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.