Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

Love’s Labor: Part Two

Goldenrod 10 for webLast week in Love’s Labor: Part One, we learned that Faye Bennett’s interest in Brian Lambert, one of her brother Wil’s best friends, is reciprocated. That’s a happy circumstance for Faye and Brian.

But what’s happened to the great friendship between Faye and Suzanna Owens now that Faye finds herself in the midst of her first love?

It must be Thursday and time for another edition of the Carding Chronicles. So read on, enjoy, and then please do your part to boost tourism in Carding by sharing this story with your friends. Thanks!


Botanists estimate there are 140 species of solidago, or what we call goldenrod, in the world. Many of them have settled in New England.

This gorgeous yellow-flowered plant covers our open fields, lines our roadways and paths, and gives bees something to do right into some of the last days of fall.

In Carding, every teacher and school kid watches for the first appearance of goldenrod (the earliest varieties bloom the first week of August) because that means the period of summer dormancy is drawing to a close, and the flyers in the newspapers are screaming about “Back to School” sales. So it’s not unusual to see the energy at the town beach pick up, the number of local hikers on the Appalachian Trail grow, and the carnival rides get crowded at the local fairs.

It seems like everyone’s trying to cram as many moments at they can of summer’s freedom into the time left before heading back to school.

Ruth Goodwin, Carding’s mail carrier and woman-about-town, knows that as well as anyone. As she makes her rounds, she sees folks scrambling to finish the paint job on the garage, get wood stacked, and hustle down to the river to catch some of the bass and trout that have been fattening up since April.

So she didn’t understand why Suzanna Owens was spending a fine sunny day in the post office helping her Uncle Ted sort mail.

Suzanna, all of fifteen but looking like more like twelve, could be a skittish kid, often not responding to direct offers of kindness. Given the girl’s background—a derelict mother, an early life of random moves, sketchy schooling, and periods of abandonment—Ruth could easily understand that.

But that didn’t explain the girl’s presence in the post office.

“Hey Suzanna, nice to see ya,” Ruth ventured. Ted looked up from the pile of junk mail in his hands, relief clearly visible in his eyes.

“Yeah. Hey Ruth,” the girl sighed, and Ruth caught the sound of tears in her voice.

“Have you been waiting for me?” she asked.

“What? No.” Suzanna looked confused. “I don’t think so. Why would I do that?”

“Well, I figured you might be needing a ride up to the Tennyson farm,” Ruth said.

“Why? What’s up at the Tennyson farm?”

“They’re making plans for the corn maze,” Ruth said. “Didn’t you go to that with Faye last year?”

“Hmph, yeah, back when Faye had time for me,” Suzanna muttered. “Why would I want to go up there?”

Ruth glanced at the girl’s uncle, and Ted emphatically nodded his head. So the stories are true, Ruth thought, Faye Bennett does have a boyfriend. Aloud she said: “Well, Lee and Chris Tennyson rely on a crew from the high school to lay out the mazes, and that usually starts about now. Would you like to hitch a ride with me to check it out?”

Suzanna swiveled her eyes toward her uncle, looking for guidance.

“I used to do it for Lee’s father, back when I was in high school,” Ted said. “It was a lot of fun. We used to have different scenes set up in the maze, and one year, I played Dracula rising up from his coffin. I must have done a hundred sit-ups in one night.” He smacked his belly. “I was a lot more fit in those days.”

Suzanna dropped the pile of mail she was pretending to sort, jammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans, mumbled “Yeah, okay. I’ll go,” and scuffed her feet all the way out to Ruth’s Jeep.

As she turned to follow the girl, Ruth made the universal sign of “telephone call” to Ted while pointing in the general direction of the Tennyson farm. Ted nodded, and slid his cell phone out of his pocket.

No matter how hard Ruth tried to pry more than single word answers out of Suzanna, the girl stayed resolutely unresponsive, her eyes averted, her head bobbing in time to the dips and sways of the dirt road that led up to the Tennysons’ hundred-acre spread at the top of Belmont Hill.

