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Tales from the Edge of the Woods

Tales from the Edge of the Woods

  • Larger cover
  • Format: Paperback
  • Price: $17 (postpaid and signed by the author)
  • Published: University Press
    of New England, 1998

About this book

“If you live here by choice”, Willem Lange writes of the northern New England he's called home for half a century, “you pay your dues, take what you can get, and endure what you have to. It's well worth it”. These eighteen reminiscences, character sketches, and sometimes heart-rending accounts of life among the ubiquitous pines and unyielding granite show a deep reverence and an abiding respect for this unique corner of the world.

We meet, for example, Baddy, the crusty timber camp cook whose love of hunting ends the day he witnesses the needless death of a fawn. We experience rites of passage: an old man determined to spend one last night alone in the deep woods; a young man discovering for the first time the indelible beauty of a northern September morning; and Lange's own realization that, "for the first time, I'll be the oldest man in camp, and my son will be carrying most of my pack."

What others are saying…

“When a world-class writer concentrates on the people and ambiance of just one small – if beloved – region like New England, the result is, as my grandchildren might say, 'totally awesome.' I simply loved reading Tales from the Edge of the Woods – every single one of them.”

— Judson D. Hale, Sr., Editor-in-Chief Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac

Mr. Willem Lange is the perfect New England memoirist: experienced, curious, shrewd, self-deprecating, amused, and affectionate. He writes of upcountry villages, wood lots, deer camps, log jobs, schoolrooms, and cellar holes, but his real subject is mortality. On the whole, he's for it.

—Castle Freeman, Jr., author of Judgment Hill

Willem Lange has created one of the nicest collections of stories of life in New England. Mr. Lange is able to capture the sights, sounds and smells of Vermont and New England. He presents a very honest picture of everyday experiences and is able to sprinkle it with humor.

Mile Square Farm Plymouth, Vermont


Not Love at First Sight 1
The Old Canoe 5
Favor Johnson 10
The White-Footed Mouse 18
New England Reeling 22
The Child of Fear 26
Gals at the Bor'as 32
The Old Man's Legacy 37
Baddy and the Fawn 42
All Gone Away 46
Kids on the Sideboard 50
Sliding on a Shovel 54
Blood Brothers 58
Dear Olivia 61
The Carpenter and the Honeybee 65
Pop? It's Honey 70
The Old Man at Solstice 75
Well Grounded in Mechanics 79

Two excerpts from "Favor Johnson"

One early winter afternoon -- on a Christmas Eve -- Hercules failed for the first time in his life to show up at the barn door during the evening milking. Concerned, Favor went to the door and called and whistled. No Hercules. Then Favor remembered that he'd heard rabbit hunters in his swamp that afternoon. So after milking he took a flashlight and started for the swamp. It was dark and beginning to snow. As he headed down the hill, he heard Doc Jennings downshift for the driveway, and remembered that it was Friday.

Hours later, after wandering all through the swamp calling for his dog, he heard a whine coming from a tangle of alders, and found Hercules. He'd been shot. One side of his head and a shoulder were badly torn up, and he'd bled a lot onto the snow. Favor scooped him up and headed back toward the house, stumbling in the thick brush. His flashlight finally faded and died.

Just as he scrambled up onto the shoulder of the road with the dying dog in his arms, he heard the sound of the big turbodiesel coming, and the lights of Doc's car swept across him. The car skidded to a stop in the gravel and Doc jumped out. "My god!" he cried. "What's happened?"

Favor told him.

Snow was falling softly past the street lamps in the village, muffling the sounds of the occasional car and the rattle of the brook down behind the post office and the general store. It was just past suppertime, and folks were settled in for the evening. From almost every chimney, smoke drifted up through the falling snow. A few houses were hung with wreaths and colored lights around the front doors. Through the front windows gleamed lights on Christmas trees.

Just after seven o'clock, a pair of shaky headlights came slowly down the Three Mile Road, and an old blue pickup truck puttered into the light of the street lamps. The truck stopped at the first house. A man in overalls and rubber boots got out, reached back into the front seat for a small package, and trudged up through the snow to the kitchen door of the house. He knocked, the door opened, and he went inside. A few minutes later he came back out again, with the sound of voices following him. "Merry Christmas!" someone called, and he waved.

He got back into his truck, drove to the next house, and repeated the routine. Then to the next, and the next, all the way down through the village. At some houses he stopped briefly, at others quite a few minutes. Shortly after ten, having visited them all, he turned the old truck around, drove back up through the village, and disappeared into the night, his single red taillight glowing dimly through the snow. Favor Johnson had delivered his Christmas presents again.

In every house where he'd stopped, there was now a small cylindrical package wrapped in aluminum foil and decorated with the Christmas seals that come in the mail. When these packages were unwrapped later, they would reveal tin cans with one end removed and a fruitcake baked inside. For single folks and couples, it was a soup can; for families of up to five, a vegetable can; and for larger establishments, a tomato can--all of them full to the brim with the most succulent fruitcake you could imagine. Mixed up with homemade butter and studded with hickory nuts, candied cherries and pineapple, citron, raisins, and currants, it was flavored with Favor's own hard cider. Parents often would use that as an excuse to keep kids from eating more than their share of it.

Where old Favor had paused only momentarily or gone only as far as the doorstep, there remained the scuff marks of his boots in the snow, where he'd shuffled his feet nervously. But where he'd gone inside and chatted, or perhaps shared a bit of cheer, the distinctive odor of cow barn lingered faintly in the air, a further reminder of who had brought the foil-wrapped package for which each family was already making its special plans. An always some child would ask, "Why did Mr. Johnson bring us a fruitcake?"

"Well," a mother or father would answer, "it's just his way of saying 'Merry Christmas.'"

"Does he do it every year?"


"Does he take one to everybody in the village?"


"Has he always done it?"

Well no he hadn't. And so the story of Favor Johnson and the flatlander doctor and the origin of the fruitcake would be told again.

As the reader, you feel completely drawn into the scene of this Christmas tale... you can almost see the "old truck turning around and disappearing into the night, a single red taillight glowing dimly through the snow."

You'll have to purchase the book to learn why Favor Johnson gave his fruitcakes to everybody in the village. See how this tale ends...

Tales from the Edge of the Woods