All for photography: the muddy sufferings

Over Christmas, we briefly visited the town of Norwalk, Wisconsin where my grandparents live.

I shared a few pictures of their house a few weeks back, but while we were there I also wanted to take some emblematic pictures of small town Wisconsin.

My sister Heidi and I, plus our wonderful husbands, tramped on outside. It was cold, but we were determined to spend some time together, photograph stuff, and so forth. Heidi and I took pictures of each other against the backdrop of a worn old door.

(Side note: when I don’t look so great in a picture, my solution is to make it extra bright. It makes all the wrinkles and splotches disappear like magic! Badabing badaboom! It’s a terrible habit. I’ll try to break it . . . later.)

Heidi, on the other hand, needs no such help. She looks great au naturel.

We also forced my husband to pose.

We photographed the old Norwalk Creamery in its abandoned beauty. We walked to a park where we used to play as kids. Mike stuck his head in the jaw of a plastic lion. But after about half an hour, our faces were starting to freeze off, so we turned around. And then, I saw it.

The blue truck. I snapped a picture.

In my mind I could see a fabulously artistic shot of this truck, framed and glorious, on our wall, representing all of my Wisconsin roots with its gritty, practical, worn down, hard-working, mud-splattered vibes. But I wanted a slightly different angle. I started walking towards the river bed. The ground looked like packed dirt and it was certainly cold enough for it to be hard, possibly frozen. I skipped ahead, excited about the shot I was about to compose. But.


One of my shoes sunk into the ground a little. Instead of stopping in my tracks and considering the wisest course of action, I reacted by trying to prance forward fast, thinking that if I was quick and light on my feet, I could make it to a firmer spot.

Before I knew what was happening, one shoe was left behind in the mud, plunging my now naked foot into inches of very, very cold, very soft and cake-y mud. Unbalanced, I thrust forward with my other foot, with the exact same result.

Ack! I cried as my toes smooshed into the ground. My first thought was for my camera. Nothing could happen to my beautiful Nikon! My husband ventured forth a few cautious steps to take the camera out of my hands, and then I focused on retrieving my shoes.

Now that the camera was safely away from the mud pit and the shoes were no longer buried, my second thought was for my blog.

I was in the midst of a situation that could definitely turn into a blog post–if I had images to go along with it. “Take pictures!” I cried. “This must be documented!”

Finally, I made it back to the safety of the cement sidewalk.

Phew! Terra firma at last.

My feet were completely caked. The mud had been soft enough to let me sink but was hard enough to cling to my flesh like cement. My brother-in-law Mike, trained as he is in weird situations because of his army skills, instructed me to wipe my feet in the grass as much as possible. Frost bite must be avoided at all costs. By now, as you can imagine, I was starting to feel less than enthusiastic about my situation. To wit:

-There was no getting the mud off my feet without a bucket of warm water

-I sure as heck wasn’t going to put my muddy feet inside my shoes and ruin a perfectly awesome pair of black flats

-We were still very far away from my grandparents’ house

-It was freezing cold outside

-My feet were hurting, dangit–numb and throbbing in pain all at once

I tried walking, but after about a minute there was so much pain I couldn’t do it anymore. So my husband decided to carry me despite my protests.

However, I am heavy. I am taller than he is. And it was a long way back. So that solution wasn’t sustainable.

Mike piped in and suggested an alternate way of carrying me–and my husband promptly took heed and swung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Much more enjoyable for all involved.

As we walked through town, a small dog started to pursue us, barking and running and looking a little crazy in the eyes. I felt quite defenseless with my head dangling down–what if the little dog made a big leap and bit off my forehead or something?–so I scanned the area for the owner.

And there I saw her–an older woman, grim and serious, watching our odd procession from her door.

What must she have thought we were doing? The guy with the muddy-footed girl slung over his shoulder. The other girl and guy, both equipped with large cameras, snapping pictures of our progress right and left. Some kind of bizarre photo shoot?

I did what I thought would be natural in this odd situation–gave her my best possible grin (considering I was upside-down this may have looked like a grimace) and waved. Something like this.

She quickly turned tail and shut the door.

And all of this–the mud, the pain, the frightening of this small-town woman–it was all for the sake of one great shot of a blue truck . . . that I never did get in the end.

For those of you curious about the resolution:

-Back at the house, Dad bathed my feet in a bucket of warm water and removed all the mud. He thought the whole thing was hilarious. Feeling was restored to my numb extremities. Aren’t parents the best?

-No frost bite occurred.

