Last week, cases of cabin fever started springing up all over Carding, Vermont. The first “victim” was Ruth Goodwin who had a sudden urge for salad and primroses, a sure sign of that indistinct itchiness that afflicts folks nearing the end of winter.
As folks mope toward the Crow Town Bakery, no one’s quite feeling the love even though it is Valentine’s Day.
Or are they?
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.
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From his perch behind the counter at the bakery he owned with his wife, Stephen Bennett was well placed to study the waves of life undulating through Carding, Vermont.
For example, he could tell you—almost to the minute—when cabin fever had started by noting the radiant color of Amos Handy’s ubiquitous Bermuda shorts. Ordinarily, the town’s favorite eccentric was content with khaki or drab olive. But as the calendar nudged its way into February, Amos changed his hue to cyan and shimmering yellow.
Stephen always wondered where he found them.
Over at Cooper’s General Store, Andy struggled to keep his shelves of produce well-stocked and the large pot of well-spiced chili in the emporium’s take-out section was always drained by the end of the day.
Over at the library, Jane Twitchell found the teens who lounged among her books rowdier and louder. And the pick-up ice hockey game on the town rink never seemed to stop.
Edie Wolfe had a nickname for all the to-doing during cabin fever time. She called it “screaming greenies.”
“We’ve all been too long without gardens and hiking and leaves on the trees,” she said. “We’ve been spending too much time inside.”
By noon on the day of this story, everyone who had drained into the bakery had a grumpy face. Folks sat in desultory circles, complaining and whining about things that none of them would have noticed if it was spring.
Diana wandered out of the Crow Town’s kitchen, her day’s baking done for the moment. She took one look around the room then sidled over toward her husband.
“It’s supposed to be a rather nice weekend,” she said in a tone calculated to carry to the occupants of the table closest to her. Two pairs of eyeballs swiveled in her direction.
“Yeah, I understand it’s going to be clear and in the low thirties,” Stephen picked up the thread of Diana’s thought. “Got anything in mind?”
“Well, we haven’t cross-country skied the loop around the lake this winter.”
“True. How would you like to make that a bit more interesting?” Stephen asked.
Some eyebrows rose among their listeners.
“Maybe. What do you suggest?”
“Whoever makes it around the loop fastest gets to sleep in on Sunday morning?”
“If you throw in a couple of muffins and a large coffee, I’ll join your race,” Amos said. “And I challenge you to race in shorts.”
“Ah, that’s no challenge,” Gideon Brown said with a laugh. “By this time in the winter, thirty degrees feels like seventy. We could go out there and play volleyball on the court at the town beach in shorts and never feel it.”
“Volleyball? That sounds like a good idea,” Stephen said. “How about volleyball on snowshoes?”
Everyone laughed at the images that Stephen’s words conjured up. But then they looked at one another in the silence that followed, and in that moment, they sensed a quickening in the room.
“Anyone know where the recreation committee stores the volleyball nets during the winter?” Gideon asked.
“Does anyone know how thick the ice is on the lake?” Ruth Goodwin said. “We could set up a curling circle close to the beach.”
“I was talking to Bob Townsend yesterday,” Gideon said. “He’s got his bob house halfway between the island and the beach and he told me the ice is a good eight inches thick all the way across.”
“How about a couple of campfires so the kids can toast marshmallows and make s’mores?” Edie suggested.
Ruth cupped her bowl of salad in both hands. “We could make a tent city for the littlest ones to play in. String ropes between the trees just a couple of feet off the ground and flop blankets and quilts over them to make houses and tunnels.”
Hillary Talbot, everyone’s favorite waitress, raised her now-empty coffee pot. “We could call it ‘Summer in Snow,’” she suggested.
“Let’s hear it for green,” Ruth said.
As more and more ideas poured out from the crowd, Stephen glanced over at his wife and caught her grinning back at him.
“So, do you really think you can beat me around the lake on skis?” he asked as he slid his arm around her waist.
“Yeah, I do as a matter of fact,” Diana said. “But quite frankly, I’d rather sleep in with you than without you.”
Stephen sighed. “Well, now that we’ve got this ball rolling, I think we’ve got to be there, don’t you?”
Diana’s grin spread across her face. She could barely hear Stephen because of the hubbub in the bakery. It was a good sound, solid and hopeful instead of weak and whining. She’d lived in Vermont all her life so she accepted the fact that cabin fever was real. You could see it in the strain on people’s faces as they shuffled about in their heavy coats and boots. The isolation and cold got tougher to bear for so many people. The only sure cure was action, preferably in a group, especially a group that liked to laugh.
Suddenly she straightened up. “Hey folks, does anyone have any ideas on how we could construct a temporary warming hut so that we can get the older folks out of their houses so they can watch? I mean, how many times do you get to watch people play volleyball on snowshoes wearing shorts?”
Heads turned toward Amos Handy. There were lots of very skilled folks in Carding but when it came to rummaging and making do, no one had a patch on Amos. He was renowned for his ability to make splendid somethings out of nothing.
His fingers were already moving his beard around, smoothing it and stroking it, a sure sign that an idea was cooking in his head like an egg on Stephen’s griddle.
“It’ll have to have windows and something for a door,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of big replacement windows stored at my house that could do, I think.”
“We can use lawn chairs for seating,” Edie said.
“I’ll bring in the portable heaters that we use on the job site,” Gideon said.
“Okay,” Ruth said, looking up at the clock. “Today’s Thursday which means we’ve only got the rest of today and tomorrow to get this set up. Let’s hustle.”
And just like that, the people of Carding found a cure for their cabin fever.
By the way, Diana did beat Stephen around the lake on skis, but just barely. She enjoyed sleeping in, especially when her husband woke up beside her.
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.