We like to say that life is uncertain. But the moments when we tangibly know that we have absolutely no idea what will occur next are rare. And in these moments, I wore hiking boots. Not soft, light day-hikers. Hard leather, with a steel shank in the footbed, a sole that wraps over the toe and parachute cord laces.
I bought these boots and a three-season down sleeping bag with my high school graduation money in 1999. In my 18-year-old mind this was an investment in the foundation of an adult life. I'd always have a place to sleep and dry feet to get me there.
They made me feel grounded and strong and ready. Rain, wind, snow, heat, sand, rocks, cobble stones, mud, trail, sneaking though woods in the dark, standing for hours on end, running, climbing, schlepping, building. I never stubbed my toes. Lacing them up was my ritual of embracing the unpredictable, loving the idea that anything could happen.
I was wearing them when a road trip ended in a dubious San Francisco apartment with blood on the walls and no bathroom door.
They were on my feet when I boarded a plane to South American alone, having no idea where my host family lived or who (if someone) would collect me from the airport when I arrived at an hour when, by all accounts, gringas should be tucked safely indoors.
I didn't have as many adventures as I thought I would. I fell into school and work but my boots fell with me. I can still feel the tread's vibration against the college's anti-slip stone-in-concrete paths as I walked in fine, misty Oregonian rain. Smell of soaked brick and foliage. I feel the clunky movements I made waiting tables on the bistro's kill-your-back painted concrete slab floor. And then the illness came...
My boots are dusty now. My feet do not have the strength to lift them. The uncertainty is now always palpable, pressing like humid air. And yet... it is the uncertainty of confinement rather than that of freedom. There are no shoes for this. My challenges are not kind a person can walk/run/climb away from. Supposing a person could do these activities, they would simply carry the problem with them.
I don't know if I save these boots as a trophy or a memory or an embodiment of a hope that I will one day, again, live a life of problems solved by actions of rugged footwear.