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.

Spring Rituals

SH-VioletsIt’s April in Vermont, and spring starts and stops as it struggles to vanquish winter.

Everyone in Carding has their way of coping.

Enjoy!

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There’s a weariness to the end of winter as it slides into spring. People are tired of boots. Tired of wearing heavy coats and mittens. Tired of shoveling.

So when they sense the advent of spring, people try their best to hurry it along.

When you think about it, closing the door on winter and opening it to spring is an act with distinct markers. You just know when it’s happened.

By contrast, when you round the calendar’s corner from spring into summer, there isn’t a single “event” that signals the start of the warmest months. It’s just less cold, the flowers are more abundant, and the scent of barbecue is in the air.

And moving from summer into autumn is a slow parade of subtle changes—the weakening of chlorophyll in the leaves, fewer minutes of sunlight that gradually mount up to six o’clock sunsets, and then the sight of those first red leaves.

But spring is different and in Vermont, folks do whatever they can to push winter to one side. They cheer at the sight of the maple sap buckets hanging from the trees and steam billowing out of the windowed cupolas on top of the sugarhouses. They notice when the boot collections by the back door expand from just one pair of the insulated kind with crampons  to navigate ice to a variety of rubber boots, galoshes and sturdy sneakers.

People hurry to downgrade from their heaviest coats to the more middling variety of jacket. There’s always two in this category, one to throw on when you fetch the mail and another to wear into town.

The first ventures into the yard are to gather the fallen limbs and branches knocked down by high winds and ice. This is a great time for children of all ages to play with the water braiding its way down every available slope as the frost leaves the ground. (“Sailing away on a muddy day designed for play—tra la!”)

By this time in April, barring some strange weather occurrenc, those lunges toward spring are behind us now, and the final push is at hand.

And that final push is raking snow.

Let me explain to the uninitiated. Vermont is a land of folds. Our ground is always busy going up or going down, and this unique feature provides an abundance of nooks and crannies  where shadows can hide.

Those shadows keep out the sun and keep in the snow far into April. This happens on the backside of trees on a sloped lawn, at the bottom of hills that face north, under rocky overhangs, and in the places where the winter’s army of snow plows, snowblowers, and shovels made deep piles of the white stuff.

Except by this time, it’s not really snow at all but ice crystals, and everyone is sick of looking at it.

This snow raking always amused Ruth Goodwin on her rounds for the post office. Agnes Findley was usually the first snow raker of the season. Armed with an especially lethal metal rake, Agnes attacked the pile of white on the northwest corner of the house she shared with her partner Charlie Cooper, pulling it into their driveway where it could melt.

Charlie, on the other hand, used a small hay fork on the last bits hiding behind the stone wall that marked their vegetable garden.

Up on Mount Merino, the grounds crew used a grader to break the last ice on the slopes into small pieces that disappeared in the now warming afternoons.

Everywhere she drove in April, Ruth saw people who lived on her mail route digging, gouging, raking, and sometimes even stomping the last ice of winter into oblivion.

And then as she turned toward home, taking the route that snaked by the marshy area at the east end of Half Moon Lake and the small field glowing purple with violets, Ruth slowed down, the windows of her Jeep wide open. When she reached a wide spot in the road, she pulled over, nose to nose with Gideon Brown’s truck.

They’d nod at one another then lean against their vehicles, their arms crossed over their bodies as they stood in silent vigil listening to the first glowing notes of the spring peepers.

It had come again, and for the moment, all was right with the world.


You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

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A Solemn Promise

SH-fabric stashIf you are a creative type—a painter or gardener or woodworker, knitter, mechanic, cook or whatever—you understand the obsession that a quilter has with fabric.

With all of the amazing fabrics made now—from hand-dyes to batiks to brilliantly colored prints—it’s difficult to remember that the whole do-it-yourself phenomenon is only about a generation old.

Yep, thirty years or so.

Which is about the same span of time that digital technology has been creeping into our lives with its irritating promises of eliminating the need to make anything by hand.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s look in on Edie Wolfe and Ruth Goodwin as they attempt the impossible—resisting temptation.

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They did it every year, Edie Wolfe and her friend Ruth Goodwin. Usually right after they’d both spent too much money on fabric during the Vermont Shop Hop.

“Really, we’ve got to use up some of what we’ve got in our stash,” Ruth would say as she struggled to find more space on her shelves for the batik fabrics she didn’t bother to resist because they were on sale.

“You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right,” Edie would say.

And they’d make that solemn quilter’s promise to “not buy any more fabric until we use up a lot of our stash.” But the promise was usually made over wine and easily forgotten the next time fabric went on sale.

This year was different, however. It was the death of Genevieve Makepeace that did it.

