Tag Archives: winter in vermont

Thaw

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.

Candidates Forum

365-54The 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 particular story, Candidates Forum, is an excerpt from the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, which will debut in this space on April 7. Stay tuned for details.


“Well, well, well,” Andy Cooper said as he unfolded the sample ballot for town meeting. “Will you look at who’s running for school board this year.”

Amos Handy stretched his neck out of his perpetual red scarf to peek over Andy’s shoulder. “Oh gawd, not him again,” Amos muttered. “I thought for sure the Good Dentist would never run for school board this year. He only won by four votes last time. What makes him think he’ll make it this time?”

Andy pointed at the thick paper. “He’s unopposed.”

“But I thought that what’s her face, Pat Evans, was going to run this time,” Ruth Goodwin said, crowding in to look at the candidates’ list.

“She is,” Andy said, pointing again. “See? Right here. Unopposed.”

“Unopposed?” Stephen Bennett said, pushing into the growing crowd. “Who else is on that list?”

“Well, Greta Rutherford doesn’t have to run this year, of course,” Andy said as he stapled the sample ballot to the community bulletin board just inside the door of the Coop. “Her term’s not up until next year.”

“Hey,” Stephen said, pointing. “Do any of you know who this Dick Monroe is?”

“Isn’t that the new president of the country club board?” Edie Wolfe asked as she sauntered up. “I heard he bought that godawful big spec house, the one that’s way up on the hill behind the seventh hole of the golf course.”

“Yeah? When did he do that?” Amos asked, reeling his neck back into his scarf, and securing his jacket’s top button.

Andy shook his head. “It has to be pretty recent,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen him in the store more than once or twice.”

“And he’s running for school board?” Stephen said. “What’s he know about Carding or our kids?”

“Well, he’s supposed to know a lot about money,” Charlie Cooper said as he strolled up to stand behind his brother. “I understand he’s originally a Vermont boy who made good in Chicago, and now he’s back.”

“But that doesn’t make him qualified to be on our school board,” Edie said.

Charlie turned his mouth down in thought. “Well, it doesn’t make him disqualified, either. Many folks think the most important thing the board does is watch how our money is spent.”

“I know what you mean, Charlie,” Stephen said. “But where you put the money can either do a lot of good or a lot of harm.” He shook his head. “It’s been so busy at the bakery, I didn’t realize that the deadline had come and gone for collecting signatures to get on the ballot.”

“Would you have run?” Andy asked.

“I was thinking about it, especially since I figured that the Good Dentist would be gone after this year,” Stephen shook his head. “I’ve never liked that guy. Don’t trust him either.”

Ruth nodded. “I always thought you were a sensible man, Stephen.” Everyone grinned. Ruth was Maxwell Goodwin’s first wife, the one who got the biggest alimony payment, as she liked to say.

“Oh no,” Edie said. She had leaned over to see all the way down to the bottom of the ballot. “Look!”

The crowd, now numbering a dozen, bent over as a single unit to read the two words that had shocked Edie.

“Harry Brown!” Andy said. “Since when does Harry Brown care about our schools?”

“Is there anyone running against him?” Charlie asked.

“Nope,” a new voice added. “Dad was the last person to get on the ballot, just minutes under the deadline. He told Mom that the Good Dentist asked him to run, and it was folks up at the country club who signed his nomination papers.”

Several stunned faces turned in Gideon Brown’s direction. His father, Harry, had put a lot of effort into making himself disliked in Carding, and he had succeeded.

“He got all 50 signatures up at the country club?” Edie asked, her voice rising in pitch as she reached the end of her question. “I didn’t think there were 50 residents of Carding living up there. Most of the condo owners are from away.”

Gideon shook his head. “You forget how many locals work in the club and on the course and on the slopes,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks who rely on paychecks from Mount Merino to buy their groceries.”

A thick blanket of silence rolled over the gathering, and Gideon fidgeted, uncertain how much more to say. He wasn’t crazy about his father either.

