Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

Flowerage

WQ-FlowerageThe Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

But 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.


The aroma hit Ruth Goodwin in the face as soon as she stepped out her front door. The scent of the deep purple lilacs in her yard was nearly overwhelming. Across the hill, she could see white clouds of blossoms covering the apple trees in the Tennysons’ orchard.

Her beagle, R.G., hesitated on his way to the Jeep where he had planned to ensconce himself in the passenger seat for the first of his many daily naps. Why was his human sniffing the air like one of his fellow canines?

He snorted and sat down. R.G.’s first law of dogdom was to never waste energy trying to figure out people.

“What an incredible spring,” Ruth murmured. “Time to break out the colored pencils and camera. Be right back, R.G.”

The dog yawned then shook his head until his great floppy ears whirled about his head. Waiting sounded like a good plan to him.

For years, Ruth Goodwin had had a secret. In the world at large, it would never be considered a big deal. In fact, folks in Carding would have been floored to find out that Ruth had any secrets at all because she’d always cultivated a reputation as forthright and open. But we all have our little privacies, don’t we?

Ruth’s was her drawing, particularly her colored pencil drawings.

Particularly her botanical portraits.

As a child, she’d adored the tales of Beatrix Potter, inspired by the detailed illustrations of her favorite author. In her teens, Ruth had been appalled to discover that Potter’s lifetime ambition to be a botanist had been stymied by her father because he did not deem it a suitable endeavor for a woman. That’s why Beatrix had turned her keen eye toward illustrating children’s books, much to the delight of millions of readers.

But still, ambition thwarted is ambition thwarted, in Ruth’s opinion. So Ruth, unencumbered by male opinion, decided to pursue a private career in botanical illustration in honor of her heroine.

And in order to remain unencumbered by male opinion, Ruth kept her efforts a secret.

While Beatrix Potter had wielded watercolors to bring Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck to life, Ruth eventually decided to use colored pencils because they were far more portable, no water necessary.

In the winter months, she sketched the purple and white glory of red cabbage and the seedy interiors of squash. In summer, Ruth turned to beets and watermelon and beans and zucchini from her garden.

Fall, of course, was dedicated to brilliant leaves, acorns, and goldenrod.

But spring—aah spring—that was the season for flowers. And in Ruth Goodwin’s opinion, this was one of the most glorious springs she’d ever witnessed in her beloved Vermont.

R.G.’s wait was soon rewarded when Ruth bustled out of the house to stow her pencil case and camera under the Jeep’s driver seat. “Come on, R.G., let’s hope the mail is light. We’ve got blossoms to visit.”

But as often happens when we’re in a hurry, Ruth’s morning tumbled downhill from there. The delivery truck with its tubs of mail had had a flat tire so it was late. Which made Ted Owens, the postmaster, late sorting Ruth’s deliveries.

And instead of a light mail day, her mail totes were stuffed with Memorial Day sales flyers and festival announcements. Then her daughter Sarah called with a reminder about their Saturday date to pick out a wedding dress, and Ruth had to catch herself before admitting that it had totally slipped her mind. Sarah’s fiancé was nice enough but Ruth remained unconvinced that he was the right guy for her strong-minded daughter.

“Not my choice. Not my choice,” she chanted to herself while aloud she said: “The Bridal Place. I remember. I’ll be there, rest assured.

All of which meant that by the time Ruth and R.G. got on the road in earnest, they were already 45 minutes behind schedule. Then they got stuck behind the Tennyson hay wagon and then they had to detour around the asphalt patching on Route 37 which made them just in time to get behind the kindergarten school bus delivering its tiny passengers home for lunch.

With a sigh, Ruth tuned into Dirt Road Radio to catch the noontime weather which hadn’t changed much from the morning forecast—rain, clouds and drizzle for the next three days. Not good drawing weather by a long shot.

By mid-afternoon, Ruth still had one heavy tote of mail left in her back seat and R.G. had turned his mournful eyes in her direction, a signal that it was time to stop so he could stretch his legs. Ruth gazed up the hillside to her right and thought about the remnants of an old orchard tucked into a fold up there. Some of those old trees were crabapples renowned for their ecstatic pink hue, like no others in the whole Corvus River valley.

Ruth knew that turning up the hill on the backside of Mount Merino would make her late with her last deliveries. But how often do you get a perfect spring in Vermont, she asked herself.

So she turned up the hill…and never regretted it for an instant.

 

 

 

 

That Old Presby Guilt

WQ-Blustery dayCarding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

Even though it may be hard to find, 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.


Ruth Goodwin thought it was a secret but everyone in Carding knew how much she loved celebrating her birthday. It wasn’t that she expected presents from everyone—”Where would I put that much stuff?” she thought—but that she felt entitled to treat herself to anything she wanted all day long.

