Thursday, 22 May 2008

Mud, Glorious Mud

We've had one of the driest months I can remember here in Scotland. It's so dry that whenever I go walking in the surrounding countryside, all the fields that are usually great slippery wastelands of mud are now perfectly navigable stretches of land that can be easily crossed. Walking has become virtually hazard free, and I am grateful. I am not a sure-footed creature and all too many times I've ended up on my butt, providing unintentional amusement to friends and family.

After leaving Southern California ages back, I moved to a succession of rainy places where mud was common. Believe it or not, I had to learn an entirely different way to walk. In my hometown, there was a lot of sand everywhere, mainly decomposed granite. This blew over the pavement and settled there, insidious to the unsure-footed. Countless times as a child -- ever ungainly -- I went sliding on that loose sand and ended up on my knees. It took me a long time to learn that I didn't have to negotiate sidewalks carefully after I moved away from my hometown, and it took me even longer to learn how to walk on mud without sinking knee deep in it. Now I can tell just from a glance whether I can put my foot down on a spot without slipping or getting sucked into it, but when we first got here it was a different story.

"You hate mud, don't you, mom?" my youngest said to me one day when I'd gotten ankle deep in the stuff for the fifth time.

"Yes--" I started to say -- then stopped. Because I didn't always hate mud. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It was hot where I grew up; just going outside in the summer could be exhausting. You couldn't really exert yourself in such heat, and air-conditioning wasn't an option when your parents were as frugal as mine. My sisters and I spent whole days sitting in the shade outside, longing for cool. It always amazed us to think there were people living in places like Oregon or Washington who actually complained about all the rain they got.

One day a neighbor happened to mention that there had once been an underground spring in the hills near our house. For three whole months, we nurtured the fantasy that there might be evidence of this spring somewhere. I spent a few days searching for it, clambering over boulders and behind clumps of sagebrush as I braved the rattlesnakes, bullthorns and horny toads in my flip flops. But I never found it.

Then on our way home from school one September day, my sisters and I made a wonderful discovery. Just at the edge of the field behind our house, we found a bubbling, gushing pool that seemed to come from nowhere. Was this the underground spring come to life again? We didn't care. The water turned parched, blistering sand into a delightfully muddy swamp. For a blissful week we played in this, bringing cups and twigs and other bits to make a Kingdom of Mud. Life had suddenly gotten a lot more interesting, and it was all because of this underground spring that had so fortuitously appeared.

It didn't last long.

"Why are your clothes always so dirty when you come home?" our mother asked us one day. "And -- you smell!" Innocently, we told her about the wonderful new spring. She frowned. "Show me where it is." And like idiots, we did.

The next day, engineers came to fix the leaky sewer pipe. We had been playing for a whole week in raw sewage.

"You could have gotten cholera!" our mother said, appalled. "You should have told me right away!"

We made no response. We were wishing with all our hearts that we hadn't told her. So what if it was raw sewage? It was cool, beautiful mud, and now it was gone forever.

There was a lesson in this -- one I've always remembered: It's not crap if you like it


Alice said...

HAH! OMG! But then I think of some suspect water that I swam in once behind our house and can only imagine it was probably from some treatment plant. Hey - we're still alive though, right?!?

Tigermama said...

ROTFLMAO! That is too too funny. I suppose the silver lining was one full week respite from the hot weather. :)

Carole said...

A rose by any other name...

Kids always see beyond the crap and notice the silver lining. Then they grow up and crap becomes crap again.

Laura and Hans said...

I actually shuddered at the end of this! And then I remembered... During the hot summer months when we were kids, we played in the neighbor's 'tunnel' that went beneath the highway. The fact that we had been forbidden to do so, made it that much more fun. You guessed it, it was a sewer pipe! However I don't remember the water being 'muddy'! Blech!!!

laura said...

Oops! It's just me, Laura. The comment above from Hans and Laura is from a blog that I don't have up and running yet! Color me stupid!

Mary Witzl said...

Alice -- There's a saying here that I think is sensible -- that you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die. We have all touched -- and even eaten -- horrendous things that we just aren't aware of. Thank God.

Tigermama -- It was just so cool and nice, that mud. So different from the mud here, which is plentiful and downright cold.

Carole -- How right you are! The joy of childhood is that everything tawdry and cheap is special and beautiful. Then you grow up and wish you could see it the way you did as a child.

Laura (and Hans too!) -- We too had a waste tunnel that we loved to play in. Our parents found out about it and forbade us from going into it, but that made it all the more exciting. I still remember the thrill of it -- how dark and cool it was in there. Ours went under a railroad track. Ah, the memories!

Kara said...

i'm here to complain about the rain we always get.

that is all.

Charles Gramlich said...

"It's not crap if you like it!" I want that on a bumper sticker.

