That magical muck

The mudflats of the tidal marshes of Sandy Hook Bay or any of the brackish creeks closer to home exhale a sharp, salty smell at low tide. Some might call it rank or putrid, but to me it smells like home. I know very well the wealth of fidgety creatures that lay exposed at low tide in that slick, smelly mud.

Very few of us have the good fortune to live as adults in the same places we knew so intimately as children. Set me in some other landscape, one of rolling hills or towering evergreen woodlands, and I can imagine myself reeling and disoriented, wondering from which direction the scent of salt water will come.

The landscape of one’s childhood is all magic and heart. For me, that magic is more about the smell of seaweed than of hay. It comes from knowing where the masses of swallows will gather in late summer or when to find scoters and scaup playing at the edge of the sea or which stand of beach plum produces every year regardless of the vagaries of weather.

This deep intimacy with a place is learned slowly; little bits of wisdom accumulated by observing the rhythms of days and years until one’s fluent with the language of a place. Anywhere else I’d miss the clamor of laughing gulls and the fall bloom of the groundsel tree, the hiss of wind across the dunes and the greening of the cordgrass in late spring. I’d miss the presence of the sea and the smell of that magical muck as the tide shrinks.

What intimate details do you recall from the landscape you grew up in? Things that only a child could know… maybe it’s the sweet scent of honeysuckle, the glow of tamaracks in fall, a pale moon in the desert, or the taste of windfall apples… tell me what you remember and long for.


12 thoughts on “That magical muck”

  1. Your so right: I’m a native Marylander … and I call it “The Mudderland” … and literally know the particular spot that I grew up like the back of my hand. It’s always there in the back of my mind.

  2. Dear Laura,

    Once again, your flair for writing knocks me over to the point I’m struggling to remember…

    Yes, honeysuckle, always. Salty, weedy ocean breezes on vacations on the Atlantic. I still crave the smell of deep-fried french fries, carmamel corn, and cotton candy on the boardwalk, the aroma and taste of Maryland Steamed Crabs, and the squawking of gulls overhead, heard above the the high tide. On normal days at home as a child, the smell of dirt, sweat, and the taste of sap from trees we examined. We were dirt digging, happy kids.

    And, transit bus gas in the city. It’s been YEARS since I smelled it – always meaning a trip to downtown for lunch and shopping :o)


  3. The trees in the woods around our southern New England home. In particular, the witchazel tree that would flower this time of year. The seed pods that formed would open explosively, shooting the seeds out into the forest. I miss that tree …

  4. I don’t have as many outside memories from our house as much as I do at my grandparent’s house. I remember the smell of honeysuckle and distinctly remember cracking black walnuts on their sidewalk, eating huge muscadine grapes off the vine, fresh strawberries and cherry tomatoes from their garden. And, truly, if I close my eyes, I can smell both my grandmother’s chicken and her breakfasts.

  5. You take us there with you and let us experience it with you!

    I recall the sounds and smells of the fireplace in our livingroom with a crackling fire. I remember the front porch during a thunder and lightning storm in the summer, the rain beating on the roof. And I remember the wonderful smell of the woods where we played and the hushed sounds of the stream and the small animals moving in the brush but hidden from sight.

  6. My hometown hasn’t changed much and now I only live 30 miles from there, so really my whole life hasn’t changed much. What I miss most is the train and the sound of the train whistle. We used to have a train come through twice a day and it was always an event for us and the neighbor kids to pedal our bikes out the crushed rock road to wave at the engineer as he chugged into town.

  7. Oh Laura…
    I remember the sound of the wind through the trees at my grandma’s house (wish I knew what kind they were, because they emitted a particular whishing sound in the wind–never heard it with any other kind of tree), the drone of crop-dusting planes in the distance over the fields, the smell of orange blossoms all over the Valley, the taste of my mother’s cooking.

  8. The smell of the fresh hay and raw peanuts in my grandfather’s barn. My cousin and I would steal my aunt’s “True Confessions” magazines and sit in the barn reading the wonderfully naughty stories. We would eat raw peanuts until we had stomach aches and listen to the rain on the tin roof. I haven’t thought of that for years. Thanks for reminding us to reflect on those days.

    BTW: I looked up the Adam and Eve sculptures. Thank you SO much for not doing a full frontal of Adam.

  9. The taste of Grandma’s angel food cake…the green smell from the crushed walnuts in her driveway…the dust floating in their barn…the mint-flavored chapstick always in my Grandpa’s front shirt pocket…hiding with my cousins in the rustling cornfield when it was time to go home…
    BTW: I wish you WOULD have posted full-frontal Adam.
    : )

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