|I took this picture on the way to Yakima, but it looks like the wildflowers of my stamping grounds of yore.|
I'm not really trying to make a statement or join and promote a movement and I think there are probably more exciting ways to search for the fountain of youth than by taking off one's shoes to go for a walk. So why did I do it? Why did I suddenly and determinedly take off my shoes one day, and walk up the asphalt hill with my daughter and grandson? Ouch. You know that dance. The one where you try to support your body and move forward without putting all your weight on your feet, and then a rock adheres to the ball of one foot while the other is trying not to press down into more rocks. For more than a mile, I walked that way.
I will admit that when I saw a young girl in my neighborhood walking down the road barefooted, not wincing or carefully stepping over gravel, keeping unremarked pace with her sneakers-shod companions, I was immediately wistful for those summers in my life when I ran wildly and freely with my siblings over whatever surface of the earth just happened to be under our feet at any given moment.
I mean whatever surface. We played our version of softball in fields filled with goatheads, burrs and horned toads. We would head off up the Rural Route to buy a candy bar or doughnuts or potato chips, decide that walking would take too long and instead would take off running. They weren't just doughnuts, after all; they were Spudnuts!
We rode our bikes without shoes. (It's true, kids...it's not very safe to do that. Your feet WILL get stuck and cut in the spokes. It will hurt. Especially if there are more than one or two of you on the bike.)
We sailed over garbage cans set out on trash day, bailed out of high-flying swings, climbed and walked along brick walls, dropping down from several feet to the hard-packed earth, crossed small ravines on fallen trees, continuing on our way as if there were no such thing as obstacles in the world. I'm sure we would never have made it up into the trees we climbed if we couldn't have wrapped our unencumbered toes around the branches.
We would walk for miles through town to go see friends. Sidewalks when there were sidewalks, pavement, fields, parking lots, hot desert dirt, murky ditches, flooded gutters, freshly-mown lawns, alley ways, orchard short-cuts, hay barns, sunshine and rain. (And then when winter came freezing up our ditch, we dared each other to skate across the ice barefoot.)
Stubbed toes, itchy arches from stickers, sunburned insteps? All a part of having feet. People tossing live cigarette butts for us to inadvertently step on, heat-softened tar on newly repaired roads...and still we jumped rope and played hopscotch or tag in the street. Without shoes. It was just so easy and convenient. As teenagers, too, we often just walked out the door without even thinking about what to put on our feet, although I sometimes carried a pair of thongs in the car with me. (Yes. I said thongs.)
I remembered all of these things as I trudged up and over the hills the other day, mincing and tiptoeing and trying to avoid sharpness in the road. But I did it, didn't I? I walked a mile that day. And the same mile the next day without feeling half the pain of the day before. That really surprised me. How could my feet have toughened up that much from one day to the next, one mile to the next?
And then I walked two barefoot miles around this lake.By this time I was feeling a little blister trying to turn into a callous in the middle of the ball of my foot. And, the rocky asphalt was sort of shredding up the bottoms of my feet, but I didn't feel that much.
What I did feel was more balance in my life! Go figure. My legs felt less nervy at night, where usually they feel jumpy and restless. My knees, too, improved and I was able to use them more than baby them. I noticed my back felt better. I should also point out that for years I have been using those hard plastic orthotic shoe inserts because I have a tendency to flat feet, falling arches and plantar fasciitis. This was a big step for me, take the pun if you get it. I think it has to do with spinal alignment and the post about "Quantum Spinal Mechanics 3" will come later.
The real impetus to go shoe-less came after a talk about physical independence I had a few days before with my 87-yr old mother who is still living independently in her own home in New Mexico. She travels with us sometimes these days, which I worry is too hard on her but she explained why she wanted to do those things for herself that we think we ought to do for her. She has five of her seven children still living, in-laws and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and plenty of people to offer an assistive arm to her, or fetch-and-carry things for her...to take care of her. It's not that she's too proud to accept the offers and in fact she says she loves to let people do things for her and often falls into the trap of settling into the role of the venerable, vulnerable one. Then she is struck with the fear that when she stops doing what she is yet able to do, she will too soon be unable to do any of those things.
I finally understood, after years of trying to explain that she is not a burden and never will become burdensome to her family and in life we do things for family because we are privileged to do so, and she actually affords us the pleasure of attending to her. You know, all that condescending, trite clap-trap that sounds so noble that probably is true to some extent, but is more about "here, let me serve you because I'm so humble and servile and good...and younger, thank God, than you!"
All this to say, I learned something from my mother at this conversation, about myself. I learned that I could get down on the floor again and play with my grandson. After years of staying up off the floor due to bad knees or a bad back or achy bones which I thought severely hampered my ability to get back up, I am able to get down on the floor and get up from the floor until I am no longer able. Not just until I THINK I shouldn't be able to or I remember that it used to hurt. Well, it does sort of hurt--for a minute--and I'm not very quiet about it, but it's getting easier.
I know. I know. There are plenty "older" people out there who are fit and all BOO-YAAH! with their fitness, which is, frankly, a bit tiresome to me and to most people this is not a big deal or a big revelation about life or even relevant in very minor schemes. To me, it's an experience. I'm all about experiences.
SOMETIMES...when I walk with the baby around the neighborhood, I will take flip flops (there...you like that word better?) and put them in the stroller basket to be prepared for whatever eventuality makes me wish I had something on the bottom of my feet. Mostly because this:
Better this image to leave you with than remind you I used the words "granny" and "thongs" in the same post.