Last Sunday marked the end of the meteorological winter, the coldest (on average) 91 days of the year. Winter’s back may be broken but it’s still kicking up a fuss, dropping more freezing rain and another 10 inches of snow on the south flank of Nonesuch Mountain but, unlike a mad dog or a downed ewe that can be helped no longer, I can’t shoot it in the head and just get it over with. There can be no act of mercy, no small-caliber POP, no small black circle on the forehead that wells up and overflows with crimson. Winter’s eyes will not roll back (after locking on mine for a brief, agonizing instant) and winter’s knees will not buckle. Winter will not falter to the ground and heave a sigh that disappears into cold silence while I contemplate what to do with the carcass. No, winter must be allowed to linger and die in its own way, slowly giving way to spring which is going to really make a mess.
In the meantime, dirt roads soften on warm days, turning into a tangle of ruts that harden in the cold air of night. The ruts are not easy to avoid while driving, and falling into someone else’s set of tracks can be like nature’s own version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as I am jerked this way and that, hoping like heck that the previous guy stayed away from the soft edge above the ditch.
The main roads aren’t much better, as the freeze-thaw cycle cracks the asphalt into crazy, reticulated, reptilian-looking patches of pavement. The first of these frost heaves will be marked with little orange signs warning of their presence ahead, but soon there will be too many to mark, even if most of the signs weren’t already mangled and buried in the deep road-side banks pushed up by the plows. It is one thing to know the frost heaves are there, but it is an all together different thing to guess if hitting one will send my car airborne, cause it to bottom-out with a bone-jarring crunch, or send me suddenly sideways into the path of an oncoming log truck. And when the melt-water from the snowbanks freezes in the shade, adding an extra dimension of excitement, all bets are off.
Driving in this transitional time of year can be a challenge, especially after becoming so used to the smoother (if somewhat more snow-packed) roads of deep winter. It’s like the time I was surprised to find myself sliding across a 30 mph curve at 50 mph in the middle of a snow squall. But it wasn’t my fault. The windshield wipers were icing up and it’s kind of hard to pay attention to things like the speedometer while leaning out the window, trying to catch a moving wiper.
And no matter what anyone tells you, I did not, just prior to spinning, say anything even close to, “Here. Hold my beer and watch this!”