The first time I come across the word mire, I was so proud to have learned it.
I was thirteen at the time and barely spoke English. It was my first year in Canada. More specifically it was my first time attending a Canadian school, fully in English medium.
Sure, I’ve heard my parents talk about the old colonial days when the British had established English medium schools after their own public school systems. The standards were high and the demands on your tongue was anything but lilting. Full on Oxford it was and no joke. Had you done well,did your home work and aced your A-levels you had a shot at attending Oxford for free, at least theoretically even if the restraints imposed by your social and political milleu made it tricky at best. Sri Lanka had many glass ceilings and the myth of the educational system is certainly one of them.
Anyway, I could barely speak English but I had learned the word mire and had the occasion to use it in class. In science class. My hand shot up in response to a question I no longer remember and I had proudly stated in garbled English that the the soil would turn miresome. I’m not actually sure if that’s what I had said but I know that I felt clever for having found the adjectival form to boot. Incredulous and slightly annoyed the teacher asked me what miresome was. Undaunted I told her and the rest of the class that it meant muddy, an old English way to say muddy.
Such display of erudition and initiative would have gained me admiration in my tight knit cohort style classroom in Sri Lanka. In Canada I’d learn that this would mean that you’re boasting unnecessarily and that a feigned indifference or sheer mute disregard is far more preferred behaviour for a desire immigrant than being a little know it all. Even the annoyance of my teacher who looked at me stonily asked ,’ then why didn’t you just say muddy’? Her implicit impati NCE with me betrayed the collective annoyance I felt from my Canadian class mates. ‘Can hardly speak English and he is trying to show off in class’ I heard someone snigger from a nearby desk. I sat back down and retreated into a humiliating confusion. Things were clear as mud in Canada. Culture shock is the silent fart of the trauma world…It lingers, long after the deed.
Years later I’d hear the same word repeated in a cartoon character’s name, Glen Quagmire and realize that more is not so foreign after all. It was a perfectly normal word that had seen little use like a hard packed mile trail abandoned to the grass.
Not so with muddy trails. And there are plenty of them on Te Araroa. I wrote briefly about the Ratea forest, arguably one of the tougher sections on the TA not because of its gradient or required skill level (on a dry day) but because of its complete lack of drainage systems that turn the trail into a quagmire Ven after just one set of foot prints. Now imagine 400+ trampers, some of them who never hiked in muddy, rooty trails, who have no idea how step ginger along clay banks, swing from tree too tree while leveraging all your weight on ur hand holds as oppose to your feet so as not to further muddy up the trail.
But I find the mud comforting. I’ve always considered thru hiking as the closest I’ve come to experiencing what most people may describe as transcendental meditation. Charting a safe and enjoyable path through a muddy mess requires concentration and just a little bit of your inner monkey, praised be our very distant ancestors.
Some hikers seem to hate the mud and grow weary of the constant mindfulness mud requires. True, muddy trails make it harder to achieve your desired pace; a false step or awkward lunge can end your trip as quickly as a snake bite and you end up carrying more weight in mud caked around your boots, legs and sometimes the seat of your pants than you care for, but it is an essential skill as a thru hiker to learn to use the slippery roots as anchor points, the grassy patches as sure-footed safe havens even if only for a moment.
Mud teaches you that the trail is putative and can be punishing if you aren’t willing to adapt, slow down and take care. Even then, it may get the best of you.
I suppose the moral of this entry if there is one is that Mud makes you stronger if doesn’t cripple you first
Welcome to the jungle