“Walking barefoot has gone out of fashion but sensible people are reviving the habit.” Nan Shephard, 1945.
In my last blog post I talked about enjoying the world through all your senses. Each sense brings a layer of joy and appreciation to life. The good and the bad enrich our experiences on earth. Sometimes while walking in the woods I’ll enjoy the fresh smell of flowers, or of clean breezes, but I also notice and enjoy the musty smell of leaf decay, and the strong smell of skunk – as long as its not too close, of course! I love the smell of freshly cut grass, but usually the stink of burning oil and lawnmower is included. Sometimes the smell of car gas fumes makes me think of car trips and camping, a strange and unexplainable combination of memory.
Taste is richer, more in depth when I can enjoy sweet and salty and sour. How dull food would be if it only were sweet. I believe we have contrasts of flavor for a reason. The beauty of nature also involves the harshness of nature. A butterfly flitting through the air, dancing over the flower garden brings joy, but also sadness. The life of the butterfly is short, and we often see their little bodies crumpled in our car grills or resting on the ground.
I think I enjoy texture, in sights, sounds, and smells, but especially in touch. When I see a smooth wooden table or banister rail, I have to touch it. When I see a knobby knitted blanket I have to run my fingers over the pattern. When I see green grass, white sand, blue grey ocean water, I want to pull off my shoes and feel those textures on my feet. Sometimes the only way to experience a place is with your bare feet, exposed to the cool breeze, soft grass, hot and scratchy sand, and soothing water.
When I remember childhood play, I remember fall evenings as the sun is setting, running and chasing with neighborhood friends. I was often barefoot, and I remember cool evenings, dew on the grass, or colder nights, playing while my feet throbbed with the cold, me having too much fun to stop and find my shoes. I remember hot asphalt burning my feet, hopping and running to the shade. I remember splinters, sharp rocks and twigs, but also soothing mud and enjoying the contrasts between hot white sand and cool water. I remember walking on crusty sand at the beach after a rain and feeling the spots where raindrops formed ridges, crumbling when we stepped on them. I remember the sensations, but now I wear shoes; hiking shoes, sandals, tennis shoes, dress shoes, boots. My feet are tender; I don’t walk around barefoot anymore.
Once when I was young I hiked barefoot. My family had a tradition of hiking the same 5-mile trail every Easter, and one year we decided to do the hike without shoes. I remember stepping on rocks with the bare arch of the foot, kicking tree roots with my naked toes, crossing cold streams and then walking along the dusty trail as our feet dried. Sometimes the barefoot walk hurt, but on other parts of the trail it was joyous, the sand and the grass and then, best of all, standing on a large sun warmed rock feeling the absorbed heat soak into those tired feet like a giant massage.
I am reading a wonderful book about walking and discovering old pathways, called The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot. From that book I discovered the quote that was at the start of this article, and started thinking about the pleasures of bare feet. The speaker of the quote, Nan Shephard, walked barefoot often, wrote about it, and was quoted by the author of the book, Robert MacFarlane. If you enjoy walking, and reading about walks, this is the perfect book. He combines geography, history, linguistics and other sciences together to demonstrate the wonderful places he explores, mostly with his shoes on. My favorite walk of his was done barefoot, the broomway, and that walk alone is worth reading the book.
My daughter loves to walk barefoot, and enjoys all the sensations that come with the activity, the good and the bad. Parents in our neighborhood have fussed her at, as if she were doing something immoral. I have no understanding of that at all. We are so protective that we miss vital parts of living.
Have a wonderful barefoot day, and don’t forget to enjoy!