This mud suction-trapped boot illustrates the first step in the traditional North Country ‘squck polka.’ Based on the Russian troika folk dance but performed one-legged with extemporaneous free-form interpretations, the squck polka ends with a lively whoop-and-sploosh maneuver in black, soupy goo.
Some years in the North Country the end of winter is a door slammed shut. One day the high temperature is three below zero, the next day it’s 52 above.
Three to four feet of accumulated snow and ice melt in less than a week, and the icy torrents of water fill the dry runs between the bluffs, flood the creeks, and swell the rivers to overflowing. It is a beautiful time of year, although a bit treacherous as ice hides just below an inch or two of soft surface. I love to sit on the deck in the late afternoon, cup of hot coffee in hand, listening to the meltwater race and roar through the draws on the east and south sides of the house.
Clearly, winter has ended, but spring has not really arrived. Except for the drifts and hard-packed driveway edges, the snow and ice are quickly disappearing, and the last of the icicles have dropped from the eaves to plunge spear-like into the thawing turf. But no shoots of green are emerging from the ground, trees are not budding out, that fragrant waft of spring scent is not in the air, and the dogs are not shedding their winter coats.
No longer winter, but, unfortunately, not yet spring. We have entered that North Country transition season that I call squck, so named because wherever I walk my feet sink into the water-mud-ice-snow mix that covers the farm, and each step is accompanied by the squck sound of rubber boot pulling away from the suction of the swampy ground. On afternoon walks, the tread of running dogs provides an double-time “splat-a-splat” accompaniment and a heavy spray of muddy water that accounts for the speckled look of my clothes and face this time of year.
Occasionally, my foot pulls completely out of the boot, cueing the exciting and energetic squck polka, based on the Russian troika folk dance but performed one-legged with extemporaneous free-form interpretations. It ends with a lively whoop-and-sploosh maneuver in black, soupy goo that leaves me with a sodden sock to be forced reluctantly back into the boot for a squishy walk home. Over my many years of squck polka dancing I have accumulated an assortment of gray-and-black, two-tone wool socks that mystify my friends who live south of the squck zone.
Despite the cherished memories of these fun times, squck is not my favorite season.
For one thing, as the snow cover melts away it reveals things that I have been able to put out of my mind for the past four months. The most obvious and noisome are the 1,097 piles of dog pooh, some in places that defy reason. Why did Abbey decide to climb up there to dump out? And how did she do it? Watch your step: squck is pooh patrol time.
Branches blown down from trees by winter storms create a complicated squck game of pick-up-sticks, pace increasing as we get closer and closer to the first day of lawn mowing.
Also gradually emerging from the snow are the grandchildren’s sleds (didn’t I put those in the garage before the January 8th snowstorm?), the scoop shovel (so that’s where it is!), a pliers, a pair of five-buckle boots, a trailer hitch pin, a soggy box of wooden matches, a flashlight, a mouse-chewed chore glove, a coiled electrical extension cord, a wood-splitting maul, and a mesh bag containing a dog training whistle, two retrieving dummies, a nylon lead, and a half-dozen mushy dog treats.
I call these things “squck gifts.”
Washing the car and pickup could be a daily chore during squck, since every trip on gravel roads applies a coating of gritty slop to vehicles, tapering from a quarter-inch thick at the roofline to more than an inch on the rocker panels. All residents of squck country have accent slashes of light brown on the backs of their pant legs where they rub against car door sills while exiting or entering. Since car washing is hopeless until April, everyone’s vehicles become a uniform gray-brown color for a few weeks. Out-of-towners are easy to spot, driving around in cars of odd colors such as red, blue, green…
Squck is also the time of odor emergence. The compost pile that has been steaming unseen beneath three feet of snow, the manure mound behind the barn, the deer carcass on the edge of the bluff, the rotten round bale at the top of the driveway – all these will burst into olfactory notice. So will the knit hats, gloves, scarves, facemasks, and sweaters jammed into the wooden box in the mud room or entryway.
The least of squck annoyances, unless you lean your hand on one by accident, are the wasps that emerge too early, somehow find their way into the house, and perch on window ledges to warm themselves in the sunshine. The few surviving Asian beetles and box elder bugs come out to sing their swan song, too.
Then comes the change to Daylight Savings Time so we can have the joy of getting out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness for a few more days.
Squck. It makes me grumpy as a bear. I wonder if bears hibernate through squck. If not, I know what makes them so damned grumpy in the spring.