(Host) Commentator Willem Lange is always looking for a better way to cross Vermont from side to side, and he has this advice: Suspend the search during mud season.
(Lange) Just when you’re sure another day of mud season will break your spirit at last, the sun bakes the frost out of the dooryard, and the world begins to dry up. Yesterday’s chocolate pudding becomes soil. When suddenly the spell is broken, the myriad of details that make a spring come pouring out. Everywhere in the woods, a constant background as pervasive as department-store music, is the sound of running water.
It doesn’t happen on any prescribed date; and no one can ever say with authority, “There! That’s it! Now it’s spring.” This year Mother and I went away for a weekend, and it happened while we were there. On Friday afternoon, with the mud deep in our dooryard, we pointed her van at the eastern slope of the Green Mountains and discussed which gap to take.
I’m sure I’ve never found the shortest, quickest line across Vermont. I’ve tried some pretty exotic routes, too, and kept track of the results. I’ve also developed some ground rules, like: Avoid Rutland and Killington on Friday evening, and avoid leaving the yard during leaf-peeping season. I now have a new rule: Avoid trying new routes over the Green Mountains during mud season.
I missed my exit off the interstate, and didn’t want to go back. So I dug out the map, found a little squiggle that connected two parallel branches of the White River, and in direct contradiction of advice from the passenger’s seat, headed up and over.
The less said about it, the better. I didn’t know Vermont had hills like that! We climbed through a poverty patch — tarpaper shacks, abandoned cars among dead burdock stalks — and occasional summer homes; crossed the summit, and dove steeply down the other side. On the way I discovered Vermont’s longest dead-end mud driveway.
All the way over the mountain, spring was happening. In every swamp, red-winged blackbirds swung from last year’s cattails. Two robins swirled around each other at the muddy summit in a mating ritual. When I stopped to take a picture, two garter snakes, twined together at the roadside, uncoiled and slid off through dirty popple leaves.
Home was just as we remembered it: sap buckets drying in the sun. A black cat on a porch watching a fly circle, out of her reach. Down at the shore, brash ice whispering in an easy swell. At midnight, we stood on the porch to hear the calling of geese headed north again. Sunday morning we sat in church with the door wide open, among old friends.
We came back a different route Sunday afternoon, and discovered that in our absence spring had happened here. A few frogs croaked in the swamp. The dooryard was no longer quicksand. And the year’s first mosquito sang in my ear.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.