Mud Season | New England's Fifth Season
In northern New England there are really five seasons. Some would say Indian summer and January thaw, too, which add to the rhythm of most years, but they’re inconsistent and ethereal. Mud season, though, is real, its own thing.
The roads around here have been posted with a six-ton limit for a few weeks now, and the logging trucks have been shut down for the season. But it was only yesterday — a couple of days before Town Meeting — that the air turned soft and the roads turned soft and we found ourselves once again sinking in mud. Coming over Goose Pond Road in the afternoon, it was impossible to keep the wheels on top of the ridges; the car kept getting thrown from one deep rut to another. It felt like riding the edge of control, like slamming a kayak through violent whitewater. Thank God we didn’t meet someone coming around a corner.
In northern New England there are really five seasons. Some would say Indian summer and January thaw, too, which add to the rhythm of most years, but they’re inconsistent and ethereal. Mud season, though, is real, its own thing. My friend Ginger Smith, who drives a FedEx delivery truck around the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, hates it. She’s a veteran driver — she keeps 400 pounds of sand in the truck during the winter, and a shovel and a couple of 2×6 boards until May. But no matter what she’s got in her truck, “they’re still dirt roads,” she says.
She’s gotten into deep trouble just once. Backing up to let a car pass on Curtis Farm Road in Wilton a few years ago, she edged over too far on the shoulder and buried her back end. “It was a Ford box truck, 600-cubic-foot, single-axle,” she says, “but the axle disappeared.”
This time of year, she worries most about the extra time the mud costs her. She loses a couple of her favorite cut-off roads entirely, and spends more time than she’d like backing up on the narrow dirt lanes to let other vehicles pass: “Every day, we get our efficiency reports from the day before, and you see you’ve averaged only seven stops an hour instead of 11, and you have a manager who drove the route with you once in the summer and can’t understand how you could be so slow. I’d like to ask for a higher reverse gear, but FedEx doesn’t believe in reverse, so that wouldn’t fly.”
There will be mornings during the coming weeks when Ginger will look at her schedule of addresses and just cringe. And long days when at the end she’ll roll back to the lot where the trucks get washed and marvel at the mud. “Sometimes it’s not even a white truck anymore,” she says. “It looks like the other guys’.”
I didn’t care much for the mud late this morning when the meter reader from New Hampshire Electric Co-op drove his pickup down to the barn to save himself a 50-foot walk — then tore the barnyard all to hell fishtailing it back up to the road.
But I take some perverse pride in the season. I like hearing my neighbor, Kelly — a small-town doctor who works across the river in Vermont — talk about an old patient of hers, a farmer who moves an ancient Farmall tractor down to the end of his road for her during mud season, because Kelly’s car won’t make it through.
I like the description that poet Leland Kinsey wrote a few years back: “In spring the freeze and thaw of each day draw the frost out, but until the last heaving layer is thawed, the melted water can’t percolate downward and must either run off or sit. In some parts of the world, water that can’t percolate forms quicksand beds; here we call them roads.”
I like the smell of the mud, of the frozen earth letting go, of the melting snow, of the boiling sap and woodsmoke that go hand in hand with the warming breeze. We’ve made it through, again. Spring is coming.
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