Apr 5, 2014
This is mud time at Brightside. Well, not so much right here exactly as on the Old Pike, the five-mile stretch of dirt road originally constructed in 1840 that leads to the Brightside gate. Because the house, gardens, and chickens are located on the ridgetop and most of our daily activities are conducted up here, mud is one thing we don’t have to deal with as long as we stay close to home. Here snow melts as if it is being sucked into the earth by a very thirsty beast. Rainwater disappears as if funneled directly into subterranean aqueducts, inlets hidden beneath hummocks of dry grass. Little more than an hour after a thunderstorm, one might be forgiven for forgetting it had rained at all, such is the lack of physical evidence. There’s only one place where rainwater pools—a divot in the earth along the edge of the gravel drive. We talk about filling it in, but don’t. Perhaps because it attracts amphibians and butterflies. The occasional junco looking for a bath. And even Buddy, who’s been seen taking a quick sip on a warm afternoon of the sort we are having right now.
But the Old Pike is a different matter. The Old Pike Road is the reason our trucks look like we live in a mud wallow. Why I’m always arriving somewhere to find my jeans or my jacket, my purse or some portion of my hair smeared in dirt. Why, when I finally decide, usually late May, to go to a truck wash, it takes one whole session just to begin to work the mud off the undercarriage.
No, I’m not exaggerating.
And here’s the thing, Old Pike mud is not mere mud. Oh no. Old Pike mud is metaphor. Old Pike mud sticks in the mind like peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth. Or like peanut butter would stick to your tires, were you attempting to drive on a river of the stuff.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Hang with me while I attempt to explain.
The snow season begins generally around the first of November and winds up about the end of March. Yes, five months is a long time, but one knows this from the outset. So there’s at least the pretense of being able to plan, of recognizing oneself to be embarked on a journey that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. About a month into snow season there’s a sense in which, once you get more than six inches of snow, you might as well have sixteen. It’s all the same. You have to plow. You have to shovel. You have to set aside extra time to scrape the windshields before you’re going anywhere. You have to take it slow on the tilted curves going down the mountain. Yes, this gets tiresome. And yes, there comes a time in February or March when I fail to see the beauty of the snow without making a conscious effort. When I have to command myself to Look! When I have to force myself to See that the wind-whipped layers and dollops of snow make this world appear slathered in buttercream frosting. When I have to admit this improbably gorgeous spectacle, despite my impatience for spring.
Because the fact is, I’m really impatient. I’ve come to think of winter as an occasionally diverting, sporadically engaging, essentially tedious journey, like a great overland pilgrimage one must endure to get to the mecca of spring. Sure, there are beautiful vistas, pleasant moments and interesting experiences along the way—but basically, one just wants to get there. I know I do.
Mud time on the Old Pike Road is like being delayed at the final border crossing. Mud time is like making it all the way to the last bridge and finding it washed out. Mud time is like being detained by the TSA while your baggage is unceremoniously searched. Mud time is like finding yourself late for an important appointment while stuck in a traffic jam without a cellphone.
For all these reasons and more, I’ve come to see mud time as a metaphor for life. Life in transition. Life on the edge. Life unmasked, stripped of its cream topping, unadorned by any sprinkles of wildflower color. Mud time is raw. Mud time forces one to face the unforeseen present. Sinking where you could have sworn the ground was firm. Sliding where just yesterday you had good traction. Spinning your wheels instead of moving forward. Getting stuck in a place you never anticipated. Really? Here? Are you kidding me?
Sound familiar? One doesn’t have to have spent any time driving on a 170-year-old dirt road to relate to the itchy-scratchy-antsy feeling.
But when one lives up this road, there is absolutely nothing to do about it but wait. As at the border or the bridge, in the traffic jam or on the airport tarmac, there’s just no telling how long this is going to take. No way of knowing when conditions will change.
Ironic, huh? I make it all the way to spring only to find out she’s still under construction. Completion date unknown. But isn’t that life? Over and over, at its most mundane and its most exceptional. You make it to Vatican City only to find out the Sistine Chapel is closed for cleaning and the Pope is out of town. But you’re welcome to wait. Wherever we find ourselves, we’re almost always welcome to wait.
The key is to welcome waiting.
To welcome waiting is, in a very literal sense, to embrace being on edge—at the point of transition from this to that. Neither entirely here nor entirely there. In order to find ease in this undefined, constantly morphing state, one must lose the fretful effort of wishing for things we can’t control and replace it with a fluid embrace of what is actually happening right now, regardless how unanticipated. We all get bogged down in the metaphorical mud. When forced to wait, and wait longer, perhaps it comes down to the slight semantic difference between the expressions Now what! and What now? The first is the cry of the outraged control freak. The second the open inquiry of the mindful young Vulcan. One guess as to which group I belong! ☺
I’m not saying I’m comfortable waiting. I’m not saying I’m comfortable being on edge. But I do recognize edge potential. In ecology, edges arise where two habitats meet: forest and meadow, meadow and stream. In a healthy ecosystem, the edges are where dynamic biodiversity occurs. In a healthy human mind, perhaps a similar dynamism is cultivated on the edges. Between seasons, in the mud time, while we are forced to wait.
In the fluid space of neither entirely here nor entirely there something may arise within us that we did not consciously design, could not anticipate, and for which we would never have drafted an agenda.
This edge potential exists whenever we’re waiting. Waiting in line or in a traffic jam. Waiting in an airport or a bus terminal. Waiting for a decision from some higher authority. Waiting for a call, an email, an answer.
It’s all the same as waiting for the end of mud time on the Old Pike Road.