“Great,” Amos muttered. “We’ve got a dicey dentist, a woman named Pat that no one knows, a stinking rich finance guy who’s new in town, and—excuse me, Gideon—probably the most hated man in Carding running for school board.”

“Hmph, and Greta,” Ruth said. “Don’t forget Greta Rutherford.”

“That’s not saying much,” Amos said. “She’s loopier than I am.”

Everyone else’s mouth twitched as they bowed their heads to take in the man’s shorts and well-worn boots. Summer or winter, Amos Handy saw no reason to ever change his wardrobe. Amos was Carding’s self-selected eccentric.

“Can’t we do nominations from the floor to stop these folks?” Amos’s voice squeaked.

Charlie shook his head. “Not this year. We switched over to the Australian ballot, remember. So it’s just show up and vote.”

They all looked at one another in dismay. “Great,” Andy muttered. “And we’re hiring a new superintendent this year, too. We’re in great shape.”

“You can say that again,” a voice boomed. Everyone started. Gideon tried to hide from his father’s gaze but Harry had already seen his eldest son.

“There’s gonna be some changes made,” Harry continued. “Year after year, I look at those school budgets and all I see is salaries for teachers and aides and administration, and I ask myself: Where’s the education in our school budget?”

“But…” Charlie began but Edie shook her head. Being Harry’s ex-wife, she knew that opposing Harry with common sense was useless.

Harry’s grin grew wider. “See ya at the polls,” he said as he turned away.


The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 19. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.

Joe’s Puddle

365-29The 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!


New post on Carding Chronicle blog: February 5

Joe’s Puddle Pool Cancelled

by Little Crow

Well folks, this is a first, and I’m not sure it’s one to be celebrated. We all know that puddly place in the marsh at the end of Half Moon Lake, the one the kids skate on and call Joe’s Puddle, right?

And we all look forward to the PTA fundraiser that takes place here every April when we throw money in a pot, and take guesses when the Joe’s Puddle clock sinks through the ice.

The winner gets bragging rights, and half of the collected cash.

The PTA’s been raising money for kid sports equipment this way for over 20 years, and this is the first time the event has had to be cancelled because of warm weather.

In Vermont.

In February.

Russ Tensen, this year’s PTA president, called us this morning to say that there’s no ice on Joe’s puddle to put a clock on so there’s nothing to bet on—at least at this point. But the PTA executive board is meeting this afternoon to see if they can come up with some sort of a substitute.

There’s talk of a grilled cheese cook-off which sounds pretty good to me. Christine Tennyson, our lady in goat cheese up on the Tennyson farm, has offered to supply some of the product to get that effort started.

Or maybe we can all take a guess at when the maple sap starts running and the sugaring season starts.

In other cancellation news—there will be no fishing derby on the lake this weekend, and Bob Scoda sends word that he could really use a hand trying to float his bobhouse back to shore. Bob’s always the first one out on the ice, and said he really took a chance when he pulled his little shanty out on the lake on New Year’s Day.

“First time I ever saw the ice sag under my truck,” Bob said.

If you want to see Bob’s bobhouse bob, the best view is from the town beach parking lot.

As for downhill skiing, the owners of the Mount Merino Resort are still trying to make snow at night, and hoping it will last through to the next night. The mountain looks like a big mound of mud with a few white stripes running down the sides.

In other, non-cancellation, news, the pickup hockey games have moved to the town beach parking lot because the ice in the rink on the green melted. The asphalt end of the parking lot’s been swept free of gravel, and the surface is pretty good. Bring your own roller blades.

And Reverend Lloyd reports that the extreme frisbee group plans to begin their practice sessions two months early in the Episcopal church parking lot.

Sneakers and shorts.

In February.

In Vermont.

As Andy Cooper’s been saying, “This is the non-winter winter.”

I’ll be looking for you over at the extreme frisbee practices. Call me if you see any snow.

Little Crow | February 5 | Categories: Local recreation


The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 12. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.

Oatmeal Patrol

365-51The 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!