About halfway to the farm, Ruth suddenly realized that her companion was grieving. Being a woman of direct action, her mouth was open before her mind was fully engaged. “Boyfriends are tough,” she said.

Suzanna started. “What?”

Ruth took a deep breath, and plunged on. “I remember when I was in high school, and my best friend got interested in boys,” she said. “I wasn’t ready yet, I realize that now, so I didn’t understand why she wanted to hang out with Jerry Hastings instead of me. I thought he was kinda dumb.”

Suzanna sighed. “Brian Lambert’s not dumb. He’s nice, actually.”

“So you can’t hate him,” Ruth said, pulling into the Tennyson farmyard, praying that the “Maze Gang” would really be there. “That makes it harder.”

“Did you hate Jerry Hastings?”

“At first I did,” Ruth said. “I was lonely without my friend. We did everything together, and I missed her.”

The farmyard was empty, and Ruth’s heart sank. This wasn’t going well at all. But then she heard hammering and talking and laughing in the distance.

“What was her name, your friend, that is?” Suzanna asked as she opened the Jeep’s door.

“Nancy. She lives in Arkansas now.” Ruth cocked her head to listen. “Sounds like something’s going on in the barn.”

“What happened to her? Did she stay with that guy?”

“Yeah, unfortunately. He turned out to be as dumb as I thought he was. Left her with two kids and a mortgage and a junk car,” Ruth said.

Suzanna sighed as she looked around. “I wouldn’t wish that on Faye.”

Ruth reached out and squeezed her hand. “I know. Listen, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, one that might not make any sense to you right now but I want you to remember it. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“After I got over being mad, Nancy and I were friends again,” Ruth said. “In fact, we still talk about once a week, and we still make each other laugh. There’s nothing in the world like a good friendship between women. We understand one another in ways that guys just don’t.”

Suzanna studied the scuffed toes of her sneakers. “Do you think Faye and I are like you and Nancy?”

Ruth nodded. “Yeah. I do. Look, I’m not trying to tell you that everything’s going to go back to the way it was before Brian Lambert showed up. You and Faye are growing into women together, and that’s not the same as being girls together. You’re both going to branch out to have your own experiences, and that’s the way it should be. ”

She leaned forward to grip the girl’s shoulders. “But you’re both going to need someone to share that with, someone to help you keep your head on straight when you think you’re losing yours And that’s really important. So don’t give up on Faye, okay?”

Suddenly Faye’s brother Wil appeared in the barn door, and Suzanna’s head came up, a smile hovering in the corners of her mouth. Wil waved, and halloed, beckoning them closer. As Ruth watched, Suzanna reacted like a dry plant getting water.

“So, I guess I’ll leave you here,” Ruth said. “Is that all right?”

Suddenly, Suzanna whirled around, and hugged the older woman. “You know, you were my first friend when I came to Carding, and I’ve never forgotten that. Thank you,” she said. And then she was gone.


 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 along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other green peak moments from Vermont.

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

 

 

Love’s Labor: Part One

Eagle 2 smaller for webThe Carding Chronicles are weekly short stories about the small town in Vermont (population 3,700) that no one seems to be able to find on a map.

Please share this story with your friends. And if you subscribe, you’ll find a Chronicle in your inbox every Thursday.

Enjoy!


“Faye? What are you doing up so early?” Diana Bennett asked as she stumbled out of her bedroom, rubbing her eyes.

“Mom, you should see your hair!” Faye said.

Diana reached up to find an odd bristle on the side of her head, just above her ear. “Do I look like a cockatoo?” she asked.

“More like a crazed rooster.” Faye turned her attentional back to the thick layer of peanut butter she was spreading on bread slices  laid out on the kitchen counter. “I’m headed over to the beach to see if the bald eagle shows up to roost on Belmont Island again.”

Diana silently counted the slices of bread. “And you need three sandwiches for that? Not that I mind but you don’t normally eat that much.”

Suddenly, Faye’s face felt quite warm, and she turned it away from her mother’s view. A tiny smile flickered over Diana’s lips. Aha, so it’s a boy, she thought. This should be interesting.

