James Pinsky: Hail to mud, our childhood friend


When I was a child my two best friends were soil and water, otherwise known as mud.

I could find it anywhere and I took it everywhere, much to my mother’s dismay.

Not a day went by during my childhood where I wasn’t playing, thinking about or collecting mud. I carried it in my pockets, in buckets, on my bicycle, in my shoes, my hat, in my wagon and in my backpack. I used it to build roads, towns and airstrips for my G.I. Joe encampments that were under constant siege by my Star Wars armies. I used mud to build foxholes and forts all over the neighborhood and mud was used as ammunition during turf wars. I even used it as girl repellant, though these days I look for the ladies who prefer it.

Yes, mud was the Swiss army knife of toys growing up because it was everywhere; it was free and powered by my imagination it could be just about anything. Ah, those were the days. But times have changed, even for mud.

A few days ago I paced up and down the aisles of a local big box store to see if I could find any video games celebrating my childhood pal, mud. There were games for everything else, for sure. Games that pitted boys against dragons, robots against monkeys, demons against frogs and any and every sport you could ever want to play. Still, there wasn’t a single game that took a boy, his shovel and a field full of honest to goodness mud on an adventure.

Nowadays, mud and even its dry cousin, plain old dirt, are shunned by our youth. The once noble grit of greatness is feared, if not loathed by children preoccupied with costly, hypnotic electronics. Mud, dirt and yes plain old water, are all enemies to many of today’s most popular toys because of the damage it can do to circuit boards, battery connections and electronic screens. Many of today’s youth see playing in the mud now the same way I viewed being stuck inside all day way back then. The irony astounds me.

OK Jay, we get it. You miss getting muddy as a kid. So what’s that got to do with conservation?

It has everything to do with conservation! You see, when we forget, when we ignore what we once loved it becomes all too easy for us to let it slip away. Trees, animals, friends and yes, mud. As a boy I always knew a few things like any good soldier of fun like my dog’s mood, the value of glass soda pop bottles, and where the best mud holes were. Now, the same mud I used to fortify my childhood with then is the same soil I see get washed, blown and eroded from our backyards, our rivers, streams, mountains and farms. Some friend I am, huh?

Friends, we have forgotten about our childhood friends, mud, dirt and water. Yet, they haven’t forgotten us. As adults we’ve even tried to suppress our childhood by labeling our dear old friends with stuffy adult sounding names like soil and sediment. We dread it in our lives scrubbing it from our shoes, our rugs, our jeans and our cars. We’ve forgotten.

Dirt, I mean, soil conservation is so much more than a scientist’s quest to keep trees fed, animals burrowed and fields fertile. I feel it is every adult’s childhood contract with Mother Nature to make sure our children and our children’s children will know the joys of muddy shoes, dirt clog fights, imaginary forts and yes the occasional repellant. As adults, it’s not enough we simply keep mud around like we did as children. We have to keep it clean, wholesome and plentiful so all our children have to fear from mud is their mother’s wrath as they track it through the house.

So, how do we do it? How do we protect mud? It starts with remembering how much it meant to us then and how much we need it now. Mud isn’t just a childhood toy. It is the very cradle of our existence where most life begins. It nurtures our plants, animals and our imagination as only mud can. We must treat mud as we should any good friend, with respect, with kindness and with loyalty. This means we don’t contaminate it with pollutants. We don’t ruin mud’s sidekick, water, with oil, grease, grime and other crud. We don’t let others bully our friends so we need to make sure our neighbors treat mud well too. Along with these tasks, I strongly recommend you grab your family and head out to your local muddy field and wallow in it like pigs. Get dirty. Make mom or dad test that fancy new washing machine. Show your children the joy of mud and let them find the friendships you did. Who knows, they may even discover their imagination never needed batteries. It just needed a little soil, water and time.

If you want to help the next generation of children discover the power of mud, contact us at Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District at 540-465-2424, ext. 5 or visit us at www.lfswcd.org.

 James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org