“How many do you think will show up?” Diana asked as her husband tried in vain to ease himself out of bed without waking her.

“Not sure,” he whispered.”How many idiots are willing to get up so early on a cold Sunday morning to make ice?” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Besides yours truly, that is.”

“Do you want my help in the kitchen?” She turned over to see the shape of his body outlined by the glow from their clock radio.

He leaned over to give her a kiss. “Nope, this is my gig. You stay in bed.”

She sighed, closed her eyes, and burrowed deeper under their quilt. “You don’t have to ask me twice,” she said. “Are the kids going with you?”

“No, I don’t think either one of them is interested in anything that happens at 4 a.m.,” Stephen said, pulling on his jeans and fishing a pair of heavy socks out of his drawer. “There’ll just be a few of us hockey heathens, no more. I’ll see you later.”

Stephen kept his boots off until he eased the back door of their second floor apartment closed behind him. Then he quickly shoved his clonking footwear over his toes, and clattered downstairs to the Crow Town Bakery.

Shadows moved. “Yeow,” he yelled, leaping back from the bottom step.

“Jeez, Dad. What kept you?” his daughter Faye said. “Wil and I were going to go back up and wake you.”

“What are you two doing here?” Stephen asked as his fingers darted over the security keyboard to turn off the bakery’s alarm system. “I figured you were good for at least a couple more hours of sleep.”

“Oatmeal,” Wil said, nodding his head from somewhere deep between his shoulders.

“Oatmeal?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it,” Faye said. “Come on, Dad, let us in. We’re freezing out here. Who changed the security code again?”

“Your mother and I…,” Stephen began.

“Wow, look at the crowd,” Wil said before his Dad could finish. Stephen’s head jerked up. Six heads bobbed up and down by the front door.

“Hey, where have you been?” Ted Owens said as he stepped inside with his niece, Suzanna, and four more people behind them.

“I thought I was trying not to wake my family,” Stephen said as he reached down a large pot, and filled it with water. “But that turned out to be a waste of time. Any idea how many more are coming?”

Faye and Suzanna slid a large tub of rolled oats onto the counter while Wil retrieved a measuring cup and salt. “I know Lee Tennyson’s coming with his kids,” Wil said. “And my friend Brian. He’s never seen anyone make ice before.”

The front door of the Crow opened and closed twice more. “Could someone give me a head count,” Stephen said as he measured oats into the water. “I hope nobody minds golden raisins in their oatmeal because I love them.”

“Can we have cranberries too?” Suzanna asked. “I’ll cut them up.”

“Sure,” Stephen said as he sprinkled salt into his palm then tipped it into the pot followed by a good shake of cinnamon and a slurp of vanilla.

“Mmmm, oatmeal,” Paula Bouton said as she slipped up behind Ted to hook her arm in his. “I love this stuff.”

The bakery door opened again, and the din of excited voices rose a notch. Stephen twisted his head over his shoulder. “Faye, would you go see how many folks are out there?” he said. “I want to make sure we’ve got enough.”

Faye was back in a minute. “Twenty-one,” she said. “Should I get some of the cooked bacon out of the freezer, and heat it up?”

“Twenty-one? What’s going on? I thought there’d be just six or seven of us,” Stephen muttered, measuring more oatmeal. “And yeah, good idea on the bacon.”

“Well, last year was the first year for the rink, and I think most people thought you were a little crazy,” Faye said, her head disappearing into the large freezer. “But then then you and Ted got the pick-up hockey thing going, and now everyone wants ice time.”

“What about you? I thought you didn’t like hockey?” Stephen said.

“Hmm, yeah,” Faye said, spreading out slices of cooked frozen bacon on a cookie sheet. “But I’m thinking it might be more fun to play hockey than to watch it on TV.”

Just then, Stephen saw his daughter’s eyes flick in the direction of Wil’s friend Brian, and he swore he saw a quick blush color her cheeks. Could it be…?

