Mud Season (Or, “Signs of a Literary Spring”)

Vermont is a land of seasons–hard seasons.  There is nothing subtle about them, from the rich green landscape of summer, to the reds and golds and oranges of autumn, to the icy, interminable wasteland of winter, and the riot of color that signals the rebirth of spring.  People in New England often say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait around five minutes.  It’ll change.”  Except . . . that’s not necessarily true, especially this time of the year.

 

March is, arguably, Vermont’s least attractive month.  Winter hangs on, stubborn, digging its frostbitten fingers into the earth.  Snowstorms still arise.  Freezing rain and melting snow that re-freezes overnight create conditions more suitable to ice skates than shoes or tires.  Trees remain bare, their trunks gray and brown against the rust and heaviness of the low-hanging clouds.  And as the month pushes on, the days inching inexorably forward toward a longed-for if mercurial April, there is enough snowmelt that the grass finally emerges after being buried and hidden since November.  But it’s not a green, healthful-looking grass.  No.  It’s yellow and flattened, bereft of vibrancy.  It will be weeks before it begins to turn.

 

Perhaps more than anything, though, March in Vermont is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for its mud.  Rural Vermont is replete with dirt roads that wind along and through the hills and valleys of the state’s rugged terrain.  I myself live on a dirt road, and when Mud Season–as they refer to it here–arrives, well, let’s just say you need a good pair of boots and a tolerance for swerving while driving along the rutted, grooved surface of the road.  Some tire grooves are a foot deep or more–and many drivers have become stuck over the years during Vermont’s season of mud.

 

This all grates on the residents.  Cabin fever sets in.  After all, come March, Vermonters have endured nonstop Arctic conditions for months.  We long to see the tangible manifestations of spring.  The calendar, late in the month, tells us it’s spring–but it doesn’t look like it, and it sure doesn’t feel like it.  I always think about Groundhog Day, February 2nd.  If old Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we’ll still be cursed with six more weeks of winter, they say.  That’s supposed to be the bad news.  But, in Vermont, if, on February 2nd, you were told there would be just six weeks left of winter, you’d celebrate.  Six weeks?  Is that all?

 

And yet . . . and yet . . . for all of its bleakness and unwillingness to yield, a Vermont March offers hope.  There are shy, subtle hints that Old Man Winter is retreating, or, at least, about to retreat.  On the surface, these hints can be easily missed if one focuses exclusively on the sub-freezing temperatures, the snow, the ice underfoot.  But they are there.  Like the daylight–which increases.  The four-o’clock evenings of November and December have melted away to longer afternoons and later sunsets.  (Not taking into account Daylight Savings Time, which, of course, creates its own species of havoc!)  There are also the blackbirds and the grackles, who arrive by the middle of the month, returning from their winter migration.  And . . . what’s that?  A sneeze?  Runny eyes?  A scratchy throat?  It’s not a cold.  It’s the first manifestation of seasonal allergies, the pollen that is my lifelong scourge stirring somewhere, unseen, in the shadows.  No life, no renewal is evident.  All looks as stripped and cold as ever.  But something is happening.  A latent life-force is awakening.

 

*******************

It can be like that with creativity, too.  Much like the seasons of our natural world, there are seasons in our creative life, as well.  Sometimes we’re swept away in the lava flow of words, ideas, images, inspirations, epiphanies.  Other times, however (and far too frequently), we lie fallow and windswept, our stories, our paintings, our songs snowed under, cut off from the light.  It’s as if we’re lost in a maze, with no idea how to find our way out.  In the distance, around the corner, through the mountain pass, there is an other side abundant with flowing waterfalls and fields of flowers, basking in the midday sunshine.  We long to get back to that place, where the art seemingly creates itself.  And when we’re not there, we wonder if we’ll ever return.

 

The winter wilderness, when ideas seem perpetually blocked, can cause a sense of panic.  Will I ever get a good, workable idea again?  Has the well run dry?  Is that it?  Am I done as an artist?  Have I written my last story? Believe me, I have been there.  (I was there in the months after finishing The Singularity Wheel.)  And I’ve learned that, sometimes, when we’re particularly fortunate, we emerge from our unwanted creative sabbaticals with a flourish.  A new story comes, like a gift from the muse, and you feel as if you must write it immediately.  A picture forms in your mind, as if by magic–and you know you have a tour de force in the making.  Such unasked-for inspirations are the ultimate highs.

 

But other times, and probably far more often, the rebirth of your creative self is gentler, quieter, less flamboyant.  It doesn’t soar from 23 degrees to 84 degrees Fahrenheit in a single bound.  It takes time.  Maybe a new idea comes, but it needs work still.  The foundation is there.  Now you need to build up, create rooms for the characters in which to live and breathe, and dream. But you’re moving.  You are escaping the dark heart of literary winter.  You have discovered the way out of the maze.  Now, you just have to get there.

 

One step at a time.

*********************

It’s cold today–temperatures not even reaching 20 degrees.  But the sun is shining high in the sky, and the rays are soothing.  And above me, ahead of me . . . what’s that?

