Sensation-Seeking Over the Lifetime

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

In her recent comment, Sandy Alonzo raised the question about the relevance of age in the sensation-seeker personality. She wondered whether the mudder’s youth would explain his willingness to engage in activities that have ecologically destructive outcomes, without considering the negative effects on the environment.

It probably will come as no surprise to learn that, in this personality type, sensation-seeking activities tend to escalate around the onset of puberty, peak in the mid-teens, and, with the leveling off of hormones, wane in intensity by the late twenties. Also not surprisingly, the need in sensation-seekers for external stimulation declines significantly over the lifespan.

I couldn’t find any specific information about whether the young mudder might become more ecologically responsible as he ages; another question raised by Alonzo.

Reason tells us that sensation-seekers, like most people, will develop a perspective about themselves and about their place in society as they experience life. In the process of maturing, they would most likely become more knowledgeable about the world around them and more reflective about how to take part in the world they had come to know.

This seems to presume that awareness and experience would contribute to an increase in environmentally responsible behavior, and that it would happen voluntarily and spontaneously as a consequence of maturation.

Ecologist and forester, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), might have argued against that supposition. He might have proposed that, without valuing land and all its soils, waters, plants, and animals for their own sake and not for the fun and excitement they offer; and that, without a knowledge base in ecology and an appreciation for the connection between human health and safety and the health of the planet, those sensation-seekers who pursue their sport in nature are vulnerable to misusing the land and inadvertently creating collateral ecological damage.

In his essay, The Land Ethic, published in 1949 as part of his book A Sand County Almanac, Leopold wrote, We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Leopold proposed that ethics imposes a limitation on freedom of action in the service of a higher cause.

If the sensation-seeker cannot develop a land-oriented ethic based on ecologically sound principles, one that  obligates him to correct use and care of the environment, behaviors required for protecting the environment would come into conflict with his need to achieve excitement and stimulation.

The young mudder will be particularly susceptible to choosing pleasure over prudence if he lacks a value system that holds protecting the land to a higher standard than fun and excitement. His genetic makeup and his age would almost dictate that he drive his vehicle into a forest meadow and bear down in pursuit of his coveted mud, leaving destruction behind. Out of sight, out of mind.

The mature sensation-seeker, therefore, is in the best position to steer the young towards ecologically responsible behavior. He can become a mentor and role model for youth through a land-based code of ethics which reflects ecological principles and which can work side by side with an ethical code for the sport.


The Secret Life of Meadows

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Last week’s post left us with the question of how Sierra meadows protect our health and safety. The answer is simpler than you would imagine:

By controlling the flow of water, season to season.

Intake and outflow, overflow and underflow, water following natural laws of movement from the mountains, directed into streams and rivers that make their way to the San Joaquin Valley, where it is eventually shunted to the canals and reservoirs that supply two-thirds of California homes with water.

As such, Sierra meadows stand out as hydrologic marvels, engineered by nature for efficiency, able to moderate the effects of the seasonal extremes of water flow in the Sierra.

On the one hand they check the oncoming deluge of water during springtime flooding from mountain snowmelt and rainstorms, and, conversely, during the driest, hottest times of the Sierra summers, they move water up from their shallow water table to replenish diminished streams. In addition to recharging streams, the meadows draw water up to feed shallow rooted plants and to restore moisture to the soil during drying out periods.

In a healthy meadow water is continually circulating, entering and leaving. It spreads over the surface and seeps into the ground. Absorbed as if into a sponge, it percolates down through deep layers of moist textured soil and plant material to a shallow groundwater. There, the water is stored amidst a maze of decomposed granite pools, waiting like a dedicated servant to be called upon when needed.

In a striking example of efficiency, in the process of percolation, meadows filter out excess sediment and undesirable nutrients, offering clean clear water to meadow wildlife and to wildlife downstream, as well as to us, the human recipients.

Moist textured soil. Decayed plant life. Underground decomposed granite. These are the key elements that allow the meadow to carry out its many tasks. These structures work together in a delicate balance, sensitive to even slight changes in the environment. The meadow’s hydrologic abilities become threatened if the natural flow of water into the meadow is interrupted or redirected – let’s say, for example, by the presence of tire tracks.

Cutting tire tracks into a meadow could be compared to pouring sand in the truck’s gas tank. The system becomes clogged and shuts down. The ability of the meadow to capture the incoming water and spread it out is decreased. The soil dries out. Inundation during runoff cannot occur. The water passes over the surface unimpeded and the threat of flooding downstream increases.

