It might be because this is my last summer in the Adirondack mountains of New York, for a while at least.

Or because my friend Amy is obsessed with the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and their barefoot running.

Or because I just quit my job of nearly 10 years.

In any case, I’m conducting another experiment, exposing tender skin to the jagged edges of my world.

Once, somewhere in her eighties, my grandmother told me she remembered the trees of her childhood by the way it felt to walk barefoot under each one. How she held the botanical knowledge of fallen leaves, needles and pine cones in the soles of her feet.

What I used to know about summer, my childhood memory, had this felt-like padding to it. Quiet. Days blurred until summer was just this relaxed ephemeral state of sunshine.

Forgettable, except in bare feet.

In the flesh, it was the stiff porcupine back of a freshly mowed hayfield, the hot slab of rock baking in the sun at the bottom of the stoop, the pointed thumbs of gravel too blunt to draw blood as I sidled across the driveway—a pain that eased as my feet toughened into August.

I realized the other day (while still gainfully employed), driving to a little outcropping of rocks on Lower Saranac Lake, that the blur of summer and its hayfields had begun to disappear from my sensory memory.

In its place, the lines of Route 3, the hot pavement, had taken over.

I have spent seven years in these mountains mapping summers in disjointed, gorgeous stolen slices that appeared thinner, paler each year.

Summer had become that moment, at 4:30 or 5 p.m. when we headed for a lake.

Car windows down.

Dog panting.

Hair blowing into my eyes; no effort to tuck it behind my ear, out of the way.

It was a quick swim, a beer on the rock and a bartering of time with the setting sun.

Flipflops on my feet.

On my first Monday as an unemployed person, I went barefoot.

Collected gritty dirt on the path by my house as the first rainshower of the day swept in, and we laid a set of muddy paw prints and high-arched footsteps on the white canvas of the kitchen floor.

Drove an hour to the big lake—Lake Champlain–for a spontaneous picnic in front of an old stone church with my girls, spitting cherry pits into the grass.


We stooped to pick smooth skipping rocks off the shore.

I stood at the water’s edge, looking towards Vermont, my original home, toes curling and grateful for the sculpture-smooth stones this time.

I’m wondering what Montana will feel like.

I returned home with darkened soles, with dirt stuck to a drop of pine pitch on the ball of my foot.

I’m wondering, when all is packed and addresses changed, if I will remember the 5 p.m. drive to the lake or the barefoot summer.

 

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JENNIFER DUFFIELD WHITE is neither a flower child nor a wild child, merely a hybrid of the two. She was born in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, lived for several years in the Adirondacks, and she now resides in Montana where she field-tests mountain life and the writing life. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Narrative Magazine, Drunken Boat Journal, Witness, and Terrain.org. You can find her nonfiction in places such as Adirondack Life and Women's Adventure. She is a contributing editor to The Nervous Breakdown. Her website is here and she tumbles pretty photos here.

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