by Julia Frisbie
posted June 17, 2021
This time of year you may see me stepping slowly and gingerly through the world without shoes on. I’m working on my “summer feet.” Lots of us remember being barefoot most of the summer as kids, but I never grew out of this habit. In the spring, I am rebuilding my calluses so that in the summer I can be barefoot as much as possible. I like feeling the temperatures and textures of the world around me.
Being barefoot in the garden is especially useful. Because I mulch with arborist wood chips, I have to walk carefully to avoid splinters and puncture wounds, and this forces me to slow down and notice things.
My feet take the temperature of the soil daily. At first it’s mostly information of the cold and muddy variety, which tempers my over-enthusiasm to get seeds in the ground. If I’m barefoot, I don’t get fooled by a warm day in late March. The soil has a longer memory than the air, and my feet can tell that it’s still too cold for tender annuals. When it’s finally warm enough to be comfortable, I know I can plant my corn and beans.
In the height of summer, my feet tell me when to water, and where. The arborist chips can be dry even when the soil is moist below– they feel spongy and cool. But if the arborist chips get crunchy or warm, I know it’s time to water.
I’m more aware of critters when I’m barefoot, because I don’t want to step on a bee, a slug, or a squishy caterpillar. It still happens from time to time, and it’s unpleasant, but at least I’m aware of it. If I had shoes on, I’d be snuffing out that life without even knowing. My bare feet let me know where rodents are tunneling, because they’re sensitive to the contours of tiny underground passages as they cave in under my weight.
In essence, being barefoot is a useful tool for focused attention.
If you want to start experiencing the world through your feet, and you’re not in the habit, you may need to build up your tolerance on gentle surfaces like grass, moss, sand, or patio pavers.
Once that’s comfortable and you start trying other surfaces, try the following mental substitutions for “pain” or “discomfort”:
- Like a foot massage
- Warm or cold
- Wet or dry
The more you do it, the more I think you’ll enjoy it, and the more receptive you’ll be to information from below. In the privacy of your garden, you don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks. If you have questions, the Society for Barefoot Living has answers.
Your gait may change based on the texture of the ground. When you’re barefoot, it’s often less comfortable to lead with a hard heel-strike, so the first part of each step becomes a gentle embrace of the earth by the wide pads on the ball of your foot. You may find your toes spreading out and unclenching as you use them to feel your way. Some people say it’s good for you. All I know is that it feels good.
You know what never feels good, no matter how many miles you walk on it? Asphalt. It’s the only surface that’s ever given me blisters. Walk barefoot on it sometimes anyway. Imagine what it would feel like under hoof, or claw, or delicate webbing. Paving over the world has consequences.
Once your bare feet have acclimated to your garden, take them to the forest. Watch out for the easily accessible trails in the ACFL near parking areas– there’s often broken glass in the summer from ne’er-do-wells. (There’s a special place in hell for people who break glass in the forest.) Take the less-traveled trails. The duff under a cedar grove is so spongy as to be intoxicating. At the end of the summer, when your feet are leathery, try running through the forest barefoot. Almost nothing makes me feel more alive. The world is a basket of gifts, an endless sensory adventure. Fall in love with it, feet first.