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It's Mud Season
Mud- How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
You would think that something as ubiquitous as mud would inspire some kind of fondness among outdoor enthusiasts. The truth is that we all loath the vile filth, despoiler of good pants and bane of laundresses everywhere.
Mud, however, is the hallmark of outdoor adventure. We roll in it, step in it, fall in it and occasionally get stuck in it. Depending on our emotional age, we literally or figuratively throw it around in an effort to dirty our friends and enemies. It lines waterways, spreads out across fields and even lurks underneath the crunchy brown leaves carpeting the forest floor.
Right now is the annual Season of Mud. Every March in Indiana, the ground thaws, the rains come and the outdoors world turns into a morass of brown sticky goop, sure to cling to every boot. It is equally sure to find its way onto beige living room carpeting across the state to the great delight of mothers and wives.
March isn’t the only time mud is open for business in Indiana. It is a well-known fact that any 10-year-old child allowed outdoors in their church clothes will find a muddy spot within five minutes even if the countryside is locked in the grip of a horrible drought. If you check old photographs from the Oklahoma dust bowl era, you will see iron-jawed men and their frowning wives both framed by an assortment of muddy but well-dressed children.
Mud is one of the biggest factors for determining a successful outdoor trip, at least on the rating scale used by this writer and his cohorts. Even if you return with a full game bag, wonderful memories of the day and the satisfied glow of a good time spent in the wild, you have still not experienced real success unless the trip involved at least one change of clothing and several pairs of ruined socks.
Using this mire-based rating scale, one of my best trips ever was an early season teal hunt a few years ago. Let me simply say that mud-encrusted underwear and duckweed inside the shotgun action are both signs that you have had a real adventure. That, and tetanus booster shots.
The most aggravating property of mud is its unbelievable slickness. Fishermen especially will agree there is no naturally occurring surface that is slipperier than a muddy creek bank. Try this test for yourself: wearing waders, stand on the side of a stream and then attempt to gingerly step off the bank. Regardless of how aggressive your boot sole and well-balanced your footing, one leg will immediately shoot out into the water and cause you to perform a maneuver known as “the splits,” usually onto a pointed rock. This test also works for hunters attempting to cross shallow drainage ditches.
Mud is well known for giving no indication about how deep it is. For instance, a small patch of mud on a trail will always be just deeper than the top of you hiking boot. If, for some reason you were hiking in chest waders, drowning would be a likely outcome. Scientists have investigated this phenomenon but are unsure of the forces behind it unless the whole thing is a plot by the communists to demoralize American hikers. The communists might also be receiving comfort and aid from shoe brush makers.
At age 12, during my “survivalist” period, I attempted to use mud as a natural mosquito repellant. A wilderness survival book I had checked out of the library suggested that when facing an onslaught of mosquitoes or black flies without benefit of bug dope, you should smear a copious handful of mud onto your exposed face, neck and arms. This would prevent the little vampires from reaching tender flesh.
It might. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep the stuff on long enough to find out. The mud indeed felt cool and even refreshing as it went on but a few minutes later began to harden. As the mud started to dry, my skin started to itch. This started as a single tickle then gradually increased to real itching and quickly snowballed into a sensation of tiny needles being shoved into my skin.
I clawed at the black-brown shell until patches flaked off, leaving a zombie skin-like veneer accentuated by bits of leaves and twigs embedded in the coating. If anyone had rounded the creek bend at that moment, the screaming would have been truly epic. As it were, I dove into the creek and washed off even though it wasn’t yet Saturday night. I learned a valuable lesson about outdoor writers that day.
Never trust a clean expert.