Today, the clouds that roam languidly over our lake valley are gone. Feeling exalted, I head over to Stewart Park to fly the drone and capture the lakeshore mudflat exposed by the melting ice. Stewart Park is Ithaca’s waterfront park and reads as a gracefully aging one, settled into its quiet, predictable rhythm of scattered creaky swing chairs lined under the furrowed, wizened cottonwoods. As much as some Ithacans yearn for the swimming days of yore, it remains an impossibility without the constant dredging of the shallow, muddy bottom. And indeed, this park seems to be slowly reverting to its original wetland roots. The shoreline, once carefully manicured and held in place by a thin line of revetment and aggressively optimistic mowing, has been gradually thickening due to management changes, creating a spreading ambiguous edge.
The substrate of that ambiguity, of course, is mud itself. Its hardness and structure is dependent on the proportion, consistency, and temperature of its comprised water and sediment. Relative to its use, it may appear solid to the cluster of pin-legged gulls that lavishly, and trustingly perch on mudflats, but sinks slowly under the concentrated weight of my boots. These nebulous qualities both grant intrigue and offer strange material comforts. Like other indeterminate substances like jello, lava, quick sand, goo, play doo, mud seems to hold magical charm over us as children, and well beyond. Without too much effort, we can change it, manipulate it, poke it, stomp on it, and sink into it. It has neither the compacted sturdiness of the well-trodden earth, nor the accepting displacement of water. Instead, it exists in the middle, responding to our attentions, and clinging to our skin. It is able to receive, react, and hold the impact of our heavy footsteps and curious hands. It adheres to our skin, clothes, and boots, wanting to be taken elsewhere, to be part of us, and in return, slowly transforms these very surfaces, as it tightens and hardens, into earthen armor.
It’s unsurprising and very fitting to see, on this early spring day, a group of children exploring the mudflat. Instead of retreating to the safety of the open grass, the adventure of the muddy edge draws them in. Looking across, I can see impact of their footsteps as their roamings create a type of skewed scattered lattice across the mudflat. They progress, slowly, in an indeterminate fashion, farther out from shore, testing the sturdiness of mud, and their own comfort, before turning back around, crossing over their previous steps held still tightly in the ground.