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Walking Barefoot

In addition to regular walking, I also like walking barefoot. Of course the two activities are similar in many ways, but they're different enough that I think of them as two different things.

How does walking barefoot compare? Well, on the minus side, it's not as good for looking around and thinking about things, since you have to spend more time watching the ground and thinking about where to put your feet. In particular, you have to watch out for poky things! Thorns, pine needles, and dried-out plant stems are bad, but broken glass is the worst, because it's really sharp and it can turn up anywhere, even on a mostly clean sidewalk.

Actually, that's a fourth reason that I pick up trash. If I see broken glass somewhere that I like to walk, I'll almost always stop what I'm doing and pick it up, because five minutes of work in the present beats the possibility of stepping on broken glass in the future. You can just pick it up with your hands if you're careful. The same goes if I see broken glass somewhere that I like to bicycle. Getting a flat tire isn't as bad as getting a piece of glass stuck in your foot, but it's still a nuisance.

That's not really a complete list of bad poky things, but it'll do … any further and I'd need to start classifying things as common or rare and worrying about how the classification changes from place to place. For example, here in Colorado much of the open space has cactus, and that's pretty bad, especially if you step on the kind with lots of little spines that are impossible to get out. But, I don't think cactus is very common in other places.

Here's one more example that's also a little story. As I understand it, in general a tetanus shot is good for ten years, but if after five years you do something that's especially likely to give you tetanus, you need a shot then too. Well, when I was little, guess what: every five years, like clockwork, I'd do one of those things, and need another shot. One time I stepped on a rusty old thumbtack … I bet that's a rare thing no matter where you are.

On the other hand, I'd like to point out that once they've developed calluses, feet are surprisingly tough and durable. I often think to myself that if somebody had invented them, they'd be called DuraFeetTM.

Now, let's get back to that comparison. Also on the minus side, walking barefoot is slower than regular walking … but then that's only a disadvantage if you're trying to get to some particular place.

On the plus side, if you walk around barefoot, your feet will send you all kinds of interesting and pleasant sensations! Grass is nice and soft, and also cool since it uses sunlight instead of just converting it into heat. Dirt ranges from dry and crumbly and warm to damp and cool. If you find some mud, you can squish around in it with your toes; if you find some water, you can wade in it.

Water deserves a whole paragraph to itself, actually. In a pond the water might be still and lukewarm, but in a little creek it'll flow slowly and be cooler. (Here, think of stillness and flow not as things you see but rather as things you feel happening around your feet.) In a mountain stream the water will flow quickly, and there will be big round rocks that you can stand on and conform your feet to (good for the arches!) but the water will usually also be ice cold so that you can't stay in for very long. Even if you live in a city, there's still water to be found when it rains. You can splash around in the puddles or stand in the gutter and feel the water rush past your feet.

I almost forgot to mention the ocean … easy to do, since I don't live near it. That's a whole world in itself: the water, the waves, and of course the sand, wet or dry, hot or cool, large-grained or small. Sometimes you can find sand at a bend or slow spot in a creek, and these days that's about as close as I come to being at the beach.

Of all these pleasant things, I think my favorite is a nice soft bed of moss. You have to be gentle with moss when you find it, though; it's very easy to damage if you're not careful.

I'd also like to mention a few things that are not pleasant, possibly even slightly unpleasant, but that are also interesting … that is, they produce interesting sensations. Really hot pavement is a good example. I can't stand still on it, and even if I walk quickly I can't stay out for long, but in the brief interval before it becomes painful, it's … interesting.

Then, in the opposite direction, there's snow. Once in a while, I like to go out barefoot in it and make some footprints, usually just a pair or two, but sometimes more. That's fun not just for the sensations but also for the knowledge that the footprints will amuse and perplex other people. If there's not much snow, you can melt it off completely, then the prints will be obvious!

Concrete is another good example. Sometimes the surface is smooth, but sometimes it's really rough and abrasive, almost like sandpaper. That can be hard on the feet, but it does feel interesting.

The best example, though, is gravel. If you're not used to walking barefoot, gravel is unbearable, but once your feet toughen up a little, it's possible. The rocks don't actually cause any damage, but the edges and corners are sharp, and you're in contact with a lot of them all at once … it's a very intense sensation.

So, anyway, yes, the sensations are a big plus for walking barefoot. A smaller plus is that bare feet are in many ways superior to shoes. They're lighter, so you can run faster (if you trust that the surface is free of poky things). They have better traction than almost anything, so they're good for climbing trees and scrambling around on rocks. They're not quite as durable as shoes, but they're pretty durable, and they also magically regenerate themselves instead of wearing out. And hey, they're free!

They also dry out a lot faster than shoes. I sometimes took advantage of that fact when I was in college in Houston. It rained a lot there, often torrentially and sometimes for days at a time, but it was also fairly warm, even in winter, and the campus was so well-maintained that broken glass wasn't a problem. So, when I needed to get to class in the rain, instead of getting my sneakers wet (when with the humidity they'd take forever to dry), I'd go barefoot and bring along a small towel and a pair of flip-flops. To give you the complete picture, I'd also typically have been wearing shorts and carrying a big black umbrella. It seems almost paradoxical to me that one can go barefoot and carry an umbrella at the same time, but it's true, and it really is quite practical.

I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that I wouldn't enjoy walking barefoot nearly as much as I do if I didn't have the luxury of coming home and getting cleaned up afterward. If my feet are muddy, or even just dusty, I'll wash them off; if they're wet, I'll dry them; if they're cold from the snow, I'll let them warm up; and then more often than not I'll put on a pair of comfy white cotton socks.

I can't decide if that last point should count as a plus or a minus … it takes time to clean up, but it also produces some pleasant sensations.

Well, that's all I have to say about that. In conclusion, although walking barefoot has some minuses, I do still like it … I mean, obviously I do, or I wouldn't have bothered to write about it. In fact, it's one of those things that make me say to myself “wow, I should really do this more often”. And so I should.


  See Also

  Other Adventures
  Running Barefoot
  Three Years Later

@ April (2009)