It’s mud season in Maine.
If you don’t live in this area, you may be scratching your head and saying “What on earth is mud season?” My state of Maine is in the very northeastern point of the US. We jut up into Canada like a crooked finger. We are in the north and the north is cold much of the time. There’s an old Maine saying that describes a year here as 11 months of winter and one month of rough sledding. That’s an exaggeration, but we do have a long winter with a lot of snow!
When the weather starts to get warmer, we have a season that most places do not. We have mud season. Mud season occurs when the snows start to melt and the frost works it’s way out of the ground. Mud season is such a part of a rural Mainer’s life that some of us call it our fifth season!
Mud season changes our habits. We avoid dirt roads and try to figure out which paved roads will have the fewest frost heaves. Yes, we still have a few dirt roads around here. Many of the folks in this neck of the woods make their living cutting trees, hauling trees, or making paper out of trees. We have a lot of trees.
Procuring those trees is a business that requires some heavy equipment. One of those machines is called a skidder. In Maine, that’s pronounced skiddah, but we’ll address the peculiarities of my regional dialect another time. A skidder is used to bring the cut trees out of the woods where they can be loaded on trucks.
Above you see a skidder that was used to haul trees out of our woodlot. Notice that it’s winter when the ground is frozen. This brings us back to mud season. During that time of pre-Spring, the skidders are idle. It is next to impossible to get in the woods to haul trees out. The poor skidders would be up to their headlights in mud. So no skidding in mud season.
The fact that you can’t use a skidder during mud season is just as well because even if you could cut the trees and get them out of the woods, you would be hard-pressed to get them to their destination. Many of the roads around here are “posted.” This means that heavy trucks are forbidden until the roads become more stable. As the frost comes out of the ground the pavement rises and falls. These tar undulations are frost heaves. If the pavement breaks and a crater is formed, that’s a pothole. We are plagued by both and only the car mechanics are happy about it.
All of this means that log trucks, more commonly known as pulp trucks around here, can’t move over the back roads. It is precisely those back roads that lead to the woods. Sigh…no skidding and no pulp trucking; that means no log cutting.
The life of a logger, also known as a lumberjack, is a hard one in mud season. With little work, it’s hard to get by. In case you are wondering what a pulp truck looks like, here is a very bad picture of one. I took it as it was passing by my bedroom window leaving my driveway. At least it will give you an idea of what they look like.
That orange thing you see at the top is a mechanical arm that swings around and grabs the logs to lift them into position on the truck. These trucks are a very common sight here.
You might wonder why they call these trucks “pulp” trucks. You see the largest local business is a pulp and paper mill. Paper is made from ground-up wood. If you take that wood and add water, it becomes a fibrous liquid called pulp. So the wood on these trucks is headed for the pulp mill. Here is a picture of the local pulp mill, along with the power plant that runs the place.
Again, the picture is not wonderful as I took it from a window in the paper mill where I once worked. Interestingly, the mill is owned by a South African company called Sappi. Sappi is one of the biggest paper producers in the world and our mill was once the largest. Now you see why wood is such an important part of our local economy.
Next time you pick up a glossy catalog, or a magazine like Vogue or Elle, think of our mill and the logs that come out of big tracts of forest or little woodlots like ours. Think of the loggers and skidders and pulp trucks. Think about how the weather affects every aspect of that process. Think about mud season.
So there we have it! Mud season affects local life in a big way, but when you smell the first mud of the season, you know that it is also the harbinger of Spring.