A week into March here in Vermont and I’m feeling hopeful! 🙂 I get this adrenaline rush every year about this time after a long winter of snow and cold temperatures. This year, the long winter included isolation due to the pandemic – so the recent infusion of energy is even more satisfying.
I spent the first 40 years of my life in southeastern Pennsylvania. The signs of Spring in the mid-Atantic area are much different than here. As March approached in Pennsylvania, I looked forward to early bulbs such as crocus and daffodils blooming, grasses and fields starting to green up and wildflowers such as bloodroot, hepatica, spring beauties and buttercups beginning to emerge. Certain trees and shrubs started to come alive as well – their buds swelling with the promise of April blossoms – star magnolia, willows, maples, serviceberry and redbud.
Here in Vermont, we still have a substantial snow cover as evidenced by the 3 foot mounds of packed white stuff that continues to circle my house. The signs of Spring are determined by other events that trigger in us a sense that winter has finally started to recede. In a typical year, Town Meeting Day in early March is a time when Vermonter’s congregate and talk about the long Winter and the promise of Spring. It signifies that Spring is indeed on the horizon. The town ice rink that has been meticulously maintained all winter has finally started to melt – ending a popular winter past time and we look forward to spring sports. As temperatures rise above freezing during the day in mid-to-late March, the maple sap starts to flow and the familiar wisps of steam emanating from countless sugar houses across the state reassure us that warmer days are indeed ahead.
It’s also the time when we prepare for another Vermont tradition that takes hold in late March and April. Mud season. The roads start to break up from the brutal winter freeze and we embrace the challenge of navigating slimy, muddy, deeply rutted back roads. Speculation abounds each year as to just how severe the road conditions will be and what determines a bad year. Weather always factors in. Snow depth and timing? Fall and early winter temperatures? Heavy spring rains? Debate also circulates around road maintenance. Grading done properly? Culverts and ditches correctly placed? Just when you think you’ve figured it out, you are fooled.
I remember one mud season when my boys were in elementary school. We left school in our Mercury Villager van and headed home. We had come down the road earlier in the day when it was still frozen so I did not know what to expect. We live a mile up the gravel road – and I do mean “up”. It is a steady climb to our driveway. The van was not an ideal vehicle for rural Vermont but it is what we had when we moved here from Pennsylvania. We outfitted it with studded tires all around and, with front-wheel drive, it did okay. This particular year was one of the worst mud seasons we’ve had in our 20+ years as Vermont residents. Everyone has their own unique technique for driving in mud. Some drivers prefer the “gun it from the bottom of the hill” approach and use speed to power through. Others (like me) opt for a more subtle, slow approach. As I started up our hill that day, it soon became apparent that this was going to be an adventure in maneuverability. I directed my sons to exit the van and navigate me through the ruts and ridges. They ran uphill along the side of the road, directing me – left, right or stay straight – and with their guidance we made it without incident. I can still picture them so serious in their mission – and it makes me smile.
It is a badge of honor to survive mud season and our reward is – finally – true Spring. Until then, I’m enjoying the blossoms on my two flowering orchids, watching the snow melt slowly from the yard and trying to time my walks so I avoid sinking into inches of mud along the roadway. 🙂