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).
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.
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:
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.
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
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: