Fifth Season

Winter being nearly over early spring is not without its challenges. We in rural New England, and other rural northern areas of the United States and Canada, have five seasons:spring, summer, autumn, winter, and mud season. This fifth season can be so dramatic that it deserves special note and its own place on the calendar. It is the time of year before all the snow has melted and the ground is still frozen underneath. The melting snow water stays near the surface and turns dirt into a gritty pudding. Undisturbed the casual observer would hardly be able to tell that the area may yield major problems but with the aid of any agitation, whether it be foot, hoof, or wheel, the soil turns to a slurry of muck that can resist extraction with the power of vortex. Many a rubber boot has been lost to the gods of mud season and many a car and truck has been mired to their chassis requiring the extraction of a wrecking truck.

I have admit that I am partial to mud. I love the unpredictable nature that it may add to any excursion. In my particular case it is as if during each year I must relearn the dangers of this short lived time of year. Much like the movie “Groundhog Day” I am destined to relive my mistakes over and over and over again.

My first memory of mud season was at about the age of five years old. I was walking along a dirt trail that hugged the edge of a kettle bog deep in the New England woods. One might ask why I was in the woods alone, particularly near a swamp, at such an early age. It seems that I was an impossible wanderer and my mother learned quickly that when I did escape the grasp of her keen eye it was pointless trying to find me in the woods. On two occasions she became nearly hopelessly lost trying to find me. Both times I returned home in a few hours to find that my mom was missing and I returned to the forest to lead her home. The combination of her embarrassment and great personal relief at being found kept me in minimum trouble and so I continued to explore areas that were undesirable to most and quiet, secret and dark in my very young mind. On this particular day I was trekking along this wooded path that had reasonable soil stability despite the high water table. The bog was still ice covered and the large hummocks holding high bush blueberry bushes looked mighty tempting. I was considering whether it would be safe to walk on the ice and hop from hummock to hummock when I stepped into an area on the path where the soil had been disturbed by a buck rutting during the previous autumn. My right foot immediately sunk down to a depth where I was knee deep in mud. I tried to pull my foot out of the mud and it met great resistance. Finally managing with all my might I extracted the foot but my rubber boot stayed behind. I knew returning home with only one boot was not a good option and so I reached into the slurry to try to grab my boot with my right hand. I felt around, my arm buried in mud almost up to my elbow, but I couldn’t find the rim of the rubber boot. After several attempts to recover the sunken object I realized that it was hopeless and walked home with my head hanging down wondering how I was going to get myself out of this mess. Surely punishment for innocently losing the boot was not acceptable but then I remembered the clincher-I wasn’t supposed to be out here in the first place. As I plodded home I came up with a plan. It seemed ingenious at the time. I fabricated a fantastical story about finding a giant in the woods. He was in a bad mood and very testy during our encounter. I felt danger and ran as fast as I could. Along the way I fell into a giant puddle and lost my boot! Although I escaped there was no time to get the boot. Surely my mother would be greatly relieved and hug me as I had narrowly escaped sure death.

As I walked home, or should I say hobbled home, as I only had a boot on my left foot and my right foot was barely covered with a muddy sock, I began to feel confident that my day would end well; in fact I may even become a hero! My five year old mind was not able to see the flaws in this logic.

When I got home my mother was out in the back yard hanging laundry on the clothes line. She immediately recognized that I was one boot short of a complete set. She asked me what happened and I told her this big fat lie embellishing the wild details as I went along relaying to her about how it was that I came home after a near miss with an ugly, horrible giant. I could see her holding back a laugh. She was really itching to bust a gut as my story kept getting wilder and wilder. When I was all done she told me to go to my room and think about what really happened. After about an hour I came back out and told her the truth. I was grounded for two weeks for telling a fib and had to work removing rocks in the garden as compensation for the lost boot. I was forbidden to leave the yard during this two week period. I knew she meant business and faithfully complied.

