I’ve always loved puddles. Not for their mud or water or the usual things puddles can offer, but for their possibilities.
They link me very strongly with happy memories from my childhood, and whenever I see one, I long to go find a stick and start playing in it.
We lived in a rural area when I was a child, and the woods and fields were my playground. It was old farmland so there were farm “dumps” on the property. My brother and I would play in these as young children and find discarded dishes, utensils, pots and pans. Why we didn’t cut ourselves on broken glass more often, I’ll never know.
We must have had guardian angels.
My mother was not happy to have us playing in these places, and when she caught us, would admonish us sternly to stay away from them. We just became more careful that she didn’t find us playing there. The lure for us was too strong.
Using what we would find in those dumps, we would “make meals” and set up housekeeping of sorts, or we would play “store.” We were limited only by our lucrative imaginations.
It was especially fun in the spring before the thick underbrush of the woods leafed out, and while there were standing puddles everywhere. We would use sticks to “fish” for leaves in the water, which magically transformed into beautiful fish, scales gleaming, before our eyes. Sometimes we would have contests to see who could “catch” the most “fish,” or the biggest one.
Submerged grass and weeds became garden greens to “cook” or salad greens, supplemented by acorns, small conifer cones or other salad-looking things around us. Rounded rocks became baked potatoes, and sand, dirt and pieces of decaying cedar tree foliage served as spices.
We would invite “guests” — mostly imaginary but sometimes in the form of our family mutt or one of our cats — and serve up what we considered gourmet meals to them.
Some puddles would have a little moving water, and we would turn pieces of bark and curled leaves into boats with sails or without, racing them, having an “ocean” battle or letting them float serenely to see where they would land.
We would seek out vernal pools and look for frog eggs, so that we might return and see the tadpoles and watch their progression into frogs.
Sometimes we would just use sticks to see what we could dig up out of the mud: maybe some pretty rocks or bugs, a piece of glass or crockery. Or maybe just mud. But we were hopeful of finding some long lost treasure.
We played for hours in puddles, got soaked to the skin and mucky from stem to stern, and couldn’t have been happier.
As I got a little older — still a child but thinking I was maybe more sophisticated — I would put on my rubber boots to walk through puddles, watching the muddy water to see what would bubble to the surface. I couldn’t seem to make myself avoid them. I just had to walk through them.
I liked to watch the water splash, to see how far the droplets would go when I stomped my booted feet into the water, or see the water swirl into patterns if I dragged my feet through it, trying to figure out what was under my rubber boots.
I would take my boots off too, and feel the soft mud on my feet.
Sometimes I would wonder, even though I had just seen the depression in the driveway or field empty of water a few days before, if the puddle actually was a gateway to another world. Would I step into the water and disappear, like “Alice in Wonderland”? I had to find out.
It conjured a brief moment of fear or uncertainty, but I would plunge ahead anyway, trusting common sense over imagination.
As an adult, I often look at the puddles in my driveway with longing for enough time to go play in them. Now my interaction with them is to drag sticks through the walls of mud that confine the liquid, draining the water onto the sloped lawn so the driveway can dry out.
It seems sacrilegious to me on some level.
I long for those days when I could occupy hours at a time playing in puddles, content with using my imagination and the few things I could scrounge around me. It seems like life is so much more complicated now.
Especially since I became a widow.
I don’t seem to have time for the simple things I enjoy so much. And when I do take an afternoon off from chores, I feel guilty for having wasted my time.
Is it because my husband Jim’s death pointed out to me the true uncertainty of life? Do I feel an urgency to fill every minute as full as I can? Or is it because there is just so much to do at my old farmhouse now that I am only one?
I don’t know that answer, but suspect it’s a combination of things. What I do know is that I need to give myself permission to enjoy the time I take for hobbies or just resting without feeling guilt. There are always chores to do. Always projects that need my attention. Always work.
And just maybe, I need to give myself permission to go play in a puddle.