If you’re like me, you’ve probably come across a line in a book where the character, wandering around in a rainstorm or bog, gets their shoe caught in the mud, and when they pull it loose it makes a squelching sound.
I never really understood what this was like until today.
Sure, I’ve trudged through mud before. My shoes (or bare feet) have slipped and slid and made vague sucking sounds while I struggled to keep my balance. But I’ve never been afraid of mud. It has never truly threatened my footwear.
Then we caught this bout of warm weather (which I am told is going to wear off really soon). I enjoyed the sunshine on Saturday, but that day was full of errands and chores, so I didn’t spend much of my time outside. Plus, it was super muddy. Then things turned chilly again and I kept indoors. I had a list of things I needed to do around the house in preparation for spring and gardening, so today, with the temperatures back in the 40’s, I forced myself out.
First of all, I discovered that I am woefully out of shape. I had to rake the dog run before everything either got muddy or covered in snow, and that chore alone put me out of breath. But I heaved in gulps of brisk, fresh air and started fairly twitching for proper springtime.
After I caught my breath, I grabbed my bow and summoned Nina to join me in some target practice.
By then, the sun had gone behind the house and we were soon shivering in the shade. Three rounds in and Nina declared she would have to go back inside. Echoing this sentiment, I loosed another arrow.
I should mention that my aim is really bad. In point of fact, it’s nonexistent. I’ve lost count of how many arrows I’ve misplaced when they whizzed past the target and buried themselves in the dirt, even the ones I had marked with that brightly striped tape that is supposed to make them more visible. This arrow glanced off the tree against which our target is set and, with great speed, sailed way out into the field behind our house.
The great big field full of turned dirt that got very warm and soft this past weekend.
Nina laughed in surprise and set off to retrieve the wayward arrow for me while I got what ones had actually hit the target. It was a good 8 or 9 yards into the field and she was halfway to it when she lost sight of it, so I went to help. (This time it had managed to not bury itself and I could just make out the orange band.)
Nina was having some difficulty with her slip on shoes and the dirt, which had looked firm but was in no wise such. I started in after her, bow still in hand.
Do you remember how big of a deal old movies and video games made of quicksand? The amount of times it offed a character led us all to believe that it posed a significant risk to our lives, and we diligently set about learning how to identify it and, more importantly, how to escape. I paid more attention to surviving quicksand than learning to swim.
Every step I took got heavier and heavier as the mud accumulated on my boots, which were actually Mom’s and a size too large for me. Nina had stopped and was concentrating on not working her own slip-ons deeper. I was just reaching my arrow when she said, “Uh, I think I’m stuck.”
Her shoes (also a pair borrowed from Mom) were sinking fast.
I could see on her face that the same thing was going through her head as mine: all of our hours devoted to reciting the rules for surviving quicksand. Rule #1: Don’t struggle. Don’t panic. Just move as little as possible until help comes. The more you move, the faster you’ll sink.
“Hang on,” I said as I started back for her.
Now my boots were sinking. Every step was a battle and I nearly lost them several times in the few feet back to Nina. She reached out a hand.
“No, give me your bow. Wait here.” Judging by how quickly my boots had collected the mud, I knew there was no way Nina’s shoes were going to make it even the couple yards back.
With Nina watching and trying not to move, I made my slow, careful way back to dry(er) ground. And I learned that the lumpy hillocks in the field, which one would assume were a little firmer, were actually just less packed down. I barely made it back to our property, where I immediately started accumulating dried dirt and leaves in addition to the caked mud.
Shaking it off was not happening. I had to find a stick thick enough to scrape it off. “There has to be ten pounds of mud on these!” I exclaimed. Meanwhile, Nina was getting impatient.
“Just a minute,” I called, hanging our bows on some low tree branches to keep them off the ground. Then off came my three-finger glove, already sporting some mud of its own, and the first boot.
“Ready?” I caught the top of the boot and tossed it out toward Nina, who was watching with a confused expression. The boot landed a few feet short and she nearly fell retrieving it. Her shoes were hidden in mud, but her feet were still free. Trading the shoe for the boot, she tried tugging the shoe free.
“It’s stuck.” She grabbed on with both hands and grunted, but it didn’t move.
“Can you dig it out?” I grabbed a handy stick and threw that across.
By digging furrows around the shoe, Nina managed to get it free. With a final tug she had it. And there was that squelch sound.
Oh. That’s what they actually meant when they wrote that.
I was balancing on one foot this whole time, phone out and video camera rolling. Nina surveyed the muddied shoe with a grimace. “Now what?”
“Let me have it.”
I traded my remaining boot for the shoe and sent the boot over. Nina repeated the process, her first boot already sinking, until the second shoe was free and she could hurry back to safety.
“I have to wash this off,” Nina said, showing me a hand covered in mud. “My fingers are freezing. I’ll come back for my bow.”
“Ok. Get a towel when you come back.”
In the end, I created a new puddle in the side yard as I hosed down all four pieces of footwear. Then we left them outside to dry. They’re still soaking.