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Thursdays are devoted to the Carding Chronicles, short stories and sketches about the small town (population now up to 4,100) just off Route 37 in Vermont.

But don’t bother looking for it on a map. For some reason, mapmakers can’t agree on where it’s located.

This week, it’s the latest news about a literary find that has the entire town buzzing. It seems several people claim to be the rightful heirs to the Victoria Quartermain stories.

You can read the initial news story here. And there are moreCarding Chronicles here.

And if you subscribe, each new story will appear in your inbox every week.

Here’s a sample of what’s in store for tomorrow.

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SH-White Iris 2You 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 my keyboard to your inbox 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.

In this week’s Carding Chronicle, there was a big spring cleaning event at the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts this past weekend. You’ll never guess what best friends Faye Bennett and Suzanna Owens found in the attic.

by Wil Bennett

Carding, VT—Local volunteers Faye Bennett and Suzanna Owens discovered the journals, notes, book drafts and diaries written and collected by writer Hansen Willis about the controversial early 20th century spiritualist Victoria Quartermain in the attic of the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts yesterday.

The discovery came in the midst of the “most thorough cleaning the Academy has ever received,” executive director Edie Wolfe said. “We are set to begin the last phase of our energy renovation so everything that’s ever been tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the original building is being unearthed.”

The Academy was started by two woman, Emily Willis and Kitty Wolfe, in the early 20th century in a building that now houses the school’s pottery studio. The main administration building, where the Quartermain archives were found, was the home of illustrator and artist Joseph Stillman Croft.

Croft donated the building to the Academy when he left Carding in 1930. Built before modern energy conservation methods were known, heating and cooling the Croft house has been the top line item in the Academy’s budget for decades. With a grant from the state of Vermont, assistance from the state’s energy commission, and donations from individuals, the Academy board started a three-phase program to insulate and replace windows five years ago.

The main structure of the Croft house—the lobby, his studio, several classrooms plus the original attic and basement—were left intact until two new buildings on the grounds were completed. These new buildings now house contemporary classrooms and temporary administrative offices.

“This means we can finally empty the original Croft house without disruptions to our education programs,” Wolfe explained. “And we started doing that with the biggest spring cleaning the Academy has ever seen.”

Volunteers Bennett and Owens were part of a small team assigned to the attic. “It’s really cramped up there,” Owens said. “So there was only five of us.”

The volunteers had formed something akin to an old-fashioned bucket brigade down the building’s main stairway, passing trash and treasures from hand to hand, and piling everything in the lobby for final judgement (keepers or junk) by members of the Academy board.

“We had the space empty except for a pile of trunks in a back corner,” Bennett said. “Suzanna and I picked up the smallest one on the top of the pile, and when we did, the bottom fell out. Some of it was stacks of paper tied together with ribbons, and when I saw Hansen Willis’s name on the top pages, I just started yelling.”

Every school child in Carding knows about Hansen Willis, one of the most famous American authors of the early 20th century. Hansen and his wife, Emily, first came to Carding in the 1880s, following the lead of Joseph Stillman Croft.

Several other artists and writers followed the Willises’ lead and for almost 30 years, Carding was recognized as an artists colony.

The Willis family divided their time between Carding in the warm weather months and New York City in the winter. It was in New York that Hansen met Victoria Quartermain, the most renowned and controversial spiritualist of her day.

From the 1870s until her retirement to Carding in 1911, Quartermain used what she called “her gifts” to solve cases of blackmail, fraud, corruption, and even murder. Several prominent women banded together with Quartermain to protect her from prosecution. The group called itself the White Iris Society.

Quartermain’s methods often put her at odds with the city’s police, and made her the scourge of less-than-ethical public officials and what the spiritualist liked to call “blackguard husbands.”

Hansen Willis often interviewed Quartermain for newspaper and magazine articles. Because of this, Willis was considered the authority on everything Quartermain. When the spiritualist died, she left her estate and all her papers to Hansen and his wife.

In Carding as well as in New York’s publishing circles, it was widely assumed that Hansen Willis had written several books about Quartermain’s exploits during her lifetime, and would publish them after her death. But the books never appeared and were not found among his papers when he died in 1939.

Until now.

“We have contacted the current heirs of the Willis estate about the unpublished books’ existence,” Wolfe said. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before they can be published.”

Wolfe believes that the Quartermain books may have been deliberately hidden in the Academy’s attic by the Willises. “Quartermain’s work led to the unmasking of several members of prominent families in New York at the time. She also contributed to Theodore Roosevelt’s investigation into the city’s police corruption. Over the course of her lifetime, Victoria made a lot of enemies. Hansen and Emily may have thought it was too dangerous to publish the books.”

