Spring forward with a vengeance: It's mud season
RICHMOND — From where Pam Dickey sat Friday at the Richmond Post Office, forget that stuff about not being deterred by snow, rain, heat or "gloom of night."
The challenge was mud. And for Dickey, that was just to get vehicles out of her Route 41 lot.
On a mid-March day when temperatures shot to over 60 degrees, dirt roads across Berkshire County gave up trapped frost and water almost at once, turning miles of rural ways into bogs and ushering in 2019's mud season, or at least what might be its last hurrah.
As people who travel the region's dirt roads might recall, thaws in December and February offered teases ahead to the annual trial by mud that arrived with a vengeance Friday.
Town highway crews went into overdrive, hurrying deliveries of stone to the worst patches in attempts to stabilize greasy roads.
But because roads softened into mire all at once, it was an uphill battle.
It meant miserable travel in and out of homes. This newspaper article can't do justice to the many roads in Berkshire County that seemed to melt overnight.
So, in fairness, if you live on one of them, this sentence is for you.
In Windsor, Highway Superintendent John Denno and his two-person crew brought stone to Savoy Hollow Road so an ambulance could make it out from a call.
"Every dirt road in town is mud," Denno said. "We're bringing in stone to tighten them up, so people can get through. The top layer gets greasy."
Madeline Scully, Windsor's town clerk, said she fielded calls from residents all morning Friday.
"They're not happy with their roads, but they've been patient, which is nice," Scully said.
She took to Facebook to let Windsor residents know help will be on its way, eventually.
Scully then turned on the sunshine, posting that residents might want to look on the bright side: "We may be missing a great opportunity. Spa mud baths are expensive," she wrote. "Windsor mud mixed with a little bear poop could put L'Oreal out of business."
As is the case every spring, the arrival of mud separates city folk from country folk, and not just by what they find funny.
School buses were said to be encountering sporadic mud problems, but a spot check with the Central Berkshire Regional School District found no major transportation snafus.
Though an ambulance had to be rescued in Windsor, similar service appeared to be normal in urban areas.
Rick Knights, manager of CRT Inc. Cabulance in Pittsfield, said his outfit hadn't been affected by mud season.
"We have the occasional bad driveway, but that's about it," he said.
Welcome to mudville
Roads in Pittsfield were mainly clear and dry Friday. But just a few miles out in any direction, drivers headed up back roads were getting a taste of country life.
A little after noon Friday, veteran letter carrier Carol Chapman motored along Dublin Road in Richmond, one of the roads most prone to snaring vehicles. She knew enough to come in off Summit Road, hit stops on her route, and then find a place to turn around and head back to terra firma.
In the distance to the south, wet ruts glistened on a rise on Dublin Road. A slurry of brown water ran freely in a ditch to the east side of the road.
When asked by a motorist whether she recommended giving that far-off stretch of Dublin Road a try, Chapman was clear. "Why put your car through that?" she asked.
At no extra charge, she followed up with advice on maneuvering a muddy road.
"Don't stay in the ruts. Weave back and forth, zigzagging," she said.
Chapman might have gotten practice doing that Friday, right at her own post office.
A portion of the unpaved area in front of the steps into the Richmond Post Office had just opened up to reveal deep folds of mud.
Dickey, wearing a set of bobbing green antennae in honor of St. Patrick's Day, said it looked like she would have to order in another truckload of gravel, just as she had done last summer.
"I don't expect it to just go away," she said of the newly emerged bog, which was about 5 feet in diameter but growing by the hour. "This used to be a marsh. There's a lot of water."
Just walking across the lot in front of the post office is an experience, Dickey said. "It feels like you're bouncing on a water bed."
That's true out back as well, where traffic by postal vehicles had churned up several square yards of earth.
Collin Kimple, of Tyringham, pulled in to pick up some mail, his pickup parked perilously close to the sinkhole. In the hours Friday that The Eagle spent scouting for impressive mud, this patch took the prize for originality and was thus awarded a name: Mudzilla.
Kimple travels the county putting shoes on horses, which — little-known fact — can be sucked off by deep mud.
"Have good clearance and just watch what's in front of you as the frost comes out," he said, when asked to share advice to motorists. "It's definitely a mess."
When Angela Delsordo pulled in at the post office, she avoided Mudzilla and pulled up close to a bank of boxes to check her mail.
Once out of her car, she pointed toward Mudzilla with a shocked expression.
"Richmond is noted for its mud season," she said, with not hint of pride. She urged a visitor to continue down Route 41 and see the condition of Furnace Road.
"Those poor people that live down there," Delsordo said.
She offered directions, then, like Chapman, some advice.
"If you see a muddy spot, try to go around it," she said. "It's not a pothole; you can go around it."
Into the furnace
The turnoff onto Furnace Road started bad and got worse. The road snaked for a stretch, in places fetching up several inches of standing mud.
A bit further on, the road splits to the left for a little dead-end lane, which is where Jerry O'Neil has been keeping track of mud season realities for about 40 years, he figured.
"It's extremely bad," he said of the condition of Furnace Road, particularly a stretch to the east, where the road goes by the home of former Gov. Deval Patrick.
In his four decades here, O'Neil said, he has never seen mud this bad, and isn't sure why. He wasn't easily persuaded when a visitor trotted out a few theories picked up over the course of the day.
That includes the notion, shared by Denno, the Windsor road boss, that earlier thaws had managed to trap more moisture. "You have all that water that saturated the ground and froze," Denno had said a few hours back.
O'Neil, standing just inside his front door, could be seen turning around the idea in his head. Then he shook his head slightly.
"I have no reason why it is," he said.
Like all mud-season veterans, O'Neil has an approach to driving in the stuff.
"You keep one tire on the center of the road," he said.
Others vouch for speed. In a second Facebook post Friday, Scully, the Windsor town clerk, told fellow townspeople that travel in mud season favors the brave.
"Put the pedal to the metal and don't pick your foot up until you land in your driveway," she wrote, "all the while steering furiously."
Denno, the Windsor road chief, laughed when told of that advice.
"That's what everybody's doing," he said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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