The distinct, watery sound of a red-winged blackbird.  The first time I’ve heard a blackbird this calendar year.

 

I look at him, perched on the bare limb of a sugar maple.  He returns my gaze, a knowing sparkle in his eye.

He understands.  Despite the frigid conditions today, he realizes.  And he’s returned.  He’s flown hundreds and hundreds of miles for this.

Spring is almost here.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. laurelwolfelives
    Mar 06, 2019 @ 13:31:43

    I identify with your question, “have I written my last story?”
    I finally got my book out and now I think, “I’ve run out of paper and my inkwell is dry.” 🥴

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 07, 2019 @ 12:51:54

      Hi Laurel! Indeed, the life of a writer is often laced with insecurity, isn’t it? And . . . congratulations on your book!

      Reply

      • laurelwolfelives
        Mar 07, 2019 @ 16:02:07

        Thanks, but I don’t consider myself to be a real writer. I just wanted to get my story out there…after years of Loser telling everyone that I left him because he got fired from his high-paying job….and he was the victim. What a crock! LOL.

  2. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Mar 06, 2019 @ 17:47:19

    Perfect, beautiful, right-on (pun intended) analogy, Mike!

    Reply

  3. ritaroberts
    Mar 07, 2019 @ 09:12:33

    Superb explanation of maybe the worst weather conditions around the world of late,. except maybe the mud which sounds really dangerous.. The blackbird is one of my favourite birds. Unfortunately in the East of Crete where I live, there are no blackbirds so I miss their beautiful song. Inspiration for writing seems to come more during the springtime. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mike

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 07, 2019 @ 12:53:39

      Thanks so much, Rita! Yes–March really does represent Vermont at its worst, I think.:) It’s not really an aesthetically pleasing month, but, again, I always find comfort in the subtle signs of spring! I also have a soft spot for black birds.:)

      Reply

  4. Rilla Z
    Mar 07, 2019 @ 13:17:06

    Here in Alabama, we’ve been having our own mud season. That’s not a typical season, so it is definitely giving me perspective to hear about your experience every year.

    I try my best to avoid the “empty nest” feelings after I finish a story. I’ll start a new project as I’m nearing the end just to safeguard myself from plunging into that dry, wandering aftermath. The new project slows me down, so that’s a bit counterintuitive, though. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

    Reply

  5. The Eye-Dancers
    Mar 07, 2019 @ 14:47:18

    You know, that’s a good suggestion–I will need to try that! Sometimes, when I’m writing a longer story (or even a novel), I will occasionally break away to write a short story, but I’ve never really begun a new long project before finishing another one. I think I will give this a try.:)

    Reply

  6. magarisa
    Mar 07, 2019 @ 18:45:33

    What a beautifully written post, accompanied by such lovely pictures. I’m in “the dark heart of literary winter” right now, so this post gives me hope.

    Reply

  7. Lyn
    Mar 11, 2019 @ 02:18:12

    So tell my you have another novel in the pipeline, Mike. Stagnating when it comes to writing something new truly is “our winter of discontent.”

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 11, 2019 @ 12:18:31

      Hi Lyn! Sadly, no new novel in the pipeline just yet.:( Just a few short story ideas I am starting to work on. I am hoping those will kick-start novel ideas.:) But I am enjoying the short stories in their own right. They take me back to my roots–since that’s the primary way I began writing fiction way back when. But I also know from experience that a new “novel” idea can come, like a bolt from the blue, at any moment! Perhaps by tomorrow at this time, it’ll be there.:) Always great hearing from you, Lyn!

      Reply

  8. Ste J
    Mar 13, 2019 @ 01:15:41

    How jealous I am, that you have managed to get two novels out, whilst I flounder about trying to do one. I look forward to your new projects, as and when they arrive and will bring over my copy of The Eye-Dancers for our kid(s) (that’s mine and the wifes, not mine and yours).

    Reply

  9. Carol Balawyder
    Mar 15, 2019 @ 00:00:48

    You must be in your season of creativity. This is such a lovely, flowing and poetic post. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    Reply

  10. Resa
    Mar 15, 2019 @ 21:23:06

    Sounds a lot like here! 5 more days to the equinox! Neat post.

    Reply

  11. ilonapulianauskaite
    Mar 31, 2019 @ 19:17:13

    Exactly, 1 step at the time, congratulations on the novels🤗

    Reply

  12. Karina Pinella
    May 12, 2019 @ 13:08:59

    Lovely pictures. Even lovelier comparison between the changing of seasons and when creative inspiration strikes. Although inspiration can be a factor, my main issue is time. Time to be still and just create because in my case if I had time to do that, I would feel like a waterfall. Sigh

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 13, 2019 @ 12:58:21

      Hi Karina! I can certainly relate! Just recently, I’ve had a few ideas percolating, itching to be transferred onto the page. I haven’t had a chance yet to do that, but I intend to soon–I’ve always thought of summer as my most creative season.:)

      Reply

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