According to the calendar, spring in Vermont will arrive this Thursday. While my friends to the south post pictures of purple-green crocus shoots, the snow in our yard is melting slowly into sheets of ice and patches of brown, uncovering every stick and ball we threw to the dog over the winter. The frost is melting far beneath the ground and turning our hard dirt road into a minefield of potholes, ruts, and that legendary Vermont mud. Soon slushy ponds and vernal pools will become raucous amphitheaters playing a chorus of peepers—nature’s replacements for canceled concerts and sporting events—or we could receive a foot of snow to cover them quiet just a while longer.
Early morning walks still require micro-spikes to keep our footing firm at the end of the driveway, where the snow melted and froze again overnight. Waiting for the sun to urge warmer temperatures means switching to waterproof boots and preparing a dishpan of warm water and an old rag to wash the dog before he’s allowed back in the house. Throughout mud season, our yellow lab looks as though he’s been dipped in chocolate — topside coconut creamy, mud-masqued from chest to paw—after even some of the shortest outings. Wait too long in the day for a walk, though, and a north wind could bring an afternoon snow squall that has you wishing you’d grabbed a fleece and gloves.
In New England every spring is unpredictable and this one especially so, bringing with it a novel gust of anxiety. Peter and I are socially distanced by circumstance, living in the country on springtime slick and deeply rutted roads. We joked when we bought this old farmhouse in a tiny town in a remote region of the state that this was the place everyone would come to in case of the “zombie apocalypse.” Now, we stock up on groceries because running to the store is to navigate a muddy maze—a two-mile, fifteen-minute expedition that can be hard on our bodies, our minds, and our cars.
“Put your foot in it,” Peter tells me from the passenger seat as we climb the steep south-facing hill to town. Below us, the melted snow runs down in deep rivulets, and frost breaks the road up from beneath the surface. The trenches of mud feel bottomless. The potholes are so large and deep that they have potholes of their own. The road pulls the car where it wants, and the wheels don’t even try to resist. I go slow, plotting a course, trying to outwit the mud. If Peter were behind the wheel, he would drive straight and fast, daring the mud to outwit him. Perhaps it’s better to stay home until the travel becomes less fraught.
We manage quite well together, working from home as a matter of course—he in his downstairs office and me upstairs in mine. But now we are distracted by the news and willingly water-board ourselves with information from official agencies and tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists alike. We try not to offer our opinions or advice because we know we don’t know anything. And that’s part of the problem. Nothing is scarier than uncertainty. But don’t be alarmed we chide, at least not too alarmed, not more alarmed or less alarmed than we are, because to be too alarmed is just alarmist and not to be alarmed at all is alarming ill-informed.
Everyone has their own way of navigating through the mud, preparing for the uncertainty on the road ahead. Proceed with caution or put your foot in it as you will—until you meet another driver on the road, that is. One of the things I love about living here is what we call the Vermont wave. On country roads, we drive a little slower and always greet one another with a tiny flick of the wrist, fingers just extended above the steering wheel. The gesture says, “I see you.” “We’re in this together.” When the road is slicked with mud or ice and snow, the wave might be replaced with a nod so that each of us keeps our hands on the wheel, our cars a safe distance apart, mindful of one another.