muddy hem sisterhood-lesley austin

was born while I was away in the West, walking the dry, rocky, wildflower-dotted paths in New Mexico and Colorado. No muddy hems to be seen. It was mostly too dry, but I neglected to take any long skirts (mostly leggings and short, soft dresses)…so…no hems to be muddied. I should have been less practical, and felt more comfortable on occasion, if I had packed a long frock or two in my valise…

Home now, my closet of dresses gets more use than my drawer of leggings. And as the early-autumn, cricket-songed days are here, boots join the dresses…sometimes a wrap or shawl…and I feel most myself again.


I think often of our sisterhood now, a sisterhood that can trace its lineage down through the ages. But precious now, as hems and all that may cling to them are not so common as they were. Sarah put it so beautifully…

“There’s something quietly fulfilling about coming home trailing dust, brambles, tiny white wings of dandelion clocks, or with a sea-soaked hem clinging to your ankles. It reminds a woman that she is part of the furry brown body of the goddess.”

-Sarah Elwell


I don’t know if I have ever had a muddy hem (no stiles! no dirt paths!) but I’ve had many a prickled, and briared skirt and type this now in my dew-wet dress. I avoided the stick-seeds that fill our fields at this time of year when I pedaled near their edges this morning. But even as I pulled my skirt aside, I remembered the passages in Prodigal Summer (which I recently read and loved-thank you dear Kyce), when they spoke with sighing acceptance and ordinariness about the cockle-burrs they would have to spend time plucking from their clothing after walks in certain places. The book was full of the conflict-in intimate, everyday ways-within people and between them as they either attempt to adapt the land to their own purposes or attune themselves and their ways to the land.


Muddy, seed-spattered hems are one form of attunement…a conversation between women and the wild…one I hope to have often in these gossamer-strung, mist-dappled, butterfly-flitted days.

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact, Louisa,” said Bingley; “but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well, when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.”

“You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley, “and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition.”

“Certainly not.”

“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ancles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to shew an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country town indifference to decorum.”

“It shews an affection for her sister that is very pleasing,” said Bingley.

“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”

“Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.”

Miss Bingley on Elizabeth Bennett

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen


Are you a wild, scampering, blowsy, independent, brightened sort of woman, too?