Among quilters in Vermont, Genevieve had been something of a legend. She started quilting back in the 1970s when concepts such as “quilt shops” and “quilting fabrics” were more or less unknown. When she moved off this earthly plain, Genevieve left behind more than 3,000 yards of fabric, all of which was sold to a wholesaler.

Believe me, that made everyone in the Shades of Emerald Quilt Guild sit up and count their own yardage, and think about how their families would cope with all their unmade projects.

Ruth and Edie decided that if they made a big production out of their annual promise and did it in public, they just might stick to it.

So when their guild got together for the annual post-holidays potluck supper, the two friends stood at the front of the room and made a genuine, sincere, heartfelt promise not to buy “any new fabric for a year.”

Off to the side, Agnes Findley collected dollars from the other quilters as they placed bets on how long the promise would last. The pooled money would be donated to a local food pantry while the winner got bragging rights.

January slipped by. Then February and March. As far as their quilting compatriots could tell, neither Ruth nor Edie joined the annual quilt shop hop.

“Do you suppose they’re going to make it all the way to the end of the year?” they asked one another, rather amazed by the two women’s willpower.

But…but…but…April can be such a challenging month. It’s way too cold to garden and yet the sun is strong enough to heat a car’s interior up into the uncomfortable range. In the hills where folks in Carding like to hike, frost is still coming up out of the ground, making the pathways a treacherous patchwork of deep puddles and slick, half-frozen mud.

And traveling by motor vehicle on anything but an interstate is a lot like driving a bouncy castle because of the frost heaves.

Cabin fever is real in April in Vermont.

Finally, Edie just couldn’t stand it another minute, and decided that frost heaves or no frost heaves, she was going to do a spring reconnoitering of her favorite charity shops. It’s always best to do that when you’re not looking for anything in particular because that’s when you always find something.

So she bundled her cocker spaniel, Nearly, into the back seat of her car and headed west on Route 37, happy just to drive with her windows rolled down a little.

First stop was the Re-New-Ables store. This was a particular favorite of Edie’s because it’s where she found her favorite bang-around fall/spring jacket. It was a favorite because no matter how dirty it got from gardening or hauling wood, the jacket came back refreshed from a trip to the washing machine.

Once inside, Edie idled in the glassware section of the store, caressing everything in the color blue. A small vase, perfect for a single rose, found its way into her basket.

Next came the tightly-packed racks of clothes. You had to be very patient and persistent here but Edie was rewarded with a silky black skirt and two lovely summer blouses, all three items on sale from the already-remarkably-low prices.

Last but not least was household goods—mixing bowls, utensils, a few appliances (mostly disappointing waffle irons), casserole dishes, and a huge pile of fabric.

Edie did a double-take. Was it really yardage? It was, all cuts of a yard or more piled on top of one another.

Was it any good? As any quilter will tell you, low-quality fabric can ruin a quilt. Sometimes it bleeds but most often it stretches out of shape, and that has an impact on every piece of fabric around it, skewing a whole block or quilt top.

Tentatively, half hoping the fabric would prove to be useless, Edie plunged her hand into the pile.

She smiled at the smooth, firm feel of good quality cotton.

The fabric on top of the pile was a rather uninteresting green, too muddy in color to do much of anything for or against a quilt top. But just underneath it was a sturdy dark red with a repeating small figure in black.

Edie glanced around. She was alone. The red piece slid into her shopping basket.

She flipped the next two fabrics over, both very dark brown, in order to inspect a large folded offering of swirling black and white interspersed with oversized red butterflies. It was dramatic, yes, but as a backing for a quilt…well, it would be perfect.

Time slipped away as Edie plunged deeper and deeper into the pile, filling and then over-filling her shopping basket. She was in the midst of assessing a yard of bright yellow solid when a voice made her jump.

“Ha! Caught ya!” Ruth said.

Edie whirled around to see her friend, four full bags at her feet, grinning the grin of the deeply satisfied.

“Oh uh. Hmm, hi Ruth.” Edie felt blood rising to her cheeks as she looked down at her soon-to-be-acquired pile of fabric. Then she noticed the four bags at Ruth’s feet.

They were all filled with fabric.

“Yeah, I got here before you,” Ruth said, splaying her hands wide and shrugging her shoulders. “I was just heading out to the car when I saw your Toyota. I figured you’d find this pile. Need a hand getting to the bottom of it?”

Edie laughed. “If you wouldn’t mind.”

“No problem. You’re going to need a second shopping basket.”

“Or a truck,” Edie said as they plunged in together. “I do suppose that next year’s another year, am I right?”

Ruth sighed. “If at first you don’t succeed… At least we’ll find out who won the bet.”


You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

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