“Um, some other kids might be coming along so I wanted to have something to share,” Faye said quickly, dipping a spoon into a pot of strawberry jam and smoothing it over the peanut butter. “We’re all bringing something.”

“Uh huh. And how are you getting down to the beach? Is Wil taking you?”

“Hmph, I don’t think so, Mom.” Faye shook her head. “If it’s not baseball or basketball or football, Wil doesn’t know anything about it. This is birds, not balls.”

“So how are you getting to the beach?” Diana leaned against the wall. It wasn’t that she like to watch her daughter squirm but it was only a month ago that Faye had declared her undying devotion to the idea of never letting “any boy, ever” into her life.

“Um, Brian Lambert’s picking me up.” Faye made quite a show of cleaning up after herself. “You’ve met him. He’s Wendy’s older brother.”

“Wasn’t he on the basketball team last year?” Diana asked. “And he’s a friend of Wil’s, right?”

“Yeah, he and Wil hang out but Brian also likes birds, and he’s got these really cool binoculars, and he’s already showed me how to tell the difference between a hawk and an eagle when they’re way up in the sky.” Faye took a deep breath, and turned her still-burning face toward her mother. “Please don’t tell Wil. He’ll tease me, and I just don’t want to hear it. It’s just bird watching.”

Diana strolled into the kitchen, tilted her daughter’s face up, and kissed her on the forehead. “Not a word. Promise,” she whispered. “But in the future, tell me where you’re going, and who with, okay? I don’t need to know all your business but you know how I worry. Deal?”

Faye nodded. “Thanks, Mom. Deal.” She started piling sandwiches into a small cooler.

“Do you want some cookies to go with those?” Diana asked.

“I thought they were all gone,” Faye said. “They just disappeared out of the bakery after that bus showed up yesterday.”

Diana opened a cupboard door. “What’s the sense of being a baker if you don’t have a stash of chocolate chip cookies in case of emergency. Help yourself.”

Faye gave her mother a quick hug, grabbed a handful of cookies, and slid out the door without another sound.

Diana yawned, stretched her arms above her head then turned to go back to bed. The alarm would go off soon enough so there wasn’t a moment to lose.

“Was that Faye?” Stephen asked sleepily as Diana snuggled up close. “I thought I heard her voice.”

“Yep.”

“Where’s she going this time of the morning?”

“First date.”

“What?” Stephen didn’t sound so sleepy any more. “Are you serious?”

“Quite serious,” Diana said, “and you can’t say a word to Wil, though I figure he’s going to find out soon enough because it’s his friend Brian.”

“But I thought…?”

“That your daughter was going to be a nun? Never have a boy in her life? Shun all male company forever?” Diana asked.

“Well, that’s what she told us, and not too long ago,” Stephen said.

“Hmmm, that’s what they always say…just before it happens,” Diana reached up her face for a kiss, and Stephen obliged. “They’re headed down to the beach to see if that eagle shows up again.”

“Mmm, do you think I should get in the car and follow them, just in case?” Stephen asked.

“No.” Diana laughed. “I think you’re going to stay right here, and let Faye figure this out on her own.”

……………

Faye’s nerves had reached the jangling point by the time she slid into the passenger seat of Brian’s car. This is totally stupid, she chided herself. Brian and I have been hanging out for a while now, and we never have a hard time talking to each other. So why is my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth?

Brian glanced over at her, still trying to figure out if this was a good idea or not. He liked Faye. He liked her a lot, in fact. But she was Wil’s sister. What if she didn’t like him? What if Wil didn’t want him anywhere near Faye? What if everything that came out of his mouth was completely stupid?

And why was his tongue suddenly glued to the roof of his mouth?

He struggled against the thick silence between them for a moment before he finally blurted: “I brought stuff to drink.”

“Good thing,” Faye said, wishing her face would cool down. “I think I put way too much peanut butter on the sandwiches so we’re going to need it.”

