Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

Freedom from Winter

Last week, Will Bennett and his friend Brian Lambert persuaded Carding’s favorite eccentric, Amos Handy, to let them use a rather leaky stock tank to use as 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 Lambert used to be in a friendly relationship with Wil’s sister, Faye. But not any more and the wind from their fallout is having an impact on the whirl of teenage angst in Carding.

Tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle is the second of three parts about Carding’s Amnicolist River Race. Part one is right here. 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.

SH-New leaves

A Plunge into the Cold: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Raft RaceLike many of my Carding Chronicles, this three-part story was inspired by real events.

In this case, it’s the annual (or at least it has been for the past 45 years) raft race down a three-mile stretch of the Ottauquechee River in Bridgewater, Vermont.

It’s a fundraiser for local nonprofits, a good party and a lot of laughs.

So of course, Carding needs a raft race on the Corvus River.

This one gets its name from the first dictionary of the English language, the one by Dr. Samuel Johnson: amnicolist

So consider this your word of the day:
amnicolist n.s. [amnicola, Lat.] Inhabiting near a river.
—from the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And you can find it any time, 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.

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The notice on the community bulletin board was short, sweet and in big red letters.

“Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The annual Amnicolist River Race is upon us! All hearty lads and lasses are summoned to the Beach in Olde Carding Towne on Saturday, May 2 at noon. Be prepared to propel yourselves downstream in a raft. May the spring be with you!”

Brian Lambert sometimes wondered what sort of alternate universe he’d dropped into when his family moved from Martha’s Vineyard to Carding, Vermont. In Carding, they played volleyball on snowshoes in February, skidded down the longest hill in town during frost heave season just to see who could get to the bottom first, celebrated recycling with the same fervor other folks reserved for high holy days, and stayed up all night to boil sap down to the brown sweetness of maple syrup because it was “fun” to feed small pieces of wood into the bottom of a condenser until enormous clouds of steam vapored out of the vents in a cupola somewhere high overhead.

Brian had come to the conclusion that it was all part of tribal rituals with origins so far in the past, no one remembered how they began.

Or maybe it was all just a good way to prevent craziness during the long winter months.

But this latest ritual—this was ridiculous.

“Are you telling me you’re going to make a raft out of a metal stock tank, put it into the Corvus River and paddle downstream in that freezing cold water?” he asked Wil Bennett as they hiked toward an open field surrounded by trees that had just started to think about the color green.

“Yeah, why not? It’s for a good cause—raising money for the library. Besides, it’s weird enough to be fun,” Wil said as they emerged from the trees. “Look, there’s Amos. I figured he’d be cleaning up after sugaring season. I’ll bet he’s got a stock tank we can borrow.” He raised his hand to hail one of Carding’s better known eccentrics while Brian shook his head.

Weird enough to be fun, he thought. Yeah, that’s Carding all right.

“Hey Amos,” Wil called. “Have you got a stock tank we can borrow?”

Amos crinkled up his face while thinking over his answer. He knew Wil Bennett well enough to trust him not to be as stupid as most males under thirty.

But stock tanks, especially the kind that Amos got for free because he was willing to patch them up, were precious and thin on the ground.

“You lookin’ to get in the raft race?” he asked as he wiped down the sap spigots lying at his feet.

“Yeah.”

“How many of you are gonna be on the raft?”

“Three most likely. Four at the most,” Wil said.

Amos nodded toward an upside down stock tank on the lee side of his truck. “That one needs a patch or two but if you’re willing to fix it, you can use that one. Mind you’ll have to heft it back to my house when the race is over.”

Wil ran his fingers over the rusty bottom of the tank, probing gently for weak spots. He flicked a rust flake away and tapped the metal—or lack of metal—revealed underneath. “Is this the only spot that needs fixing?” he asked.

“On the bottom, yeah. But I’m suspicious of that area of the seam,” Amos said, pointing. “You’d need to set it up off the ground and run a little water into it to find the right place. It’s a slow leak.”

Brian watched the whole transaction with a dubious frown on his face. “Do you even know how to patch this?” he asked Wil in an undertone.

“Me? Nah, my welding knowledge doesn’t cover anything more than light soldering,” Wil said. “But I already talked to Gideon Brown and he said he’d fix it for me in return for helping him take the snow plows off his company trucks.”

Amos pushed his knitted cap off his head, revealing a bald pate surrounded my a wild fringe of white hair. That made it easier to scratch while considering the implications of Wil’s words. Gideon wasn’t the best welder in Carding but for patching up an old stock tank, he would do. Besides, it would save Amos the trouble of fixing it himself.

“You two gonna hike this down the hill now?” he asked. He wondered about Wil’s friend. Amos had the impression that Brian had been a stranger in a strange land ever since he landed in Carding. Once he graduated from high school—an event that was just six weeks in the future—Amos was sure they’d never see the young man again.

Wil didn’t seem to notice Brian’s reluctance. “Yeah, if that’s okay with you.”

“You planning on attaching anything to the sides? You know, to make it less tippy in the water,” Amos said.

Wil considered that suggestion for a minute then shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. The race is short, no more than half an hour. And I checked the water level yesterday. It’s pretty much down to normal so even if we tip over, we can always walk to shore.”

“Walk?” Brian gasped. “That water is cold!”

Wil laughed. “Yeah but that’s what gets the crowd excited, waiting to see if your boat tips.”

Brian backed away a couple of steps. “I’ll help you carry this thing down to your Dad’s truck but during the race, I’m watching from shore.”

Wil shrugged. Even though he’d never say it out loud, over the course of the past year, his opinion of his friend had shifted to coincide more with Amos’s way of thinking. Brian was far more of a city boy than he cared to admit.

“That’s fine. Dave and my sister and her friend Suzanna all want to race so I’ll have a full crew,” Wil said.

“Your sister wants to race in this thing?” Brian asked.

“Yeah, you know Faye. Up for anything.” Wil pretended not to notice the downward tilt of his friend’s expression. Faye and Brian had once been more than friends. Nowadays they were just sore subjects to one another.

“Thanks for this Amos. I’ll make sure you get it back,” Wil said. “See you at the race.”

Then each of the young men got a grip on his side of the stock tank, hefted it and started the trudge downhill.


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.

A Plunge into the Cold

Like many of my Carding Chronicles, the new three-part story that starts tomorrow was inspired by real events.

In this case, it’s the annual (or at least it has been for the past 45 years) raft race down a three-mile stretch of the Ottauquechee River in Bridgewater, Vermont.

It’s a fundraiser for local nonprofits, a good party and a lot of laughs.

So of course, Carding needs a raft race on the Corvus River.

This one got its name from the first dictionary of the English language, the one by Dr. Samuel Johnson: amnicolist.

Consider this your word of the day:
amnicolist n.s. [amnicola, Lat.] Inhabiting near a river.
—from the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson

In Carding, the local raft racing crowd is abuzz this week. Wil Bennett and his friend Brian Lambert are out looking for raw materials for a raft. Here’s a sample of what’s to come. Hope you can join us!

SH-Raft Race

Coffee, Crullers and Muffins: A Carding Chronicle

SH-It Takes All KindsI’m sure you’ve had an eye-rolling moment or two in your life, those times when your eyeballs drift upward because you just can’t believe how obtuse another person can be.

Over at the Crow Town Bakery, Stephen Bennett has become something of an expert on what he calls “invisible eye-rolling.” But his ability to do that is being tested today.

Let’s open the door to the bakery and listen in, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And you can find it any time, 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.

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Anyone who’s ever had a job working with the public develops some variation of the expression, “It takes all kinds.” This expression is often accompanied by an eye roll toward the heavens. This is the ritual of expiation for the frustration felt by legions of waitresses, store clerks, librarians, cashiers, police, and anyone who’s ever served on a local government board.

Over at the Crow Town Bakery, owners Stephen and Diana Bennett have learned to carefully mask their exasperation because, after all, every customer has the potential to spread the word—good or bad—about their coffee, crullers, and muffins. They are especially careful to do this during ski season when the slopes of Mount Merino are busy and there are all sorts of people-from-away in town.

But local denizens of Carding’s favorite breakfast spot have become adept at interpreting the signs of Bennett exasperation, using them to hone in on the choicer examples of humankind at less than its best. If Stephen’s cooking at the griddle during an it-takes-all-kinds moment, everyone knows he holds his spatula in an upright position as if he’s conducting an orchestra.

If his wife Diana is out front—she spends most of her days baking in the kitchen out back—she slowly wipes her hands on a clean towel as if fascinated by the removal of moisture from her skin all the while absorbing “the silliness,” as she calls it.

The snow pack up in the mountains of Vermont was heavy this year and with the temperatures habitually below freezing, the ski resorts were able to lay down a good base on the slopes all season long. This adds up to good spring skiing, a financial bonus that makes the owners of Mount Merino, and every other ski resort, exultant.

Which is why there are still folks “from away” wandering into the Crow Town Bakery from time to time.

On this particular morning, Stephen was busy at the grill, tending to pancakes and scrambled eggs with equal ease, when a woman of mature size opened the front door and stood in the opening so that she could examine the bakery’s interior.

Stephen waited for a beat or two but then said: “Would you mind closing the door?”

When the woman gave him a mini-glare, Stephen’s body tightened in anticipation of a wordy altercation. What is it about “we’re paying for the heat and you’re letting it out” that some people don’t understand?

Just then, Ruth Goodwin came up behind the woman, sized her up, and rumbled “Excuse me” with just enough vocal pressure to push the woman-of-mature-size over the doorstep.

She jangled softly as she approached the counter, the bangles looped about her wrists glinting in the sunlight. Over her shoulder, Ruth raised her eyebrows in Stephen’s direction. He stayed expressionless.

“Can I sit here?” the woman asked, indicating the stools near the end of the counter. Stephen pegged her accent as North Shore-Boston sprinkled with dust from New Jersey.

“Sure.” He laid a menu, napkin and silverware on the counter at the place she’d indicated, taking care not to notice (as she perched herself on a stool) that she left no space for anyone else to sit on either side of her.

