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.

Outside with Aunties

Outside with Aunties by Kim Robertson  2/2009

It is early January and in the hurried planning of meetings and phone calls at work in Rhode Island, I send an email to my aunt Marilyn in midcoast Maine, “Do you want to ski with me on my next visit to Jefferson?” Increasingly, my trips north to visit and care for my aging mother require a respite from the cleaning, shopping, sorting, tending that is required of me during my stay. I reach out to my aunties. Marilyn almost always writes back promptly with a resounding “yes, yes, let’s get together and ski.” The plans begin. A note is sent to cousin Ann, a novice skier who rents skis and poles from Auclair’s in Augusta. Marilyn writes aunt Bev in Portland, “Kim is coming up, would you like to ski with us on Saturday?” The arrangements have been made.

The sense of responsibility increases. It requires effort for aunt Bev to rent the skis and to drive the two hours from Portland to Jefferson. Schedules are changed and room is made in the lives of my family members. Being a detail person can hinder the best intentions and I begin to worry. Will the weather cooperate so I can even make the trip north? Or worse yet, will my aging memory fail and I forget to take my skis with me on my travel north? Or forget something critical like boots and poles? Suddenly, a two hour ski outing becomes large, but I can’t wait to experience it. It’s just my aunties, and we all know life can change the best made plans.

My husband Bruce decides to come too. He’s driving us north out of Rhode Island and as the miles flip by, we notice less and less snow on the ground. The wind is howling outside the car as it shivers along the highway to Jefferson. “Did you bring your long johns?” he asks. “Of course,” I reply. I’ve been begging him to ski too, but he prefers terra firma and won’t put awkward boards on his feet to traverse snow. I’m a little disappointed, but after being together for almost 30 years, I’ve come to accept that we have different interests. So I’ll rely on my aunties to ski with me, as long as they’re able. They are well into their 60’s, but have always been strong and can out bicycle, hike, or kayak, me any day. I’m proud of my athletic aunties.

Many October visits to my childhood home in Maine have included walks on the Cudworth lot down to the lake. The same procedure of relaying the message “let’s walk on Saturday” floats through the family members: Bruce, my Dad when he was alive, brother Greg, cousin Ann, and of course, my aunties. Most times including aunt Martha, the elder auntie. Her legs are bowed, and her knees ache, but she traverses the terrain like a spider. Stepping carefully over branches that have fallen, weaving her way to the lakeside. I am gleeful on my walk with my aunties through the autumn leaves and crisp air.

Arriving in Jefferson after five hours of driving north presents us with hardly any snow. Plans need to change, and the phone calls begin. “Let’s walk instead.” it is decided, “we can walk on the Bog Road in Somerville.” It is a well-maintained dirt road with very little traffic and not many houses that makes it seem isolated and woodsy.

The walk begins with a brrr of cold wind, everyone is bundled in their fleeces and wools. Ann is wearing beautiful turquoise mittens that she has knit herself. As we trudge along over the rutted gravel, the conversation is a detailed account of how to make felted mittens. Doesn’t this rock look like a polar bear? What bird is that tweeting in the bushes? Ah, the simple topics give me happiness. The common thread that binds each of us, makes our being together as warm and tight woven as the felted mittens.

It is understood that we can never truly find happiness until we come to terms with our mortality. I realize this moment is to be treasured in it’s simplicity, and want to hold onto it for longer than is possible. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that nothing is forever, not even walking with my aunties.