Ice Out: A Carding Chronicle

sh-ice outMy family has lived on a river in Vermont for 25 years. It’s always interesting, always changing, different this afternoon than it was this morning.

Over the course of a winter, ice can form, melt, float away, and re-form several times. But generally, by this time of year, it’s pretty well settled, coagulated in thick slabs along the banks, sometimes all the way across.

It is very rare indeed that the ice just melts, not on a river. Most often, the water rises because of the snow melt or we get a sizable rainstorm. The ice breaks up and then, on some invisible signal, it decides to flow downstream all at the same time.

It’s ice out time on the Corvus River as it flows through Carding, Vermont and you’re invited to watch.

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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Agnes Findley sighed as she joined the stop-and-go traffic heading out of Montpelier, Vermont’s capital city. You can’t tell what color car anyone is driving because they’re all coated with the same gray dirt. And there’s no such thing as a good road, either, because they all buck and weave with frost heaves like the ocean in a heavy swell. One second, your car’s up in the air. The next second, it’s bottoming out in a dip.

She sat through two red lights, her fingers drumming a slow-motion tattoo on her steering wheel, silently cursing the traffic. Then she laughed at herself, remembering the eternal car crawls of her former commute in Boston. Back then, a ten-mile journey could and did take an hour or more. In Vermont, her commute from Montpelier consisted of two turns, two sets of lights, and then a nonstop ride all the way home.

“Piece of cake,” she murmured.

A brown UPS truck turned south on Route 14 just ahead of Agnes, and she soon found herself fascinated by the sharp sway of its cargo box as it negotiated the curls and dips of the frost-heaved road. Charlie’s right, she thought, the roads look like strips of fried bacon this time of year. I wonder how they keep the boxes on the shelves inside those trucks.

She slowed to negotiate a tight S-curve and glanced to the west where the sun was making itself comfortable for the coming night. 

“Come on,” she pleaded. “Just a few more minutes of light. You can do it.”

As the light shifted from light gray to something darker, Agnes geared down again for the turn to Carding, keeping a sharp lookout for the tire-eating pothole at the corner of the Route 37 bridge. 

What was it about that particular spot in the road that made it so fragile? Every spring, the town road crew patched, mended, and repaired the same tire-eating spot to no avail. One year, they’d even hired an engineering firm to figure out how to reconfigure that whole stretch of road in order to overcome the infamous pothole. 

But the chasm reappeared every year as the days grew longer.

Her pulse rose a notch when she spotted a knot of people coagulated in the small park-and-ride overlooking the river. 

“Agnes,” someone called as she got out of her car. “You’re just in time.”

She hustled to claim a spot at the guardrails that kept the unwary and careless from sliding off the road into the Corvus River. The love-of-her-life, Charlie Cooper, reached out to draw her near. 

“What’s the report from upstream?” she asked as she turned up her coat’s collar. The air always held a special chill by the river.

“The ice has just started to move in Royalton,” old Henry Wood said, his phone pressed to his ear. “My cousin Nellie says she can hear the big chunks knocking against one another.” 

He looked down at the Corvus where rivulets of pewter-colored water flowed over the ice. He shook his head. “It hasn’t been that cold this year so my guess is that the ice is no more than a few inches thick. Probably won’t be much of a runoff.”

The sun gave the clutch of Carding-ites a final salute as it slid behind the hills to the southwest. Everyone glanced in its direction in silent salutation. 

“Heh, think about it. Three months from now, we’ll be complaining about the heat,” Henry said, and the sun watchers laughed.

Just then, a low roar in the distance hushed the crowd. Every head turned to look upstream toward a bend in the river. The earth rumbled beneath their feet. The crowd tensed.

Wil Bennett leaned as far over the guard rails as he could, pointing his video camera upstream. The rumble moved up a decibel level. The dusk thickened. All eyes strained to see in the gloom.

“Here it comes!” Wil yelled.

Ice shards careened around the bend. The water level rose rapidly, covering the pastoral landscape of the winter river in the span of just a few heartbeats. The roaring runoff jumped the bank at a low spot in the land just before the park-and-ride, pushing car-sized chunks up close to the road.

