When we were barefoot in the woods.

I think I have Egyptian feet.  Although my sister says we’re mostly Scottish.  And Irish.  And she ought to know; she’s the one who took the DNA test.  But my feet certainly look Egyptian to me – according to the old, strange, highly unscientific, theory and drawings developed back in the 1800s to define one’s genealogy and ancestry by foot shape.  So perhaps the top part of me is Scottish, and my feet were just left on their own to seek out a shape that was comfortable, with toes that aligned whichever way they wanted.  

There were actual charts produced back then to example this theory of foot genealogy – with up to a dozen categories of shapes, and hand-sketched examples for comparison.  The first outline on the chart was of an “Egyptian” right foot, and it looks very much like my own.  And yet, farther down the chart, the drawing of the “Celtic” foot looks nothing like mine.  Interestingly, I also found some personal similarities with the “African” foot.  And the “Norwegian.”  And possibly the “Greek.”

But, according to the experts, it isn’t all genetic.  Lifestyles and clothing and geography and such also played a part in the shaping of our ancestors’ feet.

And, of course, before it all – before the shoes and the charts and the tracing of lineage – all the feet of all the ancestors in all the world, shared one singular experience:  They all walked barefoot, their flesh against the flesh of the earth itself.  They were natural and at one with their surroundings.  Open to the seasons.  Experiencing the changes of life, not unlike the changes they felt against their very soles.

Not long ago, I found myself walking into Hitchcock Woods, wanting, suddenly, to do the same – to be barefooted against the earth.  Ironically, I had just changed my shoes before I started to walk – from thin strappy sandals into heavy soles with enclosed toes, even partially covered ankles.  But it was unseasonably hot and the patches of white sand looked inviting along the path; the breezes against my legs felt terribly compelling.

I took off just one shoe at first.  Perhaps I believed if danger lurked, I could hop away to safety on one shoe-protected foot.  But the sand was so cool, the clay that lined the shadows was still post-rain damp and lovely.  Even the pinestraw felt soft and soothing.  And I wondered at my hesitancy for total commitment.  And then I somehow felt it only fair to allow myself to be openly vulnerable to the earth – as she is so achingly vulnerable and open to us.  And so I took off my other shoe.  And I became immersed in the experience.  

I walked for miles as my ancestors must have done.  Occasional pinecones and acorns reminded me that life does have its painful moments.  But then the soft sands and smooth clay returned just in time to keep me moving forward.  It seemed as if I heard fresh sounds rustling all around me, new bird wings and wind songs.  Even the bugs seemed to scuttle beside me, never in my path.  I stopped and stood sometimes on thick tree roots and danced with them – like children stand on the tops of their grandfather’s feet as they waltz to old music.  

Finally, just as I was leaving the woods, one large oak tree offered a whole lap full of lush, green moss – and I buried my toes into it, and it seemed to snuggle me right back.  And as I left, I turned to look one more time at it.  And there, at the base of the trunk, I could make out the clay-and-sand imprint of one bare foot against the moss.  It reminded me of a lipstick kiss left on a favorite uncle’s cheek.  It was as if the forest wanted to hold onto one small, fond remembrance of me as well.  

And then I noticed that the imprint of my foot didn’t look particularly Egyptian anymore.  Or Celtic.  Or African or Norwegian or Greek.  It simply looked human.