And rightly so. The snows come, they cover the ground and look beautiful, and then – when the temperatures warm and rain begins to fall from the sky – they melt. Onto frozen ground, at first. Frozen ground doesn’t absorb water well, so the puddles of melt fill up all of the low-lying areas. And then they freeze. And they thaw and they freeze and they thaw. Eventually, the ground also begins to thaw, and when it does, it releases whatever water fell on it in the fall before the frost set in. Usually, while this happens, we get the “March coming in like a lion” and “April showers” that sound so delightfully poetic, but really mean days and days of leaden grey skies dropping mixtures of cold frozen and liquid precipitation, and finally, going to all rain. Which combines with the thawing earth and the runoff problems to create giant natural tanks of mud.
This isn’t the nice kind of mud that rich people pay bazillions of dollars to be covered with by spa personnel. This isn’t even the nice kind of mud that small children make mudpies from and get filthy.
This is Special Mud. It’s black and slimy and has the consistency of a well-chewed Jujube. To say that it is sticky is an understand of grotesque proportions. This mud…sucks. It will suck your shoe off. It can even suck your boot off. Popular wisdom says it sucks the shoes right off the horses, although my farrier and trainer don’t agree. If you’re unlucky enough to be wearing those ultra-comfy looking ragg socks under your wellies, or duck shoes, the mud can even suck the sock right off your foot. Really. I’ve seen it happen. There’s nothing quite like standing out in a sucking mud covered horse paddock with the March wind screaming right through your skin and tickling your bones before it leaves out the other side with rain and sleet sheeting down sideways, trying to halter a horse that is High On Life and doesn’t want to be caught because it’s bored and this? To a horse? Some of the finest entertainment available. And then the horse slows its rodeo down for one minute, you step forward softly so as not to set the blasted thing off again, and realize instantly that while your foot has risen from the mirk, your shoe has not. And the mud is starting to fill in the hole where your shoe was last seen. And now there’s no place to put your sock-clad foot.
Those moments are when you really know you’re alive, I tell you.
So, yes, Mud Season works. I just feel that it is so much more, this season.
For instance, it is also Chuckhole Season. We didn’t have this issue in Texas. We had other issues. But this one is the one where the snow comes down and piles up on the roads, and in order for anyone to get anywhere, like ambulances and fire trucks, something has to happen to get the snow off the road. In Texas, we called that “waiting an hour”. In the north, we call that “a plow”. Here’s the thing about plows. They’re made of metal. The truck part is metal and the big scoopy scrapy blade is also metal. I’ve actually seen a plow blade throwing off sparks from contact with the road surface. Talk about a seriously cool sight.
Having a massive truck with a gigantic metal blade scraping the snow off the road at 30 mph sounds like an awesome idea until you stop and actually think about what it’s scraping against. Asphalt, up here. And asphalt is a surface known for being pristinely flat and smooth for about 5 minutes, until that huge truck with the giant wheel that flattens the road when it’s being paved moves 10 feet down. After that, asphalt is known for its artistic texture. And that texture? Doesn’t neatly match the bottom of that giant metal blade on the plow. Which means that the plow has a choice: either leave a layer of snow and ice in any low-ish or wavy spot in the road, which is 1,000,000 per square yard of asphalt OR it can scrape the hell out of the road to get all that stuff off. The problem with option 1 is that the road still isn’t safe to drive on, which is kind of the whole point of the plow. The problem with option 2 is that any edge, angle, or loose bit of asphalt, which is only 10,000 per square yard, gets ripped right out of the road. And deposited on the margin, where it can be found 2 years later with grass growing up through it.
I once had an entire clump of chives relocated 3 feet away by a plow.
So the plows, in performing their extremely valuable service for the safety of mankind, chew up the roads when they do so. And what that does, it makes more low spots in the road. See above, under March Like A Lion and April Showers to grasp the enormity of this statement. And the road crews can’t patch all that stuff up until it’s warm enough, or dry enough, or both…I’m not sure, but what I do know, is they don’t patch that stuff in March. Or April.
The upshot of all this dynamic physics is that by this time of the year, every road in town has had every patch from last year’s road repairs ripped out of the ground, and those holes have expanded from freeze-thaw cycles, and then the plows have created a fresh crop, to boot.
Every thoroughfare becomes a slalom course. Unless you want to blow a tire (which I’ve done) or blow out your suspension (ditto) by driving over the holes.
We have chuckholes on my street that could eat small children. We have chuckholes that have extended families, and they’ve all come for a long visit. We have chuckholes that could hide the national debt of Greece.