Agnes felt the guard rail shudder in her hands. Henry was right. The snow-topped chunks of ice were only six to eight inches thick but that did not diminish the river’s display of power.

“It’s hitting the falls,” Wil yelled, and they all relished the crash as the frozen slurry plummeted thirty feet into Half Moon Lake.

The thrill quickly turned to anxiety and everyone drew back at the same time, suddenly aware of how flimsy metal guardrails were in the face of such fury.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” Charlie yelled over the roar, “and this never fails to amaze me. Why is that?”

“I can’t answer for anyone else,” Agnes said, “but I like to see human beings humbled now and again. Ice outs, thunderstorms, blizzards, they remind us of our place in the world. And it’s not on the top of the food chain. That’s just a silly illusion.”

Charlie chuckled. “My, you are feeling philosophical today, my dear. How did things go in Montpelier?”

Agnes sighed. She volunteered her legal skills for a consortium of environmental nonprofits, lobbying on their behalf at the statehouse. She squeezed his hand. “Not as well as I hoped but not as bad as I feared. I’m afraid it was all very human. That’s another reason why I enjoy this.”

She gestured at the rampaging river. “It reminds me why it’s important to keep on fighting.”


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.

Ice Out

My family has lived on a river in Vermont for 25 years. It’s always interesting, always changing, different this afternoon than it was this morning.

Over the course of a winter, ice can form, melt, float away, and re-form several times. But generally, by this time of year, it’s pretty well settled, coagulated in thick slabs along the banks, sometimes all the way across.

It is very rare indeed that the ice just melts, not on a river. Most often, the water rises because of the snow melt or we get a sizable rainstorm. The ice breaks up and then, on some invisible signal, it decides to flow downstream all at the same time.

It’s ice out time on the Corvus River as it flows through Carding, Vermont. Stop by for tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle to enjoy this annual display of nature’s ferocity.
sh-ice out

The Finer Points of Hot Chocolate: A Carding Chronicle

sh-hot chocolate2Friends of mine have an annual party featuring what they contend are the three most important food groups—garlic, butter and chocolate.

Of these, I would say that chocolate reigns supreme on the menus of folks in Carding, especially the hot, drinkable kind.

That’s where the agreement begins and ends because, as you will find out, everyone likes their hot chocolate in their very own way.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But 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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Once the holidays are over, Andy Cooper doesn’t bother putting the cocoa mixes on sale any more because so many folks in Carding fill each other’s stockings with cans from Lake Champlain Chocolate, the regional favorite. Not only does everyone have their personal pet flavor—from peppermint to mocha, spicy aztec or traditional—every hot chocolate lover has her or his personal variation on the preparation and drinking thereof.

Andy just shakes his head when he hears the annual debate getting stirred up—literally—over in the general store’s coffee corner. 

“What’s to discuss about cocoa?” he asked. “You just heat up milk, stir in the cocoa mix and drink.”

“Milk?” Ruth Goodwin could hardly keep the disdain out of her voice. “Just milk?”

“Well, I use whole milk, not any of that other stuff,” Andy insisted. He was not in favor of milk that advertised itself as a percentage of anything. And even though he would concede—if pressed—that there are folks who are lactose intolerant, the idea of using soy or almonds for milk made him bilious.

“What do you put on top?” Ruth went on. “Marshmallows? Whipped cream?”

“Hmph, I don’t see any need to get all fancy about it,” Andy said. “Just milk and hot chocolate—the traditional kind, no flavorings—is all you need.”

Of course, Carding being Carding, Andy’s opinion hardly quelled the controversy. Every time he walked by the coffee corner, one local cocoa aficionado or another would be holding forth on the finer points of hot chocolate.

“Water? Instead of milk?” he heard Agnes Findley gasp one day. “You use water to make cocoa? Why on earth would you do that?”

“I come from a big family,” Skitch Clavelle explained. He was an old friend of Andy’s and a renowned swap artist. Or at least that’s what he called himself. Skitch owned a warehouse full of used machinery of all sorts in Barre (he called it the Vermont Commercial Machinery Exchange) where he bought, sold, and collected all things mechanical from horse-drawn plows to bottlers to industrial sewing machines to parts from the first computers made at the former IBM plant near Burlington.