“Did you…does your…I mean, Wil…?”

Faye shook her head. “Wil’s still in bed. My Mom got up so I didn’t need to leave a note. She gave us some cookies out of her stash.”

Brian concentrated more than he needed to on the turn down Beach Road. “I mean, there’s no reason not to tell Wil, you know.”

“I know,” Faye said. “But he doesn’t tell me everything so it’s okay.”

The two of them sighed at the same moment, glanced at each other, and then giggled as Brian parked the car near the path to the local diving rocks. Once there, they’d be able to see the dead cottonwood on Belmont Island, the tree that had become the favorite roost of a bald eagle who was new to the Carding neighborhood.

“I brought a couple of blankets, the ones my folks use when we go camping,” Brian said as he extracted stuff from his trunk. “I figured it will be cold down by the water.”

Faye nodded, and noticed that her heart rate rose a little at the mention of the word blanket. This is really happening, she told herself. I’m down here at the beach when there’s nobody else around with a boy who’s got blankets. She wanted to look at Brian, to indulge herself in enjoying the curve of his cheek and the way his eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled. But she felt quite shy, a rather rare emotion in Faye’s experience.

“What do you think the odds are of seeing the eagle?” she asked as they trekked off down the path. But Brian didn’t bother to answer because the trees were suddenly filled with the clatter of crows warning of an intruder. He looked at Faye, and they grinned at one another.

“It’s got to be here now,” he said, grabbing her hand and quickening his pace over the slippery rocks. “Crows don’t make that much noise just because we show up.”

Faye followed, quite breathless. Brian’s hand was warm and strong, and she liked the way her fingers felt wrapped in his. Did he realize what he had done or was this just a way to hurry her along to their birdwatching post?

He pulled up at the edge of the trees, fixing his eyes on the stark, white tree just visible in the dusky light. But he had a difficult time concentrating because Faye had not pulled her hand away when he took it. Now that she was standing so close, would she notice how hard his heart was beating? And if so, would she guess why?

“Do you see anything?” Faye whispered, moving up close to his side. They were both vividly aware of the shared warmth of their arms touching one another’s from shoulder to elbow.

“I think so,” Brian said, pointing with the hand he was willing to move. “I think that white spot might be the bird’s head.”

“Where?”

Brian took a deep breath, and looped his arm over her shoulders, nudging Faye over until she stood in front of him. He slowly lowered his head until it was at the same height as hers. Their cheeks brushed. Neither one of them moved, and if you’d asked Faye in that moment, she would have sworn that neither one of them breathed.

He pointed again, and Faye carefully followed the trajectory of his finger. “What do you think?” Brian whispered, and she felt his words whisper over her neck. Goose bumps tingled down her back, and she involuntarily shivered.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“A little, yeah. Do you think that we could…um…?”

“Oh sure.” Brian plucked a blue and white blanket from the pile of stuff at their feet, fluffed it open but then stopped. The two of them stared at one another then at the blanket. “Um, you can take this one,” he said. “I brought two.”

Okay, Faye thought, this is it. He either likes me or he doesn’t. She raised her head, and looked Brian straight in the eye. “Why don’t we put the other one on the ground so we have something to sit on?” she suggested. “We can share this one to keep warm, if that’s all right with you.”

Brian started a little but then grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I think…I think sharing would be perfect.”


 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 along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery, and other Vermont moments.

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

Roy

Blueberries-July 31-2016 for web
Hi folks—we’re on the dark side of the moon today so it’s time for another foray into Carding, Vermont.

I ran into some friends at a local store the other day, and they asked about getting a copy of my latest novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. I told them there’s going to be a book sale here this month because I’ve got to make room on my shelves—for more books, of course.

So watch this space, as the marketers like to say! And now on to Carding where it’s blueberry picking season.


The sun was still thinking about getting up when Christine Tennyson padded into the big barn in her rubber boots. She loved the solitude of early morning, the time of day that’s so full of peace and promise.

