Those of you not from the North Country (when I say "North Country" I mean Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Northern New York) may be wondering what "mud season" is. I wondered what this new season was when I moved up here to attend Paul Smith's College in 2000. I had never heard of it and was sure it was some interesting and fun fifth season that was particular to climate zones 3 and above. Well, it is a season, but it isn't a fifth season. It is actually a replacement of one of the better of the four seasons that most other parts of the country have. Up here there is Fall, Winter, Mud Season, and Summer. There is no spring up here. Spring is like fall in reverse in the North Country - there are no flowers, no happy chirping birds, no smell of delicious cherry blossoms... Nope, none of that. Basically all that happens as the snow melts and the temperatures rise, is the leaves come back out on the trees and there is mud, LOTS of mud!!
No one here uses the word "spring" except in reference to daylight savings time. Everyone refers to this time of year as mud season. Right now the snow is melting and the ground is still frozen. The water from the melting snow runs and pools into the most inconvenient spots because there is still frost in the ground and there is nowhere for the water to go. Most of those inconvenient spots seem to be in people's driveways, around people's porches, and in the middle of my goat barn. With lots of water and semi-frozen dirt, comes mud -- lots and lots and lots of mud. Mud that sticks to everything, mud that swallows wheel barrow tires and tractors whole, mud that ends up on your bathroom floor whether or not you took your boots off outside of the house. MUD!
Mud season also spawns a particularly interesting occurence of "frost heaves". Frost heaves are not something you get from eating too much Ben & Jerry's. Frost heaves are when parts of a normally flat, paved road thaw and freeze unevenly. They come in all sizes from a single tire-popping pothole to a truck eating trench. You know when you are approaching a frost heave when you see a little, tiny orange flag by the side of the road. When I first saw the orange flag on a road, as I raced well over the speed limit to get to class on one of my college days, I thought someone must be having a birthday party or a garage sale and pointing the way with cute little orange flags. Well, ten feet after I passed the orange flag, my car was launched into the air only to slam down in a bone crunching crash back to earth. The road behind the flag was gone. I don't mean there was a little dip in the road, I mean the road was completely gone! The trench where the road should have been was 2 feet deep and equally as wide. From then on, whenever I see a little orange flag, I slam on the brakes and creep past towards whatever canyon lays in the road from the wonderful frost heaves.
Then with all these pools of water and pits of mud comes another interesting part of living in the North Country ---- BLACKFLIES!! Blackflies are these little biting bugs that fly around in man-eating swarms and have been known to drive full grown moose to the point of drowning themselves to find reprieve from the biting. Shortly after mud season comes the blackflies. Living in the North-Northeast it is not uncommon to see more people outside working and playing when it is -30F than outside in the peak of blackfly time. Blackflies are not discouraged by bug spray or citronella candles or agent orange. The only way to get away from blackflies is to stay inside or stay completely, 100% covered. You will see people all over the North Country covered head-to-toe on the most sunny of days just trying to not get their blood sucked. Blackflies not only suck your blood, but they bite you and leave a huge welt. The welt is extremely itchy and turns quickly to a bloody mess after a few short bouts of scratching. The welt also stays on your body for at least 3 weeks. Some people have scars from blackfly bites that have never gone away. And, if you are like me, you can have an allergic reaction to too many bites. If I get bit more than a dozen times at once I develop a fever, sore throat, and headache for days. It's wonderful. So you will see me out an about (gardening, doing chores, grocery shopping) covered in long pants and a mesh bug shirt that covers my head and face. The bug shirt keeps the blackflies from getting to my skin and taking a chunk out of me. It isn't the most appealing fashion statement, but it works and I recommend it to anyone.