Tag Archives: Carding Chronicle

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


Out of Order

Out of order signA few housekeeping notes: Join me starting April 7 when the third novel of Carding, Vermont, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, debuts in this space. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find an installment of my new book in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday for 12 weeks.

A paper edition of Dazzling will be out in May along with the ebook. Then in June, I’ll release the first Carding Omnibus, all three novels together in one book with a couple of kicker short stories.

The Carding Chronicles (these short stories) will be suspended while Dazzling appears in this space because I have a new novel and a new non-fiction book on publishing that need my attention. The Carding Chronicles will resume once Dazzling comes to an end.


“Aaaaggghhhh!” Andy Cooper shrieked as soon as he reached the coffee machines at the back of his general store. “What in the…?”

Water, steaming water, lay between him and the door to the Coop’s ladies room.

“What is it, Andy?” his sister Maureen asked as she raced up to stand beside him. “What in the…?”

“Judging by the temperature of this,” Andy said as he squatted down to touch the shallow puddle with his fingertips, “I’d say that one of our coffee makers sprung a leak overnight. Would you round up some mops with people attached while I get the water and electricity turned off? Oh, and keep the front doors locked. The last thing we need is a crowd standing poolside with commentary.”

Rumors of all sorts were flying by the time the Coop reopened its doors at mid-morning.

“Jeezus, Andy, we thought somebody died in here,” Amos Handy said. “Glad to see you’re all right. Hey, where’s the coffee?”

“Gone for the moment,” Andy told his friend. “Along with the tile on this part of the floor, and some of the wall board. It was a helluva mess, Amos.”

“And what does that mean?” Amos asked, pointing to the Out of Order sign on the ladies room door.

“It means we’ll be unisex on the bathroom front for a few days,” Andy said. “The water from the leaking coffee maker made a mess in there as well.”

“You mean we’ll be sharing space with women?” Amos looked as though his heart would stop.

Andy clapped him on the shoulder. “I believe men and women will not be in the same space at the same time. We’ll just be taking turns, is all.”

Amos, a man renowned for his shyness around anyone of the female persuasion, turned and fled from the store. “I’ll be back next week,” he assured Andy, “after everything is the way it should be.”

As much as Andy Cooper loved his hometown, he had to admit there were times when he wished for the peace that anonymity could bring. It seemed that everyone who came into the store had to hear the story about the leaking coffee maker and the steaming puddle directly from his lips. Many folks felt the need to weigh in on what color the replacement tile should be or needed to tell him the best way to install new wall board.

By closing time, Andy’s head throbbed, and he promised to scream at the next person who asked, “What happened?”

Edie spotted her best friend’s fatigue from across the store. “Are you still up for our cribbage game tonight?” she asked, figuring Andy would say no.

He shook his head. “I’m not sure I could be civil. Can I have a raincheck?”

“Sure,” Edie said as she headed toward the new mens/ladies room. She was back out as quickly as she went in.

“Um, Andy?”

“Don’t tell me.”

“Have you had a moment to look in there since this morning?” Edie asked. “I’m really sorry to say anything but I know you wouldn’t want your customers to see it that way.”

He sighed, big and loud. “Let me guess—unflushed?”

Edie nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

Andy shook his head. “I can’t be in there every minute, and it’s illegal to watch what folks do in there.”

He walked toward the closest mop and pail. “Thanks for letting me know, Edie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“It’s not fair,” Edie whispered to herself as she watched Andy’s slumped shoulders disappear into the bathroom. “Not fair at all.”

Edie admired her friend’s vow to never ask anyone to do a job in his store that he wouldn’t do himself, and it troubled her that people using the sanitary facilities in the Coop wouldn’t take a few seconds to flush. It seemed like such a small issue but she knew from her role as the executive director of the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts that customers always remembered the condition of a bathroom (if it was not up to snuff) more than anything else.

“Wil, what are you doing here?” she asked. Her grandson stood up from his squatting position by her front steps.

“Well, I promised you I would fix that crack,” he said, pointing. “Only I mixed too much cement, and I don’t know what to do with it. Any ideas?”

Edie looked at the bucket by her feet. “How much do you think that weighs?” she asked with a smile.