She knew the animals were aware of her presence—the hens dozing in their coop, the goats stirring in their hay beds, the cats patrolling for mice among the rafters—but they made no demands on her. Later, when the sun got a bit higher, Houdini would rouse his harem of nannies and their kids, and demand that someone open the barnyard gate so he could take them up to his favorite summertime pasture to feast on Queen Ann’s lace and early goldenrod. Then, after a late breakfast, the flock would retire to the shady spots at the edge of the field to wait out the heat of the afternoon before descending to sleep in the barn again.

Christine was glad the “Alpha Billy,” as she liked to call the obstreperous goat, had decided to keep his ladies and their children in the barn at night. She guessed that her husband, Lee, wasn’t the only one who’d heard the coyotes up in the woods.

Still clutching her large cup of honeyed tea, she climbed the open steps to the loft where they stored the farm’s sales paraphernalia—signs, cash boxes, wooden tables, event tents, canvas aprons, and the like. The whole family—Christine, Lee, and their two boys, Scott and Little Freddie—had spent all of yesterday dragging out the “You-Pick Blueberries” sign to the large berry orchard, setting up tables under their event tent, and stacking white picking buckets.

Being five months pregnant—Christine was sure it was a little girl this time—she’d been grateful for the help of Wil Bennett and his friends. Now heading into his senior year of high school, Wil showed signs of loving the farming life, and Christine wondered how his parents would feel about that. No one ever got rich running a small farm.

But it was a satisfying life.

She paused at the top of the stairs to let her eyes adjust to the dusky light that filtered through the chinks in the walls. She felt a little bad that she hadn’t remembered the scarecrow until this morning, and even though the idea was a bit silly, she hoped that Roy’s feelings weren’t hurt.

He was named Roy for Roy Rogers because that’s how old the scarecrow was. Its first cowboy hat was long gone, and Christine had finally replaced its flannel shirt last year. But the stuffed blue jeans were original, the final resting place for a pair worn by Lee’s Uncle Cedric from when he was a teenager.

Toeing her way toward the old trunk against the back wall, Christine heard a purr, and the boss cat, Big Yeller, jumped up on an old chair to ask for a back scratch. She was happy to comply, scooping the cat up to hold him against her chest. There was nothing quite like the sensation of a deep purr, and the tabby was happy to comply with Christine’s silent request.

She felt her baby roll over, obviously intrigued by the sensation, and the three of them took a moment to enjoy the pleasure together. Then the cat squirmed—he’d had enough—and Christine reached him down to the floor.

“Okay,” she whispered to the growing light, “let’s see how Roy fared over the winter.”

The trunk’s lid creaked as she pulled it up, raising a cloud of dust. She let it settle, and then hooked her hands under the scarecrow’s  arms. Roy’s head bobbled—he needed more stuffing—but his embroidered smile was intact. Christine carefully prodded its large black-button eyes to make sure they were secure, and one popped off in her hand.

“Well, if that’s the only thing you need, that’s not bad,” she told Roy.

“Chris, are you in here?” It was Lee, standing in the open barn door.

“Upstairs.”

His boots clattered across the floor, and then the face she loved more than any other popped up in the stairway’s opening. “What in the world are you…? Oh, Roy. Of course.”

“Can’t start the blueberry season without him,” Christine said as she handed the scarecrow off to her husband.

“Hmph, yeah, the birds would have to find another perch,” Lee said.

“Hey, hey, don’t say that,” Chris said. “You and I both know that’s not his job.” Her hand reached out to find the railing before she set foot on the steps. They were worn and irregular, and she knew Lee was watching to make sure she didn’t fall.

When they reached the barnyard, Lee stopped to take a close look at the aged scarecrow. “You have to admit that us Tennysons have some strange family heirlooms,” he said. “Hey, one of his eyes is missing.”

“In my pocket,” Christine said. “Why don’t you put him in the truck while I go get a needle and thread?”

Lee smiled at her then hoisted the bobble-headed Roy over his shoulder. Christine turned toward the house but then her head whipped around. It must have been a trick of the light but she swore that scarecrow had winked at her.

