It’s that time of year. It’s time for my day lilies to push their sleepy heads through the barely thawed top soil of my flower bed and it’s time for the robins to forage amongst the wintered brown grass as hope springs eternal for all living things. It’s the time of year to bring the bicycles down from the garage rafters and gather the forsaken snow sleds and remains of snowmen arms, noses and hats as the late March winds scattered them in all directions. It’s time to refill the flattened soccer and basketballs and rediscover your long-lost love for sidewalk chalk drawings and jump roping. It’s the time of year to wash all the windows and haul the screens up from the basement, eager to exchange winter’s dry air for a delicious spring breeze. It’s that time of year again, when the line to Bradley’s carwash is always six to eight cars long and that extra ten dollars is especially worth the ultimate refreshment of a shiny, clean car, as if we somehow defeat the lingering winter by simply washing it away. With radios turned up louder than the sound of heavy duty vacuums, people everywhere are sucking crushed trail mix, sticky pennies and expired ski lift tickets out of cracks, crannies and booster seats. Dusty clouds can be seen floating above as five months’ worth of salted dirt gets beaten from the winter floor mats.
The music is turned up as we step back, sip our iced tea and appreciate this new car feeling all over again.
At least that’s what I’ve heard spring feels like in other parts of New England. Something about flowers blooming and birds chirping? Or was it something about packing all the snow pants and boots away for another year? I’m pretty sure I saw something on Facebook about people flying kites and eating ice cream without mittens on. Meanwhile, I’m just wondering if I should order one more tank of heating fuel so my children don’t wake up with icicles on their eyelashes like last week when I tried to be seasonally frugal by turning the thermostat off at night.
Spring in Aroostook County arrives in two stages and while the rest of the country will be hunting for Easter eggs in open-toed sandals on warm green grass, we’ll be bundled wearing our four Sunday best sweaters and three pair of woolen socks that make our rubber boots too tight as we go tripping in mud to fill our baskets. While Southern New Englanders might spend their balmy 58-70° evenings grilling on sunny patios and in green backyards, us Northern New Englanders will be spending a good 30 minutes trying to pull our Adirondack chairs out of the frozen ground and it will take at least that long to shovel a path to the grill due to another surprise April snow squall ripping spring from our frozen finger tips yet again. And don’t be surprised if you see us shoveling that snow in our sandals and t-shirts either; we’re likely protesting the utter ridiculousness of the weather. Other parts of the country might be tilling their vegetable gardens under or cleaning and digging up their flower beds by now, but we’re just happy to see exposed patches of brown lawn floating amidst the river of mud that has become our front yards. And don’t be afraid to ask why we have 2×4 planks of wood paving a path from the garage to the house; we’re proud of the way we resourcefully create ways to avoid losing another pair of shoes to the three inches of sludge that was previously solid ground.
It doesn’t take much to excite us during Mud Season, Northern Maine’s 5th season. We appreciate Mud Season for what it is: a precursor to spring, an appetizer, a little dish of lemon sorbet to cleanse our winter palates and prepare us for the brilliance of spring in Aroostook, except with a little less lemon and a lot more mud and laundry detergent. And although she makes us wait on her like she’s a spoiled Hollywood starlet, spring’s later arrival to The County can’t possibly be described with words on paper. I couldn’t begin to awaken your senses as would the endless rolling fields of wildflowers and blankets of wild oats softly dancing in the warm wind. If I could bottle the sweet perfume of the abundant lilac bushes and save it in a jar, just to drink it all winter long, I would. Cupping my hands around the lovely pinks, lavenders and whites of spring in The County, I could inhale endlessly and wish to stay there forever. The sloping mountains become fatter and somehow more magnificent. The sky widens and the scented pines seem to grow taller, desperately reaching for every droplet of sunlight our longer days bring. The wild animals fear us less and curiously explore our backyards with as much contentment as we do, every living creature, both tame and wild, happy to get digging in the softened ground again.
The clean spring air of our remote home freshens the laundry on the line and offers an energy to our children, leaving them begging for five more minutes outside before bed time. Every blade of healthy grass, every exasperating dandelion, every bumbling bee and every mosquito, yes, even they serve as glad reminders that our time in the sun is near.
Maybe because the Northern Maine winters are so very long, so extremely cold and seemingly endless, especially during this last stretch of an in-between season, that we have a heightened sense of gratitude for the warmth on our faces, the water-logged ditches and the mud caked to our shoes and tires. Or maybe we know the glory of spring and summer in The County is so fleeting, yet so indescribably grand that we know it will all be worth the wait.
Or maybe we’re all just a stubbornly wild bunch of Northern Mainers who think we’re tougher than the rest of you because not only can we handle a 5th season, but we’d secretly miss the mud if we didn’t have it to complain about.