Wil hefted it. “Oh, twenty, twenty-five pounds, somewhere in there,” he said.

His grandmother’s smile broadened. “Come with me, and bring the bucket.”

No matter how hard he tried to convince himself, Andy really didn’t want to go to work the next day. He hoped that the wonder of all that passed in his store was over, and the winds of gossip would be calm.

He kept the main lights off as he trudged from the front door to the back, and then up and down each aisle, checking and rechecking that all was well. At one point, he heard his sister talking to somebody as she opened and closed the customer entrance but he didn’t pay it much mind.

His last stop was the functioning bathroom, the one place sure to give him headache upon headache throughout the day. After staring at the closed door for a few minutes, he sighed and walked away. It was clean when he went to bed. He’d check it later on.

As expected, the hours clicked by rapidly as Andy shepherded plumbers, carpenters, and an expert in tile repair toward the damaged area. Then there were deliveries, a jammed cash register, spilled milk, and lightbulbs to replace in the ice cream freezer.

So it wasn’t until lunchtime that he thought about the bathroom again. Arming himself with mop and pail, he walked like a condemned man toward the back of the store.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Andy asked the five men waiting in line at the door. Then he heard a “whoop” and a laughing Amos emerged, wiping his hands on a paper towel.

“Whoa, Andy, that’s a good one,” Amos said with a laugh. “I’ll bet that takes care of your problem.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You mean you don’t know?” one of Amos’s cronies asked. “We’ve been watching people come out of here laughing all day.”

Andy rolled his eyes and shook his head. “What is it, some graffiti?”

“No, it’s a sign,” Amos said. “Look.”

So Andy opened the door. There, next to the toilet tank, stood a bucket filled with cement. A three-foot metal rod was stuck in the center of the rocklike substance, and on the rod there hung a sign with an arrow pointing to the toilet’s handle.

“When you’re done,” the sign read, “wiggle this too.”

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, the next novel about Carding, Vermont, will appear in this space (twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays) starting April 7 through June 28.

Encourage your friends to come join the fun. The more the merrier, eh?

Beet Dreams Are Made of These…

BeetsA few housekeeping notes: Join me starting April 7 when the third novel of Carding, Vermont, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, debuts in this space. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find an installment of my new book in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday for 12 weeks.

A paper edition of Dazzling will be out in May along with the ebook. Then in June, I’ll release the first Carding Omnibus, all three novels with a couple of kicker short stories.

The Carding Chronicles will be suspended while Dazzling appears in this space because I have a new novel and a new non-fiction book on publishing that need my attention. The Carding Chronicles will resume once Dazzling comes to an end.

Lee Tennyson frowned as he watched his wife’s car disappear over the hill, headed toward town and the hospital where she worked. Six months pregnant, and she was still doing twelve-hour shifts on the floor of the ICU.

He didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all. Yes, he was proud of Christine, and he knew she was an amazing nurse. And yes, he understood how passionate she was about her work.

But he also sensed how much of their sons’ growing up Chris was missing.

“Are you ready, Buddy?” He bent down to question his oldest, curly-haired Noah. “Time to get to the bus.”

“Can we walk to the bus stop today?” the child asked.

Lee smiled because he knew the real reason behind the question. “It was cold overnight,” he said, “and the water in the ditches is still frozen. How about John and I meet you at the bus after school, and we can play with the water on the way home?”

Noah started clapping and jumping. “And you’ll bring my water boots to the bus?” he asked, referring to his favorite pair of bright yellow knee-highs.

“I’ll bring the water boots, promise,” Lee said. “Now let’s git.”

That’s what Chris misses, Lee told himself as he rumbled down the long driveway in his farm truck, his sons taking turns imitating the grinding noise of its old gears. She’s missing draining puddles, redirecting streams, and making sand dams.

And the thing of it is, if she’s not there today, she can’t get it back.

After they waved Noah off, Lee faced dressing John for their daily trek to the barn. No matter how much he cajoled and promised, it always took Lee longer than he planned. “I swear you are the wiggliest child ever born,” he muttered as he searched for a second arm to stuff into the empty sleeve of John’s blue jacket.