My next serious encounter with mud season was not entirely my own doing. But it does reveal a distinct genealogical deficiency when it comes to mud season. I was about eight years old and was on a local fishing trip with my father. We were going to find a secret pond that was so buried in brush that hardly anyone knew it was there. My father was an incredible master at telling tall tales; another trait that I inherited and used flagrantly from the time I was old enough to talk. The pond was located on the top of a hill at the end of a dirt road that was barely wide enough to allow the use of a pickup truck. Our family didn’t have a four wheel drive in those days but my Dad’s Dodge truck had posi-traction (meaning it had a locking rear differential which allowed both wheels to grip simultaneously) and he was convinced that it could be driven anywhere. This old dirt road was remote and was not plowed in the winter. On this particular day in April there were still steep sections that had snow. In places where there was no snow the water ran down the wheel ruts imitating a perennial stream. My father took one look at the road, clenched the cigarette between his lips and put the petal to the metal! The ride was fast, furious, and bumpy. We didn’t wear seat belts in those days and so we bounced up and down with our heads ricocheting off the interior ceiling of the truck. The ass end of the truck fish tailed from side to side but forward progress was steady until we reached a level area. Dad let off the gas as we passed through it and we immediately sunk down to the frame. I remember the forward progress slowing. My father gave it more gas. The posi-traction did it’s job by digging the rear end of the truck down to the license plate and back bumper. After an immense amount of swearing and cussing my father got out of the truck to survey the damage. I can sum it all up by saying he was way less than happy. His language quickly found every sour word he had learned in the navy. His blood pressure probably caused an earthquake or volcano on the opposite side of the planet and the blue skies above quickly retreated behind dark ominous clouds that covered all six New England states.

As an eight year old boy I was amazed to witness these events. I took copious notes of the new swear words so that I could impress my older friends. I used them in the school yard one day and a teacher heard me resulting in a very long parent teacher conference, but that is another story. After a while my father calmed down to a rapid boil. Fortunately he always carried a shovel in back of the pickup truck and he dug out a large hole behind the rear bumper and underneath the frame below the pickup bed. He found a large flat rock near the side of the road and relocated it to the ditch that he had dug underneath the truck. He placed the jack on the large flat rock and jacked up the rear end so the right rear wheel was off the ground. He found another large flat rock and placed it under the wheel and repeated the whole process on the other wheel at the rear of the truck. This allowed us to back up onto stones that were placed behind the rear wheels while digging a long trench as we backed up, moving the same stones all along to keep the struck on stable footing. It took us about four hours to get to a position where we could back down the hill. We never did find that pond. Oddly my father and I never mentioned the incident again until I was asked by my teachers where I had learned such language on the day of the school yard incident.

Fast forward about twelve years. It was a late March day. By some odd coincidence I found myself at the bottom of the same road that my father and I got stuck on with my two best friends Jeff and Smitty. We were riding in Jeff’s 1960 Ford Galaxy sedan. We had found the hidden pond a couple of years earlier and so we knew it really existed. On this day the old, one lane, dirt road looked exactly as it had the day that my Dad and I had gotten so stuck on it. To this day I don’t know why we attempted to navigate this mud laden road. Perhaps it was the adventure of it or the sheer thrill! Perhaps we were just being stupid, but in the end we found ourselves mired on a muddy flat exactly as had occurred years before. This time the swearing was kept to a minimum. We were young hippies and used expressions of wonder like “Wow, man!”. We used exactly the same technique but due to the fact that we were in a car rather than a truck it took about six hours to extract ourselves. If I remember correctly we were actually glad that we experienced this. We somehow saw it as some sort of warped rite of passage. The Galaxy was none the worse for the wear other than all of the mud that had gotten sprayed on the interior of the car from the leaks in the rusted floor. You have to understand in those days these minor flaws were easy to ignore.

So it was with great experience that I came across a similar situation in 1977. I was living in a tipi on my land in western New England. They did not plow this road in the winter and so during these colder months I used to walk to the tipi, a distance of less than a half a mile. During the snowy months I walked on snow shoes made of bent ash that were webbed with rawhide while pulling a toboggan behind me with whatever supplies I needed for the next few days. By the time spring came this became monotonous and I pined for the days when I could drive to my land in my two wheel drive Ford pickup truck. On one particular day I could see that most of the snow had melted, and although the melting snow water was running down the ruts in the road I still thought I could make it to the woods road entrance to my land. I cruised along at a pretty good clip until I came to a big open area that had a bright sheen on top indicating deep mud. Pressing on with the thought of dragging my supplies in the rest of the way I drove straight into this temporary bog and immediately became enveloped up to the bottom of my doors in mud. I remembered my first experience of this kind when in the company of my father. The same language found its way through the opening between my lips. Luckily there was no one there to hear it save my two mutts. I was pretty experienced with the extraction drill at this point and went right to work. The fact that I was alone added about two hours to the chore. It took me nearly eight hours to find way back to sturdy footing where I took out the toboggan, loaded it with supplies, and walked wearily to the tipi where I laid down and fell asleep as the sun set to the west.