Or at least she tried to feel that way.

You see, Ruth’s mother, Lorraine, had been a strict Presbyterian who believed that the greatest sin of all was wasting time on fun or frivolity. Even now, long after Lorraine had become a permanent resident of Carding Town Cemetery, Ruth still felt guilty if she didn’t have something productive planned for every minute of her day.

Ruth’s own daughter, Sarah, thought that “old Presby guilt” was just plain silly, and she’d tried, in vain, to convince Ruth to “to just take a nap, if that’s what you want to do on your birthday.”

But all of Sarah’s efforts were in vain until she hit upon A Very Clever Idea. “I’m taking over your birthday,” she informed Ruth a week before the big day.

“You’re what?”

“Taking over your birthday,” Sarah said. “I’ll be here first thing in the morning with coffee, muffins, and an itinerary. I’m going to fill your day with so much to do, there’ll be no room for any of that Presby stuff left over from Grandma.”

Ruth nodded and smiled but still she felt vaguely. . . guilty.

True to her word, Sarah was at her Mom’s house pretty close to the crack of dawn—the Goodwin family is an early-rising tribe—toting towering cups of coffee and morning glory muffins from the Crow Town Bakery.

As soon as the last morning glory crumb disappeared, Sarah herded her mother into the car. “Where are we going?” Ruth asked.

Sarah smiled as she turned up Belmont Hill. “When was the last time you hiked your favorite part of the Appalachian Trail?”

“But I didn’t bring my hiking shoes,” Ruth protested.

“They’re in the back seat, along with your walking stick, camera, and water bottle.” Sarah grinned. “No excuses, Mom. Today is all about everything you like to do.”

As soon as Sarah braked into the pull-off by the trailhead, Ruth heard the familiar strains of “Happy Birthday,” a little off-key because Andy Cooper couldn’t carry a tune to save his soul. And then Edie Wolfe opened the car door, Agnes Findley helped Ruth out, and before the guilty birthday girl could think about it, the four friends set off through the sparkling woods on a perfect May morning while Sarah drove herself to work thinking “Mission Accomplished.”

Ruth laughed as her feet swept dew from the familiar trail. A robin treated the group to an early morning ode to nest-building and plentiful seeds. They all remarked on the height of the ostrich ferns, the sprinklings of violets at their feet, the nodding heads of early coltsfoot already gone to seed.

The walk ended, as it always did for them, at a great round rock that thrust its chin over the rush of one of the many seasonal brooks that appeared alongside the trail each spring. Andy pulled two bottles of champagne from his knapsack. Edie added a carafe of orange juice and plastic cups while Agnes produced a small chocolate cake, pre-sliced and carefully wrapped.

“I’m not sure how agitated this will be after our hike,” Andy said as he aimed a bottle’s cork over the water. “Better have those cups ready.”

The champagne’s loud POP was followed by a lively froth, most of it caught in the drinking vessels. As they dug into the cake, Ruth leaned against a tree to watch some high clouds spiral above her head. “Looks like we might have some weather coming in.”

“Supposedly we’ve got some rain coming in early this evening,” Edie said. “Or at least that’s what the Dirt Road weather folks predicted.”

Just then, a stiff breeze set all the tiny maple leaves dancing at the tops of the trees. The four friends watched carefully, making their own interpretations of Vermont’s ever-changing weather. They all had stories about being caught in storms because they weren’t paying attention.

When the wind stirred a second time, the trees hissed in response. That’s when the hiking party rose as one to stuff cake wrappings and empty champagne bottles into their sacks for the walk back to their cars and the trip home.

When they dropped her off two hours earlier than scheduled on Sarah’s itinerary, Ruth promised her friends that she would “do nothing” for the rest of the day except exactly what she wanted to do. But her maternally-inspired Presby guilt just wouldn’t leave her alone.

When she looked out the window, her gardens beckoned. Ruth had been putting off the start of weeding season because of May’s cold beginning. It was as if the weather had been saying: “Wait, wait, wait. Not yet. It’s too cold. It’s too wet. Yes, I know you want to get into the garden but really, you won’t enjoy yourself.”

And now—BOOM—there was more grass in the flower beds than Ruth could imagine.

The wind blew a little harder, making the dandelions flatten themselves on the ground. “A blustery day,” Ruth sighed.

A blustery day, she thought again. Suddenly, she swept into the laundry room, filled her washing machine, and then grabbed the step stool that she used to reach her top bookshelves, the place where she kept her favorites.

