N 42° 45.428 W 072° 37.925
from Local Treasures
Mud season. Rural New Englanders know well that stretch after winter’s dormancy is over, when spring has not yet arrived. Some folks hate it because of the mess—viscous mud covers tires, the bottoms of cars, every pair of shoes or boots you wear beyond the porch. That much mud can actually be dangerous; the weight triggers slides. Hikers are advised to avoid slippery mountain trails until a few warm weeks dry them.
I can’t honestly say I like mud season, but I do enjoy watching nature rearranging itself, matter remade according to invisible algorithms. At the same time that dirt is thawing into mud, the plasma-like goo seemingly neither solid nor liquid, water is also transforming. The thick white, air-pocketed mass that has coated ponds and lakes starts to sublimate and melt. Much of the top layer of ice becomes vapor, the bottom liquid, each molecule’s destiny determined by predictable laws and the happenstance of its own beginning place. This early April day was surprisingly warm, so I decided to brave deep mud to reach Sweet Pond State Park, in Vermont, where I found the pond itself poised between winter and spring, between solid and liquid.
Recently, my brother Lawrence explained liquefaction to me. It seems extraordinary. In fact, it’s the kind of thing you learn about on a special on the Discovery Channel or hear about occurring in a very poor country far away, all the while managing not to accept it, fully, as a real phenomenon. It begins with dirt—regular dirt, the sort that seems like a solid. If you have a large volume of dirt, and pack it together, it will compress tightly, but it isn’t fully compressed; it’s in a matrix, a counterpoise of solid and water and air. Still, you can put a house on it, or a school, or a church, and your building will stay put. But sometimes, quite rarely, the water pressure surges momentarily. Then the matrix loses its integrity, and it’s as though the dirt melts. Whatever is on top of it is instantly engulfed—sucked into the earth and covered over. Then the earth settles once again.
The world slipping and reforming, slipping and reforming; geology repeating itself once more.