Emily Willis was as popular a figure as her renowned husband. She was an outspoken suffragette and heiress to the American Sugar Company fortune. Like her forebears, Emily was an art collector. But unlike her parents and grandparents, Emily collected American, not European, art.

During her time in Carding, Emily added what many call “Americana” to her treasure trove—quilts, lace, woodcarvings, pottery, glassware, and furniture. Eventually, she teamed up with Kitty Wolfe, the wife of the local newspaper owner, to start a school to keep these traditional arts alive.

Today, the Carding Academy is renowned as an educational institution at the forefront of the contemporary craft movement, and students come to our town from all over the world to take classes here.


wq-cell-phoneThe folks in Carding, Vermont now live lives awash in technology. And like most folks, few are early adopters of the latest and supposedly greatest gadgets.

While Edie Wolfe comfortably uses technology for lots of tasks and has even been known to text her grandchildren on her cell phone, she’s slow to change because, well, change takes time.

And it never goes well.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont. Please share this Carding Chronicle with all of your friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.


Edie Wolfe sighed in exasperation as she walked across Carding Green. She’d left her cell phone in her coat pocket again, and now someone was interrupting the quiet of her cold morning walk with something that could have waited a few more minutes.

“I don’t have to answer it,” she muttered. “I don’t have to answer it right now.”

But the metallic chirp would not be denied. Edie grumped, grunted, and finally managed to grip the phone’s outside edge with the tips of her gloves in order to extract it from her pocket. But as soon as it was free, the phone took off like a just-released bird, diving corner-first onto the sidewalk where it broke into three pieces.

“Damn.” Edie loaded the curse with all the invective she usually reserved for weeds in her garden. “Damn, damn, damn.”

She scooped up the plastic bits, admired the crystalline pattern of her phone’s shattered screen, and then trudged toward the Crow Town Bakery to find her grandson, Wil.

She didn’t have to utter a word of explanation as she spread the wreckage out in front of him. Wil had been urging her to upgrade for quite some time. “I want just what I had,” she told him.

Wil’s thumbs froze in place over his cell phone’s screen. “Um, I don’t think they make that kind of phone anymore, Gram,” he said, giving the wreckage a chin jut.

“Really? But it’s not that old.” Edie sighed. “Okay but keep it simple. I don’t need any of those bells and whistles. I wouldn’t know how to use them, and…” she raised a hand to stop Wil’s protests, “I don’t have any reason to learn. What I had worked fine for me, and that’s all I care about. I’m not here to serve the needs of technology. It’s supposed to serve mine, remember?”

“Okay, Gram,” he said. “No bells, no whistles. It should be here in three or four days.”

Wil lifted his eyebrows in his sister Faye’s direction as Edie left the bakery, getting an eye roll in return. “You wanted to be her tech support,” she said as Edie left. “All I can say is better you than me.”

“Oh Gram’s all right,” Wil said. “You sure you don’t want to share the moment? Think of how much you’ll learn.”

“Hmph, are you forgetting the iPad incident?”

“No,” Wil smiled. “But she didn’t really throw it down the stairs.”

Faye laughed. “Yeah, well, I’m just sayin’, better you than me.”

Three days later, Edie showed up at the Crow with a package under her arm from the post office. “Would you like me to help you set it up, Gram?” Wil asked. “It’ll take just a few minutes.”

“No, I think I can handle it,” Edie said. “I just wanted to thank you for ordering it for me.” And with a wave, she and her dog, Nearly, walked home.

Wil rushed to grab a window-side table from which he could watch Edie’s front door. Then he tapped the timekeeper on his phone. “It’s exactly nine-oh-seven,” he announced to everyone in the bakery. “What are your bets? Remember, it’s whoever gets closest to the time she gives up without going over.”

His father grinned from his post by the bakery’s grill. “Edie hates changing technology. I say she’s back here in 20 minutes.”

“Now come on,” his wife, Diana, said. “Mom’s a very intelligent woman. She’s going to do just fine.” She frowned at Wil. “I’m not betting.”

“I know she’s intelligent,” Stephen protested. “That’s why this stuff gets her so mad. She knows she should be able to figure it out herself but somehow, she doesn’t.”

“She just opened the front door,” Wil said. “I’m starting the clock now.”

“I’ll take 60 minutes,” Faye said. “Gram can get awful stubborn so I think she’ll hang in there for a while. How about you?”