As for rain and mud, I love the fact that it rains so much here. it keeps everything with a feeling of newness and cleanliness. I love to watch it and the mud doesn't bother me.

Eryl Shields said...

Ha! You must have really smelled bad!

But you're right, it's not crap if you like it.

p.s. I'm not sure if you'll see this before tomorrow morning but here goes, Esther will pick you up at 9.45 rather than 10.30, if that's ok, she has to drop something off in Dumfries on the way. She tried to phone but you were out, though she did leave a message with one of your girls. I'll check in later to see if you reply, if not I'll phone.

Angela said...

ROTF! That's hilarious! Remember, what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger!

A Paperback Writer said...

Oh, the blessed irony of it all!
But, as a child of the desert, I can relate.
Once we pass 95 degrees, I am miserable. I hate extreme heat. This is why I have a tendency to pass summers in Scotland: I'll leave home when it's 107, and arrive in 65 degree weather in Scotland.
I also understand about the learning to walk part. Even after as much time as I have spent in Scotland, the ground surprises me every time. The grass is always squishy. There is no solid feeling to dirt or grass anywhere. I cannot escape the feeling that if I don't move quickly I will be sucked into a huge sponge.
In Utah, grass only feels that way in March, right after the snow melts. No matter how much it rains the rest of the year, the ground never equals that of Scotland.
I'd prefer Utah solidity with Scottish coolness.

Tabitha said...

OMG! LOL!! I can only picture this from a mom's point of view, and how speechless I'd be if my kids came home covered in raw sewage. :) Yikes!! LOL!

Mary Witzl said...

Kara -- Last year, after three solid months of rain, slugs and mud, I finally understood what it was to have too much rain. But for decades, guys like you just made me desperately envious.

Charles -- When we were kids, we drove through east Texas and Louisiana and for years afterwards, that was my standard of heaven. I remember in particular the lush green, the delicious humidity (which I genuinely prefer to dry heat) and the tree frogs. I still love watching rain, too, and the sound of it is wonderful.

Eryl -- I was in when Esther called, but busy dropping a pot lid on my toe at the time, hence the shriek and expletives-deleted. But I've talked to Esther since and I'll see you later!

Angela -- I like to think that's boosted my immunity. But I'm not going to bathe in raw sewage again if I can help it.

APW -- Like a lot of Californians, I have been guilty of thinking that we have a monopoly on extreme heat. Then one summer I traveled around the States and Canada and it was a huge shock to find that places like Minnesota and Utah actually feel hotter -- and Canada in the summer is no treat either. But I am with you: Scottish cool and terra firma underfoot, though preferably without the decomposed granite to skid on.

Tabitha -- I would scream myself silly if I caught my kids playing in raw sewage, but to this day I remember what a killjoy my mother was, ruining our wonderful play area.

debra said...

I love your "It's not crap if you like it" quote. I shall probably use it when criticized by #2 daughter!
As far as mud goes, I lost a boot in the woods yesterday. It has been cold and gray here of late, although the sun is shining and birds singing this morning. And now I am off to take #2 daughter to drivers' ed. The last day of in-car driving with the instructor. Next week she can call to take her driver's test for her license.

Carolie said...

Ha ha ha! Great story, Mary!

Actually, I was thinking last week about swimming in lakes and the ocean as a child, oblivious to the possibility of "stuff" in the water. Now, I have to admit, I'm pretty squeamish about most lakes and the ocean, and part of me wishes I could go back to the obliviousness of my childhood. It's sort of like the day I stopped wanting to jump in piles of leaves, when I started thinking about the bugs and slugs and snails that might be lurking in what used to be a magical mountain of crunchy leaves.

We may be healthier and safer, but we just don't have the same sort of fun, do we?

I still like walking barefoot in the mud though...and I refuse to think about it any further than that!

Carolie said...

Wow, Mary! I was just reading the comments, and saw the "peck of dirt" saying. My grandmother and mother both said that all the time -- "so what if it fell on the floor? You gotta eat a pound of dirt before you die." I really think we must share some history somewhere!

Susie said...

hahaha! Love it! It makes me think about the magical "lake" that appeared in my yard as a kid. We used to ride our bikes down the huge hill and through the lake. And when it was really warm we'd swim in it. Looking back at the pictures I've realized it was more full of dead floating earthworms than actual water. Oh well, it provided great entertainment for my brother and I as we lived in the middle of nowhere Minnesota :)

marshymallow said...

I LOVE MUD!!!!!!!!

My brothers and I used to play in the "river" in the ditch behind the hospital - we'd take mud from wherever we could get it.

Mary Witzl said...

Debra -- I have a friend who loses her boots in the woods near her house. She went to clean out her fish pond one day and ended up losing one of those great long wading boots. I haven't lost any boots yet, but I have gotten mud in them.

