I mentioned in a recent post that Vermont is the only state with five seasons: summer, fall, winter, mud and spring. Some would argue that stick season is the sixth Vermont season, but I’ll discriminate against naming stick season as an ‘official” season because we really have two of them each year—in the fall between the time the last leaves fall and the first snows come and in the spring when the snows are abating but trees have yet to blossom. So being a season “purist”, I’ll cast my vote against “stick” as an actual season.
Another candidate for number six is pothole season. Although it arrives concomitantly with mud season, I argue that they are not one and the same because paved roads are even more vulnerable to pot holes than dirt roads themselves, so no mud is needed to give birth to a pothole. They are engendered by the rapid temperature changes and the sneaky maneuverings of an underworld Kingpin called “Frost”, who takes mischievous delight in scarring roads, heaving sidewalks and chipping away at our modern sense of civility with his foot-tripping, kidney jarring antics.
This winter in Vermont was one of those old-fashioned “wintahs” I both heard about and bore witness to in my own youth. I didn’t search meteorological data to prove my point, but it seems that winters were colder and snowier, for the most part, in my youth than they are today. And I recall vividly the tales told by folks of my grand-parents’ generation of the blizzard of ’88 (1888). In my parents’ youth, most roads were still not plowed, but were rolled, using a weighted, wooden roller pulled by a team of horses. Consequently by the time spring did come, the roads were a terrible mess of slush, mud and potholes larger than Charlie Sheen’s ego, making them virtually impassible to the two-wheel vehicles of the day. I’ve often heard how my grand-father Paton, whose farm was on a hill about five miles off the main road, had to leave his Model T (later a Model A) at the foot of it and walk home after he finished working at the quarry. He’d then walk back down in the morning to his car to head off to work. It made for a long day, I’m sure.
Because of the tough Vermont winter we experienced this year, dirt roads are stiff-backed, rutted kidney busters on cold days and oozing quagmires of bottomless mud on warm days. And our paved roads (and yes, we have a few of them in Vermont) have disintegrated, potholes being the norm and not the exception. In fact, I avoided the back roads and took the main route to church this Sunday. But keeping to the paved roads did not assure my safe, unhindered passage. I came across a whopper of a pot hole, so big it has now qualified for its very own zip code. He was a dodgy fellow, hiding behind a big frost heave in front of him and gleefully jumping right beneath my tire as I passed. Despite my moderate speed, the impact caused my low pressure sensor to go off. I stopped to evaluate any damage, that unrepentant pothole just grinning at me. It was shallow on one end and deep at the other—if it were a house I’d describe it a s split-level colonial—and it certainly was roomy enough to have accommodated a family of six or so quite comfortably. But no real harm was done to tire or to rim. I drove off to the nearest service station, checked the pressure in each tire, and proceeded on my way, watching even more diligently for his pothole cousins. And trust me, he had a LARGE family. I delicately picked my way around his relatives the rest of the way to church and back home once more.
But don’t fear to come to Vermont. Each town and city has dedicated members of its road crew who are out to defeat these tricky, pothole pranksters, denying their eager mouths of a satisfying helping of radial tire and stuffing them against their will with cold patch, a “lick and a promise” stopgap before better weather allows for a more “permanent” solution. So please do be patient with us as you drive through this fair state because we are tending to these pothole rascals just as fast as we can.
Todd Paton has more than 20 years of experience working in the Vermont tourism industry. Currently the Director of Visitor Services for Rock of Ages, one of Vermont's oldest, continuously operating attractions, he has served on the board of directors of the Central Vermont Chamber and the Vermont Hospitality Council. He is an active member of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Tourism Network. He is a past Chair and current member of the board of directors of Vermont Attractions Association, a consortium of Vermont attractions established in 1956 to promote the highest standards of hospitality among Vermont's tourism-related properties.