Mud song


I was in the countryside yesterday, visiting a relative. There was a cherry tree. Pots and pots of muddy things, seedlings of vegetables like radishes, kale and carrots. Scallions stood in a row like soldiers, their tart green tops fading into pristine white bottoms, nestled smartly in the warm brown earth. There were large, unidentifiable tubs and old containers filled with stagnant rainwater, leaves, floating bits of moss and sticks. A toadstool. There was an ancient, discarded tractor, such a dignified old workhorse, resting proudly, a relic in the muddy field – its once-majestic utility long rusted over. Ghosts of past men who worked the land hovered around it, beckoning me to peek inside, use my imagination to see that where now stood wild daisies and tufted roots of grass, knotted hands once shifted the gears and turned the giant metal wheels, day in and day out.

While my other two boys ran free, I followed my one year old as he wobbled and toddled and fell with joy into the damp grass, one chubby baby hand clutching a sausage stolen from the stove. He watched the horses in the field, wide-eyed at their muscly, gentle beauty. The clouds shifted swiftly, revealing a cool June sun, shards of its rays streaming down into the land, catching the light on his blonde baby curls and the royal blue glint of tiny wellies on his feet.

All the while, in the sleepy, slow country morning, he kept emitting that very particular baby squeal of delight. It is the sound of how you feel when you are completely in the flow of nature, of the seasons, of the earth around you. It’s kind of an ‘Ah-ooo’ sound, with the ‘Ah’ higher than the ‘ooo’. It was the sound of him and the world, together, interchangeable.

A sound like this, uttered out loud, is something we forget as we grow. As adults we can only revel in its cadence second-hand, when we hear a child sing it like this, or an animal. But we absolutely still feel it. How could we not? We don’t make that ‘Ah-ooo’ sound, but we feel that deep joy, that contentment, often when we least expect it. We might feel it when we are sitting in the sun, or walking on the beach, or pottering in the garden, poking in the mud. Or in a moment when we catch the wind on our face and feel oh! so alive: there was a scent, a touch of the moving air, that brought you out of your head and back to yourself.

‘Ah-ooo’ is the child’s song to the universe, it’s like they are talking to nature itself. They are saying: You give me the cool grass under my feet, these big-lashed horses, these pink and purple and blue flowers, this outdoor soup, this mud with things that grow in it – and I howl thank you. ‘Ah-oo’. I am happy in this earth.

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