There are certain unavoidable truths I have come to accept this time of year. First, mud season stinks. Second, any resolve I have to stick it out at the end of a two mile dirt road quickly disappears like steam from boiling sap. Third, mud season amnesia sets in as soon as the road is graded and the spinach seed pokes through the soil, sometime around early May.
This season has been more difficult than most. Not necessarily because there have been too many disasters. The sum total for this year is down over previous years. If I were an economist I might even say that while the dirt road still contributes to a sluggish recovery; over all, there is improvement, statistically, year over year. Given all the available data, our household has made it out of its own personal recession... er, depression.
However the cumulative impact of dirt road living has me repeating Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." Another mud season leaves me questioning my philosophies. I am a single mother, on a modest income, living in the middle of nowhere. On good days I can be a rugged pioneer woman. Most days I am just frazzled and in a hurry to get somewhere.
Let's dig into the dirt of this narrative. Two weeks ago central Maine had two gloriously warm days. We even reached a balmy 60 degrees. This was a too sudden thaw. The road quickly went from a sketchy Braille texture to soup. One night we are driving slowly but without too many uh-ohs. The next morning we are driving what we hope is terra firma. Split second choices could have dire consequences. The secret to driving a very rutted road is to ride up along the sides of the ruts that previous drivers sculpted with their vehicles. A slow intentional approach nearly always guarantees success. This particular morning this strategy was not going to proves reliable.
We are nearly at the end of the road. We just have to climb a little hill. I could go to the left side. Any vehicle coming from the opposite direction will also go slow. As I am going up the hill, I trust to the good neighborly acquiescence that is common this time of year. Everyone knows that when you have the momentum you just have to go. But such a stickler for the rules of the road, I decide, perhaps, the right side of the road looks solid enough to get myself to the top. Bad choice. Half way up the top of the rut disintegrates under my car and I am in it. The road has eaten my passenger's side tire. It is too deep for my little Subaru Impreza. We are stuck.
No problem. My son might be a little late for school but we are not stranded. There is a guy on the road who has all manner of dilapidated trucks, jeeps, and 4-wheelers. He might be able to help us out. As we get out of the car another truck comes down the hill.
"Can you pull us out?"
" I don't have any chains."
In past years this would have been a real problem. However, prior experience informs future decision making. I had chains in my trunk. A slow tug from behind freed me from the quagmire.
If only this were the end of the story. I knew from past experience to go to the car wash after such a mud bath and give the wheels extra attention with the power hose. That weekend a horrible noise began emanating from the front of the car. On Monday I took the car to the tire shop to replace the front tires (they needed it). Tire guys took an air compressor to the tires to clear out any remaining mud. The noise was still there. By the time I arrived at the mechanic, the car has eaten through a brake pad, warped a rotor and nearly stuck a caliper. Three hundred dollars later I am driving safely again.
Metaphor is everywhere during mud season. The significance of a car stuck in the road is not lost on me. Spring brings this tension between earth and sky. While I gripe about the road, the travails of the car, the mud splattered on my work clothes, I can also recognize the wonder and gifts that a quieter life give me. I've noticed rhubarb poking out of an awakening earth. The maple sap is really flowing this year, a success I can taste. I can hear Canada Geese in the small pond in the woods. Life is always teaching you a lesson you have to learn, sometimes over and over. But at least I've have learned to carry the chains.