Winter in Vermont makes you grateful for good neighbors. Bruce and Cate Elliott have long kept an eye on Gwen Kiever whose house is just down the slope from theirs. Cate’s worried because she hasn’t seen any lights on in the older woman’s house so far this morning.
So their plow guy Martin has promised to check on her when he gets to her driveway.
He’s doing a good thing.
“Here’s the latest on the weather,” Dirt Road Radio’s morning voice, Zeb Norris, announced. “The storm that brought us a foot of snow overnight is tapering off, moving from east to west. The snow has stopped in White River Junction but the winds, from 10 to 15 miles per hour, are making the morning commute and road clearing difficult.”
Early-rising Carding-ites sipped their caffeinated beverages of choice and studied the weather outside their windows as they listened to Norris. In Carding as in every section of Vermont, every town, every ridge and every valley qualified as its own micro-climate. Every slight rise in the land or twist of the river dictated the number of inches of snow one received in winter as well as the amount of rain in summer.
So everyone accepted the fact that the weather you heard on the radio or found online should be taken as nothing more than a general guideline. When it came to the depth of the white stuff outside your front door, what really mattered were the specific geographical conditions pertinent to the place you called home.
“Green Mountain Power has reported spotty power outages across the state overnight but the crews have been out turning people’s lights back on,” Norris continued. “The leading edge of the storm is now across the border in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Areas of Vermont east of the Greens will see diminishing winds and clear skies by mid-afternoon. Montpelier and Burlington will see the same by mid-morning. School closings are statewide. You can check on your local school by visiting our website.”
Edie fed another log into her stove. Even though power had returned to Carding in the wee hours of the morning and she could turn on the furnace if she wanted, there was nothing like wood heat to warm a body on a cold winter day.
The house rumbled under her feet as the town plow passed by. Edie knew she’d have to wait for her own plow guy, Martin Luey, to clear the snowy rubble from the end of her driveway before she could move her car. So she poured herself a second cup of coffee and stood closer to the stove.
She’d already started her own snow clean-up, making a path for her dog Nearly from her back door, across the lawn between the raised gardens that produced vegetables and herbs in summer and into the shrubby area that marked the end of her yard. The cocker spaniel had done his best to help, leaping into the air to catch the snow that Edie shoveled before diving head first into the white stuff, his tail a blur of joy.
“You do realize that it takes me twice as long to shovel a path when you help,” Edie told him. Nearly’s whole body jiggled in excitement as he anticipated his special person’s next shovelful and she laughed. “But I’d forget how much fun it is to play in the snow if I didn’t have you around, wouldn’t I?”
Over at Cooper’s General Store, Corker Smith was busy re-stocking the wine shelves while Andy and his brother Charlie handled the dairy and bread aisles. “Lucky thing we got a delivery in before the storm,” Andy remarked as he watched the store’s first customers dribble through the front door.
Charlie held up a loaf of wheat bread in his hands. “Why do you suppose it’s always bread and milk that folks rush out for when we have a storm?”
Andy shrugged. “I’m not sure but a storm’s as good an excuse as any to make hot cocoa and cinnamon toast.”
Out in the Coop’s parking lot, Martin Luey directed his crew of two drivers in the most sensible way to clear the store’s parking lot. He knew that his best chance to get at the bulk of the blizzard happened in the first hours of the day. Once the main roads were open again, Cooper’s parking lot would become a throbbing mass of shoppers as well as those who needed to recount their storm adventures to anyone who would listen.
“Are you guys all set for the moment?” he asked. When the drivers nodded, Martin swung up into his own truck and headed off to tackle his driveway clients.
One by one, he dug into the roadside snowbanks mounded up by the town plows, pushing white waves of frozen water to this side or that. The Elliott boys were already outside in their front yard making a snow fort when Martin arrived. He grinned as he lined up his plow for the first pass as Bruce Elliott struggled to hold back his kids.
“Make a BIG snow mountain,” the youngest boy screamed. “Really, really, really BIG!”
Martin rolled down the window. “I’ll do my best. Just wait until I’m gone before you start playing on it, okay?”
The boys obeyed, mesmerized as Martin pushed the bulk of their driveway’s snow into one massive pile. Since school was closed, he knew that the chance to play “King of the Mountain” would keep the Elliott boys entertained all day and out of the hair of the grateful mother, Cate.
Bruce waved when Martin finished then let his boys free.