She knew all about the Tennyson family’s myths and legends, about magical Christmas trees and the like. There was something about the old family farm that just seemed to inspire tales of the bewitching sort. But a winking scarecrow? Seriously?

But then one of Roy’s arms rose higher than the other, and he waved at her. There was no denying it. Christine felt a pleasant chill slither over her shoulders, and she glanced around expecting…what?

Houdini bleated in the distance, and she heard the mutter of hens rising from their evening roosts. Christine drew in a rather large amount of the cool morning air, and laughed at herself.

“Okay then,” she said as she fingered the button in her pocket. “Winking scarecrows it is.”


 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find four short stories in your inbox every month, one on the full moon, one on the new moon, and one each at the waxing and waning half-moons. In between, there will be other moments to share.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please encourage your friends to subscribe to this website, and talk about them on social media. 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 enjoy Carding talk and write about them, 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

Tom’s Lawn

Joe Pye-closeup-7-19-2016 for web 2Hi folks–The waning half-moon rises precisely at 7 p.m. tonight which means it’s time for another Carding Chronicle.

Please keep your eye on this space for an upcoming book sale because I have some inventory that I want to share with you! Carding books make great gifts.

Enjoy!


Lydie Talbot glared at the dry-as-a-bone sky as she finished her cup of tea. Dry, dry, dry, dry—she couldn’t remember such a dry summer.

Like every other gardener in Carding, she yearned to hear the drip-drip-drip of rain from her roof. Everyone felt the unnaturalness of it. Even the kids racing around on the beach at Half Moon Lake loving the sunshine, were unsettled by the summer’s aridity.

Lydie leaned forward to rest her elbows on her porch railing, and inspected the browning patches in the lawn that her late husband Tom laid down so long ago. Lydie respected grass, the master of persistence, but she couldn’t abide lawns, and she’d tussled with Tom over the sod he wanted to put in front of their house.

“What sense does it make to grow something just so you can cut so it can grow?” she’d asked.

While her Tom had been many things—kind and funny and handy—her man was not a gardener, and try as he might, he never understood his wife’s objection to his vision of a green expanse. “What’s the sense of planting things so you can weed them and worry over them and tend them just so you can cut them back in the fall so they can grow again?” he’d asked her in return.

The truth, Lydie finally realized, was that Tom wanted to buy a lawn tractor from his friend Elmore Tennyson, and he knew he couldn’t justify it unless they had a lawn. So after a lot of backing-and-forthing, they’d finally compromised on a his-and-hers package—Tom got a lawn to mow in front of their cottage on Beach Road while Lydie reigned in the backyard over squash, six colors of iris, tomatoes, bee balm, daffodils, beans, and anything else she could coax from the soil.

After Tom died, Lydie treated his lawn as some sort of shrine to her beloved, and even learned how to drive the tractor so she could keep the greenery just the way Tom liked it. But after half a decade of mowing, Lydie started chipping away at the edges of Tom’s lawn, planting garden phlox close to the house, and orange day lilies close to the road.

But the mix of intentional grass and flower beds wasn’t working for her any more. Lydie’s hands and hips just weren’t what they used to be, and she found her gardening forays shortened by joints plagued by the first intimations of arthritis. She now resented the perpetual stooping and squatting and kneeling made necessary by the grass’s insistence on growing where it was not wanted.

So after she finished her gardening chores last fall, Lydie took stock of her options, and decided that come spring, the grass had to go.

As her daughters Hillary and Amy pointed out, it was always what she’d  wanted to do anyway.

The Big Green Removal Project, as her kids dubbed it, started with stockpiling newspapers in her garage over the winter, Then in early spring, Lydie took delivery of 75 bales of hay from Lee Tennyson, stacking them “just-so” along the edge of her driveway where they formed a shoulder-height wall. As soon as predictions of snow or freezing rain disappeared from the weather forecast on Dirt Road Radio, Lydie slipped into her favorite gardening boots, and started killing grass.

