The High Desert makes great shoe tree habitat. There must be thousands of dead or dying trees along lonely stretches of highway just waiting to be adorned with castoff shoes. As a kid, I delighted in every shoe tree we passed. These spontaneous shrines helped relieve the boredom of long road trips in the back of the family station wagon. I’d point and yell as we sped by, trying to impress upon my parents the significance of the site.
But what was the significance? Looking back as an adult I wonder. Certainly, they have the element of surprise. They’re kinetic sculpture. They’re natural and not-natural. They enable shoes to levitate! But as a kid, I think I also saw them as a sign of flamboyant rebellion. Teenagers could actually throw their shoes away. My mom would never let me do that. When I outgrew a pair of shoes, I had to hand them down to a smaller kid. I couldn’t liberate my shoes to swing in a tree along some lonesome highway.
So when I became a teenager did I ever throw a pair of shoes up in a shoe tree? No. Why was that? Was it because by then I didn’t wear sneakers, the predominant species populating shoe trees? Or was it something deeper and more mysterious?
This needs to be remedied. There’s a cottonwood near Mitchell, Oregon, that has room for a few more shoes. Next time I go that way, I’m flinging an old pair skyward.