Down East 2013 ©
It’s nearing the end of April and for most folks in the northeastern U.S. spring has sprung. On a recent trip to Boston I was bowled over by balmy breezes rustling through the riotously blossoming Rhododendrons and Forsythia. Then I came back to Maine, where my wife, a transplanted Minnesotan, insists that we have no such thing as spring.
She’s makes a good point.
“First we have to suffer through a long, cold, bleak winter and then THIS!” she says, gesturing accusingly at the squishy mouse brown area we stubbornly refer to as our “lawn.”
She’s right, of course. Just when most of our neighbors to the west and south are firing up their lawnmowers we’re digging out our hip boots. It was ever thus. In the venerated Maine tradition, which my mother always refers to as “making a virtue of necessity,” mud season has become enshrined as a vital part of the Maine lifestyle. As such it’s the subject of some of our most enduring Maine stories. One of those old chestnuts goes something like this:
Having navigated his way through knee-deep mud in order to reach the mailbox at the end of the driveway, a Maine farmer glances at the river of mud known as the main road and notices an unidentified object, something small and grey, making its way slowly in his general direction. His curiosity piqued, he lingers, squinting up the road in an attempt to identify it.
Nope, too darned small for a squirrel and a squirrel would probably move faster than this thing.
Nope, wrong color for a woodchuck. As it approaches he can see that it's actually his neighbor's familiar grey fedora hat which, having apparently been lost upstream, is slowly drifting his way.
Being of a neighborly disposition the farmer glances around and locates a fallen tree limb of sufficient length and heft to snag the misplaced chapeau. The road will surely be passable in another week or two, right? He’ll return the hat to its owner, then.
When the hat finally comes within reach he deftly snags it out of the mud only to reveal the neighbor's bald pate and boney features barely breaching the muddy road's surface.
“Kinda of a hard time to go for a walk on this road aint it?” says the farmer, “That it is!” replies his neighbor.
“But that aint the worst of it. I figured the mud was too deep for walking. The fact is, I aint afoot I’m on horseback!”
That story is of course a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. When I was in my mid-twenties, living on the Raymond Road in Palmyra, I had a few mud season moments that came pretty close to matching that tale.
Raymond Road in those days was barely a road at all. The mile or so between my house and Rt. 2 was virtually impassable for days at a stretch during mud season. When I say impassable I mean nobody got through! The mail wasn’t delivered. Even massive 4 X 4 pick-up trucks gave it a pass. We were stranded, marooned in a sea of mud. After a particularly nasty two- or three-day stretch of this nonsense I’d had enough. It hadn’t rained for a day or more and the sun was out. Hey, why not give it a try?
Why not indeed!
Within minutes I’d managed to hopelessly mire the hind wheels of my old Dodge D-100 without leaving the driveway. Abandoning the truck, I trudged the half-mile or so up the road to my neighbor’s farmhouse. Fortunately my neighbor, “Fod” Sprague, was home and happy to come to my aid. He cranked up his ancient Land Rover (complete with a bumper winch ) and we headed back into the fray. I was confident that Fod’s rig would have me pulled out and on the road in a jiffy. He hooked the winch onto my front bumper, I got behind the wheel of the truck and after half hour or so of screaming engines, groaning metal, and flying mud the air was thick with exhaust fumes and both vehicles sat motionless, axle deep in the mud. Stepping out from behind the wheel Fod gave me a gap-toothed grin. I felt like an idiot but he was clearly just starting to have fun.
“More’n one way to skin a cat,” he chortled and motioned for me to follow him back to his place, where we fired up his massive John Deere tractor. An hour later we’d managed to retrieve both trucks and perch them side by side on a patch of relatively high ground behind my house. That’s where they stayed for the week or so it took for mud season to loosen its slippery grip on Palmyra.
Maybe the reason we Mainers tend to celebrate mud season is that it constitutes an annual reminder that sometimes, when things are 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.
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