Kids love mud, and I was no exception growing up. I’m not sure what the appeal is… the sucking, squishing sound or the gritty, sloppy texture. I tried to see how deep I could dig holes down in the mud and I piled up dirt to make castles and mountains. I was content to sit outside with a stick or a shovel for hours on end.
I got sweaty, smelly, sunburned, ate bugs (accident…sort of), got completely covered in bug bites and I loved absolutely every second of it. Yes, even the miserable, dirty, muddy, gross times.
Well, I grew up and still loved to get dirty. I loved working in the garden, splashing in creeks, fishing, camping, and slopping around in the mud.
When a local ranger told me a story about a group of high-school kids that had worked on the local trails with the Student Conservation Association that summer, I knew I had to sign up. He told me how they showed up skinny and clean, but shoveled dirt every day and had steak for dinner every night. From the ranger’s retelling, those kids left with full beards, bulging biceps and could swing sledge hammers and axes like lumberjacks.
I had visions of glory in my head, so I looked into the program and when I turned 17, I signed right up. I was accepted and placed on a trail crew in Washington, working on a DNR trail in the Northern Cascades.
I’ve never been so dirty in my life.
I didn’t shower for 5 weeks, except the occasional jump in a lake. I only had 2 pairs of pants, both of which were so stiff with dirt they could stand up on their own. Our crew worked in knee-deep mud while we built a footpath over a section of swamp. We even broke down into a full-on mud-wrestling, giggle-fest one day and I had never had so much fun in my whole life.
I dug holes in the dirt to place retaining structures. We moved big rocks and massive logs to build steps and bridges. I learned to swing a pulaski and sledgehammer like a boss. I got sweaty, smelly, sunburned, ate bugs (accident…sort of), got completely covered in bug bites and I loved absolutely every second of it. Yes, even the miserable, dirty, muddy, gross times.
I learned to be self-reliant and push my limits. I learned the value of hard work. It made me feel a connection to nature and to the people I was getting so dirty with. That experience turned me into the outdoor-loving person I am today.
I still enjoy getting good and dirty, but I’m not the only one who likes dirt and mud… look at the popular adventure races like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash. Those races are all about getting dirty, with some sweat and teamwork thrown in.
I did a Tough Mudder a few years ago, and it was brutal. But, it was also a great reminder that crawling in the mud is FUN, challenging, and getting a little dirt behind the ears never hurt anyone. I ran with a team and we helped each other through all the crazy obstacles.
Adventure races are now more popular than the traditional marathon. These races are popular because they are a genuine blast, and remind us of being a kid again. Besides, playing in the mud and overcoming challenges is way more fun than running down a boring, flat road!
Now I’m older and I have my own kid. He’s a 2 year-old little boy. And surprise!: He loves to dig in the dirt and mud.
As a parent, your perspective changes a little….
- “Gross…Is he going to put that in his mouth?” (Probably.)
- “What if it gets in his eyes?”
- “Could he get sick?”
- “I hope that’s not a turd.”
- “I can’t let him ruin his new clothes.”
I frequently have to stop hyperventilating with all the what-if scenarios and remind myself of how much I *loved* to get dirty as a kid….and as an adult.
I always had dirt under my fingernails, so why shouldn’t my kid? A little (or a lot) of dirt never hurt!
I learned to explore and solve problems by getting filthy and having a blast doing it.
I learned to be mentally tough by crawling through muddy trenches, getting big logs across streams, and working in the mud. That’s worth a few ruined pairs of pants.
As my little boy gets bigger, I hope I can show him how amazing our natural world is, by being outside and playing with him in the dirt. I want digging in the garden, building dirt jumps for his bike, jumping in the mud puddles, working on trails, and splashing in muddy creeks to be a part of his childhood.
I challenge you to get in there and get dirty with them.
If your kids are young or old, let them get muddy and dirty. I challenge you to get in there and get dirty with them. Go camping for a few days and skip the showers. Play in the mud. Run an obstacle race with them. Build something cool outside. Volunteer to do work on your local trails.
Remember what it was like to have your own #Wildhood. You may just have some fun yourself. Maybe you’ll ruin some shoes. Maybe you’ll stain some clothes… but they will probably wash out. Most important are the memories you will help them create, which will last for years to come.
Ginny Galbreth: Ginny has spent her career focused on getting people outside; working with the Park Service, Forest Service, Student Conservation Association and Keystone Science School, as well as spending a decade in the outdoor retail industry. She practices what she preaches, so can usually be found outside: downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, riding her dual-sport motorcycle, running, and SUPing in the summer. She currently lives in Montana with her husband, 2-year old son, and awesome trail dog.
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