Fun & Muddy! Field Notes From New Hampshire's Fifth Season
New Hampshire's fifth season – Mud! – is a sort of inter-season, blending between winter and spring days, comin' and goin' like a backyard cat up to no good. Inner conflicts playing out on center stage. You're crushin' ice one minute, then you're losin' your shoe in the muck. When you start thinking you can go out and dig up the garden beds, you'll wake up to three inches of snow. And it'll melt in a day and you'll find yourself at the beach for a couple hours, until you need your winter coat again. Heat up, windows down.
Was it April? Or March? Something like three blizzards in a week. Multiple feet of snow. All gone in forty-eight hours.
Wilder and I investigate the slushy mucky sandy streets. Half-frozen, desiccated squirrels and rats poke out of snowbanks, washed up in sewer grates, trapped by piles of sand and cigarette butts. Last fall's trash, crushed beer cans and smashed auto parts.
Wilder sticks his nose in the puddles and paws at the mud, scratching deep and spreading his claws wide. Stretches his whole body out then shakes it out with a satisfying shiver, looks up at me and grins. He kicks the dirt and leaves around and we scamper off to our next destination. His paws and legs and undercoat and fluffy butt are all coated in mud, but if an Aussie isn't muddy, he isn't having fun.
We find the final snowbank still a foot high, the plow truck's memory hole. Still snow, still snow sports! We practice our hurdling 'til the pup's panting and I tuck him in for a nap and slap on the runnin' shoes, time to get a lay of the land.
The snow that remains is an ugly crust, the stuff that won't melt, the winter that won't quit. Hard enough to cross over without my shoes sinking in. Inches away the green powers through old faded mulch and mud and huge piles of oak leaves – hyacinth, daffodil, allium, tulip, dandy lions, fuzzy yarrow leaves, peeking peppermints, sedum sprouts blasting through their still-standing skeleton forebears.
Green on the sides of the roads and in the woods reclaiming the brown hillsides, green on the northsides of the trees, beating the leaves as the first aerial growth. A bit warm for early spring, the sun steam cleans the pavement after an afternoon rain. Tendrils of steam snake dance off the streets. Run up the hill, up the dirt road. Chunks of ice still churn in the rocks and mud, rivulets breaking out the tire tracks under my feet. I feel the water soak through my sneakers. Good, I embrace the filth. These shoes still feel new and that's no good. I smash the puddles and let the water drench my legs. Toughen up. Embrace the mud season.
Cool enough to keep my winter cap on, warm enough to run in shorts and a t-shirt. Sweating already, squinting in the sun, shirt clinging. There are kiddos with bicycles, chasing each other with sticks, unzipped winter jackets still hanging from the wild bunch. A car with its top down whirls by, baby boomers snug behind rolled up windows, but for them that's unrestrained recklessness. Turn the radio up a half-turn and live a little.
Hot in the sun and cold on the shady street. Tall trees and a quiet farm, all ice. Dancing across the tundra. The woods to my left are overgrown stone walls, forgotten forsynthias waiting to pounce yellow, wild vines climbing telephone poles, givin' me the creeps. A cold draft gushes out of these woods like a Stephen King haunt, chilling through my wet shirt. Oh, but it feels so good. The heat is too much already; give me nature's ghosts.
Yeah, the next day we get a wintry mix – one to three inches of mess. Wipe your paws. Two blinks later, Wilder and I hear a woodpecker in the trees. We both look all around like maniacs but neither of us can find the feathery fellow, just sunlight and bare branches. Wilder chases the squirrels chasing each other. Birds get in on the action, too, diving in at the mad population in our backyard. If Wilder could climb trees, we'd be on the roof by now. We stick to the lilac bushes, budding and ready to pop purple and green, I can't wait for the first state-sanctioned smell of spring to waft by.
We round the corner and hear the happy screech of a small girl racing into the street, clenching her fists at Wilder. Her mom has her scooped up in a heartbeat. Out for a little fun in the springtime. We get it, girlie. Wilder is fluffy and cute. He can also clear your head in a single leap – he's friendly, but he's a high-jumper – so we skidaddle the opposite direction for now, discreetly up the side porch into the house. He could steal a Red Sox hat off a ten-year-old.
Speaking of the Sox, their traditional Patriots Day game was delayed because of freezing rain. The Boston Marathon crazies ran in it, though. Mud season's off to a great start!