dave lunged at her, pulling her to his side of the raft. The force of Faye’s lurch made the back of the tank kick out wildly and the pirates were suddenly headed downstream—backwards.

The four of them shrieked with one voice. Wil dug his paddle into the water, hoping to hit bottom so he could swivel their craft in the right direction.

Just at that moment, the Old Ladies and their soda bottle raft swept by. Agnes and Edie weren’t paddling any more because Ruth was half in the frigid water and half out and they were attempting a rescue. 

Panting, Faye reached her paddle across the gap between the two rafts. “Grandma! Grab it!”
Edie caught the end of the paddle with one hand as she tightened her grip on Ruth’s hand with the other. At that moment, the back end of the stock tank hit a submerged log near shore and both rafts lurch around in the opposite direction. Dave reached over to grab Ruth’s other arm while Agnes tried vainly to control their wild swing by jamming her paddle between the rocks just twelves inches below the surface of the water.

A great wail went up from both crews.

“I don’t know how much longer I can hold on,” Edie yelled.

Just then, a horn blast made their heads swivel toward shore. Hands reached out to bring the panting rafters to safety. 

“Who won?” Ruth gasped. At that moment, an empty green plastic bottle floated loose from her raft. 

“Get that raft out of the water before it comes apart,” Andy Cooper yelled from shore where he’d been standing snug and warm in his jacket and jeans. He’d helped his brother Charlie with the first couple of raft races when they were much younger. Nowadays, Andy considered himself much wiser and he figured he’d earned the right to watch from shore. “I got five-cent deposits on those soda bottles and I want them all back.”

The crowd laughed.

Suzanna was shivering and she couldn’t feel her feet. She had no idea who had dragged her onshore but she knew she was grateful. Just then, her Uncle Ted appeared with a bag in his hand filled with a pair of dry socks, jeans, and shoes. He pointed toward a nearby tent. “The girls change in there,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “And there’s something hot to drink when you’re ready.” 

His niece grunted her thanks and trudged toward the changing room with Faye and Edie and Ruth and Agnes. For the moment, no one had the power to speak.

Later, as tales of the race were told indoors by a wood stove (yes, Vermonters can run a wood stove even in May), Charlie Cooper declared the Old Ladies the winners of the Amnicolist River Race and awarded the trio of rather shaken friends the official Rafting Rubber Duckie.

“They won by a nose,” Charlie said. “Ruth’s.”

“And we promise not to do it again next year,” Agnes said.

Wil tried to argue that it was really the Pirates who had won because “our raft didn’t come apart.”

But he was overruled when it was pointed out that no one on the Pirate ship could have seen who came in first and who came in second because they were floating backwards at the time.

And really, when you get right down to it, isn’t the whole point of a spring raft race in Vermont getting outside to enjoy a day in May?


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Great Amnicolist River Race

SH-Rubber Duckie

This is the last of three parts about Carding’s annual Amnicolist River Race, a contest of homemade rafts down the frigid waters of the Corvus River.

So far, we’ve been introduced to some of the rafting teams and their assortment of whimsical craft. We’ve also learned about the current state of angst among some of the town’s teenagers.

If you need to catch up, part one is here and the stuff in the middle is here.

This week, we get to watch the race and congratulate the winners.

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.

The Rocky Road of Friendship: A Carding Chronicle

SH-New leavesLast week, Will Bennett and his friend Brian Lambert persuaded Carding’s favorite eccentric, Amos Handy, to let them use a rather leaky old stock tank as the basis of a raft to race down the Corvus River.

The Amnicolist River Race (an amnicolist is one who lives by a river) has been a Carding tradition for many years. Locals regard it as a way to finally declare your freedom from winter for another year.

There’s something else you need to know going forward—Brian and Wil’s sister, Faye, were once in a very friendly relationship and the wind from their fallout is still having an impact on the swirling whirl of teenage angst in Carding.

This is the second of three parts about Carding’s Amnicolist River Race. Here’s part one. Tune in next week to see who wins!

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.

————————

The winter-hard buds on the local trees in Carding, Vermont are cracking open and new leaves, all bright and shiny new, are emerging. It is a heady time of year and over the course of May, many residents of this little town in Vermont (population 3,700) will succumb to a form of delirium that includes flowers and all shades of the color green.

Of course, that means it’s time for the annual Amnicolist River Race, a contest of homemade rafts floating downstream on the cold waters of the Corvus River.

This yearly event attracts a lot of attention around town. Let’s join first-time racer Suzanna Owen and her Uncle Ted as they discuss the upcoming festivities, shall we?

“What do you mean you don’t think you need to wear a helmet?” Ted Owen asked his niece. “The Corvus River is full of rocks, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Suzanna said. “But Wil checked the water level the other day and he told us that it’s just over knee level.”

