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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memories of Playing in Mud

Memories of Playing in Mud

What is it makes me smile at seeing three children stamping in the mud?  Perhaps it is this memory from my childhood of a heat-held day in August and the five of us pleading to go to the river to play. 

Five faces under twelve nagging in unison are hard to resist.  We pack our jam sandwiches and oatmeal cookies and endure the usual warnings.  “Watch out for the changing tide, don't play in the main part of the river, stay away from the quicksand behind the fence on the marsh, don’t play with skates—just leave them alone, make lots of noise to warn bears you are near and come home when you hear the whistle.”

We nod, yes, yes, and scamper off.  We walk the mile and a half to the river in the company of black flies who are happy to see us.  Fingers of alder and needles of spruce scratch at our arms and legs, but we are cooler now walking under a canopy of oak, maple and birch, as we chatter our way to the water.

We strip to our bathing suits and throw ourselves screaming down the sluices of mud.  Soon we wear sleek new skins, as we slide down and down the troughs, shrieking when our legs slip into the frothy brown river.  We scramble back up the banks grabbing toe holds in the muck, giving ourselves to the lure of the squelchy sludge, to the call of the syrupy ooze.

We are sun-warmed and wet with soft, heavy clay squishing from our feet, clinging to our fingers and clumping in our hair.  We slide and play.  We are brown shining creatures, wild and exuberant under resinous pelts.  For hours, we slide and tumble; we become river otters. 

Yet eyeing the tide, we know we soon need to leave and begin the chore of washing ourselves in the freshwater brook that spills into the river.  We try (as much as any child tries) to get clean, but the brook water is so cold it bites into our bones.  Unable to remove all the clay, we sit on the banks sunning ourselves, flaking off dried chunks and flicking them at each other, teasing and eating our lunch.  In our teeth, we catch sunlight and laughter.  The summer heat dries us like creations kilned after the potter’s wheel.

Then far away, a signal sounds.  Our grandfather’s two-fingered whistle calls us back up the wooded hill, “Come home.”  We carry our clothes.  We are still so encrusted we can’t put them over our bathing suits, now dyed the colour of dirt.

When we arrive in the yard, too bespattered to go indoors, we wait.  We know the routine.  Our grandmother sprays us with the hose, the water from the gravity-fed spring as cold as the winds of December.

We shiver as bits of mud and clay slip and plop to the ground.  Cuffing at them with our feet, we make mud mounds.  Later, we gather these globs of damp clay and create pinch pots that will bake in the sun, to hold the dandelions we love.

Bits of my childhood are preserved in mud, like the red pottery made from Petitcodiac River clay.   Memories of being river otters, enchanted with the magic of mud chutes, of splashing into the river, scrabbling up slippery banks and coming home caked with clay and laughter; these memories whistle me back to my childhood home, whenever I see children stamping their feet in the mud.

Photo and words are ©copyright 2011-2013 Carol Steel.  These are three of our grandchildren walking in the mud at The Rocks in Hopewell Cape, supervised by both their grandfather and their mother.  They were not in any danger.

If you would like more information about the Petitcodiac River, click here

WARNING:  The Petitcodiac River is not a safe place to play.  It has strong tides and undercurrents, quicksand and mud so sticky you can get stuck and can't get out.  This memory is from 50 years ago and involves a small tributary of the river that entered our property and provided the safer banks and slower waters in which to play.  Do not slide into the banks of the main Petitcodiac or you may not get out.  It can be dangerous and deceptive and often is.


Rambling Woods said...

Yes...this made me smile...

Carol Steel said...

Thanks. Childhood memories are so rich and meaningful, aren't they?