Wil scratched his head. He had a lot of respect for his grandmother, and he knew that her cell phone company had been upgrading its customer service so maybe this time…

“Ninety-four minutes,” he said.

“Really? That long?” Faye said. And then they both turned to watch the front door of their grandmother’s house.

As soon as she got inside, Edie took a long, slow breath. “I’m not going to get angry no matter how long this takes,” she promised herself. “I can figure this out.”

She propped her iPad on her kitchen table, refusing to think about the incident with the stairs. Soon she was online and ready to activate her new phone. But her heart sank as she read the instructions on the website’s home page.

“Who writes this stuff?” she muttered, taking another deep breath and resisting the impulse to chant “om.” Then she raised her hands to type in her phone’s serial number, clicked on the green “submit” button, and waited for the next screen to pop up.

“Why do they want me to repeat the serial number?” she muttered, striking the keys a bit harder as she scrolled through a litany of questions. “Yes, I do want to activate this phone. Why else would I be here? And yes, I want to eliminate my broken phone. And yes please, transfer my data.” She clicked on the green “submit” button again.

That’s when a spiral located near the top of her iPad’s screen began to twirl in place, spinning faster and faster while Edie waited. And waited.

Then everything stopped, her screen winked, and Edie found herself right back where she started.

“Oh come on! Seriously?” Her voice rose to the next higher octave.

Edie eyes flicked around the screen, seeking another button to push. She finally found a phone number that promised a conversation with a human being. “Good thing I’ve still got a land line,” she said to her dog. “I don’t know how they expect people with cell phone trouble to call them on a cell phone.”

As she struggled through the tape loop, pressing “one” for this and “two” for that, she sensed the pressure of teeth on teeth, and struggled to relax her clenched jaw. I’m doing okay, she told herself. I can do this.

“Sorry, we are experiencing heavy call volume. Your wait time will be approximately seven minutes.”

Well, Edie told herself, I can wait seven minutes.

Meanwhile in the bakery, the number of eyeballs glued to Edie’s front door had grown to more than twenty. Andy Cooper glanced at this watch. “Come on, Edie. I’ve got minute seventy-two,” he muttered. He glanced down at the money gathered in a take-out container sitting in front of Wil. “I never asked. Where’s the money going?”

“The winner gets to choose a local charity,” Wil said. “So far, we’ve got $125 in there.”

“I’m telling you, Mom figured it out herself, and you’re all waiting for nothing,” Diana said. Her comment stirred up a little murmur but then everyone settled back into watching Edie’s front door.

As she waited (and waited and waited), Edie fished around in the kitchen drawer where she kept stuff she didn’t have any other place for. In other words, junk.

Her fingers curled around a red, egg-shaped container. She squeezed until it opened, removed the ancient Silly Putty, and began to knead her frustrations
into the beige plastic blob.

Seven minutes crawled by. Then ten, eleven, twelve.

Suddenly, the insipid muzak stopped, her phone clicked, and the persistent buzz of a dial tone filled her ear.

“Aarrrggghhhh! I’m done! I’m done!” Edie jammed her arms into her coat sleeves, shoved the recalcitrant phone into her pocket, and wrenched her front door open.

“Whoa, there she is,” Faye said excitedly. “How many minutes, Wil?”

He looked down at the clock on his phone. “Ha!” He raised it triumphantly. “What did I tell you. Ninety-four minutes on the nose.”

Faye leaned forward to evaluate the purplish hue of her grandmother’s face then launched herself toward the stairs that led to the family’s apartment above the bakery.

“Hey, where are you going?” Wil asked. “Don’t you want to watch and learn?”

Faye grinned as she looked over her shoulder. “Like I said, better you than me.”


 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. And new for 2017, there will be weekly 60-second reads from my upcoming book on writing and publishing called What Would William Shakespeare Do?

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!

Ice on the Pond

frosted-fern-for-webTo me, every denizen of Carding, Vermont is as individual as the people who are my friends, family, acquaintances, clients, and colleagues.

Writing a series about a town (as opposed to writing a series about a single character) gives me the opportunity to roam through this teeming mass of individuals to find just the right ones to tell my stories.

For example, The Road Unsalted takes a close look at the endless sparring between Edie Wolfe and her pugnacious ex-husband, Harry Brown, and its ramifications in Carding’s political arena.

Thieves of Fire examines the impact of one man’s obsession on generations of the Talbot family.

