For months now, many of us have been moaning and groaning about the long, cold winter. We eagerly anticipated warmer days and nights when we could enjoy the fresh air without risk of frostbite, and say goodbye to white-knuckle drives on icy mountain roads.

According to the calendar, spring officially arrived about a month ago, but before we can frolic in those May flowers we first must endure northern New England's infamous fifth season: mud.

As we witnessed this week, mud season is characterized by drastic temperature swings, the alternating shifts between sunshine and snow, and the gradual thaw that turns dirt roads and driveways into a soupy, squishy mess.

Instead of bags of salt to melt the ice we need truckloads of gravel to help solidify the sludge. Snow shovels--while still kept handy just in case--are often put aside and replaced by steel rakes to smooth out the deep ruts.

"Drivers who have safely negotiated sleet, snow, hail and black ice are defeated by mud," the New York Times wrote some years ago.

The typical traits of mud season prompted Robert Frost in his 1934 poem "Two Tramps In Mud Time" to write, "The water for which we may have to look/In summertime with a witching wand, In every wheel rut's now a brook/In every print of a hoof a pond."

And as Brookfield dairy farmer Charles Keeler noted in a University of Vermont scrapbook, "You can plow snow, but not mud. There's not much you can do about mud except wait for it to go away.


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Indeed, Brattleboro Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett says during the worst conditions he can't even send his dump trucks out to add gravel because the trucks do more damage than good.

Both Barrett and Highway Superintendent Hannah O'Connell say this year's mud season may be one of the worst in years.

"I've seen a lot of tough mud seasons and everyone agrees this is right up there," Barrett told us.

Blame it on an especially cold winter. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Vermont had its coldest March on record, with average temperature 8.9 degrees below average.

As O'Connell explained, frost levels went down about four feet in the coldest spots. A deep snow pack can sometimes insulate the ground and keep the frost level from getting too deep, but this year the cold weather in March came when there was little snow on the ground throughout much of southeastern Vermont.

Fortunately, this too shall pass. As Mark Twain once said, "If you don't' like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes."

Just as the long, dreary winter gave way to the muck and mire of the annual thaw, mud season will soon be replaced by the true glories of spring -- the lush new greens blanketing our fields and yards, the sweet fragrances of flowers in bloom, and the cheerful chirping of our featured friends.

Oh, and let's not forget about the black flies; now there's something to look forward to.