Few experiences are as alarming as sinking up to your waist in a quagmire. Having blundered into a quagmire, because you were not looking where you were going, your immediate reaction will probably be to shout your head off, calling for help, and to flail your arms in a haphazard manner, hoping perhaps to summon rescue by visual as well as auditory means. Unfortunately, it so happens that the overwhelming majority of quagmires are to be found in rustic settings, with low population density, rather than in the hurly burly of our crowded cities, where you could confidently expect at least one passer-by in the teeming urban throng to notice your pickle and dash to your assistance, perhaps with a winch. Out in the countryside, depending upon how remote from human habitation it is, hours or days or even weeks might elapse before some wayfarer comes striding past the quagmire to witness your plight. That is not to say that urban quagmires do not exist, but they tend to be spiritual ones, quags of moral turpitude, and they need not concern us here.

If it was shortly after dawn that you sank into your quagmire, bleary-eyed on a morning hike, you at least know that you have many hours of light ahead, and this knowledge should help you to keep your pecker up. After all, statistically, the longer the daylight, the more chance there is of a peasant passing by. I have not studied statistics, and of course there are all sorts of variables to take into account, but I think I can safely say that you have more reason for optimism if you have sunk into a quagmire early in the morning rather than at dusk, as the sun sinks in the west and the sky turns black. You can adjust the intensity of your hope or hopelessness based on what o’ clock it is when you sink, for of course it may be neither dawn nor dusk but two-thirty in the afternoon or one minute past midnight. If the latter, should you survive your ordeal, you would be well-advised to review your decision to go marching about the bleak countryside in the middle of the night, and resolve not to do so in future, if it can at all be avoided.

For the purposes of our blathering, let us assume it is mid-morning, and summer, and thus many hours of daylight lie ahead. You have spent, I would guess, about ten minutes bellowing and waving, to no avail, before you apprehend the futility of doing so. The effort you have expended has served to exhaust you. You are tempted to weep. Around you, the countryside is still and silent, save for a breeze rustling the leaves of the trees, the chirrup and tweet and caw and boom of birds, the scurrying in the undergrowth of busy moles and other habitu├ęs of field and mud and duff. For the countryside is never truly still, nor truly silent.

And the pong! I have not yet mentioned that. One of the salient features of the average quagmire is that foul mephitic fumes rise from it. You would naturally want to cover your nose with the embroidered linen handkerchief you keep in your trouser pocket, but of course both pocket and handkerchief, and indeed trousers, are submerged in the quagmire. You have no choice but to snuff up the noisome stench. After an hour or so, you will get used to it, so there is another reason to look on the bright side.

Another thing I have not mentioned is the possibility that, stricken with panic, you may have struggled to kick your legs, down there in the filthy gloop. This is a very bad idea indeed. If you do manage to move your lower limbs about, even a tiny bit, the resulting dislodgement of some of the sludge may make you sink further. It is bad enough having sunk up to your waist. Imagine how much more alarming it would be if you plunged in further, up to your neck. Actually, do not imagine that, because it will make you terrified, and it is absolutely critical that you keep your wits about you. A person in a quagmire is still a person.

It is a great pity that only in fairy stories do we find talking animals. As the day passes, any number of creatures may come to gaze upon you, their curiosity stirred, their tiny stupid brains wondering if you might be food. Squirrels, reindeer, puff adders, or, from above, vultures, to give just four examples. Would that one of them could comprehend human speech and relay a message on your behalf! Some beasts are more intelligent than others, such as dolphins and pigs and crows, but even they cannot speak the Queen’s English. You can at least take comfort that none of the animals that come to look at you is prepared to scamper or creep or crawl or slither or slink across the quagmire, there to devour you, flesh and bone.

From time to time, especially as the evening draws on, it is a good idea to resume your shouting and gesticulating, just in case a countryside person happens to be passing, on foot or by bicycle or astride a horse pulling a cart. But what if nobody comes?

What if nobody comes? One thing we can be sure of is that the sun will set, the sky will turn black, myriad stars will twinkle upon you, in your quagmire.

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