Underground, meanwhile, the moist textured soil and decayed plants become dry and compacted. Percolation is blocked. Filtering of sediment and undesirable nutrients cannot occur. The natural storage of the water is reduced, and the groundwater table lowers.  In the arid summer, streams are unable to draw fresh clean water up, so silty tainted water is transported on to forest streams and rivers.

A year after we discovered the tire tracks in the meadow featured in the wildflower-seeker story, several of us returned and found the imprint of the tracks still present; two pale lines, bare of vegetation, running parallel into the meadow. The deep gouges were gone, but the tracks has filled with compacted soil.

Fortunately, in this case the driver of the truck had backed off before venturing too far into the meadow, so the tracks appear to have had little impact on the water flow. But they stand out as a reminder of the intrusion, an ugly scar in an otherwise healthy meadow of rich dark soil with springs bubbling up from underground, and acres and acres, as far as the eye can see, of green.

And what about the next truck driver? What will he do when he sits at the edge of the meadow, drawn in by the moist, dark soil – in other words, the mud – contemplating his ride, faced with choices?

Let’s try another ‘what-if’ story, different from the one in the wildflower-seeker story:

What if, instead of depressing the gas pedal he keeps his foot on the brake and takes a moment to think? What if, instead of revving the motor he decides to turn it off and step out of his truck? And as he stands at the edge of the meadow, what if his fractured connection to the land gives way, and the truck fades from his mind. And he begins to notice things; movement amongst the grasses or the sounds of buzzing or chirring, or he might catch the sight of a butterfly settling on a flower nearby.

And in his heightened state of awareness what if he enters one of his alternative sensation-seeker worlds, where breaking the law and tearing up Sierra meadows with a pickup truck would be unfathomable. Then, maybe he would put aside his mud desires and his natural inclination for physical challenge and would say to himself, not here, not now.

 As the president of an urban 4-wheel drive club said:

My church, the mountains, you step out of your vehicle and it no longer exists.  There’s only you and the expanse and the quiet. It draws you in, takes you into its arms and tells you, now you’re where you belong.  You can’t put it into words. You have to experience it.






This is what happened….the meadow mudder

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

First, a disclaimer:  This story is written in the masculine. Not because only males are mudders, but because every ploy I tried for gender neutrality came out sounding either contrived or silly.  I am told that writers are inventing all kinds of new words to express genderless ideas, but I am not one of them.  Therefore, everything in this story can be viewed as happening to a male or a female.

This is what happened….

A glorious spring morning in the Sierra. A fieldtrip to view meadow wildflowers. We walk single file along a path leading through the forest to the edge of the meadow. We’re an eager group, armed with cameras and binoculars. We carry books on Sierra wildflowers.

When we reach the meadow, we stand for a few moments taking in the grand expanse of grasses and wildflowers. Then off to the side, something out of place: tire tracks in the meadow. We are taken aback.

Why anyone would do such a thing?

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine what went through the mind of the driver.  He is sitting in his truck at the edge of the open field. Not a boulder, not a tree, not an impediment in sight. Like a child unable to resist a puddle in the road, ignoring parental warnings, stepping in, going right to the center, jumping, splashing, giddy with the fun of it all, a twinge of guilt on his face, like that child, the driver pictures himself speeding through the meadow, cutting a trail from one end to the other. A warning goes off in his head. Should I or shouldn’t I? He decides to enter.

But something unexpected happens as he drives into the meadow. He discovers that the ground is spongey. His tires begin sinking into the soft soil. His truck gouges out tracks that etch deeper and deeper, until twenty-five feet ahead, his front tires butt up against a barrier of earth and begin to spin. He stops and scans the landscape. He envisions the meadow torn up, cut through with tire tracks. He backs up and drives away.

Now, let’s create a ‘what-if’ situation.

What if the soil were wetter and muddier, and a channel of water zigzagged through the middle of the meadow? And what if the driver of the truck perceives the barrier as a challenge and the water channel his goal. And what if he decides to back up his truck and approach the barrier at a greater speed. And he lets his tires continue to spin, revs the motor, and the mud starts flying around, hitting the sides of his truck, all the while gouging out deeper and deeper tracks, tapping into more water and bringing up more mud. And when his truck has sloshed over the mud barrier, he steers towards the channel, tearing through it, sending up more mud. And what if he keeps doing this until the mud all but coats the very windows of his vehicle.

That is mudding….

It’s a difficult image: Two tons of aluminum and steel, cutting a path through grasses and wildflowers, tearing up stream channels and ponds, and sending all manner of wildlife scurrying for cover.

Yet, it is not difficult to imagine the dilemma facing the potential mudder.