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life shares the perspective of Faye Bennett, a girl on the threshold of womanhood, and how the very real threat of mortality tips her life sideways.

The fourth novel, which is currently flowing from my pen, is called Lights in Water, Dancing. In part, it’s a detailed view of one of Carding’s most idiosyncratic tribes, the Handys. The tribal elder is a man named Amos. He made two brief appearances in Dazzling but now he and his family are taking center stage in my work.

Today’s edition of the Carding Chronicles was also inspired by a wonderful song called “Ice on the Pond” that I recently heard performed by an impressive local band, Hot Flannel, led by fiddler Patrick Ross. The song was written by his father.

If you live in the area, you owe it to yourself to check them out in concert. Great performers.

Welcome to Carding.

You have to watch the weather close as the calendar veers toward the end of October in Vermont. Even though it is absolutely our most beautiful time of year (and the locals love it as much as the tourists) everyone’s mindful that there’s just so much time to get the wood in, the boots out, and the gardens cut back before it snows.

So we take our autumnal pleasures where we can find them. For example, you take extra moments to admire the just-so slant of light as it washes over the hillside when you straighten up from the garden. Or you take the time to hike one of the many spurs off the Appalachian Trail, breathing in the spicy perfume of goldenrod mixed with the leaves scuffing around your feet.

We take foliage rides, mostly on unnumbered roads to pay annual homage to the stand of old maples in a blaze of yellow and orange then stop at a local farm stand with its stack of blue hubbard squash, fat pumpkins and bags of apples.

Like all of us, Amos Handy loves autumn. In fact, it could be argued he loves it more than most because he spends more time in the woods than most of us.

Amos has never felt the need of a calendar nor does he tune in to Dirt Road Radio for the weather forecast. He likes to feel the earth for himself, sniffing the wind, watching the leaves fall (too early? too late?), the scud of clouds, and the phases of the moon.

He can sense an icy whisper in the air before anyone else which means he can predict an oncoming frost before anyone else.

“No clouds in the sky,” he’d explain to his pals around the coffeemaker in Andy Cooper’s store. “Nothing to keep what heat we have left close to the ground. We’ll have frost on the full moon, you’ll see.”

Now, if you’re smart and have lived long enough in Carding, you’d know to pay attention to Amos on the topic of weather. Or gardening. Or the proper way to prune shrubs. Or the raising of chickens.

But if you’re not smart, all you’ll see is the man’s perpetual Hawaiian shorts (summer and winter) and the array of scarves (always red) worn around his neck to hide the scar Amos brought back long ago as a memento of a “foreign police action,” as he prefers to call it.

And you’ll miss out on knowing someone special. You really will.

On the morning after October’s full moon, Amos was not surprised, not surprised at all, to witness a rimed landscape outside his front door. The last green ferns that edged the path from his house to his shed lay flat against the earth, the delicate design of their fronds etched in white. Crystals twinkled from the kale still standing in his garden, sweetening its dark green leaves.

“Time for a walk,” Amos announced to the woods. Then he ducked into the house for a couple of apples to fill his pockets, and one of the day-old sweet rolls that Diana Bennett sold him at half-price from the Crow Town bakery.

Then he was off on his fall inspection tour to re-acquaint himself with the places he hadn’t been able to reach through the dense underbrush of summer.

First stop was a small stand of pines on the far edge of the place that locals simply call “The Pond.” It’s part of the Corvus River system, south of Half Moon Lake, an outcropping of shallow water kept in place by a beaver dam with an ancient lineage. At this time of year, it’s shallow, a favorite haunt of great blue herons bulking up for their long flight south.

The gloomy November rains will fill it again, and when the conditions are just right, it will be dotted with ice skaters in high winter.

But right now, it’s not much more than an oversized puddle sitting in the shadows cast by the pines on a cold October morning.

Amos could see his breath as soon as he stepped under the trees. The Pond was always the last place to thaw in spring, and the first to freeze up at the approach of the cold months.

He stopped to appreciate the thin ice that had crystallized around the edge of the water. It looked like a lacy ruffle, a band of white marking the place where land met water. Amos bend down to touch the delicate structure and a shard broke off in his hand.

To Amos, water was magical. The shard he held was crisscrossed with geometry that mimicked quartz crystals, and yet it was so thin, he could see through it.

As he watched, the warmth of his fingers released the ice from its bonds, and the shard quickly disappeared, leaving drops of water on his hands. In the center of the pond, mist slowly rose in ghostly wraiths called to the sky by the sun’s early light.

Which of the other elements—earth, air, fire—could do that?

