A few weeks ago, I found myself at McIntosh Reserve, one of the best-kept secrets in my area. In spring, it’s a simply gorgeous place, with cool, quiet camping sites right near the river, trees in every shade of green imaginable, and Atamasco lilies blooming at Council Bluff. It’s one of those places that has a spirit, and I can feel that spirit best when the weather is warm. It’s the kind of place that gives me a hug when I get out of the car. Crowds usually aren’t too bad there, either.
No, wait. Forget everything I just said. It’s a crappy place, full of poison ivy and hawk turds plummeting from the sky. Yeah, don’t go there. Ever. Stay away.
One of the simple pleasures I indulge in while at the Reserve is hiking, running, and strolling “soles out,” as it were. I’ve been on the trails, along the camping areas, and recently on a couch-to-5K run in the large field adjacent to the river, all barefoot. And I loved every minute of it.
Something happens, something simple and old and charming, that I can’t get if I’m not touching the ground. It’s hard for me to be mean or too far into my head when I’m standing there, between earth and sky. I feel small, among the huge oaks and stones of the reserve. Not small in a bad way, small in the sense of being in my place in the world, in that environment. I feel…natural.
Instead of pushing nature away with walls and screens and wifi, I’m part of it. I hesitate to use the term “earthing”; I’m not sure that I’m ready to venture down that free-market-granola-strewn path just yet. When you talk about conducting magical electric earth energy, people look at you strangely, even more strangely than they did when they inevitably noticed that you aren’t wearing shoes. I will say, however, that after I run barefoot, there’s this quite pleasant electric sensation from my knees down, like the muscles are happy or something.
Going barefoot is a quite nice cure for excessive introspection. One thing that you’ll notice is that you, well, notice more. It’s as if all your senses, not just touch, come to life, and suddenly you’re aware of the path in front of you. You’re evaluating how to negotiate that patch of gravel, or the particularly treacherous mud slick up ahead, the one that could make you perform an impromptu split if you’re not careful.
I hear you saying, “But what if I step in something gross or dirty?” If you step in something, be assured: you will die. You will fucking die. That’s been proven by science. Legions of our ancestors perished from dirt exposure, and you are no different. Same goes for your kids. If they get outside dirt on them, they’ll explode, right after looking at you with big, dewy eyes that silently scream, “Why did you let this happen to me?” Then boom. Kidfetti floating mournfully to the ground. I know it’s true, because the TV, the Playstation, and the superfattygreasy kid foods told me so.
Barefooting requires you to assess the terrain in front of you rather than literally roflstomping it while your mind grinds over the same bullshit it always does when you don’t have a screen going bippy-bip-bip in your face. You can’t think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines, or when you think you’re gonna die. You have to be there, present and in the moment. Think of it as cheap and easy Zen.
After a day like that, as I swing in my hammock down by the river and gaze up into the branches, I often find myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be like this all the time?”
I’d love to go barefoot everywhere, especially in weather like we have here right now. I desperately wish I were one of those people who truly does not give a rainbow-colored shit about what people think, but I’m not. I remember I have restrooms and nuclear-hot parking lots to negotiate today, so I slip my Crocs on and head out, knowing I’ll joyfully kick them off in the car, but also knowing I’ll dutifully put them back on for that trip into the drug store. Would I love it if I could wake up in the morning, get dressed, and step happily out my front door and run all of my day’s errands sans footwear, and not have anybody raise an eyebrow? Absolutely!
Some people find feet ugly or offensive. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that I grew appendages for the appraisal and consumption of the general public. You don’t want to see my feet? Well, I don’t necessarily want to run my eyes over your cottage cheesy thighs, or your husband’s hairy, bulging, exposed gut, or your grey roots that have grown out to the point that you look like a German shepherd. Or your face, which ain’t no oil painting.
But I have the civility to keep my mild distaste to myself, and not comment. People will go out of their way to tell someone that he or she ought to wear shoes in public, but let a woman walk in without a bra on, and the same thing will NOT happen. Not to say that going all chest-commando bothers me; I fully support jiggling in public; it’s going to be my foremost talking point when I run for office.
It’s the monocle-popping shock and horror that I find so irritating, so insanely out of proportion to the offense. I remember viewing a Today show video clip in which a panel of undeniable brain trusts was discussing people who take their shoes and (gasp) their socks off on long flights and dare to place their feet near someone else’s seat. From their scandalized tone and language, you’d think someone had carved out a pig’s anus, fresh from a carcass stowed in the overhead compartment, and draped it on an unsuspecting passenger’s shoulder during takeoff.
Granted, someone’s feet fresh out of a pair of shoes ain’t my idea of a good time either, but how bout some freakin’ perspective here: it just isn’t that bad. It’s at times like this that I realize we may be more repressed and puckerbutted in some areas than our Victorian forebears were.
Also, some say that going barefoot in public is disrespectful to the establishments that one visits.
Am I tracking in any more or less dirt than if I were wearing shoes? Perhaps a little more, but that’s what those rugs at the entrance are for. With a thin layer of good, clean dirt on them, soles don’t pick up any more or less dirt than shoes would anyway.
Some would say that a barefoot patron would lower the tone of the establishment, thereby dissing the place hard, yo. Many is the time that I needed some laundry detergent and a Milky Way, and upon seeing a barefoot patron, I knew that dive just wasn’t up to my standards, and promptly left. I would rather reek of sweat and never know the taste of caramel again rather than lower myself to going to that seedy dump.
Is it because my naked flesh is in contact with their floors? Maybe that’s the dark side of the sensuous enjoyment of barefooting, that I am somehow getting some free, unregulated, untaxable enjoyment out of their virginal floors.
Oh, Dollar General, your floors are so…cool. So smooth and perky. Look at that cheeky shine. They’re asking for it, all polished like that. I’m going to press my naked skin against them erotically with every step. They like that, I can tell. They may look all clean and white, but I’m not fooled. Filthy whore-floors. My stroll down the aisles is just foreplay. After I check out, I’m headed round back to find that naughty little air conditioning drainage outlet and do unspeakable things to it. I’m going to pound your store like a cheap hooker, and there no way you can charge me for the privelige because there isn’t a “building sex” key on your register!
I simply do not understand this argument, how flip-flops, two thin flaps of neoprene between the floor of my local store and me could be the threshold between Downtown Abbey civility and uncouth, discalced savagery. Of course, I know what it really is: it’s fear of legal action. They’re afraid that if someone gets hurt in the store, they’ll be liable. You know what I say to that?
Caveat planipes. Let the barefoot beware.
I understand that by not wearing shoes I am taking a risk. I could step on an errant piece of glass from that broken jar swept up weeks ago. I could tread on a bee in the parking lot median, or stub my toe on an endcap–and I am okay with this risk. If I get hurt, it’s my fault and my problem. Mea culpa.
Wow, you use one Latin phrase, and it just won’t stop.
I guess I’m saying that we need to reassess how we see going barefoot. It’s not dirty. It’s not disrespectful. And if it offends you, look the fuck away. It’s time to take back the simple, free joys of life. Get out of the screen, get out of your head, and get into some mud. I promise you’ll smile.