Tag Archives: spring in vermont

Flowerage

WQ-FlowerageThe Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the small (but growing) town in Vermont that no one can quite find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

But you 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 me to you 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.


The aroma hit Ruth Goodwin in the face as soon as she stepped out her front door. The scent of the deep purple lilacs in her yard was nearly overwhelming. Across the hill, she could see white clouds of blossoms covering the apple trees in the Tennysons’ orchard.

Her beagle, R.G., hesitated on his way to the Jeep where he had planned to ensconce himself in the passenger seat for the first of his many daily naps. Why was his human sniffing the air like one of his fellow canines?

He snorted and sat down. R.G.’s first law of dogdom was to never waste energy trying to figure out people.

“What an incredible spring,” Ruth murmured. “Time to break out the colored pencils and camera. Be right back, R.G.”

The dog yawned then shook his head until his great floppy ears whirled about his head. Waiting sounded like a good plan to him.

For years, Ruth Goodwin had had a secret. In the world at large, it would never be considered a big deal. In fact, folks in Carding would have been floored to find out that Ruth had any secrets at all because she’d always cultivated a reputation as forthright and open. But we all have our little privacies, don’t we?

Ruth’s was her drawing, particularly her colored pencil drawings.

Particularly her botanical portraits.

As a child, she’d adored the tales of Beatrix Potter, inspired by the detailed illustrations of her favorite author. In her teens, Ruth had been appalled to discover that Potter’s lifetime ambition to be a botanist had been stymied by her father because he did not deem it a suitable endeavor for a woman. That’s why Beatrix had turned her keen eye toward illustrating children’s books, much to the delight of millions of readers.

But still, ambition thwarted is ambition thwarted, in Ruth’s opinion. So Ruth, unencumbered by male opinion, decided to pursue a private career in botanical illustration in honor of her heroine.

And in order to remain unencumbered by male opinion, Ruth kept her efforts a secret.

While Beatrix Potter had wielded watercolors to bring Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck to life, Ruth eventually decided to use colored pencils because they were far more portable, no water necessary.

In the winter months, she sketched the purple and white glory of red cabbage and the seedy interiors of squash. In summer, Ruth turned to beets and watermelon and beans and zucchini from her garden.

Fall, of course, was dedicated to brilliant leaves, acorns, and goldenrod.

But spring—aah spring—that was the season for flowers. And in Ruth Goodwin’s opinion, this was one of the most glorious springs she’d ever witnessed in her beloved Vermont.

R.G.’s wait was soon rewarded when Ruth bustled out of the house to stow her pencil case and camera under the Jeep’s driver seat. “Come on, R.G., let’s hope the mail is light. We’ve got blossoms to visit.”

But as often happens when we’re in a hurry, Ruth’s morning tumbled downhill from there. The delivery truck with its tubs of mail had had a flat tire so it was late. Which made Ted Owens, the postmaster, late sorting Ruth’s deliveries.

And instead of a light mail day, her mail totes were stuffed with Memorial Day sales flyers and festival announcements. Then her daughter Sarah called with a reminder about their Saturday date to pick out a wedding dress, and Ruth had to catch herself before admitting that it had totally slipped her mind. Sarah’s fiancé was nice enough but Ruth remained unconvinced that he was the right guy for her strong-minded daughter.

“Not my choice. Not my choice,” she chanted to herself while aloud she said: “The Bridal Place. I remember. I’ll be there, rest assured.

All of which meant that by the time Ruth and R.G. got on the road in earnest, they were already 45 minutes behind schedule. Then they got stuck behind the Tennyson hay wagon and then they had to detour around the asphalt patching on Route 37 which made them just in time to get behind the kindergarten school bus delivering its tiny passengers home for lunch.

With a sigh, Ruth tuned into Dirt Road Radio to catch the noontime weather which hadn’t changed much from the morning forecast—rain, clouds and drizzle for the next three days. Not good drawing weather by a long shot.

By mid-afternoon, Ruth still had one heavy tote of mail left in her back seat and R.G. had turned his mournful eyes in her direction, a signal that it was time to stop so he could stretch his legs. Ruth gazed up the hillside to her right and thought about the remnants of an old orchard tucked into a fold up there. Some of those old trees were crabapples renowned for their ecstatic pink hue, like no others in the whole Corvus River valley.

Ruth knew that turning up the hill on the backside of Mount Merino would make her late with her last deliveries. But how often do you get a perfect spring in Vermont, she asked herself.

So she turned up the hill…and never regretted it for an instant.

If You Can’t Beat It, Eat It

WQ-KnotweedYears ago, when my husband and I first bought our home in Vermont, we had sporadic visits from a locally well-known pair of wild foragers, Nova Kim and Les Hook.

I think it’s fair to say that if you look up the word eccentric in the dictionary, you’ll find their pictures there.

I find eccentrics such fascinating people and this couple was no exception. At that point in time, Jay and I were newbies in the world of wild vegetation, and Nova and Les were delighted to have pupils. The first time they came here, they took us on a whirlwind tour of the flora of which we had become stewards.

There was wild ginger, yellow dogtooth violets, maidenhair fern, wild leeks, a couple of edible mushrooms, and Japanese knotweed.

