Mud season is known as Vermont's "fifth season." This year's softening of the earth brought comments from neighbors claiming, "This was one of the worst."
The 3.5 mile trip down the mountain to the village during late March and early April requires patience. The dirt road's surface changes by the hour as the sunlight draws the frost and moisture out of the frozen depths. The final half-mile up to our land is impassable for four months due to snow and then an additional month on account of the mud. By late March or early April it takes on the feel of wet concrete in a wheelbarrow.
We made the mistake of trying to drive in to the land a couple of weeks earlier than we should have this year and my truck came close to becoming a permanent part of the road. One of the "quick" sections of the stone and sand aggregate tried to swallow us. The truck dropped into the sloppy gravel until the vehicle's underside floated on the road's surface. I didn't even want to think of the work it would have taken to extract the pickup if we'd come to a stop. Keeping on the throttle and holding my breath we clawed our way to firmer ground and vowed we wouldn't be tempted again.
Despite the challenges of mud season, springtime is a busy season of preparation in advance of the land’s annual renewal. After three years of steady effort, we have cleaned up the apple orchard that had suffered from the careless operations of a logging operation under the land’s previous owner. When the land changed to our hands you could not walk amid the two dozen fruit trees in the middle meadow. They were surrounded by the scattered slash (branches and tops of trees that are left behind after a timber cut). The wood does eventually decompose on the forest floor, but in this case the meadows and orchard had been used for preparing the saw logs and depositing the slash. Without cleanup, the meadows and the orchard had been rendered inaccessible for fruit and crop production.
In the top photo I put our small John Deere to the test and skidded the remains of an old fallen sugar maple to its final resting place at the edge of the meadow. At the lower end of the orchard we created two house-sized piles of the remaining slash that will be burned after the first of next winter’s snows blanket the ground.
When the earth begins to come alive again in spring much of the thinking is of gardens to plant and warm days ahead, but it is also the time to put up the next year’s firewood. Gypsy is extremely energy efficient, requiring only a single cord of wood for heating from September through April. There is no shortage of firewood on the land in the form of downed trees. Above, I put a chain on a maple that had fallen across the stream and skidded it to the spot where it will be cut to 12” lengths before being split and stacked for next winter’s use.
One of the downed maples shows good quality wood (lower right in the photo above) that I may spare from the fire and mill it up for the kitchen cabinets yet to be built.
Next came the turning of the earth for our first vegetable garden on the land. The soil is a nice loam but will benefit from the compost that will be added over time. Given our latitude and altitude the danger of frost does not pass until the end of May so we still have time to get a deer fence around the perimeter before young tender plants temp the many animals that share the land with us. (This Memorial Day's forecast low is 33 degrees.)