So, let’s play some word association. Note your reaction to the following words: damp; moist; squishy; slush; sludge.
What do these words have in common? Well, they’re all pretty gross, that’s for sure. They’re also associated with spring in Northern Minnesota.
The Center for Disease Control doles out medical expertise every day. One of the most useful items is this: If it’s wet and it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
That’s not just good health advice. It’s good life advice.
Here in Northern Minnesota, however, that becomes tricky, especially come springtime. Everything is wet. Your shoes. Your pant legs. Your coat sleeve. Your car. Your pet. Your carpet.
And it’s a cold wet.
Spring means putting on warm, dry socks and stepping in a cold puddle by the front door, lifting up your foot and groaning before putting your other foot —the dry one — into the same puddle.
Cold and wet. Just like a healthy dog’s nose. Only the whole place smells like the rest of the dog. If winter’s all about staying warm, and summer’s all about staying cool, then spring is all about maintaining a socially acceptable odor. And just like those other seasons you’re going to fail at least some of the time.
In the fall, we struggle to keep out the rodents. In the spring, we struggle to keep out the water. At least you can trap rodents.
Water comes into the house more ways than a teenager past curfew. It seeps through the ceiling, dripping down from a roof damaged by ice dams. It leaks from the window and doors like batter out the side of a hotel waffle maker. The water bursts from broken pipes awoken from winter hibernation like an old man whose bladder control isn’t what it used to be.
Water even sweats through the cement of a home’s foundation like beads of perspiration on a tubby jogger. You cannot stop the water any more than you can make a junior high school smell like potpourri.
You can try, though. We can spray a rubberized sealant over the leaks. We did this on an entire basement wall once. I’ve dug a trench through my yard to divert a river of snow melt. I’ve even made use of a copious amount of Sham-Wows to stanch basement puddles in place.
But like the unrelenting forces of time, gravity and refrigerator mold the water eventually presses through. Grizzled concrete installers speak of water like the coming hordes of barbarians at the fall of Rome.
There’s a road along a river near my house. It’s under water now, as it always is in April. Folks drive through it until the first guy stalls. Then the county puts up a cone and we drive around it. Thousands of years of human history and we still chart our path by moving water.
We’re already had flash flood warnings. There’s not much you can do in these situations. If you live in a floodplain all you can do is tell your children not to leave their video games on the floor of the basement rec room. Try, if you can, to emotionally detach from your house and the contents inside.
This year the state of Minnesota issued an advisory for anyone remotely near a river to buy flood insurance. That’s not a good sign at all. Neither is the fact that we can get snow storms well into May.
Everything is wet. The cuffs of your pants cling to your ankles like shower curtains. If your shoe has a hole, you will soon learn about it. But, then again, human beings are mostly water. Being wet is part of being alive. That’s a Minnesotan’s way of knowing that it’s spring. We can all take solace in the fact that it will be warm and dry soon enough … just in time for the forest to catch fire.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).