Amos shivered so he moved out from under the pines to stand at one end of the beaver dam. He always thought about her here, Mellie, his high school sweetheart. The two of them had shared a love of ice, and probably skated on more bodies of water than anyone else in Carding.

His favorite memory of them together was on a January afternoon, the last day of a cold snap that had thickened the ice on Half Moon Lake to nearly twelve inches. They were the last ones left after an impromptu hockey game, and the light was dimming rapidly, casting their world view into shades of gray, grayer and grayest.

A wind came up, and the two of them opened their jackets, spreading them out like bird wings to catch the current. Amos remembered how they squealed as they sped over the surface.

Again and again, they fought their way across the ice to their starting place, just for a few more seconds of squealing delight as day disappeared into night.


The ice boomed as it adjusted to the drop in temperature.

EEEeeeEEEEeeeeEEEEEEEE! Loose chunks at the base of the Crow’s Head Falls ground against one another.

Amos and Mellie stopped, suddenly aware they had no idea which shore was the right shore to get off the lake.

Then they wrapped themselves around one another so tight, they just about wore each other’s jackets. Amos grinned at that memory. It was his favorite part of the story.

Suddenly, a beaver slapped its tail on the water beyond the dam, bringing Amos back to the present. He and Mellie had finally reached the shore, of course, inching their way to safety by the light of a rising crescent moon.

After that, they remained close all the way through two proms and graduation. But eventually, time and distance changed their friendship. She eventually married to a rather nice, bland man, and according to what Amos heard, she’d raised two nice, bland kids.

He’d seen her once, at a picnic on Carding Green during the annual fair. Everything about her matched—her skirt, her blouse, her shoes—and Amos smiled as he remembered how uncomfortable she looked when she introduced him to her husband.

That’s when he knew that Mellie didn’t skate any more. But Amos still did, and he still opened his jacket to sail over the ice on windy days.

He smiled and saluted the beaver before resuming his walk. The way Amos saw it, that Mellie story had ended just the way it should.

 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 (on Fridays), and other green peak moments from Vermont (Mondays and Tuesdays).

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

A Pressing Need

two-apples-for-webIt’s autumn in Vermont, a time of rituals such as foliage rides, picking pumpkins, and making cider.

A bunch of folks from Carding are getting together at the Tennyson farm to squeeze some fruit together. Come and join us, won’t you?

“Aw, c’mon Dad. All you do is go to work and come home,” Brian Lambert said. “You never do anything else. Wendy and I want to help make cider, and Wil says that everyone can come.”

“Well…” Jamal glanced at his wife but Molly was giving him that “you’re-only-a-Dad-once” look so he knew he wasn’t going to find any refuge there.

He shrugged. “It’s just that I don’t know anybody,” he said. “Besides, what does a guy from the Bronx know about making cider.”

“But you’re always telling us to try new things,” Wendy protested as she stuffed her feet into an old pair of boots. “So why won’t you try something new?”

“Yeah, Dad,” Molly whispered into his ear. “Why don’t you?”

They stared at one another because Molly knew the truth. Vermont was changing ethnically but Jamal still felt too obvious anywhere outside of work.

“Cross the line,” she whispered. “Give people a chance to get to know you. They’ve been good to your kids.”

He narrowed his eyes at her but the only thing he got in return was one of her sweetest smiles. “Okay,” he grumbled at his fidgeting children. “I guess I can drive you two over there, and check it out.”

“Wear boots,” Wendy said, “and dress warm. The kids told me it’s always cold in the barn.”


“Whooofff.” Wil Bennett tucked his gloved hands under his arms as he jumped up and down. “Why is it always so cold in here?”

“Because apples and cider like cool temperatures better than warm,” his father said, bending forward to check the tightness of the screws in the cider press. “And because heating barns with cement floors is kinda expensive. Besides, you know as well as I do that things warm up as soon as we start working.” Stephen nodded at the open door toward the cars streaming into the gravel parking lot through the mist of an autumn morning. “Looks like we’re gonna have a good crowd.”

“Whoa, look. Brian and his sister Wendy made it after all. Cool,” Wil said.

“Is that their Dad?” Stephen nodded at a tall man getting out of the car with Wil’s friends. A cascade of dark micro braids brushed the man’s shoulders.

“Yeah, I guess. I’ve never met him.” Wil said as he headed out the door. “Hey Brian!”

Stephen had to wade through a field of chattering friends before he finally reached the man standing uncertainly by the silver Honda. “Hey, are you Brian’s dad?” he asked as he stuck out his hand.

