Our fifth season

Vermont has a reputation as a quirky little state, and not without reason. Many of our daily concerns make no sense whatsoever to the country at large. There’s choosing your date for the annual ice-out contest on Brookfield Pond. Making sure your application is in on time for the moose-hunting license lottery. Deciding how soon you can safely swap out your snow tires for the summer set. And not least of all, how bad will this year’s mud season be? The road you see here is just the beginning of what mud season looks like near my house.

One of the statistics that surprises people who don’t know Vermont is that significantly more than half (I’ve heard 80%) of the road mileage in the state is unpaved. We even have a system that ranks our roads, from class 1 (the “hard” road in the vernacular, meaning asphalt) to class 4 (meaning it’s so primitive it doesn’t get plowed or otherwise maintained; you’re on your own, folks).
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The hard road (The Ridge Road) meets the dirt road (Rand Road), in Randolph Center, Vermont.

As PJ hinted a while ago, mud is everywhere, on everything. There are three dairy farms within a mile of our house. This poor bovine doesn’t look too happy about the mud, either. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a 2-toned cow in summer.

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As the sun gets stronger and the winter frost comes up out of the ground, the hard roads get heaved. Natives even know the exact places where 1-foot high bumps will spontaneously form for a 2-month period. Alert newcomers can protect themselves by looking out for the scrapes in the road where the unsuspecting have bottomed out. My town has taken mercy on those from “away” with this helpful sign:

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This sign, in a classic understatement, reads: “Bumps, next 3 miles.”

Those of us who live on the dirt roads have an additional challenge. In order to get from our driveways to anywhere, we have to navigate situations like this.
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Of course, getting through this twice a day is not for the faint of heart or the driver of a low ground clearance vehicle. The truly intrepid grit their teeth and look for a ridge to stay on top of; this is something like trying to tango on the top of a greased balanced beam while wearing combat boots. Sometimes you get away with it.

If the mud decides to take you (and believe me, steering isn’t something you have much say about in this situation), you’re in the rut, and that’s where you stay. If you’re too timid and lose momentum, your car may be stuck, but good. If you’re too aggressive, when you bottom out (and you will), you may leave your exhaust system behind. I drive through this ravine every day. See the ditch on the right? When the mud is bad, staying out of it as a high priority. It’s about 8 feet down to the bottom.

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Our local country store owner told me of a former neighbor who poo-pooed his wife’s warning not to turn left out of the driveway toward the big mudhole. He ended up having to climb out the window of his car. Truly.

My mechanic tells me that living on a dirt road shortens the life of a vehicle by half. Unfortunately for my budget, I believe him. I have the repair bills to prove it.

Soil scientists at the University of Vermont have a phrase to describe the roads at this time of year. They call the consistency of the surface “pudding”. In honor of the mud, allow me to point you to a nice chocolate pie.

Despite this winter’s snowfall being among the top 10 years since records were kept, this year’s mud hasn’t been nearly bad as I expected it to be. Nevertheless, every time I get out of my car

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or we come back from a walk, our pant legs from the knee down are covered in the stuff. We have to get out the wet paper towels to take off what mud we can, otherwise it would rub off on the furniture or flake off all over the house. The good news is that eventually, everything thaws out and drains.

Just in time for the blackflies to start. So why the heck do we live here? For moments like this, taken in our yard one spring evening:

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Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. Erin

    Awe…I love visiting Vermont, although I’ve definitely never lived there during “mud season” — I believe we have something similar where I grew up in Maine. And too funny re: your “2-toned cow” quip.

    Reply
  2. laura

    Brings back memories of my days at Middlebury–my jeans were covered with splatters of mud from March until May. Mud season always seemed to end the week before exams!

    Reply
  3. peg

    Hey friend! Long time since I’ve caught up to ya! Wish I was there, enjoying the delights of the season. For with the mud comes the maple and Lord KNOWS there is no better smell than the mix of woodsmoke and simmering sap wafting across the dooryard. It picks up just that hint of warm earth and the promise of the days to come on its way and makes life worth living!

    I miss you my friend!!!!! Talk to you soon! peg

    Reply
  4. Penny

    I am an Oregonian who lived for 5 years in Maine. While the people in New England are the lovliest people on earth, I could not believe that MUD season really even existed! I am someone who looks for buds on the trees right after Christmas! My friends thought I was crazy but I’m glad I had a chance to live there and super glad to be back home where I know the wildflowers and really never have to shovel snow!

    Reply
  5. Mary Ann

    Here in my neck of the woods we have rotting deer carcass season. The weather has been warm enough for all the deer parts and carcasses left behind by the hunters to get really good and smelly. Unfortunately this prompts the dog to roll in the stench ridden stuff on a regular basis. The dog has had 4 baths in less than 2 weeks. I think the mud would be less smelly, but no less welcome!

    Reply
  6. Beth

    Vermont is not the only state with mud season. We’re having it here in Virginia after receiving more than three inches of rain in the last few days. It’s almost impossible to walk in the fields; you pretty much just slip and slide in mud so deep that when you try to pick up your feet to take another step, either you lose your boot in the mud, or you nearly fall face down in the mess. We have been praying for rain, because we need it desperately, but be careful what you wish for.

    Reply
  7. Dave

    I live way “away” (Colorado) – we really only have two seasons: winter and summer. Spring and Fall each last about an hour and a half. I do miss the Spring and Fall of the east coast.

    Reply
  8. Susan Reid

    Dear Mary Ann: on my 40+ mile commute to King Arthur, I’ve counted no less than 6 deer, 1 coyote and 1 wild turkey rotting on the side of the highway. Green-up day, another Vermont tradition, is when we all get out there and clean the stuff up. I’m pretty sure the game wardens have the dubious privilege of taking care of what the turkey vultures don’t address!

    Reply
  9. Lyna

    The rainbow photo should be a poster or on a postcard. Spectacular! Love the eclectic Bakers’ Banter!
    p.s. one little technical question–could there be a ‘back to top’ link at the end of the entries?

    Reply
  10. Rosa

    I’d love to visit Vermont! it seems like such a beautiful and peaceful place to live…

    I’m so happy to have found your blog! I am a big fan of KA’s books and recipes!

    Keep up with the great work and cheers,

    Rosa from Switzerland

    Reply
  11. Deborah

    I love Dave’s comment above. It’s true about Colorado, we do only have Summer and Winter. But he forgot to mention Tornado season, but that is only for people who live in the eastern part of the state. We are right on the tip of Tornado Alley and soon we’ll begin to see the tornado warning crawls on the bottom of the TV screen. For this “back-east” transplant, I think that I’d prefer Mud season.

    Debbie

    PS—This past year, I missed Autumn because my husband and I didn’t take out drive up into the mountains to see it. It came and went over a weekend without much fanfare. A shame too since it’s my favorite time of year. Oh, for the incredible Autumn colors back-east!

    Reply
  12. Barb

    We live on the mud roads too out here on the farm in Iowa. With all the snow, and now the recent drenching of the rain storms, I think mud pie is the perfect description!

    Reply
  13. Jane

    I missed mud season in Vermont this year. No, I really missed it. My son, the reason for our many visits to your wonderful state, has moved to Alaska. He called today from the Arctic Circle, where it is now snowing – transport snowmobile. Ahhhh, that mud would be looking good right now……

    Reply
  14. Carrie

    Actually VT has the following seasons:
    Almost winter,
    Winter,
    Still Winter,
    Mud,
    and Construction

    Nine months of winter and three months of D#*! poor sledding…BUT great apples, cheese, maple syrup, and Fall color

    Reply

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