It’s Chuckhole Season every bit as much as it is Mud Season.
It’s also Maple Season. The nights are freezing, the days are warm, and the sap is flowing. Farmers are out working the sugarbush with complicated arrangements of taps and hoses. Farmers are out working the sugarbush with vats and snowmobiles. Farmers are out working the sugarbush with metal buckets that wear pointy hats, and bringing it in with a horse-drawn sledge. Farmers are staying up until 3am boiling the sap to make that maple syrup. Farmer’s families are operating small seasonal restaurants and serving brunches comprised of rustic food like pancakes, waffles, and corn fritters, and bringing bottomless cups of coffee and pitchers of hot maple syrup.
Every country road features a small outbuilding with an oddly ventilated roof, huge stacks of wood, and steam pouring out through every hole in the building.
Maple syrup is expensive, no question…but if you’ve ever seen what it takes to get it from the tree into the plastic jug, you won’t blink at the price. It would be cheap at twice the price. This stuff was a specialty item in Texas, hard to come by and priced like an ounce of gold. Here in New England, buying it from the farmer, it’s much less expensive, which means that one doesn’t feel compelled to “save” it for a special occasion, and one can cook with it freely. I had a maple-brined turkey breast this winter that required the use of one whole pint of maple syrup. This would have been unthinkable in Texas. I might as well have filled a tub with 14K gold leaf to bathe in it, as use two cups of maple syrup for a single meal.
It was unbelievably good, this dish, I will say that.
So, hot farm breakfasts, boiling sap, and – of course – plenty of mud, and this is also Maple Season.
It is also Shedding Season.
The Wonder Horse doesn’t make much of a winter coat. He makes some winter coat, but not like some of the horses at the barn who look like ultra-cute plush toy horses at this time of the year. One of the horses that was at the barn last year? Grew a winter coat four inches thick. I swear it. Huey doesn’t get a gorgeous fluffy winter coat. He just looks…scruffy. He gets a beard, which makes him look old. Mysteriously, in the last month, he manufactured a beautiful set of curly strawberry blond feathers on all of his fetlocks. Why curly? Why blond? Why now? I don’t know. I do know they are seriously cute, though, and I’m going to be sorry when they either fall out or have to get clipped off for a show. The beard, I will not miss at all. It makes him look like the guy who sits around under the railroad trestle all day with the bottle of Schlitz malt liquor in the brown paper bag. I look forward to the disappearance of that beard.
This is the time of year, I read recently, when riders are covered in mud up to the waist, and with hair from the waist up. True, because as the days quickly grow longer, it is the time to say “Adieu” to whatever winter coat the horse managed to put on.
A source of perennial amazement to me is how – despite the fact that Huey’s “winter coat” is barely perceptible – he still managed to shed like an over-stressed Persian cat. It is a prodigious volume of hair that falls off of him. And, usually, sticks to me. This time of year, you can tell when I’ve been to the barn, because I shine red, all over, in the sunlight.
Of late, Huey’s coat has been notable mainly for the presence of large quantities of dirt, dust, and dandruff. He is filthy. Not in that fun photo op way of being entirely covered in mud. No. He’s just dirty. It’s almost not worth brushing him, because the brush only brings up more dirt and then moves it around. We are well past the point of brushes actually removing dirt. The only thing that is going to remove dirt at this point is a large quantity of water, preferably from a hose with a squirt nozzle, a big bucket of shampoo, and another hose-driven deluge. This, of course, requires temperatures that we’re unlikely to see any time soon, so I have to just remind myself that my horse really is red.
One happy thought occurred to me this morning. The dirty hair is falling out, yes? And the hair that is replacing it clean, yes? Then maybe he will be a Self-Cleaning Horse.
Yeah, I know. I used to think if I lay out in the sun long enough, I would get so many freckles that they’d all blend together and make an awesome tan, too. Spring blooms eternal in the hopeful breast.
So it is Shedding Season.
The last, but certainly not the least, is Spring Skiing Season.
Spring skiing is that bittersweet time of the year when the snow is at its absolute best, and the sun smiles down at the earth, and the cool breezes caress skin that has not been exposed in months…but it also marks the Beginning Of The End. We have, at best, one more month of skiing, and then it’s back to the Ninth Hell of No Skiing for another 8 months. It’s just so unfair. It gets great right before it dies, just to make the sorrow of parting that much more painful. I can’t dwell on this very long or I’ll go into a depression.
But it is also Spring Skiing Season.
Here are the goods.