“What does being part of a big family have to do with making cocoa with water?” Agnes asked.

“Well, I have four brothers and between us, we could put down a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a gallon of milk in one after-school snack,” Skitch explained. “So for my mother, it was a matter of economics. She mixed the cocoa mix—we only had Nestle Quick back then—with water and then added some milk, much like you add it to coffee. I got used to it that way and now if I drink cocoa made with all milk, it seems too thick to me.”

Agnes nodded. The economic argument made sense to her.

“Besides, I like to add a little coffee to my afternoon cocoa,” Skitch continued, demonstrating his technique to his avid audience. “I’ve been trying to cut back on my caffeine and I find this helps.”

“Yes, mocha,” Edie Wolfe said in an appreciative voice. “That’s my favorite. Tell me, have you ever added eggnog to your cocoa? I always treat myself to a quart or two of Benson’s Special Nogg when it comes into the store, and I make it go a bit further by adding it to coffee or cocoa.”

Skitch grinned. “I’m gonna have to make a note of that.”

But Ruth was having none of it. “You know, you are missing the whole point of hot chocolate if you continue to drink the powdered stuff,” she said. She took a bar of 70 percent cocoa from her pocket and followed it with a bar of high quality of milk chocolate.

Everyone in the coffee corner perked up with interest.

Andy crossed his arms over his chest. “Ruth, just what are your intentions here?”

“Can I use the kitchen in your break room?” she asked.

“Be my guest.”

“We’ll need a grater and some cinnamon too,” Ruth said. “I promise this will be the ultimate hot chocolate, Andy. And if you like it, you can put all the ingredients on sale and give out my recipe.”

“You’re on.”

It didn’t take long for a small but spirited crowd to shoehorn itself into the small break room at the rear of Cooper’s General Store and Emporium. Ruth’s audience murmured and remarked as she grated, measured, melted, poured and heated two kinds of chocolate into two cups of whole milk.

“Now, the piéce de resistance is this,” Ruth explained as she pinched a bit of salt between two fingers. “You want just a little bit of this and then a little bit of this.” She lifted some cinnamon from a jar on the table and sprinkled it into the pan. “If you add too much, you’ll dull the chocolate taste.”

The dark liquid in the pot steamed as Ruth portioned it out into small cups. Skitch passed them out among the crowd.

Everybody sniffed or swirled according to their own peculiar style and then the tasting began.

“Oh my,” Agnes said, smacking her lips.

Skitch’s eyebrows moved toward his non-existent hairline. “I wouldn’t want to drink this all the time but damn, that sure is wonderful.”

Ruth was as good as her word and gave her recipe for Ultimate Hot Chocolate to Andy. Copies of it appeared on a special shelf in the store the next day alongside a display of 70 percent cocoa and bars of the best milk chocolate Andy could find.

That didn’t quell the cocoa debate, of course, but Andy did notice that he had a hard time keeping those two types of chocolate in stock.

If you’d like to try a cup (or two or three) of Ruth Goodwin’s Ultimate Hot Chocolate for yourself, here’s the recipe.

Ruth Goodwin’s Ultimate Hot Chocolate

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup 70 percent chocolate, grated or finely chopped

1/4 cup high quality milk chocolate

1/4 cup light cream or half-and-half

a small pinch of salt

a small pinch of cinnamon

Heat 1/2 cup of the milk (do not boil) and stir in both chocolates until they are completely melted. Whisk in the remaining milk and cream or half-and-half. Add salt and cinnamon while stirring. Remove from heat, pour and enjoy (with friends, preferably).
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Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

The Finer Points of Hot Chocolate

Friends of mine have an annual party featuring what they contend are the three most important food groups—garlic, butter and chocolate.

Of these, I would say that chocolate reigns supreme on the menus of folks in Carding, especially the hot, drinkable kind.

That’s where the agreement begins and ends because, as you will find out, everyone likes their hot chocolate in their very own way.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But 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.

Hope you can stop by tomorrow for a cup of hot chocolate, a good story, and a recipe.

sh-hot chocolate2

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.