I grew up in Mississippi, mostly, where we have a lot of thick red clay.
One summer we decided to dig a swimming pool. In our yard. Because why not? It was hot, it was humid, we had time and shovels and a water hose. We also had a freshly turned up section of yard, due to some recent repair work. It was on the border between our house and our neighbor’s house. The neighbor also happened to be our landlord.
Anyway it was me and my sister, the neighbor/landlord’s kid, and our two friends from down the road. It took the five of us a few days — maybe a week — to dig a hole big enough we could all fit in. As I remember, we could all squish-sit in the bottom and the water came up to about our shoulders. It was that red Mississippi clay, and it held water pretty well. We got a few afternoons of hanging out in our newly dug clay “swimming pool” before an adult found it and ruined all the fun. I recall my Dad being worried because the landlord was not happy about a 5-child-sized hole in the yard. But since the landlord’s kid was part of the project, we got a pass. We just had to fill it back in.
(To this day, I have no idea how we got away with clay-covered shoes and clothes for as long as we did. It was the late ‘80s and we had a lot of freedom, but Mom was a stickler for cleanliness. Maybe the whole project was only a day or two, and it’s swelled in my mind to a week-long memory. But I remember the thrill of having a project, the conspiring, the daily work plans and assignments, the progress checks, the anticipation, and the sweet reward of being delightfully cool, sitting in clay-water gazpacho, laughing about nothing.)
This whole week I’ve been feeling a bit bumfuzzled. There are no major points of distress, no looming storms of crisis. Just the regular movement of life, the work of pushing things up hills and (often) chasing them back down again. The easy things feel difficult and the difficult things feel impossible.
It feels like when you go hiking and the trail is muddy. Your boots get coated with globs and chunks of mud. Every now and then you have to stop and scrape it off. Sometimes you can just tap your boot against a tree trunk, shake off the worst, keep moving. But sometimes it’s stuck on. It’s not regular mud, it’s thick red clay and it’s hanging on. You have to find a good stick and really work at it for a minute.
If you ignore the mud and keep moving, things get more difficult. You’re carrying all this weight. You stumble on flat ground and get mired trying to go up a hill.
So, time for a mental mud-scraping session. You pick things up as the days pass, whether you mean to or not. Sometimes you have to pause, kick off some weight, dig out the bits that don’t want to let go, and regain your footing. Then you can move forward with ease.