Ted looked pointedly down at his niece’s knees. “You do realize that Wil’s nearly six-foot-two and you’re about eight inches shorter than that. What passes for knee level on him is not the same for you.”

“Well nobody’s ever gotten hurt during the raft race, right?”

“That’s right…because folks wear helmets.”

They stared at one another, not angry but more in a contest of wills, the normal state of affairs between a sixteen-year old and her legal guardian. “But we’re pirates,” Suzanna pouted, as if that explained everything.

“Hmm, yes but would you rather be a pirate with or without a concussion?” Ted extended his helmet-filled hand to his niece. “Honest Suzanna, you don’t want to go there. One of my dearest friends on my high school ski team took a bad fall in his senior year. He had to be tutored at home, barely made it graduation, and he sure doesn’t ski any more.”

“Oh all right,” she said in her grumpiest voice.

“Thank you. So have you and your pirate friends finished your raft?”

“Almost. Wil, Brian and Dave are still looking for a mast but Faye and I finished the skull and crossbones flag yesterday,” Suzanna said.

“Brian?” Ted squinched up his eyebrows. “Did I miss the latest installment of the Faye and Brian saga? I thought she had cut him out of her life.”

Suzanna nodded. “She did and still does. Brian says he’s not getting in the raft, that he’d rather laugh at us from shore.”

Ted chuckled. “Oh, I bet that went over well with Faye.”

Suzanna grinned and shook her head. “You know it didn’t. I’m not sure what his game is but Faye told him that she can’t wait until he graduates and leaves for college.”

Ted shook his head as he watched his niece rush out the door. The water in the Corvus River may be cold, he thought, but a riled Faye Bennett is even colder.

The Carding town beach is usually a pretty serene place in early spring. There’s a summer ice cream shack that gets boarded up for the winter and reopened every Mother’s Day but it’s not open yet. There are some picnic tables strewn among the pine trees that provide shade for everything but the curve of land that touches the water. And there’s a set of swings that all the kids who have grown up in Carding have used at one time or another. But they’re empty today.

Right now, the parking lot, the open areas among the tables and the shoreline are strewn with homemade rafts of every construction imaginable. Some of them are of the traditional, Huck-Finn variety, built of a wide variety of wood—painted, unpainted, plywood, dimensional lumber, roof rafters from derelict buildings and so on. 

There’s one raft using an old air bed as a base. The smart betting money isn’t on that one, however, because the team who built it is having a heckuva time keeping it inflated.

One imaginative couple collected a number of foam shipping coolers over the winter, the type you send iced salmon in at Christmas time. Arranged in a three-by-four grid, the white coolers are roped together then topped with a tarp that is, in its turn, topped by two waterproof cushions on which the participants intend to kneel while paddling.

While the “cooler raft” wasn’t a heavy favorite, everyone acknowledged that it showed a good sense of recycling and, best of all, it did float.

But the raft garnering the most attention belonged to “The Old Ladies”: Edie Wolfe (aged 67) Ruth Goodwin (the young ’un at age 59), and Agnes Findley who is celebrating her 68th birthday  today at the race. 

In fact, participating in the race was Agnes’s idea.

“I want to do something really different,” she’d told her friends when they asked about making merry on her special day. “Something we’ve never done before.”

Rafting down the cold Corvus River certainly qualifies.

Now the Amnicolist River Race has only two rules: All rafts must be homemade and no one (neither racer nor watcher) is allowed to drink alcohol during the race. The Old Ladies’ raft definitely qualified as homemade.

“Two hundred and fifty,” Agnes explained to Wil Bennett as he admired their handiwork. “Andy Cooper let us go through his plastic recycling at the store for soda bottles and there are two hundred and fifty bottles in this thing.”

“How many rolls of duct tape?” Wil asked. Really, you had to admire the simplicity of the thing—capped empty soda bottles stacked three high, each bottle in each row bound to its neighbors with taut stretches of the gray adhesive tape famous for its ability to fix anything. And then the rows were bound to one another with more tape and then the whole raft was wrapped in still more tape.

Agnes shook her head. “I’m not really sure. We emptied Andy’s shelves and then hit two more hardware stores to get enough. I have no intention of falling in that cold water because this thing falls apart.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Wil said, admiring the wet suits worn by his grandmother and her two friends. For the first time, he wasn’t sure about bringing home the oversized rubber duckie that’s been the winning trophy in the Amnicolist River Race for the past ten years.

He walked over to where his sister Faye, her best friend Suzanna and his friend Dave Muzzy stood with their oars. Together, the foursome gazed lovingly at the raft they’d fashioned from a galvanized steel stock tank. Dave’s father had contributed to their effort with a necklace of large buoys that he’d brought over from the Maine coast, a gift from a friend who owned a marina.

