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Posts Tagged ‘walking barefoot’

For six decades, my feet have touched the earth. This did not seem a consequential thing before, but I have learned otherwise.

I grew up on the shores of San Pablo Bay. While, behind me, the dark oases of live oaks studded the rolling golden hills, I walked unshod down the shingled shore, the smooth curves of wave-worn pebbles pressing upward into the flesh of my bare feet. I would gather kelp vines to use as bullwhips, challenge fiddler crabs to duels, and with a poked finger annoy the anemones until they spat. My bare toes gripped the ragged rim of a tidepool’s edge, and my arches provided stability as I balanced on weather-beaten logs. To my bare feet, the cool water and the hot stones were as natural as the salt air and the scent of baking seaweed were to my lungs.

Then, with shoelaces tied together and draped over my neck, I kept my shoes dry as I crossed the tidal marsh that lay between shore and home,. Navigating past clumps of reeds, gently pushing aside the serrated blades of pampas grass, I let my feet breach the brackish water, sink into the yellow mud, continue down through muck the color of rust, until they hit the underlayment of fetid black peat, the foul and oily rot squishing upward between my toes. Here, shoes were worthless, destined (if used) to be left behind in a muddy grave or, worse, to survive for a few brief and redolent hours on the front stoop before my mother gave up and threw their ruined stink into the trash.

When school let out for summer, my friends and I tossed our tattered Keds aside and headed up into the sun-bleached hills behind our homes. We followed creekbeds and ridgelines, slid on the fragrant mat beneath the eucalyptus trees, and winced as spiny oak leaves pierced our callused feet. Come late August, with back-to-school sales shouting from every newspaper and TV ad, I’d be given new shoes, along with my mother’s admonition to take care of them this time because she wouldn’t be buying me any replacements.

To be safe, I rarely wore them outside of school.

In the time between those days and now, I maintained my contact with the earth, barefooting my way through the years. Working in my gardens, shaded by their canopy of spruce and fir and maple, I felt with each step the sun-warmed grass, the cushioned mat of russet needles, the crunch of pinecones, the coolth of upturned soil, and always I reveled in the chthonic energy that flowed upward from earth to sole to crown. My feet are still callused, though now mostly from walking on pavement than traipsing across youthful hills, but lately, age has begun to make its effects known.

An injured ligament across the left arch and instep has required support beyond what my bare feet can provide, for which I resorted to an ankle brace and bindings. The foot has improved, albeit with glacial speed, to the point where the tight grip of the bindings is not always required, but sadly, the foot is not yet able to go it alone, and so a shoe (with arch support) is needed.

The practice of walking shod was melted out of my DNA by the sun of many summers and so, even though it lessens the pain, wearing shoes around the house feels alien and unnatural. I feel as if I’m just passing through my own home, on my way to somewhere else, some place where bare feet are a faux pas.

My heart holds tight the hope that this is a temporary condition and not the first step down some inexorable decline, and that by the solstice I will once again be able to feel the ground beneath my feet, but there is no guarantee. Meanwhile, I will practice patience; but do not be surprised if, now and again, I leave my shoes on the bottom step and walk out to spend a few minutes standing barefoot beneath the garden’s green-leafed roof.

k

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