John jabbered incessantly as he propellored himself toward the barn. He pointed at the dwarfish spikes of grass beside their path, crowed at the rooster who crowed back, stopped to examine the sculptural qualities of various sheep droppings, and threw kisses to their head goat, a buck aptly named Houdini, who turned his face away as if offended by contact with a lower form of life.

The boy was so busy, he didn’t notice his father’s contemplative silence. Lee’s eyes flicked from one part of the Tennyson family farm to the other as they walked, adding up the annual worth of each income stream that the land represented—logging, hay, wool from their growing flock of merinos, maple syrup, heirloom and commercial apples plus blueberries.

Lee grew and Chris canned or froze most of their vegetables, and they sold corn in season at a roadside stand. and through the Coop general store. He wasn’t sure about Chris’s latest project—goat cheese—but he was willing give it a try even though Houdini spent more time wandering outside his fenced pasture than servicing the harem he had in it.

“He’s just an intelligent Nubian goat,” Chris grinned when Lee complained. “You’ll notice he never takes his ladies outside the fence, and you always find him somewhere close to them. He just refuses to accept the fact that you think of him as a domesticated animal.”

Lee’s jury was still out on the goats until he tasted Chris’s first batch of Tomme de Chevre Aydius.

The real question was this: If the cheese was a success, would they make enough for Chris to stay home after their third child was born?

Lee mulled the money issue over as he moved from chore to chore, hay for the sheep and goats with cracked corn for the chickens while he and John gathered their eggs. For all the boy’s inability to stay still, the child had a well-tuned instinct for carrying fresh eggs without breaking them. And John was the only one could get into the small nook where one of their Ameraucanas liked to hide her pale blue contributions to the Tennyson breakfast table.

When John started rubbing his eyes, Lee sat him up on a stool next to their seed sorting table, gave him a small bag of apple slices from his pocket, and then poured a jar’s worth of beet seeds across the sorting surface.

He and Lydie Talbot were both avid seed savers, and had been swapping and testing antique vegetables from each other’s gardens for a few years. This year, Edie Wolfe, Charlie Cooper, and Ruth Goodwin were part of the swap that Lee planned to host in his barn early in April.

With one eye on John and the other on a small glassine envelope, Lee counted out twenty seeds, rolling each one of the nubbly nuggets free of the group with his thumb.

“This is for Edie,” he told John as he opened the flap of a second envelope, and started counting again.

He was on the fourth packet when his thoughts strayed back to the library’s annual midwinter fundraiser, a Taste of Carding, that he and Chris had enjoyed. There were always strange concoctions to try—zucchini pickles, hot pepper jelly, flat bread pesto pizza, a wide variety of cheeses all made in Vermont, and relishes, chutneys, salsas, and sauce.

There was this one jar at a tasting table filled with a curried sweet potato salsa that beckoned every time Lee walked by. He and Chris eventually struck up a conversation with the vendor who called herself an “aggie entrepreneur,” and their talk turned to value-added farming.

“Dairy farmers got tired of seeing all their profits go down the hill in a milk truck, and so they started making cheese which added a value to the milk that people were willing to pay for,” the woman said. “We all know how the price of milk fluctuates but the price of a good cheese…well…that’s pretty constant.” Christine’s head had snapped up when she heard that, which is the reason why they owned a billy goat named Houdini and three does named Bippity, Boppity, and Boo.

“I looked around and realized no one was doing much with sweet potatoes,” the woman continued, “so I figured I had a niche.”

Lee picked up one of his beet seeds, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger while he imagined a beet empire based on salsas, relishes, pickles, barbecue sauce, pesto, and chips. Did he dare? Could he do that?

The cock crowed, and so did John. Lee finished his packaging, labeled the small envelopes, and then lifted his son to the floor of the barn. The little one looked up, his cheeks brightened by the cool air of early spring. “Ready Daddy?” he asked, curling his fingers around Lee’s index finger.

Lee slipped the jar of seeds into his pocket. “That’s a good question,” he said. “I think so.”

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on April 1. And then six days later, on April 7, I’ll start sending you installments of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, the next novel about Carding, Vermont.

If you enjoy your visits to Carding, please tell your friends and encourage them to subscribe. The more the merrier, eh?

