Location: Hanover, New Hampshire
I made a delightful discovery a week ago. While walking from my condo into town, I passed a sign for the “Angelo Tanzi Natural Area” on a tree just off the road. Curious, I walked past the sign down a muddy dirt road, which soon became a trail leading to Mink Brook. The brook flows through the much larger Mink Brook Nature Preserve.
Mink Brook swelled with early spring run-off. The footing was surprisingly good, mainly on old corn snow. Mink Brook is in a sheltered, heavily treed valley which doesn’t receive much direct sunshine this time of the year, so the area around it is a little slower to melt out. I regretted not wearing something higher than my below-the-ankle hiking shoes, but at least they had Gore-tex in them. I plowed ahead, excited to find an access to Mink Brook though perhaps exploring my favorite trails in this local conservation area wasn’t my driest move during mud season.
Mud season, that period between late winter when the world is still frozen, and late spring, when the trees have leafed out and the forest floor dries out, is certainly messy. The snow melts, and the rain showers down, but the still-frozen sublayer of the ground prevents the run-off from soaking into the soil. The streams overflow their banks. The ground becomes saturated and many low-lying areas flood. This isn’t all bad. Flooding is one of nature’s mechanisms for flushing impurities and for spreading nourishment.
Yesterday, while walking to town, I looked longingly at the Tanzi trailhead again. Things had changed dramatically in a week. The snow was gone. The mud was much deeper, and there were large pools of standing water in the woods. I reminded myself that tromping on a hiking trail, not just here but any hiking trail, was not healthy for me or the trails at the moment. If I managed to stay upright on the slick mud, and keep both shoes on (don’t laugh; I’ve walked out of them before), my steps could damage the path. Trails are most susceptible to erosion before Memorial Day, at least in northern New England. But I’ll keep watch. As soon as the woods dry out, I’ll be back by Mink Brook.