“It’s educational, in a way,” she’d explained to her friend Edie Wolfe. “I keep finding stuff that I never read in the newspapers as I lay them out. Or stuff I meant to cut out but never did.”

Edie Wolfe smiled. She’d always enjoyed Lydie’s perspective on life. “Doesn’t all that reading slow you down?”

Lydie nodded. “Yeah. But I’ve discovered the news loses a lot of its sting when you read it so long after it’s happened. I think the lapse of time gives you a way to really see what’s important and what’s not. I still think the comics and the crossword puzzle are the best parts.”

But Lydie’s plans had been made before the rain goddess decided to withhold her gift of water from the Vermont soil, and her method of killing grass—covering it with a four-ply layer of newspaper over which she piled a thick layer of hay—needed water to achieve its maximum effect. Without rain, she was just creating a dust bowl.

Hence her hesitation.

She sighed, and opted to hold off on her second cup of tea until later. Grabbing her clippers, she marched to the furthest reaches of Tom’s lawn to a small peninsula under a stand of boxelders next to the brook that delineated the western edge of her property.

The seasonal streamlet had long since been reduced to a wet ribbon but thanks to the dense shade of the trees, the peninsula had an entirely different ecosystem than the greater lawn. In spring, jacks-in-the-pulpit pushed their hooded heads up among the dead leaves along with painted trilliums and coltsfoot.

Lydie began to clip, dropping unwanted grass in a bucket by her side. She inched along, taking close note of the number of earthworms that silently glided out of the ground, and occasionally swatting at a gnat determined to land on her nose. She smoothed her hand over a thick patch of moss, and acknowledged the “chip-chip-chip” of a brown creeper that thought Lydie was too close to its nest.

The sun rose higher, and the small air current that had cooled her face stopped. Lydie rocked back on her heels then leaned forward to clip just a little more.

Finally, Lydie stopped at the edge of her disappearing lawn to spend time admiring the dusky pink of the Joe Pye weed that she’d nurtured in the wettest places on the edge of Tom’s lawn for so many years. She had a great admiration for plants that other gardeners called weeds, their tenacity in the face of human ignorance. In her opinion, there was far more to learn from weeds than the most delicate rose.

She eased herself down on a large stump left behind by an ash, and turned to look at her progress. By her back-of-the-envelope thinking, Lydie was about halfway to her goal of total lawn elimination. Even though she’d never voice it, she often wondered if she was being disloyal to her husband by taking away his beloved grass, and wondered if this had been a good idea.

Sniffing loudly, she stared up at the hard, dry sky. “I hope you understand,” she whispered, “because I don’t.” Then she blinked, shook her head, and then blinked again, forcing herself to breathe slowly in and out, in and out. Over time, her grief had softened into a persistent ache which Lydie figured was better than the take-your-breath-away pain of the first year.

But it never went away. And neither, she realized, did Tom.

Off in the distance, a chipmunk chattered, a pair of robins swooped over the hay wall, and the earth turned one more notch on his trip around the sun.


 Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find four short stories in your inbox every month, one on the full moon, one on the new moon, and one each at the waxing and waning half-moons. In between, there will be other moments to share.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please encourage your friends to subscribe to this website, and talk about them on social media. 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 enjoy Carding talk and write about them, 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

The Light of Water Dancing

Hi folks–The full moon rises at 6:57 p.m. today. Since I’m often inspired by benign lunacy, I decided to time the latest wave of the Carding Chronicles with the monthly phases of the moon.

Please keep your eye on this space for an upcoming book sale because I have some inventory that I’d like to share with you! As my friend Dana likes to say—Carding books make great gifts.

And now on with the story.


Turtle 3 for ChronicleVirginia Somerville sighed loudly as she stretched out on the lounge chair she’d positioned just-so on the porch of her cabin in the Carding Campgrounds. It wasn’t summer until this moment arrived—early morning with nothing to do but listen to the kingfisher cackle as he hunted around Half Moon Lake.

I have hours and hours of time, Virginia thought, with no principals, no parent-teacher conferences, no students, no grades, no tests, and no lesson plans.

