By Emma Roth, Nature Educator

I get impatiently excited at this time of year as I eagerly await the arrival of my favorite season: spring. This year, however, I’m feeling somewhat disappointed. The Skunk Cabbage has started to bloom, and the Red-winged Blackbirds are back. Both are signs that spring is approaching. Usually, I welcome these signs after a long winter. This year, I can’t help but ask “that was it?”

Last winter was my first winter living in Jamestown, and I’ve come to realize that I was spoiled. I went snowshoeing, skiing, and hiking almost every weekend in a winter wonderland. Many evenings were spent watching the snow fall quietly outside my windows. By the end of winter, I was certainly excited and ready for the warmth of spring.

This year, the snow was lack-luster. There were no large storms, and any snow on the ground melted quickly. There was no snowshoeing, and the only skiing occurred on man-made snow. The calm snow evenings have been few and far between. This was the winter of mud.

So, in an effort to overcome my disappointment, I decided to focus on the glories of mud. That ooey, gooey, dirty substance we usually try to avoid. Mud has a variety of positive uses, both in the natural and human worlds. It just takes a bit of time to realize it.

In nature, mud has many great uses for the plants and animals that live with it. It is an irreplaceable building supply for many creatures. Robins use mud to cement their nests together. The combination of dried grasses and mud all smashed together makes a surprisingly strong nest to keep the eggs and hatchlings safe.

Robin Nest Photo by Jeff Tome

Beavers are also famous for using mud in their dams. They rather adorably walk around carrying mud with their front feet, then press the mud into their dams using their paws. The mud acts as both cement and waterproofing material to make their dams strong and efficient.

There are even insects that rely on mud for their homes. Many insects live in the mud and dirt of the forest floor, eating and tunneling their way through. Mud daubers, a type of wasp, build long tubes out of mud on the sides of trees or buildings which shelter the eggs and larvae as they grow.

Mud is undoubtedly an important part of the natural world, but what about our human world? Most people aren’t a fan of mud. It gets things dirty, it’s slippery, and can often come with a bad smell. I, like many people, often find myself trying to avoid mud when possible.

Mud Dauber Nest photo by Jeff Tome

However, if you’ve spent any amount of time with kids outdoors, you start to see mud differently. When we have camps at Audubon, it’s next to impossible to keep the children away from the mud, and we embrace that. I’ve seen mud used as an art supply for painting and sculpting. Campers paint mud stripes on their arms and legs to help them camouflage during games. They use it to cool off in the summer, and to simply splash and have fun in.

And while playing and experimenting in the mud, they are bound to encounter the critters that also call the mud home. It turns into a natural learning activity as they watch the worms burrow deeper into the mud after being exposed to the air. They find animal tracks coating the surface. The mud creates a canvas that records the comings and goings of the natural world.

The benefits of mud aren’t limited to children who want to play in it. Mud has been used in human constructions for thousands of years as a building material. It is also used for health and healing, and while I don’t know too much of the science behind it, mud masks and baths are enjoyed regularly by many people.

So, with the knowledge of these benefits, will I fully embrace mud in all aspects of my life? Absolutely not. I will still try to avoid walking through muddy puddles. I’ll get annoyed when I accidentally splash mud on my freshly cleaned clothes. And I’ll still be a little bitter about the overwhelming presence of it this winter. But knowing the benefits and remembering the joy it brings to both animals and people, makes the winter less disappointing, because while I missed my winter wonderland, a muddy wonderland was enjoyed by many.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. 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 or by calling (716) 569-2345.