“Yes. I’m Jamal, Jamal Lambert.” The tall man turned his head slowly, taking in the growing crowd spilling over the parking lot. “Looks like you’ve got quite an operation going on here.”

“Yeah, the orchard owner—that’s him over there with the horses, Lee Tennyson,” Stephen pointed, “let’s us take over the cider house once a season after the picking’s done. We glean the left-behind apples, and that helps clean the orchard for him. In return, we get enough cider to last the winter.”

Jamal leaned against his car, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m a city man myself. I’ve never seen cider being made.”

“You’re welcome to stay. Everyone who helps takes some home. Whoa, excuse me.” Stephen stepped away, making a sharp whistle that silenced the crowd. “Hey, there’s food and coffee coming down the road in that van.” He pointed. “We need hands to set it up.”

“You’re sure it’s all right,” Jamal asked.

Stephen looked down at the other man’s feet, and nodded approvingly at his boots. “Are you okay with getting those wet and dirty?”

Jamal laughed. “My kids prepped me so, yeah.”

“Then come on, I’ll introduce you to Lee,” Stephen said as he loped away. “Wil tells me you folks moved here from Martha’s Vineyard, am I right?”

“Yeah, I work for a solar energy company that’s doing a New England-wide grid project, and I’m heading up the Vermont piece,” Jamal said as he matched Stephen’s quick pace. Then he touched Stephen’s arm and nodded in the direction of his son. “Is that your daughter?” he asked.

Stephen swung his head around. “Yep, that’s my little spitfire, though she’s not that little any more.” Then he stopped. “Is it my imagination or are those two doing a courting dance?”

“Courting dance?”

“Yeah, that’s what my grandmother always called it when two folks got interested in one another,” Stephen said, watching Brian and Faye carefully. “Huh, well I’ll be.”

“You don’t approve?” Jamal asked quickly.

Stephen laughed. “Oh, I think your son is a great kid. It’s just that my daughter swore just last week that she’d never have anything to do with boys, ever.” He looked up at Jamal. “Faye can be pretty fierce at times.”

Jamal laughed. “I’ve heard some of Wil’s stories. But I have to say that I do understand my son’s attraction. I married a woman like that.”

“Yeah, me too. Smartest thing I ever did.” Stephen slowed as he reached the man holding the reins of two Belgian horses hitched to a large wooden cart. “Okay, Lee Tennyson, this is Jamal Lambert, Brian and Wendy’s father. Jamal’s never made cider before.” Just then, three more car doors slammed, and Stephen whipped around. “Sorry. Gotta go direct traffic.”

Once they headed into the orchard to gather apples, Jamal and Lee quickly established a silent routine of Lee maneuvering the cart while Jamal emptied fruit-filled totes into it. They laughed watching the kids spurt among the trees like so many leaves in the wind while news and gossip flowed among the adults gathering the fruit.

Once back at the barn, the teenagers immediately took control of the large water barrel, emptying fruit into it at one end then scooping out clean apples at the other. Jamal and Stephen had the merest moment to share a knowing glance as they watched Brian and Faye maneuver themselves as close to one another as they could get.

Yeah, that’s a courting dance all right, Jamal thought.

The pace of work picked up speed as the afternoon flowed by. When Lee flipped the switch on the grinder, the thick, sweet scent of apples filled the air within seconds. Then juice started flowing out of the press, and everyone scurried to fill bottles.

“What do you do with the pulp that’s left over?” Jamal asked Lee as they emptied large, square pancakes of firmly squashed apples into a bin.

“Oh, my chickens love this stuff,” Lee said. “And there’s enough to share with a couple of other farms.”

It was right about then that Jamal realized they were all covered in a cidery haze that had chilled their fingers, smeared their jackets, and made their boots stick to the floor when they walked.

“Huh, now I see why the kids told me to wear boots,” he said as he squeaked across the floor.

Lee held up his dripping wet gloves. “Yeah, it goes everywhere. All I can say is that it’s a good thing it washes out easy.”

Later, as he sipped a glass of hot cider with his wife, Jamal smiled over the way he’d watched chaos and calm follow each other throughout the day. “No one’s really the boss though they all looked at Lee or Stephen if there were questions,” he told his wife.

“So, does that mean my city man could maybe like some things about living here in the country?” Molly asked.

Jamal smiled and sipped again. “Maybe. Yeah, I think that’s what it means.”

 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 (on Fridays), and other green peak moments from Vermont (Mondays and Tuesdays).

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