Petition Drive

365-17The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

This week features an excerpt from the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. Here’s the story so far: Stephen Bennett nearly died in an accident in April. It is now May, and his thirteen-year old daughter, Faye, has not regained her emotional balance since almost losing her beloved father.

Faye’s fear has turned to anger at the world, making her edgy and sharp. When her friend and teacher, Chloe Cooper, is reprimanded by the school superintendent, Faye leaps to her defense. I think you can figure out the rest from what follows

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, will debut in this space on April 7. If you follow my website, regular installments will be delivered to your inbox over the course of twelve weeks for your reading enjoyment. Tell your friends. Sharing is a good thing.

At some point in the middle of the night, Diana Bennett thought she heard the sound of the printer in Faye’s room. But after listening to silence for a while, she decided she was wrong, and fell back to sleep. Tomorrow was Saturday, and she had to be up early. It was always standing room only for breakfast in the bakery when she had fiddlehead omelets on the menu.

Since the temperatures in mid-May vary widely in Vermont, folks in Carding usually swanned around in fleece vests until late morning. Then some time after eleven, they swapped their fleeces for T-shirts, keeping the fleece handy, just in case. As the old joke goes: If you use your car’s heater and air conditioner on the same day, you must live in New England.

Faye had chosen the color of her fleece vest with care that morning. Olive green because she didn’t want the starkness of black or the grab-your-attention hue of her favorite magenta. So it was olive green. Right in the middle.

Business for her petition drive had been brisk from the moment the Crow opened its doors. Faye quickly discovered that most caffeine-deprived people would sign anything if it stood between them and a cup of the bakery’s breakfast blend.

“Good morning, Mrs. Hennesey,” Faye called out. “Would you sign my petition?”

The bustling woman stopped short to peel her eyes off her cell phone screen. “Sure, sure,” she muttered, scrawling her signature before hurrying into the Crow. When Faye retrieved her clipboard, she counted up the names she’d collected. Fifty three in just one hour. That’s pretty good, she thought.

“Whatcha got there, Faye?” A male voice drifted over her shoulder. She spun around, hiding the clipboard behind her back. How would Gideon Brown react to a petition drive about his ex-wife Chloe? Faye decided that the sidewalk in front of her parents’ bakery was not the best place to find out.

“Nothin’,” she said.

Gideon smiled, and cocked his head at her. “I thought we were friends,” he said.

“We were,” Faye said. “I mean, we are. I don’t think you’ll be interested in this, though. It’s just about school.”

“Some sort of homework?” Gideon asked. “I’m happy to help.”

Suddenly, Faye spotted Margie Rosen headed toward them, and shrank against the bakery’s wall. It was the first time she’d seen the woman since the day of her father’s accident. To her dismay, Margie’s path coincided exactly with the empty spot on the sidewalk in front of Faye.

“Ah, I thought I might find you here,” Margie said, looming over the girl, her bat-wing eyelashes fluttering. “My brother tells me there have been some difficulties at school because of you. He’s asked me to talk to you—and maybe your parents—to see if there is something we can do to settle this situation.”

Gideon watched Faye’s expression turn to stone, and thought he detected a bit of…what?…fear in Faye’s eyes. He swiveled his head toward Margie, and his skin crawled a little though if you’d asked him why, he couldn’t have told you. He shouldered his way between the two females, and thrust his hand out to Margie.

“I’m Gideon Brown,” he said. “I’m a friend of Faye’s. Is there something I can do to help?”

“Oh, I’m Margie Rosen. The superintendent of schools is my brother,” Margie said, extending her manicured fingers. Gideon didn’t like the way she lingered over their handshake. “I can’t believe we have not met before,” she said.

Gideon maneuvered himself closer to Margie in order to give Faye the cover she needed to scoot away. It would have worked but just as Faye turned, the clipboard slid from her hands, hit the concrete, and spilled petitions all over the sidewalk.

“Oh my dear, let me help pick these up,” Margie said as she bent forward, careful to let the top of her shirt gape open in Gideon’s direction. Then she read the petition, and gasped. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked, pushing the papers under Faye’s nose.

The girl glared, her hands fisted by her sides. “I have a right to collect signatures on a petition,” she said.

