Spring air is crisp with wind and rain and daffodils requiring layers of clothing, adjusting to the fluctuating cool to warm to very cold. For some, the first signs of an awakening earth is the appearance of skunk cabbage – foreign to anyone from the north woods where mud is the signature of spring.
The general store in my rural Maine sold everything from Ritz crackers to iron rebar and everything in between. There were large flat wooden tables in the grain room, stained an orange brown with shellacked surfaces, stacked with woolen plaid winter jackets, sewing supplies and against the wall, tall rubber boots for children and adults. The boots were the color of a frog, grayish green, with light brown thick rubber soles and a wobbly tread. Perfect for mud season.
Indeed, in the north, mud season is a time of year. It means being laid off from work if your living is made from harvesting wood. Trucks and heavy equipment get mired in the thick mud making deep trenches in woods roads and logging yards that alternately freeze and thaw, making traveling over them impossible. Most rural dooryards never consider pavement so parking your car in the driveway was something of a challenge. If visiting friends meant traveling on dirt roads, one needed to consider if it was worth the possibility of getting stuck – especially in the evening when it was difficult to see if the ground was going to be too soft.
The river valley where the soil has the richest loam around, it’s so deep you can stick a shovel into the ground and dig and dig and still be in the dark soil coveted by farmers and gardeners alike. Those who know no other are sorely disappointed when discovering their new land is where the glaciers ended, depositing every rock carried forth. How disappointing it is to hear the chink of stone instead of the sluice of thick loam when starting to dig. How would one know that everyone didn’t have garden soil? It is an awakening to the reality of having good soil should not to be taken for granted.
Spring is the time to take advantage of mud. It is the perfect end to a long cold winter after being stuck indoors and time to don the rubber boots, trod outside, and celebrate the mud season.
A key component when wearing rubber boots is to cover your feet with bread bags as an attempt to keep toes dry. Often while treading through mud there is water involved and attempting to wade through streams and large mud puddles, it is considered a challenge to see if one can keep water from pouring over the tops of your boots.
Another favorite challenge is to wallow in the mud by kneading your feet up and down creating a quicksand effect that eventually succumbs the ability to step out of the mud and requires actually taking the boots off and yanking them from their suctioned encasement. Thus ending the day’s mudding – somewhat a disappointment if it happens before the hours of day were up.
I’ve always loved the color of mud, the smell of mud, it’s texture so sublime. How is it as adults we avoid such a pleasant material, dread getting it on our shoes let alone our cars. After visiting Maine this spring in our pickup truck, and traveling over muddy dirt roads, it was inevitable to have the thick brown slop splashed up on it’s sides. My vehicle wore the badge of mud as an ode to spring, as I secretly admired the splattered sides of my car parked next to the gleaming and spotless vehicles in the paved parking lots of the suburban lifestyle.
Harboring a love for mud is not something you openly share with folks. Especially if spring to them means a visit to warm beaches, or the malls for the season’s new styles. I love the smell of mud.
As my time progresses, I’m walking in a Rhode Island swamp with my sister-in-law Joan thinking this is spring. There are skunk cabbage, peep frogs, and osprey to provide me with a southern New England awakening. But mud is missing. That deep thick heavy murk that represents spring to me.
I miss my youthful mud, but must admit that life provides no return to one’s home. No return to mud. We must grow with our spring and learn to appreciate the subtle differences of each environment whether it is Rhode Island, or Maine.
Spring is here.