Juneau artist and hunter/fisherman Charity Green captured the essence of the double life led by many adventurous women in her painting, “Shoes for Tuff Girls.” The painting portrays a classic red heel propped up against an XTRATUF boot, and evokes the balance between glamour and adventure. “We buy shoes for the kind of life we want to live,” says Charity.
We were sitting in a coffee shop, and I was telling her about my recent “hunt” for a pair of heels to wear to a conservation banquet, as well as a new pair of hunting boots. Both required shopping around, and both had to fit a particular situation. When I posted about my shoe search socially, images of favorite shoes similar to the one she had painted were shared by those who had never seen her painting. Charity laughed, “It’s my most popular print.”
My old XTRATUFs were never fashionable, in the classic sense of the word. I put them on in the morning and they carried me bare-footed on a summer day, tucked in jeans for tooling around town, in double-socks aboard an ocean fishing vessel and propped up on the edge of a beach bonfire. They just made Alaska-sense. But, they weren’t really for cold days. They weren’t really for hiking. And, as my hunting partner pointed out, when I noticed all my upland photos from afield were cropped above the knee, they didn’t match the beauty of the dog, the country or the hunt.
Finding a pair to replace my imperfect rubber boots meant overcoming sentiment and replacing it with practicality. No matter what the old boot was, the new boot needed to splash through mountain streams, climb for miles behind a relentless English setter and not look like I’d just spent a summer on cannery row. My options included hiking boots, leather-lined latex boots, fashion wells, natural rubber boots and even equestrian boots. Like a line-up of suitors, it was less a matter of function than chemistry. I began to wonder if I would never find a boot, like I once thought I would never find love.
I settled on a pair of river boots, made of redskin leather with pebble nubuck uppers and a tough sole. They’re an affordable barn-class working boot, suited to the mountains. Much as these boots suited my purpose (and survived the first season with character to spare), they would never work at a fundraising banquet where fine guns and safaris are purchased at auction, and happiness alone would never be sufficiently stylish.
There is little difference between my “hunt” for heels and my hunt for boots, except that in the case of the destabilizing dress shoes, style outweighed the need that they be waterproof, breathable, long-lasting or have good traction. All my dress shoes needed to be seemed to matter least when selecting a hunting boot — a scrap of style. They arrived in a blue box and were a vision to behold: a pointed-toe pump with a 4-inch cigarette shaped stiletto heel and made of hand-painted python skin.
Like Charity’s painting, neither shoe could exist in the other’s environment. It surprised me to learn not everyone saw the same thing in the image of the mismatched pair. Many saw it as a “his-and-her” portrait. “Everyone sees something different,” Charity said. For me, a delicate heeled shoe compared to a rough-hewn hiking boot did not represent the gender divide as much as an internal balance.
Author, outdoor retreat leader and spiritual guide Pegge Erkeneff often asks the question, “Where do you experience beauty, belonging and the significant in ordinary, everyday life?” Like me, she is a bit of a shoe-o-phile and sees the shoes she chooses as the connection between her body and the landscape, whether it is a dance floor, corporate office, fishing boat on water or in the field. The shoes she wears “evoke and elicit function and the promise of engagement.”
There are days I put on high heels and days I put on waders, each with a different understanding of the dual world I live in and the demands of those separate parts of myself. Like many women who love the outdoors, I balance between 2 worlds. The point is, there is a certain satisfaction in finding the perfect shoe for the job. Whether dressing up, dressing down or dressing to the nines, I’ve got good shoes that will take me to good places.
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