Out on New Hampshire back roads, mud springs eternal

March 17, 2012

Dateline: Mud Season, New Hampshire:

Newspaper columnist, John Harrigan occasionally makes reference to a place called “Asphalt America.” Never is that distinction as white on black – that is, un-muddy – as during NH Mud Season.

It’s been a fun week descending from rural hills, counting mud-spattered cars, some with Vermont plates, mixed-in to southbound morning commuter traffic on I-89. The further south, the cleaner the cars. Pavement must be universal below some magical latitude, or perhaps beneath some prescribed elevation?

The sudden near-summer temperatures raise heck with life along back, dirt roads. My Sutton, NH Road Agent and his hard-working crew have hauled tons of gravel and crushed stone to dump into deep trenches and tire-sucking ruts of local roads. Sutton has 80 miles of roads only 30 of which are actually paved.

“Worst mud season ever – no question” my Road Agent buddy quips. I asked if lack of winter snow is the culprit. “It’s more the frost comin’ out too fast; all at once” he replies.

My neighbors know the proper technique: pick up speed for momentum and zig-zag through the fresh gravel. Adopt a hard diagonal tack when you see a looming rut lest you belly-out on your oil pan. Never travel parallel to the road’s direction of travel or the ruts will eat you alive! 

We sit on the front porch watching the spectacle. We had considered making score cards we could hold aloft like judges at an Olympic contest: 9.8 for degree of difficulty and 4.2 for artistic expression!

The sound of car wheels on a gravel road makes me smile. When cars sink to their axles in mud, it’s a rural tradition as old as the chortling old-timers who know best. More seriously, dirt road denizens understand that mud season means no access to citified services: no utility or delivery trucks will deliver packages, propane, furniture or appliances. I shudder to think that no fire truck or ambulance could negotiate the quagmire. Best stay safe. Mud is a quaint season entirely ignored by Asphalt America.

 “Out Like A Lamb?”

It takes weeks to harden-off in November to become comfortable in the cold. It only takes fifteen minutes to don shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses. But better keep the parka, gloves and snow shovel handy – just in case.

I worry warm weather is an elaborate set-up for an epic April Fools sucker punch. It’s happened before when I thawed-out too early. In theory, temperatures could still plummet into the teens with a near-zero wind-chill and heavy snow by next week. That’d punish those easily fooled to believe the myth of a gentle spring.

Of course, it’s much less likely now that I’ve mentioned it.

According to the official swamp Yankee’s code of “Requisite Suffering” - known to Red Sox fans and to those attuned to living along rural, back dirt roads - we hadn’t yet earned this early springtime after a mild, half-hearted winter. It makes me nervous to take this fine weather on credit; unless, of course, we already paid last winter?

Having attended difficult births of lambs when we raised Romney sheep, I learned that phrase “out like a lamb” isn’t necessarily as gentle as you might imagine. The transition from winter to spring in March is just as fitful and fraught with peril as a lamb arriving in breech presentation.

I still always associate Saint Patrick’s Day shamrocks with lambing, sugaring and, when spring arrives early in rural areas, a good old-fashioned quagmire, axle-deep, New Hampshire mud season.