In other words, the days of teacher bliss had commenced.

A turtle plopped from a log into the lake shallows as Andy Cooper slid by in his kayak. Every summer, Andy and his brother Charlie (both avid photographers) set themselves up in a friendly competition, choosing some obscure subject or another to see who could get the “best of.” This year, the subject was spiders and spider webs, the latter being visible only when wet with dew or rain. Which, of course, explained Andy’s early morning glide-by.

Virginia thought of the whole event as cameras-at-ten-paces but like most other folks in the Campgrounds, she enjoyed hearing the stories that accompanied each triumph. Everyone in Carding knew you couldn’t get anywhere near a Cooper without hearing a good story.

A shivery breeze caressed her bare feet as Virginia sipped her second cup of honeyed tea.  In spite of her efforts to the contrary, she couldn’t stop thinking about the child’s notebook sitting on her kitchen table, the one begging to be read a second time.

And then a third and a fourth.

Not now, Virginia told herself. I need the peace, the solitude, this time of no-thoughts.

The kingfisher cackled again, and Virginia saw it hook the water in a place known for its eels. She had a special fondness for the waterbirds because they looked, to her, as if they’d been made of spare parts. She hoped it had found breakfast. That thought provoked her own stomach, reminding her of the yogurt, peaches and granola waiting inside for her…along with the notebook.

She leaned her head back to watch mist rise from the lake’s surface. What was it about Tupelo Handy, she wondered. Was the girl, barely seven years old, a prodigy of some sort? Was she older than her mother let on? That wouldn’t be at all unusual for someone in the Handy family, a tribe renowned for its “different way of living.”

But Virginia rejected that possibility immediately. Tupelo (everyone called her Lo) was such a little thing, ethereal, as if she was built of more air than solid. No child that slight could be more than seven.

With another, deeper sigh, Virginia gave in to her curiosity and hunger pangs, and meandered into her tiny summer kitchen. The notebook took precedence over food. Its first few pages were filled with the girl’s drawings, mostly of the moon and stars, but then the crayon yielded to words.

“So many beings do live in trees close to our house,” Lo wrote. “I do see them from my windows, and talk with them in the Star-Time. The stories they do share are filled with rain patters and the breath of pink flowers that I do not know how to write down. But I do write the rest on this paper with green crayon because that is Their Favorite Color.”

Virginia washed the largest peach in her refrigerator, cut it into bits, and tumbled them into the bottom of a bowl. Then she scooped in some granola, and topped it all with her favorite maple yogurt. Tucking the notebook under her arm, she sauntered back out to her perch with the lakeside view.

“Last night, I did hear the Frog, the one I named Prince Jupiter Jehoshaphat Johnson. He sounds like the man who sings loudest in the church when mother does remember to bring me. The man makes booms that get all the way to the roof. The Frog does booms that makes the light dance in the water. I think it is funny and the beings and me, we do have laughs.”

Virginia closed the notebook with a snap then laid her hand on top of it. Lindsay Jeffords, Lo’s second grade teacher, had tried and (in Virginia’s opinion) abysmally failed to reach the little girl. The result was a being that Virginia called “the Tupelo-waif” who drifted around the playground at recess, reluctant to join any group doing anything.

If there was one thing that Virginia understood as a teacher, it was that the first law of group dynamics is that anything or anyone perceived as different creates unease among the members of the group. When difference is perceived, the members of the group close ranks to keep “the different” out.

Virginia, on the other hand, cherished difference mostly because she found conformity dull. So the questions was—how would she protect and fortify this little girl?

She caressed the notebook again while she watched the wind and water play with one another. It was only the first day of summer vacation, and Lo Handy was already taking up residence in her heart. Next thing you knew, there’d be back-to-school sales in the newspapers.


Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find four short stories in your inbox every month, one on the full moon, one on the new moon, and one each at the waxing and waning half-moons. In between, there will be other moments to share.

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please encourage your friends to subscribe to this website, and talk about them on social media. 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 enjoy Carding, the more I get to write and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life