Ah, mud season!
You know you’ve truly experienced a Maine winter when you start looking forward to mud season.
By late March, spring has already sprung for many folks elsewhere in the Northeast. In Boston, at this very moment there might well be balmy breezes rustling through blossoming forsythia.
In Maine, it’s another story.
About the time our neighbors to the west and south are tuning up their lawn mowers, we’re digging out our hip boots. It was ever thus. And in the grand Maine tradition my mother calls “making a virtue of necessity,” mud season has become a rite of passage and the subject of some of our most enduring stories.
Here’s a classic.
Having navigated 50 yards of knee-deep goop to reach the mailbox at the end of his driveway, a 19th century Maine farmer surveys the river of mud which constitutes the “town road” and notices a small, gray something moving slowly in his direction.
A squirrel? Nope, too small for a squirrel, and a squirrel would move faster.
Woodchuck? Wrong color.
As it bobs slowly toward him he recognizes it as his neighbor’s old fedora hat, apparently lost “upstream.”
Locating a fallen tree limb of sufficient length, he prepares to retrieve the drifting chapeau. Surely the road will be passable in a week or two. He’ll return the hat to its owner then.
He deftly snags it only to reveal his neighbor’s bald pate – and beneath that, his upturned nose.
“Kinda of hard walkin’, ain't it Harry?” asks the farmer.
“That it is!” replies his neighbor. “But it could be worse. At least I’ve still got my horse under me!”
That story is an exaggeration, but not by much. When I was a young man living a mile or so down a dirt road in Palmyra, I experienced a few mud season moments nearly as daunting.
The Raymond Road in those days was barely a road at all, and the stretch between my house and Route 2 was virtually impassable for days at a time during mud season.
When I say impassable, I mean nobody got through! Not the mail, ambulance or police. I suppose that if our house had caught fire during mud season, we’d have had to fight the flames with a garden hose until the road dried up.
During one particularly nasty stretch of isolation, virtually marooned for days in a sea of mud, my patience finally ran out. It hadn’t rained for a day or two and the sun was out. Why not give it a try? Why not indeed!
I cranked my old Dodge D-100 pickup to life and in two minutes I’d managed to hopelessly mire the rear wheels without even leaving my driveway! Abandoning the truck and donning my high-water boots, I trudged the half-mile or so up the road to the farmhouse next door.
Fortunately, my neighbor “Fod” Sprague was home and willing to come to my aid. Always even tempered and practical, Fod started up his ancient and indestructible Land Rover (with its sturdy bumper winch) and we headed back into the fray.
I was confident that Fod’s rig would have me out and on the road in a jiffy.
Hooking the winch to my front bumper, he gave me the thumbs up. What followed was a half-hour or so of screaming engines, groaning metal and flying mud. When the racket subsided, the air was thick with blue exhaust fumes and both vehicles sat motionless, axle deep in mud.
Stepping out from behind the wheel, Fod flashed me a gap toothed grin. I felt like an idiot, but clearly he was just starting to enjoy himself.
“More’n one way to skin a cat,” he chortled, pausing to light an unfiltered Camel. He motioned for me to follow him back to the farmhouse for the heavy artillery: his massive John Deere tractor.
An hour or so later, having succeeded in extricating both trucks, we parked them side by side on a patch of high ground behind my woodshed, and that’s exactly where they stayed for the next week or so.
Maybe the reason we Mainers tend to canonize our mud season stories is that they serve as an important annual reminder that sometimes, when things are really difficult, the very best thing we can do (in fact the only thing we can do) is sit back and wait for the situation to improve on its own.
Somehow, amazingly enough, it always seems to do just that.