mud-playI like mud. I always have, judging from this picture of me at the age of three. (That’s my sister in the background, looking appalled.) To play in the mud is to embrace the funky side of life, getting dirty, wet, and cold, and loving it.

Today, I thought about my lifelong affinity for mud as I dug a big hole in the backyard. It’s been raining for weeks, and the soil is pure squishy, squelchy clay, the kind that sticks to your shovel and pulls your boots off when you try to take a step.

The hole is for an ornamental pool I’m installing in the shade garden that borders a small stream on the edge of the yard. The garden has two things I like very much: lots of rocks and the music of running water. An old cement Buddha will sit on the edge of the pool, adding his contemplative air to the scene.

I used to be a mad keen gardener, maintaining several large, sunny, flower-filled perennial beds. A lot of edging, mulching, weeding and dividing went into those gardens. When we moved to the Cape, I thought I would continue gardening, but no – I discovered that I didn’t want to.  The Cape has so much natural beauty — available with no work all – that it just seems silly to exert a lot of effort creating beauty in such a place.

The only part of the yard that drew me was the shady area along the stream, where I planted ferns, moss, and big-leaved hostas. I like the way this garden marks the boundary between the civilized lawn and the wildness beyond. On the other side of the stream, multiflora roses, catbriar, horsetail and skunk cabbage grow rampant, just waiting for a chance to jump the stream and take over the planet. I give this garden just enough attention to keep chaos at bay. The other day a friend suggested I add some flowers for color, but I’m happy with greenness, water, and stone.

The Japanese have a word I like: wabi-sabi, which refers to the beauty of things that are irregular, disordered, imperfect, decaying. Children instinctively understand this, but as adults, we tend to go for the clean, sunny, colorful, and well-ordered. Then we begin to age, and rediscover the appeal of wabi-sabi. It’s not that we don’t appreciate a garden in full flower, but we also find appeal in places that are damp, shady, and a little wild. Even the appeal of mud season.