Finding just the right book, Ruth hummed as she brewed a pot of tea, and wiped the winter cobwebs off her favorite lawn chair. She hummed a bit louder as she double-pinned her clothes to the line so the wind wouldn’t carry them off.

Then she positioned herself in a sheltered corner of her house, book in hand, tea at the ready. A blustery day, perfect for a close re-reading of Winnie the Pooh.

“It’s the perfect compromise,” Ruth thought. “Clothes on the line to assuage the Presby guilt, and one of my favorite books just for me.”

And then she opened the book in her lap.

It was a fine spring morning in the forest as Pooh started out. Little soft clouds played happily in a blue sky, skipping from time to time in front of the sun as if they had come to put it out, and then sliding away suddenly so that the next might have his turn.

 

 

Violet Day

WQ-Purple violetsWelcome to the Carding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

Even though it may be hard to find, 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.


Weeding Diary for May 11
by Edie Wolfe

In Vermont, spring knocks on our door with a steady but persistent presence. For me, it begins in late March when I notice that the interior of my car is warm when I open its door to run an errand in the afternoon. In July I’ll be complaining about the heat but in March, I press my back against the seat to soak up all the stray warmth molecules, luxuriating in their welcoming embrace.

Early in April, my dog Nearly and I eat lunch in the sunny spot on my back steps, lifting our faces up to the great golden orb in the sky like two early dandelions while robins and phoebes streak across the backyard carrying building supplies for their nests.

Then May rolls over the calendar like a green carpet. All the grass I thought I’d dug out of the vegetable and flower beds in the fall reappears, thumbing its nose at my efforts. I am reminded of that wonderful quote from the naturalist Hal Borland: “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”

The disobedient grass always makes me wonder why I tolerate this relic of the British gentry. While I appreciate a grassy path as much as the next person, when you spread the stuff out in a lawn, it’s a downright nuisance. Why do we do it?

I suppose that’s why I enjoy the even greater persistence of stuff like dandelions, creeping Charlie, tiny wild strawberries, moss and violets.

Especially violets.

There are nearly 600 varieties in the family Violaceae of which my favorite is a purple beauty with a small white beard that pops up around my front steps on the first of May. It is an old and dear friend.

It’s the first violet to dot my lawn, its color complementing the vivid deep green of new grass. White and then blue violets follow quickly. I gather them in small bunches while enjoying my first cup of tea in the morning, bringing them into the kitchen in small glass vases .

Yes, I know, I know. My friend Ruth lectures me all the time about removing violets as soon as they appear because later on in the season, I’ll have to dig them out of my flower beds because they crowd out everything else. But I just smile and nod politely at Ruth’s annual agitation. It is an old and dear argument, weed vs. flower.

She insists on regimentation in her gardens—tulips here, zinnias there, foxglove here and no place else. I often remark on the amount of time she spends trying to make her plants behave. To me, “weeds” are so much easier. They bring us delight without effort.

So I let the purple Violaceae have their days in spring, holding back from mowing as long as I can. I find lawns without violets quite boring, don’t you?

It’s “Just” a Dandy-lion

WQ-DandelionWelcome to the Carding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

Even though it may be hard to find, 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members that you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.


Wil Bennett, the author and publisher of a daily news blog about Carding, recently persuaded his grandmother, Edie Wolfe, to try her hand at writing some meditations on gardening and the earthly life called the Weeding Diaries. This is her first attempt. Hope you enjoy.

. . . . . . .

A friend of mine recently remarked that “winter isn’t really winter any more in Vermont.” I have to admit he’s right.

Not too many years ago, we’d get a first dusting of snow before Thanksgiving. Then over the next two weeks, the ground would wrinkle up and freeze, and by Christmas, we’d have our first snow blanket. Like magic, the whole town would sprout ice skates, hockey teams and bob houses on the lake, and snowshoes, sleds, and skis for the hills.

We’d play in our frozen paradise until the days lengthened in March, and the frost heaves and potholes of mud season made driving a car a lot like hopping around in a bouncy castle.

Fast forward a decade. Now our winter weather is best described as uncertain. We’ll get a clutch of cold days—perhaps a week here and there—but it’s not enough to freeze the lake thick enough to support an ice skater never mind a whole hockey team. This past winter, our snow cover completely disappeared and reappeared four or five times at least.

For those of us who remember real winters, this is just plain weird.

In spite of grumbling about our weather (a ritual held in high esteem throughout Vermont), in April we all start watching the ground as the snow disappears, looking for the first signs of plant life in our lawns, our gardens, and our woods.

