Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mud season!

It is generally agreed that there are four seasons (at least in Northern climes), but their borders are anything but distinct. This year, this has been especially true here in Washington. The weather keeps rounding on us. The other day I spoke to my sister back in Vermont, and we marveled that it was snowing here while back there--where spring comes slowly and reluctantly, with snowfall as late as the end of April--it was in the 60s, sunny and mild. "A lot of the snow has melted already," she said. "It's mud season."

Ah, mud season. Mention it to most people outside of New England and they're likely to stare at you bemusedly, not sure if you're joshing them with this fictional fifth season, or if you're just plain nuts. But it's real, trust me!

See, in Vermont and New Hampshire and thereabouts, we don't have the same sort of snow events that occur elsewhere, with snow arriving in one big lump and melting in a few days or weeks. Our snow arrives in steady layers over months--a few tentative snowfalls at first, testing the ground and departing, and then snow after snow, until by February you have snow strata and can sometimes even dig down to find that icy storm that happened back in mid-December, the powdery snow that fell the first week of January, the sticky snow we got last week. And come spring, it melts not in one fell flooding swoop like snow so often does elsewhere, but gently, a little at a time as the ground thaws and the days slowly warm and grow longer.

Water trickles from everywhere. And, slowly but surely, the whole world turns to mud.

There is a lot of opportunity for mud in Vermont. Many of our roads are dirt roads, for one thing. I grew up on a dirt road off of another dirt road--for that matter, if you come from the opposite direction, we lived on a dirt road off a dirt road off a dirt road. Even many of the paved roads have long portions that are gravel. My mother used to talk about how shocked she was when they first moved to Vermont from Portland, Oregon that you could be driving down a nice smooth paved road minding your own business...only to have the pavement end suddenly without so much as a road sign to warn you of its impending disappearance.

Most of the year, these gravel roads are pretty good. They're wide and fairly smooth and so long as you slow down a bit (though admittedly, we locals tend not to...), you'll be fine. This time of year, however, they're another story. You pretty much have two mud season dirt road specialties: teeth-chattering rock-bottomed potholes and ruts that will eat rims for lunch; and greasy, goopy mud that will grab hold of your tires in an instant and refuse to let go, plus try to throw you off the road (especially first thing in the morning when they're frozen). You have to just power through the stuff, trying to keep going in a straight line. If you slow down, it *will* suck you in and stop you. At that point, you'll need to fetch your neighbor with the truck--you know, the guy who has a chain and a winch *somewhere*, and will eventually remember how we got this to work last year. Or you can enlist the help of a couple of teenage boys to try to push you out. That's always fun, especially since at least one of them will lose their footing at some point and end up looking like a swamp creature. Either way, of course, everyone who lives along the road or who happens to drive by will stop to stand around and shout out tips on what you're doing wrong. It brings folks together after a winter of being cooped up, mud season does.

For a kid, it was the ultimate playground. We spent weeks gallomping around in high rubber boots from the feed store--I still remember the smell of those things when they were new, and the feel of wet socks falling down inside them, and the way they'd bruise your shins if you hiked very far in them. We built canals in the drive-way: we lived about half-way up a hill, and water trickled along past us to that nice boggy spot where cars got stuck every year. We'd drag a stick or boot heel to bring the muddy water together, extending it a few inches at a time and leading smaller tributaries into our biggest until it flowed with an actual current that could handle small leaf and twig boats. As we got older, we ventured farther afield, tromping out through the still-deep snow--and those boots had no insulation!--to play in flooded creeks and little brooks that only existed this time of year. We'd wade in the freezing water, daring one another to go in deep enough to fill our boots with the icy water or take them off and dip our feet in the water for as many seconds as we could stand.

At the end of the day we'd tumble home, filthy, chilled to the bone, soaked to the skin, drunk on spring. I suppose it's a wonder we all survived childhood intact, but man, it was a great place and time to be a kid.

Almost makes me want to go in search of rubber boots and the biggest mud puddle around....


Duffy Moon said...

Ohio apparently has a smaller version of this phenomenon.

Kids just don't DO that stuff anymore. That's sad to me. But, luckily, I think there's a simulation coming out for Wii and Xbox.

Elizabeth H. said...

But, luckily, I think there's a simulation coming out for Wii and Xbox.

Aw, geez...don't make me weep! ;-)