In Wisconsin, they say we have four seasons—Summer, Winter, Deer Season, and Mud Season. This year has seen a good-old-fashioned kind of winter, with plenty of snow, lingering bouts of cold, and little reprieve until lately. Everyone is wishing for spring, with warm, sunny days, green, flowers, and an end to shoveling all that white stuff that won’t stop falling from the sky.
But somehow in our poetic waxings of springtime weather, we forget the less-than-elegant part that comes with it: Mud Season. It starts when the snow begins drip-dripping off the roofs. You know it’s coming for sure when you have to start shoveling water out the front door of the barn. And Mud Season is in earnest when you have to ask the milk delivery truck to stop in the front parking lot rather than at the service entrance—so the axels of her truck don’t sink out of sight in the softened gravel.
The pat-a-pat of rain outside the window is a sure sign of spring flooding. We scramble about the garage, picking up our bits and pieces of winter carelessness—empty feed sacks, cardboard boxes, wayward buckets, and anything that’s worth saving from the creeping tide of snowmelt that seeks every crack and crevice to seep inside.
Winter boots trade out for high-topped rubber muck boots (otherwise known as Wellies), and it’s an on-again-off-again relationship with Yak Tracks…followed by a half-hour search for that one you must have lost somewhere while doing chores. The snow is crystalline, chunky, and slowly revealing the lost bits and pieces buried in all the winter storms. There’s where you must have spilled a little feed or where that mysterious hammer went off to. The melt-off makes its own form of springtime archaeology.
The gathering mud sucks at my boots, drags at my sled filled with fodder and feed, and pulls our little car around on the twisting, soft lane. Snowbanks slump and settle like piles of disappearing quicksand, and our sheepdog Lena can hardly bound across the yard without falling through the crust and floundering about with a strange mix of panic and glee.
My first robin, spotted alongside the road yesterday, pokes and pries for any bit of food. White swans honk as they fly overhead. I glance up to find them in the gray skies, misstep, slip, and land in a puddle. Mud Season offers that funny parody of “oh good” and “oh dear.”
One year, the frost was deep in the ground, despite plenty of snow. And then it rained, and rained, and rained. Our turkey coop, which sits in a low spot in the barnyard, was soon encircled by a moat. More rain, and the water continued to rise. When the tide began to seep into the front door of the coop, we knew we had to act. Running to town in the truck (there was no way we’d make it out the half-mile driveway in the car), we dashed to the rental center in town to pick up a trash pump and several lengths of fire-fighter hose.
With shovels and hoes, we dug a low spot in the crusty snow below the water for the pump to set. Chunks of bobbing snow, like gathering mini icebergs, bumped against our rubber boots as we stretched the hose out towards the hill beyond the yard that slopes down to the marshland. But when we plugged in the well-battered beast, it pulled the water so hard that all the ice collected and choked the system. So we bared our teeth against our freezing feet, standing nearly knee-deep in the frigid mess, armed with canoe paddles to keep the icebergs away. Plumped hoses carried gushing water past the woodshed to blast down the hill in a torrent that washed away channels of sod beneath the snow.
It continued to rain, and for two more days we had to extend our rent, wade the tide, and keep our canoe-paddle vigil. We’ve since made some landscaping adjustment, but a turkey coop moat is still an annual spring occurrence. The turkeys hardly seem to mind, so long as their house is dry. Guess that’s what those long legs are for!
The ducks are absolutely thrilled with the warming weather, and I’m sure they were out dancing in today’s drizzle. Water! They burrow their bills in the crystalline snow, prancing back and forth. Oh for the day when they can take a bath in their kiddie pool again! And mud? Bring it on! One of these nights, I’ll come in to the coop to find a flock of brown ducks. Oh dear, well, at least they’re enjoying themselves.
But despite the flooding, the mess, the slipping and sliding, and all the rest, Mud Season reminds us that spring is on its way. There may still be a few more snows before we’re through with winter’s grasp, but the sun stands stronger in the sky, the banks are receding, and someday eager blades of grass will poke through the mud, followed by crocuses with their cheerful purple faces.
Just recently, our first pair of lambs were born—a sure sign of the spring season. My chick order is in to the hatchery, we’re planning the garden, and every day new smells greet me during chores. Nature stretches, yawns, and slowly begins to move forward in the cycle of life from the cold depths of winter.
Keep your spirits up, watch for puddles, and enjoy those quirky moments that are all a part of Mud Season in the Northwoods. I’ll be shoveling water out of the barn again tonight, for sure, but it’s all part of the process. See you down on the farm sometime.Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.nort