Welcome to Mud Season
by Pat Carbonell
No, folks, we're not talking about ladies mud wrestling - sorry to disappoint you. We're talking about that challenging season between winter and spring here in Vermont.
Vermont has six seasons (I have a friend who claims there are at least eight): winter, mud, spring, summer, fall and depressing.
Winter, no matter what the calendar says, starts when the snow flies and stays. Sure, you can get snow in September, but until the ground is frozen and it sticks, it's not winter. Winter is when you put plastic up on all the windows you can reach to keep the wind from whistling through the house, cover or remove the air conditioners from the windows, stockpile salt and sand, buy a new snow shovel and get your car "winterized".
It's when the mountains after a new snowfall are so piercingly bright you have to wear sunglasses when it's overcast. It's when you take bets on how long it'll take before your neighbor the snowboarder breaks his collarbone this year. It always starts with a ritual snowball stuffed down your daughter's collar (and then you run, laughing, 'cause she's gonna thump you if she can catch you). It's when you finally take the silly cat that wants to go outside OUT, and throw him in a snowbank so he understands why you won't take him out for walks. It's when you make "sugar on snow" after a fresh snowfall (get a lasagne pan full of fresh snow, bring a couple of cups of REAL maple syrup almost to a boil, then drizzle them over the snow - you get strings of maple taffy that you pull off with your fingers and eat - serve with sour pickles and plain doughnuts). It's when you have no problem waiting for the oil truck to finish it's delivery so you can get out of your driveway, 'cause it means you'll be warm for another month. It's the season when the earth sleeps, beneath this coverlet of white, and rests for the coming year.
Winter used to start around the end of October/early November here, but thanks to global warming, this year it really didn't arrive until after New Year's. One of the state's major ski areas didn't even open for business until the middle of January. The biggest ski area in Vermont, Killington, was sold this year - the old owners getting out while the getting's good.
Now, there are usually two or three thaws during winter, when the temps climb high enough to start melting off the snow. They don't last, though. The cold Arctic air arrives again, the runoff melts, and we get ice covered by the next snowfall. One of my major goals every winter is to get from one end to the other without falling on my ass.
Then somewhere along about mid-March to early April, the end of winter hits, and mud season commences. This is that lovely period of time when the daytime temps are high enough to melt off all the snow, but the nighttime temps are still low enough to keep all the plant life from getting enthusiastic. This is sugaring season, when the sap starts to run in the maple trees and blue plastic lines can be seen running from tree to tree to collecting tanks. The sugaring shacks belch smoke at all hours, and one of the state's premier farm products takes shape.
This is also when we get low-lying roads closed due to flooding, when the mud in our yards is deep enough to grab and eat shoes, and the kitchen floor is never clean for more than five minutes (most of us still emulate the farmers: the front door's for company, the kitchen door's for family - it's usually closer to where we park). Mud season's the true season of hope; winter's ending, you can open the door and air out the house a bit each day, you start to slice the plastic off the windows, you greet each warm day with joy. It's the end of cabin fever, when you start to wonder if winter will ever end or if you'll be stuck inside four walls forever (like the play by Sartre "No Exit"). You take the cat out, and try to keep him out of the mud so he doesn't track it all over the house (he just wants to go watch the squirrels, anyway). You watch the buds start on the trees and the lilac bush.
Mud season can last anywhere from one week to a month. If the jet stream cooperates and the warm winds from the south arrive on time, it doesn't last long. If not, and the warming of the earth is dependant on just the shift of the sun's position and the longer hours of sunlight, it takes longer. But She does warm and begin to wake up from her winter's slumber.
Then spring arrives. The temps climb into the 60's and low 70's, the breeze is gentle and from the south, the migratory birds come home and every plant and tree busts out in vegetative ecstasy. Little pregnant buds on the ends of branches are suddenly leaves, gardens are filled with green knives of crocuses and daffodils and tulips thrusting their way to the sunlight, farmers are out in the fields turning the earth and planting corn. The cows, sheep, goats, horses, emus, llamas and whatever else has spent the winter cooped up in barns are suddenly out on the hillside meadows again. Walking through downtown you discover all the people you vaguely know who were pregnant when winter started and you didn't know it, because now they're all out there pushing strollers.
A nun I knew once told me about a time when a group of nuns from California came to spend the Lenten season here. After spring hit and Easter had passed, one of them told Sister Judy that she'd never before really understood in her gut the full wonder of the resurrection of Christ, until she'd witnessed the rebirth of the land in our spring. Pretty cool, that the Great Mother will teach wonder to anyone, if they only listen.