I still live in the same location. The town started plowing the road when we started building our house. Given the fact that the snow is plowed to the sides of the roads, and the drainage is maintained, mud season has been relegated to navigating deep ruts and an occasional lost boot. But remember one thing, if you ever do find yourself bogged down in a slurry of mud you might consider calling me. I’ve got a lot experience at extracting vehicles from miserable spring conditions. And as a bonus I can teach you a few new swear words and foul expressions that are a critical part of removing the vehicle from the grimy slurry that we call mud season.

  • sandy

    I think I am glad I moved to Maine in !970. And then, the only unpaved roads I was ever on were up around Jackman, and maintained very well by Scott Paper. But I am very familiar with the lost boot syndrome. You forgot to mention that a person has to balance of one foot while trying to fish the boot out of the mud or snow. Now, I always have a walking stick with me.

    You must have given your mom gray hair early.

  • sandy

    I think I am glad I moved to Maine in !970. And then, the only unpaved roads I was ever on were up around Jackman, and maintained very well by Scott Paper. But I am very familiar with the lost boot syndrome. You forgot to mention that a person has to balance of one foot while trying to fish the boot out of the mud or snow. Now, I always have a walking stick with me.

    You must have given your mom gray hair early.

  • Wild_Bill

    Yes, Sandy I am familiar with the one foot balance issue. Not a problem when I was young but now there is the possibility of tipping over, but then again I’m still pretty good at hopping around on one foot.

  • Barb

    I smiled as I read, Bill, because when I lived in VT, mud season ruled for about 2 months. Glad to know where you got your talent to spin a good yarn. Here in CO, there is much more winter and less mud. Round about June, the snow finally melts and underneath green things are already beginning to sprout. This spring, we’ll be watching for a bright pink color as the snow decreases in our yard. Our Granddaughter lost a boot in January, and it hasn’t turned up yet.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barb. It’s amazing with the 400+ inches of snow you get that you don’t have a serious mud season. Nice that you can go from winter to summer so quickly. No doubt your granddaughter’s boot will turn up but it will be soggy! I like the picture of snow followed by a bright pink color.

  • Montucky

    Bill, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read! It’s wonderful to get some good laughs while reading a good story! We also have a “mud season” here, but it is fairly short and in this immediate area mitigated somewhat by our very rocky soil; besides, I have a plentiful store of appropriate descriptive words that apply to mud bogs… and I drive a Jeep!

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you. I was hoping someone would get a good laugh out of it! I laughed all the way through while writing it. I find it amusing that there are times of our pasts that may have been really hard but now seem to be humorous. Life is fun if you let it be.

  • Emily

    Bill — I have a friend in Vermont who was just telling me about this fifth season. We have our muck areas, too, but it seems a long time now since I’ve navigated a car down a road that wasn’t tar or gravel. Sounds kind of fun. :) Especially if you have a good pair of boots. Thanks for these stories. True adventures in every one.

  • Gator

    Here in Colorado we’re familiar with mud season too. Great stories, but since the progression seems to be an extra two hours each time you get stuck, you probably shouldn’t get stuck many more times or it will be taking a day to dig out!

  • Wild_Bill

    True, enough time has passed where I could be stuck over night. Be sure, though, I would get myself out. I’ve seen mud season in some of the high, back way, passes that are intended for summer use in the Rocky Mountains, we’re talking serious mud. Thanks for reading.

  • Wild_Bill

    Vermont is the capitol of mud season. Maine comes in a close second but because there is so much natural sand and gravel it can’t compare to the glacial till turned to muck in VT. Navigating an automobile through muddy areas can be fun as long as you don’t get mired down. If this happens then its time to get to work. One fella wanted to know why I didn’t just call AAA. Pretty funny and hard to do when there is no cell phone coverage anywhere!

  • Nature-Drunk

    Like you, I am partial to mud and soil in general, always have been. Although I have never experienced anything like you did as a child…with the giant and all…I do remember muddy fun. My sister and I used to turn a room in out garage into a restaurant that had its own “ride through” window. Our friends would ride up on their bikes and purchase mud tacos made from privet leaves and red mud. Thanks for reminding me of a happy childhood memory.

