Thursday, May 19, 2011

big girl tomboy

There’s just something about mud.

In creative writing classes, whenever I would be issued a prompt to write about nature, or to give a positive spin to something usually seen as dreary, I would always go back to mud: sloppy trail runs; mountain bike rides through soft, wet soil; hiking in the pouring rain and getting to camp with dirt-speckled calves. It’s no wonder that luxury spas offer mud baths: mud is rejuvenating. Getting dirty makes me feel grounded—pun intended.

Like most folks my age, I spent a good portion of my early childhood making mud pies. Kids are instinctively drawn to soil, and will find a murky puddle on the driest patch of land. A couple of months ago, I went with my family to a maple sugar event at Brooksvale Park, and while the ranger was giving a demo in the sugar shack, a toddler reveled in a mud puddle behind us: first standing, then sitting and splashing, then rolling. I mean really rolling. Many of the faces present expressed horror, but the child’s mom stood calmly off to the side, half-listening to the lecture, bemused and utterly unconcerned. I was fascinated: I was enjoying the show, but had it been my own child, I would probably have worried about what the other parents would think, much as I hate to admit it. When the sugar expo was over and it was time for maple syrup over ice cream, the mom pulled a trash bag out of her purse, exchanged the boy’s soiled jacket and snowpants for a new shirt and fresh pair of sweats, and the two went merrily on their way. I made a mental note to get this woman’s number.

I don’t make mud pies anymore, but I still find all kinds of ways to play in the mud, preferably with friends. An April trail run almost always ends in soggy shoes and a communal hose-down. Just yesterday, I came home from a wet bike ride to find my face covered in brown freckles. Even my eyelashes were spotted. Today, I weeded moist onion beds at Boulder Knoll farm, and in order to keep my 40-year-old knees from groaning, I had to keep switching position, so that, at one point, I was practically lying on my side in the mud, much to the amusement of another volunteer, Starla, who asked if my rust-colored Carhaarts had started out as white. When I had finished for the day, I was at least two pounds heavier, as the mud clung to my gloves, my soles, even the tendrils of hair that had escaped from my cap. Just like a day at the spa.

Truth be told, it’s harder to get out of bed when it’s raining, and I would almost always take a crisp autumn day over a soppy spring morning. But it is a hell of a lot of fun to run a-muck.