Shelly (from left) James and Cody Swift pick their way around a muddy section of trail at South Portland's Hinkley Park on Friday, March 25, 2022. Maine's mud season sits between winter and spring when a combination of rising temperatures, rain and melting snow turn solid ground into a near-liquid quagmire. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

How bad is mud season this year?

For one family, it is bad enough to have to transport their grandma on a four wheeler for a mile-long trip down the dirt driveway to their car and paved road.

They are not alone in facing challenges in what many are calling the worst mud they’ve dealt with in years. Around Maine dirt roads are nearly impassable, tractors are getting stuck in fields and animals are moving to higher ground in barnyards to avoid the sticky goo.

Welcome to mud season in Maine. That shoulder season between winter and spring when a combination of rising temperatures, rain and melting snow turn solid ground into a near-liquid quagmire.

That’s what much of Melissa Voss Edwards’ mile-long driveway in central Maine has looked like these past several weeks. The mud, she said, is 18 inches deep in parts, making it impassable.

“In the morning we put the kids on the ATV and drive the mile to our car, transfer them to the car and take them to school,” Edwards said. “If we need to go get groceries or make a run to Home Depot, we attach a sled to the ATV and drag it behind us.”

A piece of heavy equipment sits surrounded by a muddy mire in Westbrook on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Maine’s mud season sits between winter and spring when a combination of rising temperatures, rain and melting snow turn solid ground into a near-liquid quagmire. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

On days when Edwards’ grandmother Elizabeth Benesh, a WWII veteran who lives with her and who turns 99 in a few weeks, has to get to a doctor’s appointment, she travels the first mile as a passenger on the ATV.

“She likes it,” Edwards said. “She does not like the mud, but she’s one that goes with the flow.”

Flowing is exactly what’s happening on Wendy Jurdak’s Clinton homestead where she describes it as a “mudpocalypse” and has taken to naming the different types of mud.

“We have driveway mud, walkway mud, garden mud, lawn mud and goat yard poop mud,” Jurdak said. “We use all the scrap wood we have to form intricate walkways until mudpocalypse subsides.”

Every year during the height of mud season Jurdak said she and her husband vow to have their dirt driveway paved. But once mud season ends, and the horrors of it recede, that plan gets forgotten, until the next mud season.

And in Maine, there is always a next mud season, thanks to the state’s soil profiles and climate conditions.

Tall boots keep this hiker’s feet dry on a walking trail in South Portland on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Maine’s mud season sits between winter and spring when a combination of rising temperatures, rain and melting snow turn solid ground into a near-liquid quagmire. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“There is nothing really mysterious about it and we all know about mud,” said Dr. Sue Erich, professor of plant and soil chemistry at University of Maine. “It’s basically soil particles and water.”

Mud forms where there is silt or clay in the soil, Erich said. In areas of sandy soil, water simply drains through without forming mud.

It’s the interaction between water and soil on the molecular level that creates mud, according to Erich.

But this year’s mud was something Amy Dick was not prepared for.

A self-described transplant to Maine, this is Dick’s first mud season and it’s been both a challenge and a revelation.

“We had mud in Massachusetts, but this is unGodly,” Dick said. “We have started making some friends here, and someone should have mentioned how bad mud season is to me.”

A dog print stands indented in the mud in South Portland on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Maine’s mud season sits between winter and spring when a combination of rising temperatures, rain and melting snow turn solid ground into a near-liquid quagmire. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Dick and her husband moved to Maine so they could expand the small homestead they had in Massachusetts. They love living on their Livermore Falls land, but at this point the only place there is no mud is in the turkey pen.

She said they designed the chicken coop so it can be moved and when they noticed how muddy it was getting, a decision was made to relocate it. It did not go well.

“My husband hooked up the tractor to the coop and while he was doing that I was moving the stakes on the electric fencing so there would be an opening to drive it through,” Dick said. “When I turned around, the tractor was belly deep in the mud.”

They did eventually get it moved to dryer ground.

“If we had known the level of mud, we would have just left it,” Dick said.

On farms and homesteads around Maine people are having similar experiences, or opting to leave heavy machinery parked until things dry up.

Others are doing what they can to mitigate the mud.

“We put boards down for the goats to walk on,” Jurdak said. “We have an assortment of scrap wood we lay down strategically for them and it makes a nice circle they can walk around on.”

As bad as mud can make things, for Benesh, it provides her a milestone of sorts — her first ride on an ATV.

A dog eyes a muddy section of trail at South Portland’s Hinkley Park on Friday, March 25, 2022. Maine’s mud season sits between winter and spring when a combination of rising temperatures, rain and melting snow turn solid ground into a near-liquid quagmire. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“Mud season can make things confining for a 98-year-old, but I manage,” Benesh said. “When I need to go to my appointments my grandson puts me on the ATV.”

Now that Brenesh has the hang of it, she’s a bit of a fan of the four-wheeler.

“Living as long as I have, you have many adventures and this was my first time on an ATV,” she said. “I used to live in Chicago and played bridge a lot [and] I called one of my bridge friends to tell her about it and she could not believe it.”

Brenesh said it is a bit of a process getting on the machine.

“I don’t think I was anything very graceful,” she said. “But I’ll try anything once.”

While no one can accurately predict just how bad a mud season is going to be ahead of time. Erich did say there are factors that do determine its severity.

“There were definitely a lot of freeze-thaw cycles this winter and that could make the mud season worse,” she said. “We are also getting more intense rain events due to climate change and more total precipitation.”

Jurdak dreams of a mudfree life, though she doubts it will ever be her reality.

“I know people that never see mud in the spring,” she said. “We are not those people.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.