  • Wild_Bill

    My vivid imagination and propensity towards unbelievable tales absorbed a lot of my childhood and kept me in trouble frequently. Your memory of setting up a drive through selling mud tacos out the garage window is priceless. Sounds like you had a grand childhood.

  • Teresaevangeline

    I have come back three times now to read and re-read. I have a picture of my father building a road in mud season with his tractor wheels buried deep enough that planks and shovels were necessary. More may have been, too, as I was young and don’t recall the outcome other than the road got built and I can drive it today, no mud, no matter what season. Mud tried to steal a boot or two from me over the years. It’s an odd sensation, taking a step and only your sock moving up and forward. What great experiences you’ve had with this season. Love the tipi one, mainly ’cause I love tipis, but the Galaxy with “Wow, Man,” was classic. I think young men actually look forward to these kinds of challenges. Stories to tell and memories that last. Mud pies, with lovely dandelion decorations. Sold them to my grandpa Moses for nickels or sticks of gum.

  • Wild_Bill

    I’m really enjoying all the memories people have of muddy experiences. Selling mud pies crowned with dandelions is awesome! Grandpa Moses might have been out a few nickles but just think of the memories you have of him!

    By the way, occasionally I still say “wow, man”!

  • Annie

    Was just about to head off to bed when I decided to check my Google Reader and see if there was anything good posted and you know what there was. What a kick this post was, your adventures had me laughing out loud.

    We don’t have a mud season here but I do know about mud, especially the sticky clay type that forms the bottom of wetland ponds. Sometimes when we are out touring the wetlands the children don’t heed the warnings about “staying away from the mud” and loose a shoe or just get good and stuck in the muck, all much to the ire of their teacher and the parent who’s car they are riding in. Personally, I have come very close to losing a boot and my balance while fishing for specimens in the pond several times but luckily have kept upright and patiently worked through getting the mud to release it’s suction on my boot. The last time it happened it was in front of a class of third graders and several parents, really glad I got unstuck gracefully that time.

  • Wild_Bill

    As you probably know Annie I am, amongst other things, a Professional Wetland Scientist (certified by the Society of Wetland Scientists) so I spend a significant amount of my time wallowing about in wetlands. I have never actually lost a boot while working but have had to retrieve a few. It seems as if mud is a life long feature of my existence.

    It is so wonderful that you work with children educating them to the wonders of our natural world. I can’t imagine a more important or more satisfying way to spend time. Kudos to you for your efforts on behalf of this planet!

  • Lbiederstadt

    Now I love mud, too! Didn’t think that was possible. Thank you for sharing your lost boots and found memories. I come away looking at the world every time I visit this space!
    xo Lynn

  • Ratty

    After reading this I consider myself lucky that I live so close to the city. I don’t mind getting stuck in the mud when I’m walking, but I hate getting stuck while driving. My new truck is a four wheel drive though, and I’ve been itching to try it out. It’s already easily gotten me out of a few jams in the snow. Now I’m afraid I’ll try something stupid.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Lynn. There is a few boots out there I have never found, but the memories do remain. I’m very pleased that you like this space!

  • Wild_Bill

    Getting stuck in the mud is part of living in rural New England. Makes for good memories. Of course, if I avoided muddy areas I wouldn’t get stuck, would I? Here’s to your new truck and hoping you only have to use 4WD for pleasure and not our of necessity.

  • Jack of Sage to Meadow

    I printed off your post a couple of days ago and had a good laugh with nearly every sentence. I never knew about a fifth season in New England. Bill, your work ethic is truly admirable. No sense standing there looking at the mess, get with it and get back to the house. I got stuck in the mud several times, but one time I was where I should not have been with my stepfather’s pickup, out on the Williams Ranch Road near Brownwood, Texas, and I turned off road onto a lane and got stuck. Fortunately, I spun my way out of the mess with boards and rocks under the wheels.

    You were quite a boy back then, venturing into the forest. Then, having to go back and bring your mother to the house. You never lost that wanderlust, it seems. Your mom taught you a good lesson with that whopper you made up. If you had gotten away with that one, goodness knows you might have become a novelist.

    You didn’t just have a tipi, you lived in one, and in the winter, yet. That’s really tough, Bill. Beats the heck out of living in dugouts down here in Texas because the tipi is portable and airy, not like the stuffiness of the dugout (I never stayed in one overnight, like some early pioneers).

