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Creek Running North

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October 01, 2005


My old boots I bought these in July, 1999. They were already old when we bought our house, and I wore them through a year of heavy work painting and plastering, hauling things to the landfill, breaking up concrete with hammers of the sledge and jack variety, hauling rubble, kicking holes in hardpan. I wore them on a solo road trip east to New York State on Interstate 80, then south to Virginia, and then along Interstate 40 through the Southwest back to California. They have been wetted in the Pacific, the shores of Lake Erie, muddy logging roads in the Monongahela National Forest, in oil-slicked parking lots of run-down barbecue joints in the cypress knee country of Arkansas, in the sticky saline desolation of Badwater in Death Valley.

They fit perfectly when I first put them on, with no break-in period. It was as if they were made to be my boots. They felt right. I wore them home. I felt taller, straighter, as if the hidden energies of the earth had been tapped by my new bootsoles. Those bootsoles had rattlesnakes on them. I was a man, as the song says, with the power of rattlesnake lightning.

Becky walked into the room, noticed them right away, and made it clear to me that she liked them very, very much. How much, you ask? I really don't think that's any of your business. If you know what I mean.

I got them resoled with brand-new rattlesnakes, oiled them regularly, but the abrasive power of concrete dust will eat even the best-maintained shoeleather. Two years ago, after one pointed comment after another from women other than Becky about my increasing need to wear a pair of shoes that didn't look like a detail in a Dorothea Lange photo, I went back to the store to buy a new pair.

The line had been discontinued.

The salesman talked me into trying the line that had been designed to replace them. They were uglier, clunkier, with a ridged seam around the top of the toe, and just overall looked wrong. I paid no mind to the klaxon-like call of my wrong boot warning system, and bought them anyway. I did my best to wear them. Instead, they wore me; a deep, angry hole blistered in the back of each of my heels. My heels. Not the boots'. I had to wear Tevas to work for the next two weeks.

"Who do those uninvited fashion consultants think they are anyway?", I decided. The new boots - worn a total of ten hours - sat in my garage until I could find a homeless person desperate enough to accept them as a donation, which took some doing. The old boots went back onto my feet. All was well for another few months.

But trouble brewed. Matthew and I walked up a slick granite watercourse in the Southern Nevada desert a year and a half ago, and I had to stop short. The soles had worn too flat to keep me on the tilted rock. The handwriting was on the wall, and I'm not talking about the petroglyphs in that particular canyon. This past January, I decided to take them to the desert for one last time. I walked out onto the playa at Badwater with them once again, spoke to them softly. They'd done such a wonderful job, I told them. Thank you for being my boots, I said. We walked silently together back to the truck, and I took them off for the last time. They sat in the passenger footwell for the rest of the trip, caustic alkaline mud caking onto their leather.

When we got home from the desert, I said "aw screw it," put them back on, and went in to work.

But this week the heel seams finally tore out. I'm afraid there's nothing I can do.

They went into the trash an hour ago.

Becky says she thinks I ought to go right out and get myself a new pair of boots. But I don't know. I just don't know. I don't feel... I don't feel ready.

I need to be alone for a little while.

Posted by Chris Clarke at October 1, 2005 06:44 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Yep. I form these attachments to things sometimes too. Strongly enough to want a 'backup' just in case. Though that usually is not a good alternative either. It seems wrong to mourn for things like this. I suppose we're not really mourning the thing, but instead its service and the feeling we enjoyed while using it, etc.

Posted by: TroutGrrrl at October 1, 2005 08:24 PM
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Not gonna fill them with dirt and plant succulents in 'em, eh?

Posted by: Ron at October 1, 2005 09:58 PM
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hi Chris, I really enjoy reading your writings. I was wondering if you knew Barbara George; you may know her husband, Paul.

I worked for Barbara for a while.

Posted by: Kevin at October 1, 2005 11:07 PM
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I couldn't have put them in the trash.

Posted by: susurra at October 2, 2005 11:01 AM
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If it doesn't make you feel like a leftist cliché, may i suggest trying on a pair of standard-issue army boots at your local Army-Navy store? I've worn nothing else for more than fifteen years, and I've never had a pair that took me any time to break in. Once I went on a five-day backpack over a very rocky trail in a brand-new pair and i didn't get a single blister. But everyone's feet are different, I guess. My mother's feet have grown so cranky with age that buying a new pair of boots has become a lengthy and agonizing ordeal, both figuratively and literally. At least men have a decent range of styles to choose from.

I like Ron's suggestions of making planters out of your old boots. Such charisma should not go to waste.

Posted by: Dave at October 2, 2005 11:39 AM
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My son feels the same way about his blankie as you do about your boots.

Posted by: Becca at October 3, 2005 04:56 AM
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I had a pair of work boots I trek'd all over the world in. But upon a return trip from India, I found I could not get the Smelly Delhi smell out of them. The boots were promptly placed in the trash at Narita Airport and I pity the poor soul who may have had to deal with them after that.

Posted by: Roxanne at October 3, 2005 05:28 AM
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That might be the sexiest pair of boots I've ever seen. And that might be the saddest story.

I always try to buy extra pairs of boots or shoes I especially like, because they invariably stop making them eventually. But even two identical pairs aren't exactly the same.

They're just not.

Posted by: alphabitch at October 3, 2005 09:27 AM
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I join in the mourning of the boots.

I have two pairs of Sundowners, bought about five years apart, the second bought as a "back-up," and I have to say that even if a line continues, it doesn't mean the boots will be the same. I'm glad I wore the new pair to Australia and ruined them with salt water and not the old pair. The "new" pair is now kept around for things like painting and other yard work, and the old ones get to go on camping trips when I can manage it.

Sometimes I taught in those boots, wearing them with rag socks, jeans, and a fleece pull-over. I always felt more in control and real than on the days I "dressed up."

I salute your boots!

Posted by: Rana at October 3, 2005 10:24 AM
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Wait, no, it can't be, you're s*ittin' me, tell me it isn't so! Those are Redwing Irish Setters, right? They look exactly like my boots, which I've had ten years, and need replacing as well - paper-thin soles and some serious cuts in the uppers. They are more like gloves than boots, and they've NEVER given me a blister, even when new. They're the only boots I've ever had that suitably doubled as work boots and hiking boots, for even the roughest terrain. My Dad had his for 20+ (?) years. I have always resisted getting the forestry boots with the big clunky high heels and brush guards that all the macho firefighters and such wear - now I may not have a choice? NOOO! I want another pair of these! Say it ain't so! Maybe someone has some old inventory somewhere? Chris I mourn with you, for both (all four?) of our aged friends. Perhaps we can petition the company to bring them back - popular demand sometimes does have an effect - I'm sure there are other longtime devotees that feel similarly about these...

Posted by: Fred Levitan at October 4, 2005 09:04 AM
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The setters look nice, Fred.

These were Red Wing 4451s. I see from Google that they are, apparently, still manufactured. I haven't been able to...

no, wait...


Posted by: Chris Clarke at October 4, 2005 03:33 PM
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