The Olympics are behind us. Someday – even this endless winter – the ice will melt. And when it does? There goes my next big idea for primetime TV: “America’s Got Curling.” Or, better still, “Celebrity Curling.” Sure, curling lacks the speed and grace of “Ice Dancing with the Stars.” (Tonight starring Bruce Dern and Betty White.) But it’s less dangerous. And where else would we ever see Donald Trump or Paris Hilton push anything with a broom?
In any case, soon there will be mud. At least here in Vermont. We are now entering Vermont’s most mythic time of the year, mud season. The ground will thaw someday soon, and – Warning: Science Stuff Dead Ahead – it thaws from the surface down. That means all that melting snow has no place else to go except on to our dirt roads. Seriously, that’s what happens. Even when the thawing ground is nowhere near a dirt road, the water is going to go there. Water runs uphill in Vermont if it has the chance to turn an otherwise well-maintained, vehicle-friendly dirt road into a channel of car-swallowing slop.
And sometimes, people-swallowing slop. Not kidding. I had a wonderful neighbor named Wanda Goodyear who passed away at the age of 81 in 2005, and I will never forget when she told me about the time she was a little girl and got stuck in the mud on the River Road here in Lincoln. She was trying to cross the street one March afternoon and got stuck in sludge that was over her knees. She might have worried about getting run over, but obviously no automobile was going to be whipping down the road. Eventually one of her father’s friends rescued her, trudging his way into the channel and lifting her out. (Incidentally, I still have Wanda Goodyear as a neighbor: The wonderful eight-year-old daughter of Todd and Jen Goodyear – and the great-granddaughter of the Wanda Goodyear who was, one day in her life, literally stuck in the mud.)
Sometimes when the water does not turn a dirt road into an impassable swamp, it creates the creeping mud that settles inside our front halls and on our kitchen floors. Obviously many Vermont homes have something they call a “mud room.” In the coming weeks, those rooms will be different shades of brown as the mud settles and dries. I am convinced that the folks at Sherwin-Williams who name their colors begin by visiting a Vermont mud room in March. The paint company’s web site has no fewer than 28 shades of brown. It’s only a matter of time before they offer “Green Mountain Brown,” “Off the Mud Boots Brown,” and “Dry Powder Brown.” (Note this is merely the Mud Season Collection. There are plenty of other year-round Vermont browns, beginning with the seventeen different shades of manure.)
But when we think of mud season, we think first of the dirt road mud ruts: The ruts that yank cars out of alignment or stop them dead. One of my first mud seasons in Vermont, I didn’t know that a Dodge Colt was not going to fare well on the northernmost section of Quaker Street, the road that links Lincoln with South Starksboro. My car sunk so deep that I couldn’t open the door on either side. I had to climb out the window and sit on my hood until a neighbor came by in a truck. With a chain he yanked the Colt back onto a navigable patch and towed me the last few hundred yards to Vermont 17.
And now, once more, we await the imminent return of Vermont mud. Sure, it’s an inconvenience. It’s a mess. It means we can’t watch “America’s Got Curling.”
But it does mean that the sap is running, because mud and maple syrup are meteorological cousins. That’s good news.
And it also means this: Spring is just around the corner – even here in Vermont. So, bring on the mud, Mother Nature. Game on.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on March 9, 2014. Chris’s next novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” arrives on July 8.)