“Well, they ought to sleep well tonight,” Martin said as he paused at the end of the driveway.
Bruce shook his head. “I sure hope so. Amazing how much energy those three can generate. Hey, would you do Cate a favor while you’re out?”
“Sure, if I can.”
“You plow Gwen Kiever’s place down behind us, right?”
“Yeah, sure. Why?”
“Well, Cate keeps an eye on her this time of year and we haven’t seen any lights on down there this morning and she’s not answering her phone. Could you give Gwen a blast on your horn to make sure she’s up and about?” Bruce asked.
Martin nodded. “Sure thing. I’ve give you a call to let you know what I find out.”
Just then, an exuberant scream made both men turn their heads just in time to see the youngest Elliott boy, his cheeks snapped apple-red by the cold, finish his first sled run to the bottom of the impromptu snow mountain.
“Hey, Martin just plowed that all up. Don’t push it back into the driveway,” Bruce said as he walked off. He lifted a gloved hand in Martin’s direction. “Thanks.”
Martin slurped coffee as he turned into the next driveway and then the next and the next until he reached Gwen Kiever’s place. He paused, suddenly uneasy at the sight of the older woman’s dark windows. He located the top of her chimney and stared at it hard. But try as he might, he couldn’t detect a hint of smoke curling skyward.
“Oh jeez,” he muttered, lowering the plow for his first sweep, aiming as close to Gwen’s front door as he could. “Please be okay. Please be okay.”
When he got as close as he could, Martin yanked on his hand brake and jumped from his truck, phone in hand, wading through snow that topped his boots. “Gwen!” he yelled as he banged on her door. “Gwen, are you in there? Are you all right? Gwen?”
His hand was halfway to the knob when the door opened. Martin blinked at what looked like a pile of quilts standing in the dark. The only human feature he make work out was a pair of brown eyes.
“Gwen, what’s wrong?” He reached around the door jamb to flip on a light switch but nothing happened. “Are you still without power?”
The quilt on the top of the pile nodded. “Since last night,” she said.
Martin stepped through the door, his fingers flying over his keypad. It was almost as cold inside the house as out. “I thought you had a wood stove,” he said as he waited for Bruce Elliott to pick up his phone.
“I converted last summer to a wood pellet stove,” Gwen said. “And it went out.”
Martin shook his head. He was a regular wood-stove guy himself. Why buy bags of wood rolled into balls when you can cut logs? “Let me guess, it’s got an automatic ignition system, am I right?”
Gwen nodded. “No electricity, no ignition and no phone.”
“Hey Bruce, I’ve got Gwen here with me. She hasn’t got her power back yet…”
“…and she put in one of those pellet stoves last summer.” Martin could hear Bruce shaking his head. “Damn things. Worst idea since coal.”
“Yeah. Listen, I’m going to put her in my truck to get warm while I clear her driveway but…”
“Cate will be right there to pick her up, and I’ll call the electric company,” Bruce said. “Tell Gwen more help is on the way.”
Martin pocketed his phone and stretched his arms out to the older woman. “My truck is warm, Cate’s on her way, and it’ll be quicker if you let me carry you through the snow. Have you got shoes on your feet?”
“No, they won’t fit over three pairs of socks.” A grin appeared from deep inside the quilt pile. “I can’t remember the last time I had the offer of a young man carrying me over a threshold of any kind. This should be fun.”
With a whoop from Gwen and a deep grunt from Martin, they started toward the truck. Under ordinary circumstances, it would have taken no more than a minute or two to cover the distance from door to door. But knee-deep snow and uncertain footing made their progress slow.
But as they finally emerged into the clear cut Martin had made with this plow, Cate Elliott skidded to a halt at the end of the driveway.
“Gwen, are you okay?” she called as she slid her way forward.
“Well, I’m awfully glad to see both of you but it’s too bad you got here so soon,” the older woman said.
“Too bad?” A huge question mark formed between Martin’s eyebrows. “How so?”
“Well, I’ve always wanted to ride around in a plow truck after a storm. It looks like such fun and what’s the use of snow if you can’t have fun in it, right?” Gwen’s eyes were twinkling.
“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking,” Martin said.
“Oh, I don’t mind you asking. Past a certain age, who cares? It’s only years. I’m going to be eighty-three in February.”
Martin laughed. “Cate, do you mind waiting for a few minutes? I think Gwen and I need to clear a driveway.”
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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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