One of the first signs of spring is skunk roadkill. No kidding. The little striped buggers come out of hibernation hungry and horny, and are too distracted to get across the highways in one piece. The roads are tranformed into obstacle courses, because you do NOT want to run over a fresh kill - the stench clings to your tires for ages! And the heavens forbid you actually hit one of them alive - you never get the stench off the car. I don't know how many cars get traded in before they were intended because of skunks, but I'm pretty sure it's more than a few. I've been lucky - I've never hit a live one, and I drive a pretty responsive little Ford Escort, so I manage to avoid the squished ones.
Spring doesn't last too long. It seems like everything knows that we're supposed to have a relatively short growing season, and it's in a hurry to grow up. Real spring, the blossoming mild weather spring, lasts maybe two-three weeks. I've seen years where it lasted three days, and then we were suddenly hit with temps in the high 80's.
Summer commences when most of the trees are in full leaf, and the temps start feeling like Florida - I know from whence I speak, I lived down there for seven years. In the summer, a day in the mid-70's is mild and welcomed. We get temps in the 90's. The plants love it - as long as we get enough rain, they just go to town with the growing and pollinating act. In a good year, we can have as many as four hay crops.
Summer here is intensely green, so many different shades of green that I don't think there's ever been an artist's palette that can duplicate it. The mountains are painted with the leaves of all the different trees, the fields with corn, hay, alfalfa, clover, wildflowers, wild grasses, food crops and anything else the wind has brought. It's startling the first time you see a flock of wild turkeys grazing in a field. You see this collection of large brown bumps and wonder what the hell they are, and then a tom flares his tail and you are suddenly seeing every cliche picture of a Thanksgiving turkey, in real life.
People here take every advantage of the summer, to hike, bike, climb rock faces, boat and swim. Early summer at Lake Dunmore is hysterically funny. You can tell the vain from the casual sunbathers at a glance - the vain ones started on their tans at the local tanning salon during mud season and show up in their bikinis already nicely brown. The rest of us show up fish-belly white, which turns to lobster-red by the end of the day, because we're not wasting a precious moment of sunshine by being careful and pacing ourselves. I bet we probably buy more sunburn treatments than suntan lotion. The real art is keeping that burn moisturized so it doesn't peel and heals into a nice base tan.
In the summer we also get eaten alive by mosquitos and black flies. The mosquitos are annoying enough, particularly if you're like me and mildly allergic to them (I have so many tiny scars from scratching in my sleep it isn't funny). The black flies are demons, though. Getting bitten by them feels like someone just stabbed you with an ice pick. Then it swells up and itches worse than anything else in the world. Insect bite remedies probably are right behind sunburn cream.
Sometime around late September to mid-October, fall arrives. The mountains turn wheat gold and luminous scarlet, with swaths of deep evergreen where the pine and balsam grow. The TV stations run foliage reports (where the best color is and is going to be over the following weeks), and the new driving challenge is leaf-peepers. These are tourists who come up to drive slow, stop unexpectedly and hop out of their cars to take pictures. Fortunately, they leave money - lots of money. They are a mainstay of the state's tourist economy, so those of us who realize that try to be tolerant and not run the idiots over on the highways.
The farmers are all out in the fields, trying to get the last hay crop in and harvest the cow corn to feed the herds through the winter. Signs go up along the roadside for "pick your own pumpkins", and you drive past fields where the early frosts have killed the pumpkin vines and left big orange globes scattered all over the place. People are getting in winter wood, and you pass piles of log chunks waiting to be split and stacked in folks' yards. The squirrels are frantically trying to stash food stocks for the winter, and everything the has fur starts putting on their winter coats.
After the colors fade and the leaves fall, we have the sixth and final season of the year: depressing. Also called brown. Also called any number of names that won't make it through Michele's e-mail filter at work. Everything is brown, or grey, or greyish brown, with those dark streaks of evergreens on the mountains. It reminds me of "winter" in Florida. Everyone waits for the snows to start, so the mountains will be covered in white and sparkle in the sunlight. This is the second of the suicide seasons (the first is the end of winter, when cabin fever sets in). This season lasts, unfortunately, anywhere from a month to three months. Thank the Goddess for Prozac and all his little cousins!
Every season has it's challenges, but I wouldn't give them up for anything. I've lived where there's no spring or fall, and I don't want to do it again. I'm sure it has something to do with being a pagan and a witch. I'm attuned to those seasonal changes, deep in my body. I want to hibernate in the winter and fuck anything male that walks on two legs in the spring.
I'm just a happy little pagan, and man, I love my seasons!
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