Good luck to your daughter and I hope she's not too nervous about scheduling her test! Just arranging to take it gave me the jitters.

Carolie -- If we could see all of the tiny critters that we are in daily contact with, I'm sure we'd forget all about slugs and other wigglies. Having said that, I've just been out to turn the compost pile and was disgusted to find half a dozen of the fattest slugs I've ever seen. I try not to think too much about all the things that live in lakes and even the ocean, or even swimming pools, for that matter. I tell myself that we all came from some great primordial ooze eons ago, and that some day we will return. That usually helps me a little when I find myself contemplating some of the icky things in the water.

Susie -- I would have loved a lake like that! We had cousins in Florida with a festering swamp behind their backyard and we were envious beyond reason. And I've always loved earthworms. I'm betting Nowhere Minnesota is a lot nicer than the Inland Empire, California.

Marshymallow -- Ooh, mud behind a HOSPITAL! The mother in me recoils in horror, but the kid in me says Yeaaaah, bring it on!

Kim Ayres said...

Absolutely superb :)

A Paperback Writer said...

When I was a child, we had a boat, and one of our favorite camping spots was at Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River. Since it was man-made, the lake was "interesting" for swimming. Long before anyone invented amphibian shoes, we took to swimming in Keds to protect our feet from the sandstone ledges, waterlogged cacti floating about, and -- worst of all - the submerged, moss-covered trees hidden below the lake's surface. It is a very disconcerting thing indeed to be swimming along happily and then suddenly find yourself entangled in slimy tree branches that feel eversomuch like arms, especially when your brain immediately recalls that most of the drowning victims in the lake are never found due to all those underwater ledges.....

Ello said...

I got to tell you that my OCD kicked up so bad when I read this that I had to and wash my hands. Blech!!!!

I can't laugh I am too grossed out!

Ok now I can laugh. But I still have that grossed out look on my face.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kara is right, it rains here in Oregon all the time!! Don't move here, people... it's too rainy!

[Good Job, Kara. Now here's a cookie. heh heh.]

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- (I take a humble, grubby bow, gazing down at my mud-encrusted shoes.)

APW -- Catch me ever going to Lake Powell after that description! I will be dreaming about those soggy cacti and clutching underwater tree branches, I can promise you that. Or are they all decomposed by now?

I went to a university in Japan for a year where the swimming pool was in such a bad state it's a wonder they let any of us swim in it. The water was so dark green and murky that it was more like a thick green milkshake than water and there was a one-inch layer of scum on the top. You could never see the bottom of the pool either, which was probably a good thing. I thought it beat everything, but now that I've heard about Lake Powell I know better...

Ello -- It is weird: I can think about this as a kid, with righteous indignation at how my mother took our treasure from us, or as an adult, with horror and disgust at the very thought of touching the stuff. Odd, isn't it?

Robert -- Don't worry, we know how nice it is there in the Pacific Northwest and how the rain is largely a fabrication to keep the masses out! I would hold it more against you guys if I hadn't seen what's happened to California over the past few decades. You're forgiven, but do save a space for some of the more enlightened...

The Quoibler said...

More than anything, I am delighted that you and your sister used your imaginations to the fullest! Who cares if it was raw sewage? In the end, you didn't get cholera and have an incredibly amusing story! That's definitely worth it! (Of course, your mother would probably disagree...)


Kappa no He said...

Love it! My old haunt as a child was an old prison with a junk yard right next door, always came home with ticks. Eeeyuuu.

Kanani said...

Very funny...

A Paperback Writer said...

That swimming pool sounds disgusting!
No, Lake Powell is actually very beautiful, and the water is as clean as any lake's is. It's just that swimming along the shoreline in those days, when the reservoir was still new, was quite an experience.
And Lake Powell still is the best place to see one of the most awesome wonders of the natural world: Rainbow Bridge, the highest natural arch in the world. It is incredible.

Mary Witzl said...

Angelique -- Oh, we were big on imagination, my sisters and I; we had to be, living in the desert with so much heat and sand about. But you're right: I've done all kinds of weird stuff in my life and always appreciated having an interesting story to show for it.

Kappa -- An old prison with a junk yard? And TICKS? My kid self says "Cooool!" My adult self says "Ewww -- Lyme disease and God knows what-all!" That's easily as good as playing in raw sewage! Better, really.

Kanani -- Aw, thanks. You know what this was like, don't you, growing up in California?

APW -- If you can see the Rainbow Bridge from Lake Powell, then I take back what I wrote entirely. We traveled all over the Badlands and the Painted Desert, but because you need to hike to see this, we were not able to. We told ourselves that we would see this on our next trip to the States. I've heard it is absolutely stunning, but I'm going to be VERY careful in that water.