In an almost throw-away remark, Nova told us that you could eat Japanese knotweed in the spring when the new shoots appeared. She called it “red asparagus.”

Over the years, I’ve nurtured an intense love/hate relationship with this plant. It is tall and graceful with plumes of delicate flowers in late summer and leaves that turn a rich yellow in the fall.

But it TAKES OVER EVERYTHING!!!!!! And it is nigh impossible to get rid of once it gets a foothold. Sometimes when feeling stressed, I take out my cutting knife and just go to town where it grows the thickest. But even after hours of sweaty cutting, I doubt it even knows I was there.

We were reminded of Nova’s remark the other day when walking in our woods, and finally decided to give knotweed a try. Uncertain how to cook it, I did a web search and came up with recipes that basically use cooked knotweed as a substitute for rhubarb in such things as strawberry-rhubarb (knotweed) pie. After looking in lots of webby corners, I found only sweet recipes, nothing savory, so I tossed the “red asparagus” idea out the window.

My research did turn up a couple of interesting facts. Knotweed is a key ingredient in medicines used to combat Lyme disease, something we are far more at risk of with the horrific rise of ticks in our woods.

Also, knotweed (in tea or the cooked plant) contains resveratrol, an ingredient known to be helpful to folks with heart disease. It’s also beloved by pollinators and considering the plight of our beloved honeybees, I consider that a point on the board for the good guys.

I also found a recipe for Knotweed Bread which I tweaked to suit our tastes, and it turned out pretty yummy.

Thought I would share.

KNOTWEED BREAD

Cut knotweed shoots when they are no more than 8 inches tall ONLY from areas that you know are NOT sprayed with herbicides. (Remember: Herbicides are nerve toxins. Do not ingest or inhale.)

Place 2 cups of knotweed cut into 1-inch pieces in a pan with 1/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for 20 minutes until the knotweed is soft. (It falls apart like rhubarb.) This should yield 1 cup of knotweed sauce that has the consistency of thick pudding. It’s the color of guacamole.

Mix:
1 cup flour (we use 1/4 cup buckwheat and 3/4 unbleached flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 cup poppy seeds (optional)

Combine all ingredients just until the flour is mixed in. Bake for 32 minutes at 350 degrees in a greased deep dish pie pan or 9-inch square pan. Let it cool for 20 minutes then slice and eat.

Note: Knotweed puree can be made ahead and frozen for later use.

 

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?

Birth Announcement

When we first moved to our house on the White River in Vermont, we set out to make our little part of the watershed as flora-and-fauna friendly as we could.
Goslings 2 2015 for web
Except for some pink garden phlox on either side of our front door, a little bit of rather dull iris and one tiny patch of crocus, there was absolutely nothing in our front yard. It was hot in July (very hot) and birds were rather scarce.
Goslings 4 2015 for web
In addition to that, our land had once been the site of a public swimming facility called Island Park so lots of local folks were used to crossing our land willy-nilly to get to the water.

It took a while on a lot of fronts—letting trespassers know they were not welcome, planting gardens plus a little natural re-routing of the river—but nowadays, we have a lot of birds in the yard all year round, lots of flowering plants, and critters who have decided we’re pretty friendly (though they still, wisely, keep their distance).

One of our favorite rites of spring is the arrival of the Canada geese. They flock here in early April making a heckuva ruckus as they sort out who is going to live where.

Then at some point after mid-May, we’ll spot a new brood of chicks. These six little ones accompanied their proud parents for a swim for the first time on May 21.

Aren’t they just adorable!

Just Sittin’ Here Watchin’ the Fiddleheads Grow

After a long stretch (for Vermont) of very warm, very dry weather, rain moved in on Sunday night.
Fern in sun for web
Well, maybe “moved” isn’t quite the right verb. It was more like the rain came lookin’ for a fight because the wind accompanying it tore up trees along Route 14 in Sharon and uprooted two HUGE maples near Route 4 in Quechee.

But last night and today, we got the soaking we really needed. (Red flag warnings for fire danger are pretty rare around here but we’d been in one since late April.)

The green of our northern New England world grows more intense by the hour, and the riverside plants that we walk among just needed a good shot of H2O to take over their flood plain home.

At this time of year, my favorites are the ostrich ferns, the ones we eat as fiddleheads when they are barely out of the ground. They should be shoulder high today!

A Little Spot of Yellow

The sun hasn’t been very strong yet and I suspect that there’s frost still making its way out of the ground in the woods. So the wildflowers are taking their time.
Coltsfoot flower for web
But hunkering down amid the leaf litter are the brave little flowers of coltsfoot.

And the honeysuckle is starting to leaf, the stems of the river willows are greening up, and there are robins everywhere.

Must be late April in Vermont!

The Afternoon Walk

I love to walk dirt roads. I love to drive dirt roads (though definitely not at this time of year).

This is a great time of year to shake off winter’s inertia, and today was perfect for that. The air was cool enough to make walking feel great. The quiet was so intense, I was startled to hear the trickle of water where a brook or rill had broken loose from its snowy chains.

In other words, it was
Ideal for web
And to make it even more special, look what I found dancing in the woods.
Eagle sculpture for web