The Joy Of Mud

Campers playing in the mud are living in the moment, enjoying the outdoors without worrying about the clean up later.

As part of an educator’s job at Audubon Community Nature Center, I act as a counselor for the camps Audubon offers, both week-long summer camps and single day camps on holidays when kids are off from school. It’s a fun job, seeing Audubon through the eyes of the kids and exploring the natural world with them.

There are a few times, however, when I’ve been watching my campers and think to myself “Maybe I should stop them”. This thought happens when the kids are verging on more dangerous forms of play (we do allow risk-taking to a certain point, but some campers are a little more daring than we are comfortable with), or when the kids are having trouble negotiating through a disagreement with other campers.

Last week, 45 minutes before parents were arriving to take their kids home, my group of 12 campers was exuberantly sliding down a hill of mud, covering themselves and each other from head to toe in sticky, silty, brown goo. They were having an absolute blast.

My adult brain immediately jumped to the imminent problem of getting them all in a semi-clean state for pick up. It was a job that looked more impossible by the second. But as I watched the campers, laughing and smiling without a care in the world, I knew I couldn’t stop it. This was the essence of Audubon camp, letting kids have a good time in nature, even if that means getting muddy.

So, I let the mud slide continue, and somewhat sheepishly radioed the Camp Director asking for help. With towels and trash bags for muddy clothes in hand, we were able to get the crew cleaned up in time for pick up.

Play is an essential component of childhood. Audubon offers camps that focus on free play and exploration.

We had done a lot of activities that day. When I took the kids out for some end-of-day fun at the Nature Play Area, I wasn’t expecting it to turn into a mud fest, but that unexpected play turned into the best part of the campers’ day. As a counselor, you always hope that the activities, crafts, and games you plan are fun for the campers, but if working at Audubon camp has taught me anything, it is this: no matter how much time and effort you put into planning, the joy found from simply playing in nature will always win out.

In a way, I am jealous of the campers as I watched them slip and slide down the muddy hill, without a care in the world or a thought about how they were going to get cleaned up to go home. I wished I was one of them. I wanted to throw off my counselor cap, become 10 years old again, and slide down that muddy hill.

Watching the campers on the mudslide was the perfect reminder of what it was like to feel the simple joys of childhood: simply enjoying the activity at hand, living in the moment, and not worrying about the clean-up in the future. I miss that state of mind, but as I get older, it’s one I find harder and harder to enter. It’s difficult not to worry about what’s going to happen in the future, from large scale life events to smaller day-to-day tasks, it’s hard to get lost in the moment.

Kids have the incredible ability to do just that, and it’s an ability I would like to try to regain. There was a time when I didn’t worry about the inevitable clean up after getting muddy, or how tired I’d be the next day if I stayed up late, or the number of dishes I’d need to clean after cooking a meal. I simply enjoyed the act itself and dealt with the consequences later. And while forethought is an important tool to have, there are times when it can, and should, be turned off, and allow us to live in the moment.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Audubon’s day camps provide opportunities for children to have a positive experience outdoors. Scholarships are available. The trails and outdoor facilities are open from dawn to dusk. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Mud provides endless amounts of amusement and fun for campers, from building mud sculptures, to donning mud face paint.


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