Margie closed in but Faye refused to back up. “You do not have any rights,” the sputtering woman said. “You are a minor, and your parents are legally responsible for what you do.” She rolled the papers up in her hands. “I doubt your parents will let this nonsense continue once I tell them the consequences of your behavior.”

“I have a right to my opinion,” Faye yelled. Heads turned in their direction.

Margie pointed at the door to the bakery. “In there. Now.”

Faye crossed her arms. “No.”

Margie stepped even closer. Faye smelled stale coffee on her breath. “You get inside now. I aim to put a stop to this,” the older woman said.

Faye angled her head out, and the motion reminded Gideon of a snapping turtle just before it strikes. “I said no. I meant no, and you can’t make me.”

Margie hissed. “We shall see about that.” Then she stalked to the bakery door, and wrenched it open.

Faye nearly sobbed as she sagged against the wall. “I hate her,” she said, her voice small. “I hate both of them.”

Gideon didn’t say anything until he’d read the petition. “What’s going on, Faye?” he asked softly. “Is Chloe in trouble?”

Faye nodded, and closed her eyes to keep her tears inside. But it did no good. “It’s the Rosens.” She choked out the name. “It’s all their fault. Everything is their fault.”

Gideon opened his mouth to ask another question but before he could, the bakery door flew open, and Diana craned her head toward her daughter. Gideon thought he’d never seen such a tired, anxious face.

“Faye,” Diana said quietly. “Could you come in here, please?”

The girl’s head drooped. Then she dragged herself inside to meet her fate.

Gideon picked up the petitions Faye left behind. What could Chloe possibly have done that was so awful?

“You do understand, Mrs. Bennett,” Margie said as her painted, pointed finger stabbed a copy of Faye’s petition, “that allowing students to attack a school administrator in this way only stirs up unwarranted disobedience. We can’t have that. My brother is always the first to champion civic engagement among the young. But we must draw the line at the way your daughter is demanding Reggie’s resignation because of a personnel matter. What goes on between the administrators and staff in the Carding schools is not the business of the students.”

Diana looked at her daughter’s bowed head. “Chloe Cooper is a good friend of ours,” she said.

“That does not give your daughter the right to stir people up against my brother,” Margie said, raising her voice another notch. “Managing a school district is hard enough without worrying about who is friends with who. Personal feelings cannot be taken into consideration when it’s a matter of discipline. Reggie cannot play favorites for any reason.

“But he does. All the time,” Faye spluttered.

“He does not, and he never has,” Margie snapped. Then she turned to Diana. “Allow me to make this quite clear to you, Mrs. Bennett. You will take a firmer hand with your daughter’s conduct, and stop this petition drive at once.”

“Or what?” Diana asked

“Or I will advise my brother to sue you and your husband for defamation of character.” Margie’s eyes glinted. “And I’m sure you don’t want that kind of trouble, especially under your current conditions.”

Now it was Diana’s turn to hiss, and her words coiled like vipers. “Faye is not defaming anyone,” she said. “Her petition does not accuse your brother of anything. It merely asks whether his actions against Chloe are justified. That is always a legitimate question to ask of a public servant.”

The atmosphere of the bakery grew still. Peter’s spatula hovered over the eggs on the griddle. Hilary stopped pouring breakfast blend in mid-cup. Then the front door’s bells tinkled, and Edie Wolfe stepped through with her dog, Nearly.

Her eyes flashed from her daughter to her granddaughter to Margie and back again. Nearly tilted his ears forward, and crinkled up his brow. He disliked the smell of human anger, all full of needles and pins. But three of the women in the scene in front of him belonged to him, and it was his job to protect them. So he turned his attention to the fourth female, sniffing her air quietly so as not to be noticed. Funny, he thought, the stranger was not oozing anger like the other three. Margie’s scent reminded him of…what? The dog mentally shuffled through his olfactory library for an apt comparison. Then he lowered his chin to take in a larger quantity of air. Strange, Nearly thought. That woman smells like a cat. How could that be?

“My brother is no mere public servant,” Margie said. “He is a highly trained education specialist with more than one book to his credit. Carding is fortunate to have him, and I will not allow this…questioning…to sully his reputation.”