Out in the front of the bakery, Paula piled bowls on a tray while Suzanna extracted a large jug of maple syrup from the refrigerator. As Ted counted out spoons, the excited talk reached a higher level, and then Stephen called out, “It’s ready.” He lifted the steaming pot of hot oatmeal from the stove, and everyone cleared a path so he could set it on the bakery’s counter.

Lee Tennyson’s youngest son, a boy of only four, squeaked as he jumped up and down. “Ice. Ice. Ice,” he chanted. Behind him, his two older brothers imitated the slap and whip of a hockey stick meeting a puck.

Bowls were filled, swirled with syrup, and puddled with milk. Everyone ate standing up while Faye circulated among them with a platter of hot bacon. Ted and Paula dispensed coffee in between bites of their own hot cereal.

“Anybody know what the temp is outside?” Andy Cooper asked.

“It was seventeen at our house when we left,” Lee Tennyson said.

“Whoa, here come the firetrucks,” the four-year old squealed from the front windows.

Two gleaming red engines eased their bulk over a low spot in the sidewalk surrounding Carding Green, their brakes hissing in the dark. Boots stomped, hats appeared out of deep pockets, and scarves were threaded around everyone’s neck.

Then the bakery’s doors opened, and Carding’s ice-making team clomped out into the snap of a January morning in Vermont.

“Okay folks, let’s roll. We can’t keep these trucks out too long,” Stephen called. “Ted, Andy, and Paula are in charge of the hose crews. Wil and Lee, you head up the perimeter detail. Everyone choose your team, and let’s go.”

The trucks’ pumps clicked on, droning mindlessly while water gushed out of their tanks. Three teams of three maneuvered the hoses so that the flow evenly filled the rink they’d constructed before Thanksgiving when the ground still accepted a spade. Wil and Lee set everyone else at regular intervals around the rink’s plastic liner to make sure it stayed in place.

Stephen raced around the edge, eyeing the deepening water level, hoping they’d done a good enough job leveling the ground under the plastic. Last year, an unseen lump at one end froze in place before anyone saw it, and caused everyone playing goalie at that end of the rink untold troubles.

“I want to play forward this year,” Suzanna told Wil as she smoothed out a small plastic fold.

“Are you sure?” Wil said, eyeing his sister’s best friend. He knew Suzanna was quicker than half the team when she was on skates. But, in the words of his grandmother, she was no bigger around than a minute. “What about checking?”

“Aww, nobody on the other team will ever catch me,” Suzanna said.

“Yeah, I know. But what about you checking someone on the other team?” Wil said.

On the opposite side of the oval rink, Faye chattered with Lee Tennyson about speed skating while Agnes Findley dreamed of gliding around the ice in perfect figure eights. The Tennyson boys abandoned their posts on the perimeter in favor of practicing their victory dance steps after making a goal.

Plans, dreams, and visions of victory soared high over the chug of the water pumps when suddenly, Faye realized she could see the features of Brian Muzzy’s face. She quickly turned away before he realized she was looking at him to see the colors of the sunrise reflected in the surface of the rink.

Her intent gaze caught the attention of everyone else, and they all turned to watch. Andy Cooper wiggled the end of the hose he’d been directing to free it of any stray drops of water then extracted his phone to check the weather forecast yet again.

“What’s the good word, Andy?” Ted called.

“Not supposed to get over 26 degrees today,” he said. “And there will be more clouds than sun this afternoon. I predict we’ll have ice by supper.”

A collective “woohoo” rattled around the green as the fire trucks reeled in their hoses before lumbering back to the station. Stephen slapped his soggy gloves against one another as the whole crew trooped toward the bakery to draw up schedules for hockey games, skating lessons for the kids, and to make room for general ice time for those interested in making perfect figure eights.

The scent of steaming wool mittens and hats soon made its way up to the Bennett family’s second floor apartment. When Diana detected the odor, she stretched then turned over, a smile on her face. Ice season had begun in Carding, and if she timed it right, the bakery’s kitchen would be clean before she got downstairs.

How perfect was that?


The next Carding Chronicle will be published on January 29. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.