Saturday, March 24, 2007

How did mud get such a bad name?

My love affair with mud goes way back, but it is in the spring, as the last bits of dirty snow melt or get rinsed away by April showers, and as the frost starts to let go of it's icy hold on the dull and dirty looking earth, and as there seems to be a growing grumble about the mud that I remind myself how I first developed an appreciation of mud. It happens every year; gentle but persistent voices start to remind me that the parking lot is muddy, the paths are muddy, shoes are getting muddy, BMWs are getting muddy, "why haven't you covered all these surfaces in asphalt, for Pete's sake?" Back in the early 90s, we were in the early stages of determining what kind of spa Ste. Anne's was going to be. In my not very spa savvy mind, I had decided that in order to be taken seriously as a spa, we needed to have some kind of immersion baths. I'm quite sure this was before the age of the Internet; because the process of researching anything to do with spas was quite arduous. I was somehow lead to believe that a tour of Quebec spas would teach me everything I wanted to know, so we set off to Montreal in search of spas with immersion baths. After visiting a tourist information centre in Montreal, where no-one seemed to know what we were talking about, we finally found a guidebook on the eastern townships. The guidebook featured several spas along highway 10, en route to Magog. On our way we went, only to find out that several of these spas had hydrotherapy tubs, and some used mud in body wraps, none offered the full immersion type bath experience that we were seeking. Back at home, I somehow found a reference to Calistoga, California, as the home to a cluster of spas built around hot mineral springs and mud baths. From what I can remember, we spent about 4 days in Calistoga going from one mud bath to the next; I don't recommend this. As it turned out, the first one ended up being the most memorable, although we picked up the mud bath intelligence we were looking in bits and pieces along the way. The first one we booked into was called Nance's Hot Springs. This place has been around for a long time. To say it was earthy would be an understatement, and a bit of a pun. However, when I lowered my body into the somewhat smelly mud, I had a very powerful, somewhat spiritual revelation. Immersed in the very thick, somewhat prickly mixture (prickly from the Ontario peat moss that was combined with volcanic ash to make the mud) I felt at one with the earth. As I was lying there, it occurred to me that even when we aren't surrounded by such a dense molecular structure, i.e., when we are surrounded by air, we are all connected and part of a wonderful, symbiotic living organism, otherwise referred to as a planet. I've never forgotten that experience, and I was deeply moved by this revelation. Once back in Ontario, we searched the world over to find a mud for our newly constructed mud baths, which wehad built based on the principles we had studied in Calistoga. Ultimately a spa owner in Hawaii referred me to the Mud Man (Marc Ste. Onge, owner of Golden Moor Mud), located about 3 hours from Ste. Anne's Spa, in Casselman, Ontario. Marc sent us some mud to experiment with, and we loved it. It was the by-product of a glacial lake bottom, silky smooth and chock full of natural goodness. The only problem was that it wasn't thick enough to stand up to the cleansing process that needed to take place between mud bath patrons. After some more research we decided to mix our mud with clay from Saskatchewan which thickened the moor mud, giving it a silky smooth consistency. So, there it is, my rationale for celebrating the mud of spring that gets on ours shoes, our pants, and our cars. Whether it is in a mud bath at a spa, or in a mud bath in a thawing field or a river bank, I think of it as a wonderful reminder of the miracle of life that springs from the mixture of soil, water and sunshine (otherwise known as mother earth) that brings us pleasure in such a multitude of wonderful ways. So don't expect to see asphalt at Ste. Anne's any time soon!

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