Last Friday evening was a fine one with a hint of warmth and the sun sinking into a good pink sky. I was on my way to a party at a friend’s house on one of our more remote dirt roads, also known at this time of year as mud roads. She lives way off in back of beyond in her grandparents’ farmhouse, one of those wonderful old places that looks now as if it had grown up out of the earth, kind of rooted in and getting more settled and more comfortable as the years go by. The barn has a dizzying tilt, pulling a bit on the house, which is long and rambling with a lot of additions ending in a big screen porch, just as you would imagine an old New Hampshire homestead might be. The house looks out on a grand view of the mountain and each room is filled with the furnishings of her ancestors. My friend is in her sixties and she likes to give a party around this time of year. She can’t give a party in the winter because the snow banks on either side of the road are too high and there’s nowhere to park. And so she waits for spring and tries to avoid mud season. She didn’t call it quite right this year.
The mud that night was particularly luscious and I was wagging from side to side as the mud held onto my wheels and changed my direction back and forth with the tempo of a ride at the carnival. The William Tell Overture (Hi Ho Silver!) was playing on my radio, which seemed like the soundtrack to a movie, starring me. I boosted the volume and rolled down my window. The smell of the mud was all around me. I don’t think there’s ever been a mud scene in a Hollywood movie. If there were, it would have to be filmed with helicopters. A chase car for the cameras would be both ludicrous and impossible. And those Hollywood types would not even begin to be able to cope with mud. (Please forgive me for indulging in stereotypes but I’m pretty sure I’m right.) My car has front wheel drive and good snow tires but nothing further than that. To drive well in the mud you can’t take your eyes off the tracks in front of you and you kind of slalom between the deepest ruts and at the same time avoid puddles. Whiplash is possible. The assessment you want to hear is, “There’s a bottom to it.” It’s when there’s no bottom that you have to worry. It’s been said that some old farmers back in the days kept their tractors at the ready at this time of year and sometimes abandoned sugaring altogether for this pursuit. There was always someone whose car, up to the axles in muck, needed to be pulled out. Gratitude can prove lucrative.
So this had a bottom to it and I made it safely to my destination, parking by the side of the road on a ledge of solid ground, a feeling something like coming ashore. The road in mud season is more like a thick river, but the roadsides remain solid like riverbanks. It’s the action of cars and trucks that stirs the mud into such a slather. There’s a lot of sugaring that takes place on this road so I knew there had been a lot of trucks driving back and forth to gather the sap. I had worn my mud boots and carried my party shoes across the wide mud band that surrounded the house, mud oozing out from under each step so that there was a sucking sound as I walked. There have been many parties at this house, apparently a place of welcome for generations. As a result, I’ve been to more parties here in my mind than I have in fact. As I crossed to the dooryard, I remembered one story I’d heard about a pig this woman used to own named Pumpkin, a pig that has been described to me as being as big as a Volkswagen beetle. The pig loved people and usually welcomed them like a friendly dog. So one day, a young couple pulled into the yard for a party. They so happened to be driving a Volkswagen beetle. Pumpkin emerged from the barn and crossed toward the car at a gallop. The folks in the car were not farm-savvy and sat in the car like terrified prisoners. If she were a dog, Pumpkin would have wagged her tail. She waited from them to get out so she could greet them properly and when they didn’t, she pushed up against the car, an affectionate nudge which in fact lifted the car onto two wheels and almost knocked it over. The lady of the house emerged in time to call Pumpkin off and release her friends from their near-tomb. Pumpkin has been dead for years but remains alive in legend. She grows bigger and the story shifts a bit with each telling, including this one.
I reached the granite threshold to the old house. Big lilac bushes crowd the door. Sometime soon the purple fruit-like blooms will emerge from these winter twigs. But not quite yet. The chill night air was descending on the promise of the spring day. Inside, a big hearth fire flamed and snapped, throwing warmth into the old timbers. Friends crowded around the old kitchen and spilled into the living room, where the floors sagged and the tables were perilously laden with delicious platters of warm appetizers. The party lasted until late and by the time I left, the mud had set up in the cold night air so the passage home was smooth.