Mud is murky. It gets a bad wrap as dirty — it’s the stuff that clings to soles, tracking across clean surfaces. Dogs are notorious for muddy paws and children are often chided for playing in it. Politicians perfect the art of slinging it. Yet, there’s an allure to mud. It’s become the stuff to haunt me, fearing it’s slickness to slide a full-sized truck geared down into 4-low slowly over the rim of a snaking canyon road. So focused has my mind been on mud, I began to see it had lessons for me.
First, I have to admit I ventured up the mesas too soon. The sun came out after overcast and rainy days, after snow on the mesas and flash floods in the canyons. The sky spread out like a blue tablecloth inviting me to picnic beneath the warm sun. We waited a week. The Hub says, “It’ll be okay.” The dirt road that winds up Dalton Wash certainly looked dry when we turned up it.
“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.
I watched the brush, the boulders, the small crevice of a creek. “Look! Deer.” Two mulie does with yearlings trot along side the truck like an escort welcoming us back to the mesas.
“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.
Spindly apple trees stand like dead sticks in fields of mud on the first mesa level. It appears dry…on the surface. “I don’t know,” I say.
The road turns sharply right before climbing several thousand feet through a boulder-strewn canyon — the deeper crevice of Dalton Wash, cutting through layers of time. “It’s fine,” says the Hub.
I suck air hard and grab the steel frame between my lowered window and open wing.The canyon shrouded in shadow, the road cut deep with ruts begins to twist and rise. “Four-wheel drive!” I shout this like making the sign of the cross in reaction to danger. Salvation of trucks, entering unknown terrain. Holy 4WD.
“We don’t need it,” says the Hub. The truck lugs and if it stops we’ll spin tires; if we spin tires we might get stuck of slide off the road. Off the road to the left is gnarly debris, the scree of mesas. Off the road to the right is a rocky shelf, a wall of layered clay.
We need it. The Hub stops when the road flattens before a churning river of mud. Each current carved by a truck before us. That’s hopeful; Other Trucks have made it. He steps out into the road/mud-river and turns the hubs of each front wheel.
NOTE: Hubs engage or disengage the front wheel axles, thus engaging the hubs is to put both axles to work for climbing mountains or navigating spring mud. I have one Hub as in Husband and two manual locking hubs on my truck which requires the Hub to get out and turn. Although I live in Utah, I do not practice polygamy. One Hub is enough.
Hubs engage and Hub settles behind the wheel, we lurch forward and take on the incline the same time a truck above descends. There’s not enough room to pass and the descending truck can’t stop. Can’t. Stop. We call dibs on the wall and the other driver slides between us and the drop off to the canyon bottom below.
“Are we stuck?” I ask when my breath returns. The other truck slides to a stop behind us.
“We’re fine,” says the Hub and indeed we begin to churn mud like brown butter beneath the wheels and bit by bit we edge forward. Until the rock. It stops us and we slide back to where we went off the road.
“You folks stuck?” asks the driver of the other truck. He greets the Hub with a handshake and shovel.
“Just a rock,” says the Hub who proceeds to pick up a rock big enough to stop a truck. Like a shot put he heaves it over the edge. The other driver shovels a patch and we gun it so hard we fish tail out of the rut and up the road. We cant’s stop and the driver understands we aren’t being rude to stop and says thanks. We are entering the steepest grade and the mud actually lessens, but another truck is facing down at us. The driver is slow to understand he needs to hit reverse and hit it fast. We can’t stop or else we’ll slide backwards and off the road, into Dalton Wash.
The nose of our truck is inches from the nose of his and we drive this way the last stretch and then we pass waving, and telling them “Good Luck!” For a while, I’m happy to be in the sun walking through the litter of petrified wood, cherry-picking chunks of jasper. A wet winter has revealed previously buried treasure. By foot I make it to the edge of the Zion Wilderness and I pass through the gate. There’s something I want to find…
…Not today. The Hub catches up with me, the dog dodging between us on shaky legs, howling after rabbits like a banshee. We have to leave before the sun sets.
The sun glows like a distant apocalypse on the far horizon of another mesa. We don’t want to go down in the dark, yet we can’t see with the last rays of sun burning away our sight. We sit at the top of the mesa until the bright orb dips and we go down in dusk.
Sliding in mud.
There’s no stopping the truck. The Hub turns into each skid as the back end of the truck whips around. The back end slides right, he turns left. The back end slides left, he turns right. All I can do is focus on my breath. I think “breathe in” as I breathe out. Halfway down the mesa I realize I’ve focused the wrong words to each inhale and exhale. I calm the rising panic with the thought, it doesn’t matter; just breathe.
We get to the bottom and the Hub says, “See, it was fine.”
What I have learned…
Mud is still. It’s motion that causes the friction. Steady and slow is best
Mud is murky. It teaches me I don’t have to see to get through. It’s okay not to know all the details.
Mud is sticky. Persistence is the lesson here — stick-to-it-ness. Stick like mud to what needs doing.
Mud is mild. As scared as it might make me to drive on it, mud is not a torrent.
Mud has benefits. It has minerals, water and reflections of sky above. It calls me to look for what’s good.
My take away as a writer, is that writing is often messy and murky. It can be like mud. Sometimes, I think I’m flinging mud at the blank page, looking for what sticks. And revising feels like sliding down a mesa, and I feel uncertain how to control the weight of my words upon the flow. No one teaches you how to navigate mud and when it comes to the process no one can teach you to write your stories in your voice. Certainly we can learn to drive, and we can learn the craft of writing, but mud is the original material.
If you haven’t yet read, Carrot Ranch has launched a new guest series that gets muddy, exploring the idea Raw Literature. It’s meant to be an ongoing conversation from different perspectives, and a look at the lives of writers behind the screen. These are the essays so far, and I hope you take time to read, ponder and even submit an essay of your own:
- Memoir & What Lies Beneath by Sherri Matthews
- Rough Writer for Congress profile of Sarah Unsicker
- Natural or Explicit by Geoff Le Pard
- From Raw to Ready by Anne Goodwin
- Jewels on the Page by Jules Paige
With all that seems to be unfolding in the world, it can feel muddy. The challenge is to find something worthwhile — a piece of land worth preserving; a civic duty worth taking on; a cause you can contribute to; a way to bring art to the artless. Certainly we can create from the clay we are given.
February 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rainbow in a puddle. Is it a silver lining of sorts or a false reflection? Think about what it might mean or convey. Simple science? Hope? Or the doom of humankind? Create action or character reflection. Go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by February 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Faith (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“A rainbow in a puddle. We’ll have good luck in our search today,” Michael said.
All Danni could see was a biohazard in mud. She climbed into Michael’s truck and they left to follow leads on Bubbie, missing along the Pack River for a week.
“Did you see it?”
Michael was as bad as Ike, Danni thought. Signs, wonders, miracles. “Yes I saw the oil slick.”
“Ever the scientist. Today, have faith.”
Their first encounter with campers reminded Danni why she had none. The rednecks with AR-15s claimed they peppered a dog fitting Bubbie’s description. For fun, they said.