January Thaw: Postponed Til Late February

Frosty Morn
Image by fred1st via Flickr

I have easy access to my blog archives now, catalogued, searchable and AI-connected through DevonThink. I’m going back, following the breadcrumbs, to discover how in the world I ended up here, and where, exactly, here is. And while deep into other projects, you’re likely to see a few of those crumbs from 2002 onward. Here is one of them–from January 2003.

January Thaw (also in Slow Road Home)

Today we enjoy the mixed blessing of the January Thaw, a bit early this year. But why not. Every other aspect of the weather has thumbed its nose at the auspix and the prognosticators this year. Even a weatherman’s air mass can be surly and mutinous, and likely without warning to aim a high-powered wind at Walmart shoppers in Texas; or in a different mood, that same bubble of air may decide to just sit down over Alabama, tepid and tame, and hold its breath until the Jet Stream tickles its sensitive underbelly.

The Mud Season starts for real sometime in late March, should the seasons relent their rebellious tirades and decide to play by the rules. The January Thaw is a teaser, a complimentary packet of mixed nuts, on the long flight to Spring. After more than a month of deep freeze, the subsoil is hard as iron, down to the frost line. The thaw this week has warmed and softened the top few inches which slip and slide around like choclate pudding on a rock. Pastures and fields are rutted with brown parallel scars from the feeding of livestock; cattle stand around in muddy boots, up to their elbows in pasture gumbo.

In town, the street is outlined in cinders and salt, marking where the gray mounds of snow have finally disappeared down the city drains, heading now for Little River, then north through the New, the Kanawha, Ohio, then south to the Gulf of Mexico. Here it will retire on a beach, with a sweet orange drink in a tall frosted glass with a saffron paper parasol. Meanwhile, a few shortsleeved human types busy themselves in the tiny heart of town, finding excuses to step outdoors onto the solid surfaces of sidewalk into the warm afternoon, to greet a neighbor before the real winter comes.

Cars and trucks along the street are gray-brown, the color of lost dogs. They seem embarassed to be seen looking this way. But what’s the point in taking a bath, they ask? In this in-between chapter between pre-winter and real winter, the mud falls on the godly and the ungodly alike, so the Lexus and the farm-use truck next to it don’t look all that different, mud being a great equalizer in Nature’s homogenizing justice.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Ahh, mud season. I’d almost forgotten. We call it the fifth season in these parts (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Mud). The joys of burying your truck to its axles on the way to a simple errand, the sound of slurping boots on a quagmired dirt road, and alas the required muddy back, from head to to, from stepping on frost laden “under dirt” with slippery mud on the upper layer resulting in a full, Olympic quality, mud flop.