Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Barefoot Walks and Moments

I’ve written a few times on this blog about going barefoot. I like having at least a few times during the summer when I can go barefoot. Our previous neighborhood was a wonderful place to stroll shoeless. The relatively new sidewalks were smooth and warm. One neighbor often went barefoot when she walked her dog; she had on her work clothes but kicked off her shoes before taking her buddy out on his leash.

Sometimes, during a road trips, I like to tiptoe shoeless into a crafts store or gift shop in a small town, or an antique store. I love these kinds of places, in little towns off the interstate, so much so that the scent of decorative candles and potpourri remind me of nice-weather drives. I stroll around the displays, and the hard wood floor or the durable carpet feets so nice if I’ve left my sandals kicked off in the car. It's a silly thing to do but that's the point: it's humorous, a little bit self-mocking, and to me quite joyful.

Surprisingly perhaps, I nearly always get very warm service, and I always purchase something at such stores. During one road trip break, I stopped by an antiques, crafts and gift shop. and the cheerful clerk engaged me with stories of bouncing back from major surgery and meanwhile trying to run a business.

Taking another driving break, I stopped by a bookstore and padded in. A clerk greeted me warmly as I looked through a book and asked if I needed help. I said I hoped it was okay that I was barefooted and was told, “You’re fine!” I strolled around for a while and ended up purchasing nearly $100 of books. the carpet felt wonderful.

I recall tiptoing into a corner pharmacy for some items, and I realized that the store was being renovated. Shelves were moved and some items were out of place. A person asked if I needed help, and I thought I might be “busted.” Instead, the person helped me find the items I needed---and amid the remodeling, he couldn’t find them either! My feet made that gentle sound upon the floor as we went up and down aisles and finally located my products.

Going barefoot was a kind of a post-hippy fad during the 70s and part of the 80s, when I was in my teens and twenties. Padding into a store without shoes on wasn’t an uncommon thing to do back then, and to me it felt wonderful. Proceeding into the grocery store, for instance, was a nice respite on a hot day; you could run your errand and feel the cool floors beneath your feet. Strolling barefoot around our small town shops was a fun thing on a Saturday or a warm late afternoon following school.

Even in the 90s and 00s, I occasionally noticed someone going barefoot out-and-about. Perhaps, like me, they like to keep the fad going, on at least a few summerime occasions. A family inside our local Baskin-Robbins included a shoeless young woman who ate a sundae and rocked a stroller with her toes to soothe a fussy baby.

Years ago I visited a coastal town for a summer craft fair. My fisherman sandals lay on the floorboard, and I regretted not wearing a lighter pair. So I left them behind. With my touristy camera over my shoulder, I sighed with relief as I strolled the warm sidewalks. I spent a pleasant hour or so padding among the booths and shops, as barefooted as if I were collecting shells on the beach. A lighthearted thing to do, if a little risky, but what a nice summertime memory. I did see a few other folks shopping barefoot, affirming that I wasn't the only eccentric.

I read a book about the soprano Cecilia Bartoli, who is known for taking off her shoes and enjoying the grass and earth. "When I was a little child," she said, "one of the things that gave me the greatest pleasure was to go to the park across the street and have my feet feel the earth and the blades of grass." A friend and I decided to take a walk as we chatted so we drove over to her favorite park without our shoes on and strolled around: so peaceful!

I enjoy recalling couple of favorite nature trails as, on two or three occasions, I walked in my bare feet along the grassy and dirt paths. I'd taken the trails before in walking shoes, so I knew the terrain and felt okay about bringing no shoes or sandals. One of the trails alternated between pretty timber and open meadows, and included a few small hills to climb, plus the trail offered the comforting, nostalgic sight of an old barn as the path curved around and back into timber. A small bridge forded a stream that was sadly polluted, a shade of bright orange. But there was also a green pond where frogs croaked and turtles peaked above the surface. I watched my strolling toes, kept an eye out for stones on the trail, and on slopes I was aware of my toes digging into the soft earth for traction. On a stretch of damp soil I noticed behind me that my heels made small dents in the earth, a modest footprint on the land.

Unfortunately I had no big road trips this summer, the sidewalks in my new neighborhood are comparatively rough, and my ankle tendonitis was flaring up so I always took walks with supporting shoes. Maybe these times are over for me. But there is that famous piece wherein an old woman writes that if she could live her life over she’d start going barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way till later in the fall. I enjoyed embracing that philosophy over the years and, who knows, between now and the end of Indian Summer there will still be nicely warm days for this kind of humorous walking.

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