Monday, March 7, 2011

Mud season

I never expected mud to be something for which I’d feel so grateful.

But we had a balmy weekend, and the four feet of snow as well as the three or four inches of ice that have covered various parts of the ground had plenty of time to melt over the past forty-eight hours. And melt they did, thank heavens.

It wasn’t a bright sunny weekend; it was cloudy and foggy. So the melting ice and snow didn’t evaporate, as they would have (at least partially) on a sunny day. Instead, they just soaked slowly into the ground. The fields are still covered with snow – albeit a few inches less than before this recent melting – but the driveway is down to bare gravel now, so the melting ice perked its way into the dirt and created mud. Lots and lots of mud.

Mud is not something I previously would have thought to honor. Yes, it’s good for growing; but to me it mostly means that things get dirtier: things like cars, dogs, children and floors.

Not today, though. Today the mud meant the absence of ice, and I welcomed it. As a runner, I’ve suffered mightily this winter from the presence of ice. It has made running treacherous some days and nearly impossible others, even with my normally reliable Yak Trax on. But the Yak Trax are four years old by now, and by the middle of last week pieces had snapped on both the left and the right one.

My only big fall of the season came when I was walking, though, and it might have been the last icy day we’ll have (knock on wood). It was Saturday morning as I headed out to the barn, and it was black ice, the kind that looks like water. I fell slowly, pitching forward, trying for what felt like minutes rather than milliseconds to regain my footing before hitting the ground. And when I did hit the ground, it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. I was wearing my barn coveralls and work gloves: plenty of padding there, and even my palms showed no beads of blood, though they stung, as did my knees and a few other parts. Five minutes later in the barnyard I made a stupid mistake that involved opening a gate too wide and then not being able to prevent a cow from showing her way through it; I felt like the distraction of having fallen on the ice was partly to blame for my mindlessness.

But as of late yesterday, there’s no more ice, just mounds and mounds of mud. I went running just before dusk, and it felt wonderful under my feet: soft and yielding, with blissful traction where just days earlier there was only a slippery glaze.

As I ran, I listened to the trickle of water: from the lightly falling rain as it splashed into accumulating puddles of snowmelt. It reminded me of the scene at the end of The Long Winter, which Holly and I read together last year, in which Laura wakes up in the middle of the night toward the end of a brutal winter of nonstop blizzards and hears a trickling sound. At first she doesn’t know what it is, and then realizes it’s the first time she’s heard the sound of running water in months. She knows then that the snows are over. And it reminded me also of the dripping sound that Christopher McCandless hears in the film “Into the Wild’ as he wakes one morning in the Alaskan tundra, and he too knows it means winter is ending, though in his case it turns out to be too late for him to survive.

Survival, mercifully, isn’t the issue here as ice turns to water and creates mud: it’s purely psychological and not a matter of life and death to know that the temperature is rising and the ice is receding. Temperatures in the forties are predicted all week; I shouldn’t have problems with ice again for the foreseeable future, and that’s a huge relief. Mud. I never knew what a comfort it could be, but this week, mud represents the best meteorological development I could hope to see.

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