Thump, thump. The dull sound came from above. Diana’s head snapped up.

Thump, thump, thump.

“Faye, would you please go up to make sure your father’s all right,” Diana said.


“Now, please.”


“Please Faye.” Diana’s voice lashed the air.

“Ooh, nothing is right around here any more,” the girl hollered as she stomped up the stairs, flailing her fists in all directions. Then she opened the apartment door, and saw her father sprawled on his back, his face white, eyes bulging with fear.

Faye leaped over him to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. Pinching the receiver between her shoulder and ear, she knelt beside Stephen’s head, cradling it in her hands while she ran her fingers over his skin to check for blood or signs of injury. The doctors had cautioned them about blackouts, about the dangers of Stephen hitting his head again.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the thrum of emergency sirens to shred the air, and the sound made the fear in Stephen’s eyes subside. He smiled at his daughter, and squeezed her hand. “Thank you,” he whispered.

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on March 18. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.


365-71The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

And one additional note, the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, which will debut in this space on April 7. Twelve weekly installments delivered right to your inbox. Tell your friends to subscribe so they can enjoy it too!

It’s that time of year again, Agnes Findley reflected as she joined the stop-and-go line of traffic heading out of Montpelier. You can’t tell what color the cars are because they’re all coated in the same gray dirt, and the roads buck and weave 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 why she’d fled the eternal car crawl of Boston. In Vermont, her commute from Montpelier consisted of two turns, two sets of lights, and then a nonstop ride all the way home.

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 road looks like a strip of fried bacon this time of year. I wonder how they keep the boxes on the shelves inside those trucks.

As soon as the bottom edge of the sun touched the hilltops, Agnes felt the temperature drop. As the light shifted from bright to gray, Agnes geared down for the turn to Carding, on the 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 it, mended it, repaired it. 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 same 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 the car. “You’re just in time.”

She hustled to claim a spot at the guardrails next to the love-of-her-life, Charlie Cooper. “What’s the report from upstream?” she asked as she turned up her coat’s collar. The air hung chill and damp by the river.

“The ice is broken in Royalton,” old Henry Wood said. “My cousin Nellie says she can hear the big chunks knocking against one another.” He looked down at the Corvus where a ribbon of gray water flowed over the white of the last month’s snow deposits. 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. Won’t be much of a runoff.”

The sun finally slid behind the hills to the southwest, and 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 at a bend in the river. They felt the rumble through 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, and the water level rose rapidly—one foot, two feet, three. The roaring runoff spilled over a low spot in the land just before the park-and-ride, shedding car-sized chunks of ice in its rush. In the span of a single heartbeat, the serene scene of pristine snow below the watchers disappeared in a wild rush of pale blue ice, pewter-colored water, and gray slush.

Agnes felt the guard rail shudder in her hands. Henry had been right. They were only six to eight inches thick but the display of power was still impressive.

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

Anxiety zipped through the crowd, and everyone drew back from the guard rails at the same time, suddenly aware of how flimsy the metal rails were in the face of such fury.

“Lived here all my life,” Charlie yelled over the roar, “and that never fails to amaze me. Why?”

“I can’t answer for anyone else,” Agnes said, “but I like seeing 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, not as bad as I feared. I’m afraid it was all very human.”

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 26. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.

A Novel’s Quilt

Brainstorms are the best storms to have, especially when they’re with other creative people.

A couple of days ago, I posted a few cover design ideas here, and asked some designer-type friends what they thought.

A lot of great ideas came back with the neap tide, among them one from my friend Chris who focused
on a different facet of the cover of Scandinavian Stitches. Here’s the cover:

While I was focused on the little quilt of the house,
Chris took a look at the whole piece.

Hey, she said, if The Road Unsalted is the first in a series (which it is) then why not use the shelf
as a place to put things that are important to one character or another with a quilt to match?

So last night, I sewed up this test block for a quilt made by Elizabeth Weston Brown, grandmother of Gideon Brown,
one of the driving forces in The Road Unsalted. Elizabeth was a traditional quilter, and her grandson adored her. Which is why his grandmother’s quilt is draped over the arm of his favorite chair.

Test block for quilt on cover of The Road Unsalted