Nothing moves too much until mid-April, and then the green world shifts into fast forward. After a bit of sun and a bit more rain, the fiddleheads (ostrich ferns, really) race to see who can unfurl the fastest. Dots of buttery yellow coltsfoot (no leaves, just small bits of bright color among the leaf litter) have appeared, and the lacy fronds of Dutchmen’s breeches brush our ankles as we walk past them on the footpaths that lead from the center of town down the hill to the mists ruminating on Half Moon Lake.

Every morning, I take a slow stroll through my gardens to assess their progress. It’s still a bit early to work in them because the frigid soil draws all the warmth from my hands, even when I wear gloves. Besides, I know that once I pull that first weed, my time will be at the gardens’ command so I’m putting it off a while longer.

It won’t be long now, though. Yesterday, the first dandelions fingered their way out of the ground to bask in the light and warmth in a sheltered crevice by my front door. In my panoply of garden goddesses, they are the true harbinger of spring, the opening game of the gardening season.

But it’s only one bunch for now so I think I’ll make a second cup of tea, sit on the front porch, and watch the grass grow a little longer.

We’re Baaaackkkk!!!

After a short hiatus, I’ve revved up my keyboard once again to bring you more news and views from Carding, Vermont.

Here’s a sample of the Carding Chronicle that will appear in your inbox (if you are a subscriber) tomorrow.

Please, please, please share! And buy my books: The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.
WQ-Dandelion

Early Morning Sunrise

wq-sunriseVermont still shivers in early April and anyone with any sense keeps a warm jacket nearby.

But chilly temperatures cannot keep a good fisherman at home in bed on the first day of trout season.

And Bruce Elliott is a good fisherman.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont.

//////////////////////////////

Bruce Elliott had been awake since 3 a.m. Fishing season started in just a few hours, his favorite day of the year. He craned his neck to peer at the lighted numerals on the alarm clock resting on top of the bookcase head board.

“Why don’t you just get up now?” his wife murmured. “You know you want to.”

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Bruce whispered.

Cate yawned. “Of course I’m sure. I’ll get more sleep if you do and the kids will be up early enough. Go—and take the sandwiches I made for you. They’re in the fridge.”

Bruce leaned over and peeled back the quilt over his wife’s head until he found her cheek and kissed it. “You’re the best,” he whispered.

“I know,” Cate moaned. “Now go.”

Ordinarily, Bruce Elliott was the consummate family man. He took his sons out to play baseball, coached a soccer team, and taught them how to use simple tools (“Never pay anyone to do anything you can figure out yourself,” was one of his favorite sayings.)

He took them fishing, too. Except for the opening day of trout season.

“There are holidays for every occasion,” he opined. “The first day of fishing season is my personal holiday, and I want to spend those first hours alone.”

Cate didn’t mind. Everyone needs a spot of solitude now and then.

Bruce scanned the sky while downing coffee and a bagel. The clouds were pewter-colored but he detected a couple of thin spots. “It sure would be nice if it all got a bit thinner,” he thought. “Last year, it snowed!”

All his gear was ready in the car—rod, lures, waders. Bruce stuffed Cate’s sandwiches into a compact cooler, filched a few Oreos from the stash he knew his oldest son kept behind a gallon jug of vinegar in a bottom cupboard, and filled his largest thermos with more coffee.

After closing the back door, Bruce stood in the mud room to ask the deities governing the sport of fishing for a good start to the season. Then he pulled a checklist out of a vest pocket to double-triple make sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything key.

The streets of Carding were deserted except for the newspaper delivery folks and Ruth Goodwin on her early morning run for the mail in White River Junction. When they waved to one another, Ruth grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.

Bruce had favorite fishing spots all over the state but he always stayed in Carding for the first day so he could get there at first light without driving all night. He’d been pouring over a detailed map of Half Moon Lake, especially the marshy areas in the backwater behind the Crow’s Head Falls and the wide turn at the east end of the lake where the Corvus River gathered itself together once again to head toward the big waters of the Connecticut.

He and Stephen Bennett, Ted Owens, and Peter Foster had stalked the lake’s perimeter, evaluating the state of the riffles where rainbows like to hide on chill April mornings. Bruce figured he’d see each of them during the course of the day to discuss lures and catches in detail.

But right now was his time—just the water, a fishing rod, and silence.

He parked in the town lot at the community beach, grabbed his gear, and headed out on an almost invisible track that would take him down to a pair of very large, flat boulders renowned among the local teenagers as a great place for night moves on a summer evening. Bruce grinned as his own memories of those nights played inside his head.

But the memories didn’t stay long because the track was slippery with half-frozen mud and round stones. Bruce slowed to a crawl in the sepia light.

Then it happened, the omen he’d been waiting for. The clouds in the east thinned just a bit more, and the piercing light of a new fishing season dawned in the land.

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 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Thank you!