    Good post, Bill. I know Twain would have loved it. I certainly do.

  • Jack of Sage to Meadow

    Oh, Bill, I forgot to add that I like your photographs and the one of the mud helps us picture in our minds your predicaments. That first photograph looks really fierce. And, Spring flowers!

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Jack. At the time I never thought to thank my Mother. I’m sure I was thinking quite the opposite. Moreover my mother had to deal with my introduction of new words and phrases to my school chums with the school principal. That didn’t go over so well either. And my father heard about that as well. I still spin yarns in my head. Almost constantly. I try them out on my wife. She spends a lot of time shaking her head.

    Sometime in the future I’m going to write a piece about a day in the life of a tipi dweller. The topic has a lot of potential. Two years including two winters in the tipi gives me a lot of ideas.

    As you know I’m still wandering around both in the woods and in my head. I’d like to say I’ve never been lost, especially in my head, but that wouldn’t be true.

  • Wild_Bill

    I must confess the spring flowers were taken last year. I was hoping a post would get them going this season but no luck yet. Our first spring flowers are spring beauties in the forest and coltsfoot along the edges of stream banks. I think maybe two more weeks, the sudden warming temperatures and rain has reduced our snow cover to relic piles from plowing and dark northern facing slopes. I’m ready for spring at this point.

  • Find an Outlet

    What descriptive chronicles! Wish we could see some pictures of you in action, but these were hardly times to be composing artful photographs. I like the detailed scenes envisioned in my own mind of the Boy Wild Bill anyway—not so much different than today I’ll bet!

    I think getting stuck in the mud with your vehicle and your boots are East Coast initiation rites—kind of like inventing ways to extract glochids from your hands for the three days following an intimate encounter with a prickly pear here. And you’re right about swearing helping get us through these tough life situations—-that’s what it’s there for!

    I never had anything but American cars all my life but finally had to buy a tiny Subaru back in CT (which I still drive) because I couldn’t afford and didn’t want a truck or SUV and there are (or were) no American compact cars with all-wheel drive.

    The most memorable part of the fifth season in CT was the prodigious amount of “gritty pudding” that dogs and cats absorb outside and deposit inside. It was a yearly assault. Fancy houses I cleaned had “mud rooms,” which for us regular folks just meant a place to dump your boots.

  • Wild_Bill

    How funny you should say Boy Wild Bill-not so much different than today! I no longer configure giants as excuses for poor planning but I do have an imagination that is way too active. That’s who I am and always will be. Although my dreams are often prophetic more often they are just crazy stories that go untold.

    We still have mud tracked into our home by the two bloodhounds and their irreverent buddy (me). When I built the house we included a small mud room that just collects mud that flows into the kitchen during mud season. Yep, we dump our boots their when we remember.

    Subarus are the new standard when it comes to cars and mud and snow. That was a wise purchase.

  • Crafty Green Poet

    I enjoyed reading your encounters with the muddy season, so funny where you told your Mum about the giant!

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you. This was only one amongst many whoppers that I told to my mother. In my mind these stories were somewhat true. I had a terrifically hard time separating my own creative imagination from reality.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoy this remembrance of the five-year-old mind so much! And the vision of the father with the cigarette clenched in his teeth maneuvering the vehicle and the ensuing wrath at the muddy reality eminating from the dad. Talk about patience to deal with getting out of that mud – yikes.
    Very vivid. I catch your drift about mud. And the closest we get over here in drylandia is the 4 foot deep quicksand in the canyons with heavy rain …

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you! I never thought of my father as being the least bit patient, but you are correct, it did take some patience to work his way out of the mud. Thanks for pointing that out!

    I’ve never seen real quicksand, it must be amazing. You’re lucky it is only 4 feet deep!

  • Out Walking the Dog

    Wow, I have missed a lot on your blog in recent weeks, Wild Bill. But at least I now have the pleasure of slowly making my way through your posts. Love these mud stories, but glad not to be dealing with it myself. Lovely little wildlflowers peeping out. I did see the mighty Mississippi when I was working in St. Louis end of April/beginning of May, and it was bursting its banks.

  • Wild_Bill

    Take your time in reading my posts. I think there a lot more enjoyable when read slowly so you can absorb the pulse of what I’m trying to say.

    I can’t even imagine what the Mississippi looks like in real life right now. So powerful. So mighty. This year more than most.

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