Mud Season in Vermont

By Will Baker

The view was spectacular on the way home from work today. And as I made my way, with Lake Champlain to the east, and purple snow topped mountains, which seemed to rise right at the far shore, my thoughts turned to spring. Although I am sure that, in the northern most reaches of Vermont folks are still at it, the "sugaring" (maple syrup making) is just about wrapped up in this little corner of the world. By all accounts, it has been a pretty good season for the makers of this delicious treat.

The last of the snow has melted in our door-yard, and although there is still snow to be seen on the mountaintops, spring has indeed arrived in Vermont’s valleys and woodlands. Of course it will still be a few weeks before the buds on the trees open fully, but in the meantime we can content ourselves with the daffodils and tulips. The farm-folks in the southern valleys are already working their fields, and I suppose that their northern counterparts, my friends and neighbors, will be at it soon enough. But for now, the next few weeks will be a time of waiting. Will it snow again? It might. And as for me, well I won’t even think about planting my garden until the first week in June.

In the past, killing frosts have rendered our early efforts futile on too many occasions for us to tempt fate again this year—in the evenings the temperature still dips into the twenties on a regular basis. Yes, my gardening shall have to wait. But my wife, displaying the exuberant ambition of one cooped up over a long dark winter, has been carefully tending her seedlings, under bright artificial light, in a growing area arranged in our basement. And when it is time to put our "starts" out in the garden, I am sure that they will be strong and will eventually yield our little family a bountiful harvest.

And even though the daytime temperature has been hitting sixty degrees, I will not be sailing on Lake Champlain for at least a month more. The temperature of that big body of water is still very cold. Cold enough to chill the air that blows across its broad expanse, to the point where it could induce hypothermia in an unwitting or ill prepared sailor. And absent hypothermia, even in the sunshine, a sail on Lake Champlain these days would be down right uncomfortable.

Even my favorite hiking trails are unavailable. You see, this is "Mud Season." And the roads have been "posted," prohibiting vehicles over a certain weight from travelling on many of the state’s byways. This is done to protect the roads from damage as the frost works its way out of the roadbed, sometimes creating dangerous frost heaves in the process. I will stay off of the hiking trails for a similar reason -- hiking on muddy and fragile trail networks can create quite a bit of erosion.

So we wait, and we listen to the songbirds, and putter around the house and yard. Of course there is the wonderful sunshine to enjoy. Each spring I rejoice at the feeling of the sun as it regains its intensity and duration. And I know that I am not alone. It is clear that the animals and plants, and my neighbors and friends are made more active by this natural trigger. Folks are busy with their spring cleaning chores, and the animals are on the move. For instance, on the way home from work last week I counted sixteen wild turkeys milling about near the roadway. And the muskellunge, a strange looking fish which is actually a very large variety of pike, has begun its annual "run" up the Otter Creek to the falls at Vergennes.

But waiting can be a dangerous thing. For it seems to me that when we wait, we sometimes allow ourselves to diminish the present. And with the present being all that we really have, what a pity that can be. Sure we all have memories (some sweet, some sad) and hopes and dreams for our posterity and ourselves. But I believe that the rubber meets the road in the experiences of the present. So, as I wait to sail and garden and hike and play with my daughter in the mountains, I will try to remember how blessed I am. Even if the words of Tom Petty ring true: " the waiting is the hardest part," I can try to find the blessing in it all.

Perhaps Mud Season in Vermont is all about constructive tension, when we find ourselves poised between where we were and where we are headed. And this could explain the sometimes-curious, yet always amusing response that Vermonters have to these few weeks each year. The state has many miles of unpaved roads--I remember reading the statistic a few years ago and being startled at exactly how many miles of dirt track exists in this state. And during Mud Season many of them become almost impassable. The Champlain and Connecticut River valleys, the two largest expanses of relatively flat, open land in the state, are comprised of soils which turn to a curious goo each spring. And some folks like to play in it, stomping and rolling, competing in turbo charged buggies or simply jamming down the roads in their 4X4s.

There is even a place in Johnson Vermont known as the "mud-bog." You can image the type of motor driven recreational madness that occurs in that curious place. But maybe these folks are truly living in the moment. It is true that, for the time being, we must wait for our favorite diversions. But we do have our daffodils and tulips. And of course the mud…so why not revel in it?


 (Essay Collection)