Mud Season

As New Englanders, we claim we embrace each of the four seasons, particularly as we complain our way through one that has yet to bear the season-specific fruit we actually embrace. Of course, our griping gives way to age-old jokes about how the four seasons aren’t actually Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Rather, they’re abstractions bound not by the calendar but by chaos, if anything at all.

Like “mud season.”

“Mud season” is largely irrelevant to those of us who rarely venture away from the beaten path. From the comfort of my apartment and the reaches of Route 3A, “mud season” is entirely abstract. You appreciate the possibility; you know that spring thaws melt snow and snow runoff creates mud and mud, frankly, is a mess to deal with. But you don’t really have to deal with it.

You need not stray too far off the beaten path to find mud, though. In Candia, in Deerfield, in Auburn, even in Bedford and Merrimack, you’ll find lesser-used roads where the pavement ends and a graded gravel surface awaits. Occasionally you’ll see a sign declaring “local traffic only,” but usually the tire ruts are warning enough. If you don’t have a Jeep or a Subaru, pass at your own risk.

Even paved roads in those marshier areas are no certainty. As the earth softens, signs come out “posting” the roads for maximum weights, usually only a concern if you’re driving a box truck or something larger.

My first encounter with mud season came nine or so years ago, when I volunteered to help a local political candidate with some special-election voter outreach. “Outreach” took me to the eastern communities around Lake Winnipesaukee in an unseasonably-warm March. I was an outsider to the area, setting about my work with a set of printed maps and a passable sense of direction. The maps, naturally, bore no indication about the quality of the roads they charted. They were just roads to someone who worked for a computer service and went by the data.

And so you’d tentatively approach an intersection where a paved road forked into two, and you’d try to sort out which was the road and which was actually a long private driveway. Or you’d question whether the “road” to the right was actually something you could fit down without four-wheel-drive and an intake snorkel. At least some of the roads were courteously marked “private way,” in which case you knew not to waste your time.

But for others, you would proceed with caution, hoping not to encounter oncoming traffic, and hoping that when you found a place to park or turn around, the snow tires you had not yet changed over would be enough to find grip to get going again.

It was an experience, one that made me question my preference for low-slung performance cars over top-heavy all-wheel-drive Urban Assault Vehicles. But only for a few weeks.

Mud season is, therefore, somewhat avoidable, if you’re not into the vehicles and the fashions and such that living off the beaten path demands. But it takes relatively little, like a drive through a muddy lot into your office parking space, to confront you with that reality once again.

There’s always a bright side to mud season, though, and that means that winter is finally drawing to a close, at least enough that the thaw is moving along in earnest. The snow piles are eroding. The lawns are visible again. The summer-preparation activities, opening the swimming pool or cleaning up the motorcycle or convertible, are not too far out of reach. And those late-spring and early-summer activities, the rounds of miniature golf and evenings at the driving range and Saturdays at the race track, are just around the corner. You might even be able to drive with the windows down.

But at least wait until you get through that muddy parking lot, lest you eat a mouthful of dirt on your way through.

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