-Mama Kitty gave me a cuddly pair of polka-dotted socks to baby my feet with. I wore them for about 5 days straight. No joke. In fact, here they are on the train ride back to Chicago.

-My shoes, with a little TLC in the bathtub with a rag, are now fully operational.

The end.

So! Now it’s your turn. Have you ever suffered for your art?

18 thoughts on “All for photography: the muddy sufferings

  1. Joanne

    This was by far one of your most adorable posts yet! I have this weird issue with my feet getting dirty…just the thought makes me toes curl in disgust. I would have been freaking.out.

  2. kate

    Jenna, this story is quite spectacular. I am struck by a couple things. First, why were you not wearing socks and more sufficient shoes for the expedition? Clearly your rugged Wisconsin practical roots need some renewing. On the other hand, your grandmother is quite a unique role model. The other thing that really stands out for me is how urban and sophisticated you look in Norwalk, even slung like a sack of potatoes- and that brings up my own complicated issues of guilt and love for my tiny rural Wisconsin driftless homeland. Ah well. Anyway you look fricking GORGEOUS here by the way! No need for lightening the photo when you are laughing and your heart is open. -xoxo kate

    1. Jenna Post author

      Well, I don’t think I realized it was quite as cold as it was when we left the house, so I didn’t feel the need to wear socks. I started regretting this decision about 10 minutes into our walk, maybe less. Also, I was trying to pack light during our week-long trip away from home, so I didn’t pack boots . . . next time, boots!

  3. Veronica Miller

    Thank you for satisfying my curiosity about those muddy feet photos you posted on fb! I just couldn’t figure out WHY you would do such a thing-I thought it was on purpose! lol. Like, ooooh, look, here’s some ice cold mud. I’m gonna take off my shoes and squish my toes in it! lol. Almost losing your feet from frostbite for the want of a good photo, however is totally understandable-I would do it! I wish I could think o fall the times I suffered for my own art (btw, thank you for remembering your blog and telling them to take pics), which would probably be cake decorating, but I’m too amused by your own situation to think of any of my own. Love it!

    1. Jenna Post author

      The fact that you would think I’d do that on purpose cracks me up. Yes, I’m a little crazy, and apparently you have my number. =) But no, this was totally unexpected and slightly painful, heh heh.

      1. Veronica Miller

        My assuming it was purposeful probably reflects more on my own craziness than yours. 🙂 You had no captions so I had to imagine the circumstances and what I came up with was you in the back yard accidentally walking in mud and then, once your shoes were ruined, you might have said “what the heck, photo opportunity!” and tossed them aside to squish your toes in it. Don’t worry, I don’t think your crazy! lol

  4. Kimby

    Jenna, this was such a heartwarming (and foot-warming for you, eventually!) post. Your antics make me smile!

    The worst I’ve encountered photography-wise was to endure about 500 chigger bites (for 2 months…!!!) after a blackberry picking adventure in the wilds of Oklahoma — but the pictures turned out great! (Plus I had a freezer full of blackberries as consolation for my utter lack of knowledge re: chigger prevention.) My main concern at the time was wild boars in the area… now THAT would’ve involved some high speed photography — I’m thankful I didn’t have to “learn from experience.” Thanks again for your wonderful writing and photos!

  5. Suzie

    Great story Jenna and great pics…all of them. Your hubby carrying you is so sweet and your muddy feet too funny, except for how cold you got!! I too have done some crazy things for the perfect photo 🙂

  6. Julie M.

    Oh.My.Gawd. That was an absolutely fabulous post. I have tears running down my cheeks from giggling. Girl, you are Wisconsin through and through.

    On a totally different note, I’m heading up through Chi-town on my way to Wisconsin this summer. We should definitely do coffee, pizza, or something else that’s just as flavorful. 🙂

  7. Tonya

    This post made me LOL! You are such a hoot, girl! Have you ever heard of Waders? My country boy wears them when he goes fishing. Think giant rubber pants-boots worn with attached suspenders. This may be a safe option for you for your next um, “Walk”. {tee hee} 🙂

  8. Jen

    I often wonder what my landlady and roommates think when random giggling and shrieks of laughter can be heard coming from my corner of the apartment. I really ought to just tell them that it generally means I’m reading about another one of your escapades. Or maybe I’ll just let them be mystified and weirded out.

    Oooh! And then to really freak them out I should occasionally break out my evil I’m-taking-over-the-world laugh. He he. Ha ha. Hahaha. MWAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Ahem. Sorry about that. Periodically my nefarious, power-hungry self comes out for a little airing.

    Your pictures are great, as always.


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