This Side Up

Stepping back to fond memories


Ollie looked at me, tail wagging slowly.

How did he know what I had planned before even getting out my hiking boots and jacket? He watched every move and, when I finally reached for the leash, he stood at the door, looking back to ensure that I was coming.

It had rained over night. A lot of rain. Estimates were two inches.

The air was heavy. Drops fell from the trees. There were pools on the lawn and the drive. It was sodden.

Perfect conditions, I thought, for the boots I had bought more than ten years ago for a week-long, 30-mile trek into the wilderness area of the Saw Tooth Mountains near Yellowstone National Park in Montana. They served me well on that hike, lightweight and made with Gortex that kept my feet dry. Since that inaugural run, I used them for walks in the woods in Upstate New York, which is to say not that much.

Nonetheless, lacing them up always reminded me of that wilderness hike where four of us climbed above the tree line to these crystal clear lakes rimmed by snow capped mountains. The boots were my foundation, the footing to my 40-pound pack. They were there at the edge of the tent when I poked my head out of the sleeping bag and fanned the coals of the fire in hopes of making a pot of coffee.

Last time I wore them, the heel of the right boot pulled free from the shoe and flapped. The composite rubber sole showed signs of its age, crumbling and staring to break down. But I couldn’t abandon these boots that had covered so much ground. I examined the left boot. The sole was beginning to separate from the shore, too. Gorilla Glue seemed like the perfect solution. I pulled back the soles on both boots, liberally filling the opening with a coating of the honey-like glue. Then to ensure the fix, I weighted them down with books.

Two hours later the boots had a new look. The glue oozed from the soles, leaving a ring of hardened foam looking like I’d stepped into a giant pool of chewing gum. But the soles were holding and that’s what mattered.

We left the drive and set off though the woods, a short cut to a dirt road that would lead us to a point and a lookout from a state park to the lake below and distant hills. There’s no path through the woods, but the rain had drenched the ground leaving a carpet of soggy leaves – a huge sponge – that squished under foot.

Ollie was intrigued, pausing frequently to sniff the ground. I didn’t rush him, which gave me time to listen. Except from the dripping it was silent. No wind. No morning crows. No rustle from startled deer.

When we reached the road, we picked up the pace, Ollie crossing back and forth in pursuit of some elusive scent. He knows the way and I can only imagine this was like renewing an acquaintance. I have come this way dozens of times as a boy, on walks with my parents, sister, cousins and, of course with my children and their children. We’ve made the walk to the point in the heat of the summer, in the color of the fall and on cross-country skies with the road under a blanket of fresh fallen snow.

We reached the park gate, slipped around it and continued. This is less of a road and more of a pair of ruts between a ridge of grass and weeds. Ollie splashed through the ruts while I stuck to the higher ground, not looking to put my boots to the test. We rounded a bend in the path, climbed and arrived at the overlook. Low clouds hung on the hills. The lake was a smooth gray.

Ollie wasn’t patient. He didn’t want to stop. He knows the path up the mountain lies just ahead. He tugged at the leash. For an instant, I considered the mountain path, which would tack another 45 minutes onto our walk. The thought of a fresh cup of coffee changed my mind. I started back. Reluctantly, Ollie turned to retrace our steps. Now we were moving faster. This was freshly sniffed territory and Ollie strained at the leash.

As we approached the shortcut through the woods, the house visible between the trees, my left foot gave way. I turned my boot up. The Gorilla grip was gone and so, too, was the heel of my boot. I checked the right boot. It was about to come apart as well.

My feet were dry. The boots had served their purpose. We crossed the spongy leaves to the drive and back to the house. Ollie was ready for a snack. I poured a cup of coffee and pulled off the boots for a last time with the memories of Montana as fresh as they were a decade ago.


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Dear John,

You did a decade ago what I have never been able to do.

Ollie has a great dad.

Happy Autumn to you both.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018