Back in November I set out on a survey, which I’ve just completed. Dismayed by the discovery of a couple of local footpaths and bridleways that have been surfaced with compacted chippings in what might be described as the urbanisation of the countryside, I am pleased to report that the overwhelming majority remain in their natural state and are ankle deep in mud. Some are pleasingly deeper.
This is a relief. There’s nothing wrong with mud. It’s an extremely relaxing and therapeutic substance to slosh through when you’re stressed out – and these past few weeks I’ve purposely sloshed through quite a few miles of it. The trouble with mud is when you look on the internet to find out exactly what it is.
Texas MUDs, you might assume, are dry and have cacti sticking out of them – unless you are aware of Municipal Utility Districts. Do you use more than one identity on the internet? Then beware of MUD – that’s multiple-username disorder. After all, you don’t want to end up in a MUD – a multi-user dungeon, which is an “inventively structured social experience”. Then there’s Matched Unrelated Donors for bone marrow transplants and a 1970s glamrock band with some strange-looking people. Didn’t care for them at the time, actually.
Common mud, our mud, the stuff Prometheus moulded into man and Athena breathed life into, the healing balm that Jesus mixed from dirt and spittle to rub in the blind man’s eyes, is more than just wet stuff that children trail across the kitchen floor. Every civilisation has made bricks, homes, plaster and pots from mud. It’s even seeped into our language.
Don’t be a stick in the mud. Here’s mud in your eye. My name is mud. Mud sticks. As clear as mud. Don’t muddy the waters. Mud, mud, glorious mud. Mud on your face, a big disgrace, kickin’ your can all over the place.
Mud is a mixture of water and various combinations of soil, silt and clay – basically, when you think about it, the building blocks of the environment from which life sprang. So it is something special. The ancients realised its significance. Mud should be celebrated.
Don’t be tempted to cover it with chippings. Get your boots on and slosh through it. Or scoop a handful to make some generals, like Napoleon did.