Old Paths, New Boots

I’m a walker. Every morning I lace up my boots, pull on my bug shirt, and head out along the paths behind my house. If I’m not at home, I search for the closest trail or forge a new one. Over the years I have hiked the mountains of British Columbia and the forests of Algonquin Provincial Park, the sandy belly of Bulls Island in South Carolina, the remote backcountry of Denali in Alaska. Most of these trails are rugged, but sometimes a paved path can provide a lesson or two. My boots have taken me from one Dayton Metro Park to the other and around the asphalt walkway at the Yankee Trace Golf Course. Show me a path to follow, or one to blaze, and I’m there. Broken-in, sturdy, my hikers have been constant companions for more than ten years, unyielding on the rocks of Maine, unintimidated by the climbs in France, unwavering through the boggy forests of northern Michigan.  They have carried me through heat, rain, and snow as I explore the wonder of the natural  world. Imagine, then, my sorrow when the footwear that accompanied me on these jaunts lost their soles. Oh, the humanity!

Mourning the loss of not one, but two pair, of comfortable, broken-in, stoic boots, I actually considered having them repaired. Then I took a closer look. One pair no longer repelled water. Every time I wore them, they made those weird squelching sounds, and my socks would be wet enough to wring out. The other pair simply sighed and separated at the seams, the right sole flapping awkwardly as I surveyed the wildflower garden at the end of my walk. To be fair, my boots had been warning me, the leather uppers creaking, the tread all but lost. For months I kept telling myself it wasn’t that bad, but the truth is, it was. Like all things man-made, my boots had reached their endpoint of usefulness.

In the book and the movie based on Cheryl Strayed’s novel “Wild,” when her footwear gave out, she simply ordered a new pair from the outfitter and they appeared at a check point. Oh, that such restoration were available to casual but committed hikers like me. Anyway, you know where this going. I liberated the laces, tossed the old boots, not without trepidation, and went on the hunt for a new pair. But I sought not just any boots. The new ones needed to be just like the old ones. High tops to give my ankles support on rugged terrain. Laces just the right size for double knots, made of fabric that didn’t  untied halfway along the route. My new boots needed to have arch support to match the configuration of my feet. In other words, reincarnation! Except no one makes the exact same kind of boots now. I prowled the Internet, used the brand name to narrow my search, Googled and Amazoned and L.L. Beaned. Each retailer had a good selection to offer, but no way was I leaving this choice to chance.

I prefer to try boots on. Fit is everything when you’re miles out from your base. Will they breathe with me? Keep my feet dry? Are they too heavy? Do they flex over difficult terrain? Will the new boots carry me along those old paths, grow into comfort, ease concerns during difficult passages? Will the new boots sustain me as I continue to rack up miles and memories? After scouring the local markets, I end up at Field & Stream, where a delicious dark-brown ankle-high pair of Timberlands catch my eye. They slide on easily, glide over the fitting area floor, and steal my heart. Just to be certain, I try on other brands, but the Timbies win out.

Stepping out on the trail, feet snug in the new boots, I ponder the connection between walking and writing. My literal boots carry me forward. How about my literary boots? What supports me as I follow this literary journey? Am I writing through familiar territory or exploring new lands? Am I following an old path or charting the untrod trail? Since I have added poetry to the mix of things I write, am I tightening the laces of my desire? Will I stay on the familiar until I reach the spot where the known trail ends and the unknown begins? The joy is in the journey, they say. I’m inclined to agree.

Perhaps you, too, stand there, boots laced, walking/writing stick in hand, deciding whether to go on or go back. Trust those new boots and plunge ahead. Beauty waits. Discovery beckons. You and your new boots were made for this.

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