“Coffee,” she barked as she pulled an oversized cell phone from her bag. “Two eggs, over easy, home fries, sausage, and toast. Lots of sausage and lots of toast.”

Her voice carried to the far reaches of the bakery. Ruth Goodwin, who had settled herself at a table with Stephen’s mother-in-law, Edie Wolfe, raised her head with interest. Ruth enjoyed collecting what she called “people’s singularities,” weaving the details of facial expression and speech into stories she’d tell later at the post office, her quilt guild meetings, or in the aisles of Cooper’s General Store.

She watched carefully as Stephen turned back to his griddle. When he raised his spatula like a baton, Ruth elbowed Edie and nodded in the direction of the counter.

The woman of mature size jabbed her finger at her phone, her eyebrows squeezed together in frustration. Then she turned the instrument to her ear, listened for a moment, sighed loudly, and then repeated the ritual. Again and again and again.

Stephen slid her breakfast along the counter until it came to rest near her elbow. Hilary Talbot, everyone’s favorite waitress, refilled the woman’s cup with coffee before setting off on her rounds among the tables.

Stephen turned back to the griddle, his spatula still upraised.

The woman finally stopped torturing her phone to settle in for what looked like an extended chat. But before she did, she maneuvered her fork under one of Stephen’s perfectly cooked eggs, hefted it into the air, and slid the whole thing into her mouth.

“Hello! Hello!” she said loudly. Or at least that’s what her stealthy listeners assumed she said. What they heard was “heh-roo, heh-roo” in a voice that boomed through the diminutive bakery. The door to the kitchen cracked open and the top of Diana Bennett’s head appeared.

The woman at the counter swallowed then dabbed at her chin.

“Yeah, yeah, we left in a snowstorm. Can you believe it? A snowstorm…in April. It was only a few inches but it was like the first storm of the season, coming at the windshield in a swirl, like you’re in a tunnel. I hate that.

“No, no, there was no one clearing the snow so I couldn’t see the lines on the road. And it’s so dark up there. You’d think they’d spring for some street lights what with the condo fees they charge. I got home okay but I wasn’t pleased, I can tell you that.

“When I got in the house, I couldn’t believe my husband was just sitting there!

“So I said, ‘How come you didn’t call me to see where I was? I just drove home in a snowstorm.’ I coulda been dead on the side of the road and he would never know. Men!

“Anyway, that’s over. But we’re supposed to get more of this crap on Friday and Saturday. I’m telling you, I’m so done with this stuff. Enough, already.”

As she paused to inhale one of her pieces of buttered toast, Diana inched out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. Stephen gave up any pretense of cooking.

“What do you mean where am I?” the woman of mature size continued. “I’m in that little podunk town in Vermont that my husband likes so much. To ski.”

She now had the attention of everyone in the bakery.

“I keep telling him I wanna ditch this second home stuff but you know how he is about skiing.” The woman paused to fork up a sausage. “What do you mean you don’t know where our second home is. You were there on Thanksgiving.”

A longer pause ensued while the woman listened intently, her second egg congealing on her plate, her toast growing cold.

“What do you mean who is this? It’s Yvonne. You know, Yvonne.”

Another, even longer, pause ensued as the woman pressed the phone to her ear with great force.

“Well, who the hell are you then?” she finally yelled before slamming the phone on the bakery’s counter.

At that moment, she became aware of the silence clogging the bakery’s arteries. She turned to glare at her audience but at that very moment, every head moved in different direction and several conversations buzzed into the air at once. Diana whisked herself away, back to the sanctity of her kitchen. Stephen began to cook again. Hilary poured coffee.

The woman burped (rather loudly, if truth be told) as she rose from her place at the counter. “I want my check. I’m in a hurry.”

Stephen moved as fast as he could, struggling to keep his face expressionless.

But as soon as the bakery door closed, he turned toward the now very-attentive diners and raised his spatula.

“Repeat after me,” he said.

And they all obliged: “It takes all kinds.”


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.

 

Coffee, Crullers and Muffins

I’m sure you’ve had an eye-rolling moment or two in your life, those times when your eyeballs drift upward because you just can’t believe how obtuse another person can be.

Over at the Crow Town Bakery, Stephen Bennett has become something of an expert on what he calls “invisible eye-rolling.” But his ability to do that will be tested in tomorrow’s story.

I hope you can join us as we crack open the door of the bakery to listen in.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And you can find it any time, 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.

SH-It Takes All Kinds

Spring Rituals: A Carding Chronicle

SH-VioletsAt this point in the year, Vermonters assure themselves that winter is absolutely, finally and resolutely gone. No more snow! No more snow!

Of course, we have had snow in the middle of May.

But we don’t want to think about that.

Let’s take a tour around Carding with Ruth Goodwin as she takes in the rituals of spring, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And you can find it any time, 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.

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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 the 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 occurrence, the timid 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, her Jeep nose to nose with Gideon Brown’s truck.

They nodded at one another then leaned 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.


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.