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Dealing with some dirty business

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Sometimes you feel like nothing but a stick in the mud.

By Steve Doyle

Now that I own acreage, I am renewing my relationship with something I’ve detested since youth: mud, the gooey stuff that just doesn’t vanish in a climate where temperatures might be 19 one day and 69 the next. The ground is muddy, then frozen, then muddy. You don’t have to be Darwin to understand that evolution.

Unlike the stereotype of my gender, I never had much of a relationship with the stuff. Perhaps my mother would recall a story or two from preschool days, when romping in the mud seemed the piggish if not prudent thing to do. Living on a farm, I know I wore plenty of it, but I don’t recall ever relishing in that fact. I simply don’t like being an old stick in the mud, as it were.

I particularly detested the place behind our old dairy barn, where the cows would gather for milking time and create a big sty of seasoned mud. More than once, trying to traverse that space on an urgent errand, I would take a stride and leave my boot behind, requiring me to hop on one leg to avoid soaking my foot in the muddy (and other) stuff.

I divorced mud when I left the farm for college. Oh, we occasionally reunited on a muddy softball diamond or the many wet spots of a post-rain golf course, but, really, mud wasn’t much around.

I lived in cities for one thing, and most of that time I lived in Florida, where mud has to be created to be present – as in, the black dirt that that makes mud really gooey and long-lasting had to be imported to be mixed with the water.

Because Florida’s soil in the areas where I lived was so naturally sandy, mud was not indigenous. Lot a lot of things there, it was manufactured and imported.

That’s because when the rain falls there – even the torrents of a tropical storm – the water may pool for a while in a low spot, but it generally just soaked immediately into the soil, leaving little more than a  damp spot on top.

In fact, as sort of a Mr. Wizard-esque experiment, you could stick a piece of pipe about 3 feet into the ground and stick a hose into that pipe. The water would gush out in a natural spring nearby. Nope, mud was not a sticky wicket in Florida.

But this winter I have become newly intimate with that stuff, so much so that perhaps my most prized Christmas gift was a pair of knee-high muck boots (where were those when I was 14?).

(These join a multisized, multicolored lineup of all-weather footwear that decorates the areas around all our doors, inside and out. You just can’t imagine how many kinds of footwear is required for a family to navigate the wilderness in style.)

The muck boots make me fearless, and sometimes I feel so powerful that I even forget to wear them when I do morning chores, such as feeding our horses and clearing their troughs before I drop the kids at school and head to work. That was the reason that the other day my boss tracked me down – literally – from the back door to my desk because of the dirty footprints I had left behind. Right, no boots that morning and muddied-up street shoes. Easy target for the Hardy Boys.

But the mud bath that a winter can bring to our Dozen Acres Farm never has been more wretchedly evident than with our not-supposed-to-be-mud driveway.

Now, again, for several decades I have lived in places where the entrance from the street was at most 50 feet long and always formed from concrete, asphalt or some hard decorative substance.

Our house now sits on a small hill that requires navigating about 600-plus feet of rock to get from the county’s road to our front door, and the lower third of the roadbed we inherited appears to have been more suitable as a moat or a slip-and-slide than a place for vehicles.

In December, when it seemed to rain for days, Seattle-style, that rock driveway became a challenging, slippery, ever-narrowing course that seemed on an intemperate creep into the road and creek below.

In fact, so troublesome was that entryway that two carriers for the postal service told me they no longer would bring packages to our door, and only a macho UPS driver trying to impress my wife would venture up the fairly steep hill.

Moving the garbage can up and down became a challenge for our 11-year-old. Fetching the mail and the paper was a treacherous trek.

So you know what had to happen. We had to bring in a road builder, who created a new bed for the driveway, added several tons of rock and made it, well, a roadbed and not a budding creekbed.

Thus, two weeks ago when we had more significant rain, there was nary a puddle on the road, all the former rivers running off and down away from the surface.

As many of you know, though, loads of rock can be a tad expensive. They truck it in, spread it out and you empty your bank account for, well, loads of rock. And we say buying tires feels like a waste.

Not wanting to repeat that mess anytime soon, I asked the guy who rebuilt the driveway:

How much do you think it would cost to asphalt this?

He smiled and looked up and down, made some comments about treatments and said, “Oh, probably sixty thousand dollars.”

 

I just shook my head. Man, I hate mud – but not that bad.