An Essay for the Day: Matters of Mud

JONES MOUNTAIN, W.Va. – Funny what nearly 35 years of urban living makes an old country boy forget about country life, especially the winter-to-spring transition.

A gurgling creek, softly wending its way through the crusted snow of a shallow valley in a thick wood. (And, with your feet suddenly soaked, the realization that you’re standing in the stream, not on the bank.)

Roadside snowbanks surviving well into spring, pockmarked with cinders. (Ah-ha! It’s how “berm” is made.)

Rediscovering where a country road really is after the snowpack is gone. (Hint, it wasn’t on another creek I’d driven on for months.)

Long-lost garden implements peeking from the melting ice. (I once wondered for an entire winter where I had left that rake.)

And mud.

I had totally forgotten about the proclivity of country mud to dominate life as the winter begins to thaw and the hints of the spring to come arrive with saturating rains that have little left to saturate.

That lesson was driven home a mountaintop, a valley and a bridge- across-a-river (the proverbial hop, skip and a jump) away from that childhood home last weekend.

Now, there’s nothing better than a tractor with a front loader. Not only can it move dirt, assorted fallen trees and overgrowth, it’s a pretty convenient way to, say, save one’s back when taking bag after bag and box upon box of old junk to the roadside for a date with the refuse collectors.

But that tractor has to move from point A to point B. And no matter how solid the turf that must be traversed to get there appears to be, it is a seasonal axiom that tractor tires will churn it into mud.

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Not just mud — but MUD! With the capital letters and exclamation point not optional.

Mud that only grows deeper.

Mud that coats anything and everything as nature’s most durable but unwanted paint.

Mud that humbles man and machine.

Stone and gravel aren’t really an option as a remedy, given the master plan for this little slice of heaven on Earth; what’s to come will feature natural paths, not roadways.

Alas, there’s going to be a lot of straw spread this spring as a temporary salve until things start to dry out and firm up. A local farmer surely will appreciate this private economic development initiative. Ahem.

“Life is made up of marble and mud,” once reminded Nathaniel Hawthorne, the dark romantic American writer. But right here, right now, it’s made up of mud. And more mud. And mud that’s not even mud yet.

Oh, there are layers of sandstone, shale and limestone underneath, too. Way underneath. But should they be reached through all this mud, well, my troubles likely won’t be reversible.

•  Colin McNickle, the retired editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, now is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. He began his journalism career at local newspapers and radio stations. A 1976 graduate of Martins Ferry High School, he grew up in Colerain.