Allison Batdorff: Avert your eyes for the silent rituals of Mud time

Allison Batdorff, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
·3 min read

Apr. 4—I live at the end of a road.

There's a "dead end" sign and a red triangle signifying a snow dump. But snow isn't all that's dumped there.

I'm no scientist but much of what's found after the snow melts falls into the litterus poopus category. I'm not complaining, mind you (I'm hexing) because I don't look that spring gift horse in the mouth, even if I'd like to punch him in it after fetch-retching the 20th soggy bag/pile of Fido's umm ... food waste.

No, I leave the profound waxing on dog scat-strewn yards to the pros. I want to talk about mud. More specifically, mud etiquette.

Northern Michigan doesn't officially claim the fifth "Mud Season" as other clever states, like Vermont. We're more circumspect, more practical. I mean, we stick with George, John, Paul and Ringo. Mud doesn't quite rise to our standards of a season of its own — plus we'd need to copy-cut-paste it in too many places in our calendars, a.k.a. between all seasons.

Mud DOES get a room of one's own in our homes, as we can't pronounce "foyer" and that's way too fancy-pants a word for the minefield of shoes and boots between the door and the carpet.

But mud this particular time of year does come with its rituals. Besides the hoots of the mud-hoggin' crowd, many of these rituals are silent — their practice in omission, rather than action.

For one, no one attempts to write "Wash Me" on cars right now. June, your windshields and tailgates are fair game. But for now, we save it, keenly aware that turnabout is fair play. Also, it takes real strength to burrow that digit down through all those layers of winter grime, and more time scrubbing the offending, now embedded, dirt off. It's too exhausting when we're still reeling from daylight saving time.

We also avert our eyes kindly from our work colleagues' crusted footwear, which follows the "professional on top, practical on the bottom" rule. We look past the rubbed swaths of light grime that patterns our loved and familiar ones' coats after a close brush with a car (unmoving) in the parking lot. Chances are, we wear matching swaths of our own on rears, pant legs and where our guts meet the car when we unload the groceries. There's no need to remark on such things.

It's also acceptable this time of year to silently ponder brown clods on the carpeting with the studious enthusiasm of a paleontologist. Prodding with a toe, we look for tread patterns, wondering, "Is that a Nike or an Asics? Perhaps a Wolverine workboot?" Any other time of year we avoid such clods, assume they're feces and hope someone else will pick them up.

There are other mud rules, of course. Many of us make that one-shoe squelching sacrifice on hikes this time of year. And we know, whether we return with one shoe or two, to take them off at the door no matter what condition our socks and feet are in.

Mud keeps us humble. Besides revealing our tendencies, it also reveals treasures — again, that we hold in silent contemplation. Like Petoskey stones, unidentifiable plastic shards and those snow markers (hewn now into orange/white splinters) that went missing after our friend backed out of the driveway.

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