Judging by the red and pink displays in the stores around here, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
And so is the peak (pique?) of cabin fever.
To those who know her, Ruth Goodwin is a barometer of cabin fever. She tries to control it, that irresistible itch to do something—anything—different, especially if it involves the color green.
So far, she hasn’t been successful.
Let’s see how she does this year, shall we?
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.
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Ruth Goodwin needs sunlight in her life like a plant needs it for photosynthesis. That’s why there are windows on three sides of her kitchen.
That is where she’s standing now, sipping from a cup filled with her favorite brew, cocoa laced with strong coffee, her own special kind of mocha.
It was early—Ruth is an up-with-the-sun riser by habit and inclination—and she’s standing in the middle of the warming room, her face turned to the east so she can watch the pale wintry glow of the sun ooze into the sky. The light at this time of day—a shade of dusky twilight tinged with silver—was one of her favorites. She’d been taking an online class in watercolors—a secret she shared with no one—and had discovered that capturing the qualities of light like this was on-beyond-difficult.
The fact that so many artists before her had discovered the same thing did not mitigate Ruth’s frustration which is why she kept the class a secret. All the work she’d produced so far was either consigned to the wood stove or tucked into a little-used drawer in her quilting studio.
The sun’s inevitable rise revealed the palest breath of blue in the sky. It was the only color that was not brown or gray or white. Even the pines on the opposite hill looked black.
Ruth sighed and shifted her stance to stare out her western windows. The last vestiges of the passing night still ruled here, but just barely. No color could be seen there, of course.
In her morning ritual, Ruth always saved the panorama to the north for last because it was the longest view. In February, it revealed miles of snow-covered land rolling away in a series of gentle slopes that stretched past the point of no return.
Ordinarily, that northern perspective calmed Ruth, a daily reminder of why she lived in Vermont. It was always beautiful, no matter the weather or the season.
But by this time of year, it had remained unchanged for too long.
Ruth was an old hand at winter so of course she recognized the symptoms of incipient cabin fever. I know you do, too. It’s that indistinct itchy feeling you get when you’ve been inside too long. What you need is a good long walk in the woods or a visit to an art museum or a shopping trip for something new that you don’t need.
Something—anything—that gets your blood moving.
As Ruth rinsed out her cup in the sink, the sweetened caffeine in her mocha started infusing her nervous system with energy that had nowhere to go. She needed to do something—anything. She thought of several ideas in quick succession but rejected them all because they seemed like too much trouble.
Something, she thought again. I’ve got to do something. Anything is better than this standing around. What I need is a salad, she finally decided. Eating something green and crunchy ought to get the ball rolling.
Since her refrigerator and freezer were full of soup and stuff she’d put by from her gardens back in September, eating salad meant taking a trip to Cooper’s General Store in the center of Carding.
Clad in boots and gloves and a heavy coat with her beagle R.G. by her side, Ruth stamped out to her car and let it warm while she scraped the sparkling morning frost off the windshield.
R.G. helped by planting nose prints on the inside of all the windows as he paced from the front seat to the back seat of Ruth’s yellow Jeep.
The sun was amping up the blue of the sky as Ruth descended the hills toward the center of town. She deliberately took the long-way-round in order to enjoy more of the scenery. The sun was now strong enough to warm the inside of a car and R.G and his person delighted in the glow on their faces.
Ruth returned several waves as she swung around Meetinghouse Road in the center of town. Since she delivered the mail to most of Carding, her bright yellow Jeep was well-known. R.B. added a yip now and then, sensing a lift in Ruth’s spirits.
She parked carefully, making sure her vehicle faced the sun so that her beloved beagle could bask while she shopped.
Andy Cooper always seemed to have a sixth sense about what his customers wanted. Generally speaking, he didn’t waste the space in Cooper’s with paper and plastic gewgaws that thumped his customers over the head with whatever holiday was next on the calendar. He carried a few green and red items at Christmas and scarecrows at Halloween. But most of his store was dedicated, in Andy’s words, to “stuff real people can really use.”
So Ruth found a pile of carrots and cauliflower just inside the front door. Plastic boxes of mixed greens cuddled up to tomatoes that Ruth doubted had ever seen a garden. But in Vermont in February, they would do.
She had a good chatter with Corker Smith who was stocking wine in a far corner at the back of the store. It was a place that Corker had chosen specifically for this task because it was out of the sun but near the cheese.
Ruth’s morning continued to get better with every interaction and every vegetable. She was just starting to smile when she came around the last corner of the last aisle. There, in a rather artistically inclined display, was a small pyramid of candy hearts under a colorful umbrella next to a turnstile of heart-strewn cards in every shade of red and pink known to humankind.
Ruth stopped short. It wasn’t so much that she disliked Valentine’s Day. As made-for-consumer holidays go, it wasn’t the worst offender of her waste-not-want-not sensibilities. That designation belonged to the repugnant “Black Friday” shopping scream on the day after the best holiday of them all—Thanksgiving.
It was just that Ruth was not a big fan of the color pink. She blamed that circumstance on her mother, Enid, who never let a day go by without wearing a pink something-or-other. If that wasn’t bad enough, Enid had insisted on frilling out her only daughter with pink skirts and pink sweaters, shirts, and even shoes.
The other kids noticed, of course, and christened Ruth with the nickname Pinky, a sobriquet that stuck to her until she was in her mid-teens and buying her own clothes. She hadn’t worn the color pink since.
She stood there, hands gripping her cart full of green salad fixings along with a container of pesto and another of guacamole, huffing at the pinkish display.
“Something wrong, Ruth?” Andy Cooper asked as he trundled up the aisle lugging an open container filled with small pots of primroses.
“Heart schmarts!” Ruth’s voice shuddered with revulsion. She grabbed two pots of primroses and placed them in her cart. “What we need is flowers!!”
Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.
Thanks for stopping by.