March 24, 2013

Maine Observer: In praise of mud season – no, really

Yes, it's sloppy. Yes, temps are only in the mid-30s. But winter is over, summer is coming, and for that we should be glad.

By STEVEN PRICE

Many people are surprised to learn that the Earth is closer to the sun in winter than in summer. The reason summer in Maine is blessedly warmer than winter has to do with the tilt of the Earth on its axis, not our planet's distance from the sun.

READERS MAY SUBMIT original 500-word essays about Maine life via email for this column to mainevoices@pressherald.com. Submissions must include the full name, address and daytime phone number of the author.

As our Northern Hemisphere presents its frost-bitten face to the sun, we bask in more solar radiation, precipitating the start of our most forlorn and forsaken season. Many Mainers don't even call it "spring," which in most places is a welcome respite of renewal; we call it "mud season." We build small rooms in our homes to accommodate it.

Just say the word "spring" to a grizzled Maine native, especially a farmer, and the response is dismissive, something between a snort and a laugh, as if you'd just said something ridiculously naive and foolish. If Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge had been a gloomy New Englander, rather than a gloomy Brit, his "Bah, humbug!" epithet wouldn't have been about Christmas.

Well, I'm here to praise mud season, not bury it (or be buried by it).

To take this brave stand, you have to appreciate the theory of logical contrast. For example, a stubbed toe is better than a broken foot. A bad meal is better than starving. Temps in the mid-30s and mud up to your ankles are better than a sub-zero day with ice on your windshield and snow up to your keister. Ergo, mud season is better than winter.

Damned by faint praise, you say?

I think we'd be more respectful of a little seasonal muck if we took an evolutionary perspective. Biblical stories aside, life on Earth originated in the ocean, then slithered out into the primordial ooze. Our very distant relatives embraced the mud as their second home, much like those Mainers who throw up a ramshackle structure on a brushy pond and call it, with great affection, "my camp."

After a few million years, of course, the primordial ooze got old, and so our amphibious ancestors evolved quickly to escape it. Dry land beckoned, and we crawled with energy and optimism toward our eventual upright, bipedal, mall-obsessed future.

Mud season is nature's tease, a hint of the promise lingering in the earthy smell presages the miracle to come. In mud season we can anticipate the summer months, planning our gardens and vacations, reading seed catalogs in the bathtub, going to flower shows. If we're honest, these preparations are better in some ways than the real thing, which comes with black flies, mosquitoes, swarming tourists and 90 percent humidity.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Mud season makes us stronger. And we need to be strong, because summer is short, fall is fleeting and winter is coming, always coming.

In a land of mud rooms, attention must be paid. We should give hearty thanks for this sloppy, warmer season, mud or no mud.

Steven Price is a resident of Kennebunkport.

 

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