Let’s say he comes across a meadow and drives to its edge. He sits, two tons of power jouncing under him. The meadow is open, there for the taking. Most likely he will follow the law and back off, because, as is well known, driving into meadows on public lands is illegal and can bring large fines.

But, at that moment, a glint of sun reflects off a pond or a stream channel in the distance. He looks around and notices that he is on his own. There’s no one to stop him.

On the surface it may seem that conditions have conspired to make driving onto the meadow inevitable. He is insulated inside the truck and disconnected from the landscape. He wouldn’t have to confront what happens in his wake as he bears down on the terrain. His focus would be on what’s ahead as he plows on towards the mud.

Also, his personality may predispose him to seeking new and unconventional experiences. He might be willing to take risks. Variety. Novelty. Intense feelings. Physical stimulation. These may be an essential part of who his is, perhaps were part of him since birth.

It may come as no surprise to learn that psychologists have even named this personality trait. He is a sensation seeker.

The irony is, the driver of the truck is in the best position to grasp the reasons for not entering a Sierra forest meadow. There are similarities between his truck and the meadow that he could easily comprehend.

For instance, the meadow, like his truck, functions as a system of individual parts working together. The truck driver knows that if one of the parts of his truck is disturbed or malfunctions, the system breaks down. So too with the meadows of the Sierra.

But there he is, a natural born sensation seeker faced with ideal conditions for experiencing something exciting and intense. Under these circumstances, then, the question we should ask is not; why would he decide to drive into the meadow? The question we should ask is; why in the world wouldn’t he drive into the meadow?

Because, even though the mudder’s personality might fall within the spectrum of sensation seeker, there may be many things that might override his decision to enter the meadow.

Obeying the law when there’s nobody around to notice, for example, might fill him with inspiration and an intense feeling of pride way beyond any mudding experience.

Or, if he lives adjacent to the national forest, protecting the meadows of the Sierra might be the most natural thing for him. He might even be acquainted with fellow mud enthusiasts who support the care and preservation of the meadows.

It’s these drivers of trucks, the ones who respect the intricate inner workings of their vehicles, who care for them and value their service, these are the ones who can fathom the secrets of the Sierra meadows and appreciate the awesome role they play in protecting our health and safety.

How do they do that?

In next week’s post, The Secret Life of Meadows, we’ll look at some of the inner workings of Sierra meadows and answer that question.

On Mudding, Mudders and Meadows

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman


A balm for aches and itches. A cosmetic. A place to slosh about and wrestle, to walk barefoot and let the ooze push its way between the toes.

And, for those whose world includes mud as recreation – mudding – mud is a quest. Fun.

It’s a world where weekend outings involve climbing into trucks with family and friends and chasing after mud, plowing through bogs without getting stuck or flipping over, and returning home with a truck plastered with mud.

A weekend recreation with mud might also take place on a man-made obstacle course set up by private owners who have adapted their land specifically for mudding.

It’s a “colorful lifestyle for people who like to get into deep mud predicaments,” as one promoter expressed it. “The more heavy the equipment needed to extract the stuck truck, the more fun is had by all.”  As described by one mudder, “It’s like riding a bull.”

Mudding is fun also for the fans of the half-century, ever-growing sport they call mud-bogging.

In this other world the Internet connects the mud-bogging buff to websites where the sport is promoted as an excitement-filled spectator event at mud parks with tantalizing names such as, Trucks Gone Wild and Redneck Mud Park.

“500 acres of fun and party….

  • where families can enjoy ‘good clean fun.’
  • where mud truckers compete at mud fests and mud jams. Drive their mud-trucks on mud race tracks and fields, in mud pits and mud stadiums.
  • where you can even enjoy watching two trucks compete at tug-o-war through mud.

In the mud-bogging world, on those days when one is not out there actually mucking in mud, the Internet offers virtual mudding opportunities with online video games like Supermud Mania, or vicarious mudding experiences through the myriad YouTube mudding videos.

Also on the Internet, there are ways to keep up with what’s going on in the mud-bogging world by checking in at Extreme Mudding Tour, a website devoted to publicizing events around the country.

There are tips on how to waterproof a truck and how to lighten its weight. There is information about tires and suspension lift.

Those intending to sign up for mud-bogging competitions can find instructions on how to modify a truck for the various levels of mud events, and how to adapt a truck – as time and skill and resources would allow – according to the rules set down by the national mud racing organizations.

And, yes, mudding is fun also for those mud lovers who seek out the meadows of our national forests, especially in the spring, when the rains come, or after a thaw.

But that’s another story, and next week we’ll begin a series on forest meadow mudding and its implications for the environment.