Chinese philosophers are on to something with their Yin and Yang concepts. Light balances dark, silence/noise, joy/sorrow, and in our case, mud offsets dust.
Yes, mud. Icky, gooey, sticky mud. Like cat hair, it latches onto anything it touches, finding its way from roads, yards, and pastures onto shoes and pant legs and into homes. It finds its way into the oddest places—a speckle stuck to a grocery sack, a chunk dropped by the door, a smear on a purse.
Lately, there’s been such an abundance of it that most of us can hardly remember the true color of our vehicles. Next time you drive through a parking lot, look to see if you can identify in-town-only transportation. Country cars and trucks can’t hide. One sported such a coating that chunks finally started calving like ice floes off a glacier. The asphalt beneath that pickup had enough of someone’s former road or field topping it that a gardener could’ve stuck in a couple of potato eyes and carrots and started a nice veggie patch.
Mud doesn’t just coat a car or truck’s paint job. It adds new dimensions to the driving experience. Try being the second or third person to drive down a sloppy road and read the tracks of the vehicle ahead. It’s clear all will proceed smoothly when the tracks follow a straight path in the appropriate lane.
However, tire-wide trails that weave back and forth across the road forming sharp little wedges along the ditch are a heads-up alert. They reveal every minute wheel jerk where the previous driver hoped to level the journey. When you observe those, tighten your seat belt and check for loose items that can fly through the car. Deep ridges formed from ditch to ditch inspire gasps and devout prayers.
I wonder if this is how amusement parks with those tiny cars youngsters love to drive came to invent the track rail that keeps those vehicles on the road. As moisture-laden soils dry, unfortunate country drivers hit tire-grabbing gouges that derail pickups and sedans into the Grand Canyon of ruts.
Those trying to escape such bone-rattling caverns on an icy morning may find themselves fender to fence post up the nearest incline or launched into a patch of green wheat. It makes a person think similar conditions had much to do with the formation of the still-present tracks on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails.
Fortunately, farmers and ranchers have a handle on this situation. Not only do they own tractors to pull stuck vehicles out of morasses of waterlogged soil, most have multiple pairs of dandy boots—knee-high, rubberized footwear they can hose down after tromping through deep slime to feed and water livestock.
Mud isn’t only miserable; it multiplies work. Cattle, pig, and horse owners schedule extra time to feed and care for animals. This mire also increases drive time to town. Road crews know their real work begins when it dries. Housekeepers and janitors cringe, thinking about the extra vacuuming and scrubbing. One day of sludge makes it obvious why farmhouses have a mudroom.
But! Yes. But. Lack of mud means lack of moisture. It means blowing dirt. It means watching rooster tails of dust hang forever airborne when someone drives down a country road. It means no green wheat peeking from furrows, no milo, no sorghum, no soybeans, no corn, no rippling creeks, no fish to catch, no wild flowers.
Lack of mud suggests no life for many of us who love the prairie. I best buy some muck boots, extra vacuum bags, and start counting my dirty blessings.