The Scratching Log

Blog for Ratha series home-page website. Posted by author Clare Bell.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Ratha and Author Play "Mud-kitty"

My hubby, Chuck, and I installed a new spring-box yesterday. We live in a remote area west of Patterson, CA, and we get our water from a spring on our land. We have a mountain just in back of the place and the spring is way-the-hell-and-gone up the mountain. Water from the spring flows into a collection box, then into a sedimentation box (where all the sand and grit and so forth settles out), then into three water tanks located downhill from the spring. A line down the mountain gives us fresh water at high pressure (try 120 psi) that supplies the household and hoses to fight wildfires if needed.

Due to age and lack of rainfall in the area (an effect of climate change/global warming, probably) our water reserve has been falling. We decided to dig out behind the spring and enlarge the box. Because of the location, we have to do the digging by hand. Chuck's son, Heath, did most of the excavation, creating a muddy pit behind the existing spring-box.

Since I don't mind getting completely soaked in our canyon's plus-100 dry heat (which enables cooling by evaporation), I took over the final phase of the excavation, sitting in the water using a garden cultivating tool and trowel to go down the remaining one-foot depth. Since it was sandy, gravelly, relatively "clean" dirt, I just took my shoes off and plunged in. Since there was no shade on the excavation, I used the few inches of water in the bottom to soak my cotton pants and shirt while flinging muddy gravel out with a shovel, the trowel and my hands. I even rolled in it when my clothes started to dry off.

I became aware that I was getting incredibly dirty by the grin on Chuck's face. Even my glasses were spattered and don't even ask about the hair, although I do wear a hat. I made jokes about piggies in wallows and mud puppies. The water, however, kept me cucumber-cool and I didn't shed sweat like my poor hubby, who was digging on the drier ground. I invited him to join me, but for some reason he declined. Guess he's not the amphibious type. He also tolerates heat better than I do.

I believe that the secret of getting something done is to get as comfortable as possible while doing it. And in 106-degree dry California heat, it is hard. But, by playing "mud-puppy", or, rather, "mud-kitty" I managed to work the whole day and we got the installation done.

I had so much fun that I volunteered to do it again if needed (we may develop another spring).

Then I thought of the passage in my book Clan Ground, where Ratha, Thakur, and others of the Named dig the ditch they use to flood Shongshar's evil fire-den. They do this in the rainy season, so everything is mucky. On my knees in the water, scooping up gravel with one cupped hand while supporting myself on the other, I thought of Ratha, exhausted, soaking wet and dirty, pawing rocks and dirt from the bottom of the trench.

Here's Ratha playing "mud-kitty" (but not enjoying it as much as I did). This is from Clan Ground, pp 238-239, the new Firebird Books paperback (release date July 19, 2007!) Any typos in this are from the author entering the text. Thakur is the clan's herding teacher and Ratharee is a treeling, a lemur-like animal that the Named cats keep as pets and companions.

Overhead, the clouds grumbled and the rain began. At first it was light and helped by softening the ground so that the work went faster. As it grew into a pelting downpour, the bottom of the trench became a bog. The diggers fought to keep their footing on the slick clay and frequently fell into puddles or accidentally spattered each other with the pawfuls of mud they flung aside. Their small companions began to look less like treelings and more like soggy mudballs.

At the end of the day, Ratha would crawl shivering from the trench, her coat soaked, her underside and flanks grimy with clay and gravel. Once she was under shelter, Ratharee made an a determined attempt to groom her, but the treeling often so exhausted that she fell asleep when she had barely begun. Ratha was so tired that she didn't care.

The work grew more difficult and task seemed endless. Sometimes Ratha, in her haze of fatigue, couldn't remember what the purpose of it was. She felt as though she had spent her life scraping away at this wretched hole and would do so for the rest of her existence. When at last Thakur leaned down into the trench again and cried "Stop!," she paid no attention to him and kept on digging mechanically until water began seeping through gravel and soil at her feet.

She felt Thakur drop into the ditch beside her, seize her scruff and shake her. "Ratha, stop! We're finished. If you go any farther, the water-path will flood before we're ready."

She blinked, trying to pull herself out of her daze. She scrambled out of the trench after Thakur and saw that he was right. Only the remaining thin wall of earth held back the stream. When the time came, they would dig at the embankment to weaken it until it broke, sending the flow down the spillway, into the hollow and down the cracks that vented the cave below. The cave-fire would perish in a rush of water, and those who tended it would be swept away.

Despite her exhaustion, Ratha felt a surge of triumph. She was ready. Now all that remained was to wait.

(end of chapter 18)

I've played "mud-kitty" many times in various projects, so I imagine I used some of that experience on Ratha. Not that she necessarily appreciates it, however. Yes, I took a long shower afterward.

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