It is difficult not to be a stick in the mud.

With the recent fluctuations in temperature and large amounts of rain, everything is a mucky mess.  Mud season may have come early this year, or it could just be an episode of early mini-mud that will pass when the cold temperatures return.

Known as the fifth season in New England, mud season usually comes between winter and spring. March through May is the typical time for the mud, but the recent weather has given us a sloppy preview. And I expect it will continue to do so, for a few weeks, at least.

Mud season (and mud season conditions) occur when the frozen ground begins to melt, but water isn’t absorbed. The soil melts from the top down, so the upper section is soft, but the rain and melt waters can’t penetrate the deeper frozen soil level below.

Driveways, dirt roads, trails and even fields are seeing the results of the wet, freeze, and thaw cycles, suddenly becoming wet, slippery messes. When cold weather returns, some fields and lawns appear almost ice skate-able as surface water freezes. This is not a new occurrence. In the poem Two Tramps in Mud Time, Robert Frost wrote, “The water for which we may have to look / In summertime with a witching wand, In every wheel rut’s now a brook / In every print of a hoof a pond.”

But New England novelist Howard Frank Mosher understood the real fears that plague some of us during mud season: “It’s emblematic,” of this time of year, he wrote, “of everything that’s bleak and horrible about being isolated at the end of a road that you just can’t get out of.” Vehicles slip and slide and are mud-covered, and getting stuck is always a concern for those of us with small, low cars. Mud can even accumulate inside vehicle wheel wells and can cause a front-end imbalance.

Some folks see the bright side and make a sport of it — Jeep and off-road vehicle owners love mudding in their vehicles, and there are those committed Islanders who also revel in patrolling their beloved trails on foot, wet or dry. Perhaps the thaw has you thinking about a hike to your favorite nature trail, now that the grip of winter is loosening.

New Englanders have not been the only ones covered in mud. In Russia and other Eastern European countries, mud seasons are called rasputitsa. Rasputitsa was a real setback during the early 20th century, when 40 per cent of rural villages in Russia were not served by paved roads.

However problematic, the season was credited with saving the Russian capital in the Battle of Moscow.  During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon and his troops were said to have been hindered by muddy conditions. “Marshall mud” or “General mud” also played a role in slowing down the German advance during WW II. “General Mud, General Snow, and General Distance”were the great Russian generals that Benito Mussolini believed would defeat his ally Hitler when he invaded Russia in 1941.

Fortunately for us on our latitude, mud conditions vary from year to year, with last year having a later mud season. Climate change is also believed to be changing mud seasons, with current models predicting longer mud seasons due to the increased transition periods between winter and spring.

Don’t despair, but do grab you boots, and accept that the mud is part of the changeover to a coming spring, even if it is optimistic to hope that winter has broken.  So while it might be the best time to sling mud, remember that a little dirt never hurts. Or, as actress Teri Garr insisted, “You have to lift your head up out of the mud and just do it.”

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.