The Pirates had also added a small wooden quarterdeck and fashioned a mast from a tent pole. Faye and Suzanna’s flag, done in red and white instead of the traditional black and white skull-and-crossbones, rippled in the onshore breeze. 

The Pirates wore podged-together outfits of waterproof gear culled from some of the town’s more avid anglers. Wil sported a pair of bright orange waders that rose just past his waist. Faye’s and Suzanna’s waders were olive green and had to be rolled down at the top to fit under their arms. Dave had the best outfit of them all, his father’s fisherman’s coveralls in bright shiny yellow.

Suddenly a slashing laugh cut through their reverie. “Oh my gawd, are you really going into the water dressed like that?” Brian Lambert hooted. 

None of the four Pirates responded with words. It had been months since Brian had permanently ruptured his relationship with Faye. Even worse, in her eyes, Brian had dragged her brother into his deception. Despite Faye’s disapproval, Wil had tried to maintain a certain level of friendship with Brian but it was mostly limited to discussions about sports. Now he sensed that had reached its end.

After staring at Brian for a moment, Wil and Dave turned back toward the water and resumed their contemplation of their raft. Faye rolled her eyes at her former boyfriend before turning her back to him as well. But Suzanna crossed her arms over her chest and leveled a disbelieving gaze at the young man now standing by himself in the crowd.

Brian shifted from foot to foot for a moment, uncertain how to handle the ostracism that he had provoked. For him, the truth was—as truth often is—more complicated than a simple breakup with Faye Bennett. Brian couldn’t admit it to anyone but the feisty young woman scared him. Faye was sharply intelligent and clever, outspoken and funny. Brian admired her and when they were together, he’d enjoyed the energy that swirled around her.

But given his druthers, he preferred life that was predictable. Faye challenged his opinions and choices and that made Brian feel far too vulnerable for comfort. That’s why, when his family returned to Martha’s Vineyard for the holidays, Brian had fallen back into a relationship with his former girlfriend, Sheila. 

Sheila was pretty and sweet and interested in the stuff Brian liked, Game of Thrones and football on TV, playing golf and boogie boarding at the beach. She wanted to work in her mother’s insurance agency after she graduated and had no plans to ever leave the Vineyard. For Brian, resuming his relationship with Sheila had required no effort at all and quite frankly, that’s the way he liked it.

But there was a problem with Brian’s choice. When he returned to Carding, he found he lacked the grit to tell Faye about his change of heart. Embarrassed, he asked Wil to keep his renewed relationship with Sheila a secret and then he passively drifted along until Faye figured it out on her own, as he knew she would.

Faye had not appreciated Brian’s lack of effort in the breaking-up department.

After that, Brian let all of his relationships in Carding dwindle. His tenuous friendships with Wil and Dave had simply been the last to go. The remainder of his senior year in high school now stretched toward June in a long and lonely line of days.

He glanced at Suzanna, expecting to see her face hard and masked like the others. But her face was sad. “What are you looking at?” he demanded.

“You do realize you did this to yourself, right?” she asked in a soft voice.

“Did what?”

“Pushed away the people who were ready to like and accept you.”

“I didn’t do any such thing. You’re all just snobs with nothing to be snobbish about,” Brian said. “You’re all nothing and you’ve got nothing.” When the other three pirates turned to look at him, Brian stalked away.

Suzanna ran to catch up with him. “I didn’t know anyone, not even my Uncle Ted, when I first came to Carding,” she said as she panted by his side. “And I was pretty scared, just like you.”

Brian whirled on her, his fists clenched. “I’m not scared.”

“The people here are kind,” Suzanna persisted. “You know that. So why are you doing this?”

“Leave me alone.” Brian’s shout cut through the hubbub of the crowd. Several people turned to look at them. The tall young man and the petite Suzanna made an interesting juxtaposition with one another. 

For a moment, everyone froze in place. Wil started toward them but then stopped. What was he supposed to do? He looked at his sister, expecting to see her still angry. But she wasn’t.

“I think we need to let him go, Wil,” she said quietly. “He’s hurting. Maybe try again later.”

Just then, Charlie Cooper cleared his throat and raised a bullhorn to his mouth. That was the signal for the start of the race.

“Come on, Suzanna,” Faye shouted. “We gotta go!”

As she trotted back to her friends, Edie Wolfe caught Suzanna’s eye. “That was a good try,” she whispered as she squeezed the teenager’s shoulder. “He wasn’t ready.”

To her surprise, Suzanna had to blink back tears as she nodded. 

Wil and Faye were now jumping up and down to get Suzanna’s attention.

“You’d better go,” Edie said as she pulled a pink helmet over her  own gray hair. “Just remember, the Old Ladies are going to win.”

Suzanna grinned “Oh, I don’t know about that. We’re pirates.”


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.