boots illustration for gamut
My gnarled, haggard feet are tucked into a brand new pair of boots right now. I just stepped in a dirty puddle and keep checking to make sure the water didn't do any lasting damage. I think everything's okay for now.
These boots, the new ones, are my “town boots,” a clothing classification for items that enjoy extremely limited usage around our family farm. They're fancy footwear for sure—field boots stitched of brown leather and suede, a punched pattern running the full length. Everyone in my family has a pair of town boots. My wife has two pairs of the exact same boot, one for farm work and one for excursions into civilized society.
Are we footgear extremists? Well...let's discuss my farm boots.
My farm boots are a pair of brown Carhartts, steel-toed (a necessary luxury—I dropped a 15-pound maul on my foot this morning with zero effect) with a tread easily an inch-and-a-half thick. And they're totally covered in blood and feces. The blood's probably a result of last week's marathon poultry processing (my apologies to vegetarian readers for that information—I dwelled in your ranks for over a decade, so I understand), though blood flows pretty freely around a farm so I honestly can't be sure, and the poop...oh, the poop. I've got poop from at least five species jammed into that bulky tread, picked up from deposits gifted by our two cows, three cats, three dogs, 14 pigs, or...no and 150 chickens. I wash them often (waterproofing is another necessary luxury), but they don't stay clean for longer than a few hours. It's in their job description to exist constantly coated with bodily fluids.
So you can see why I place my town boots in a special corner of our bedroom where dust and dirt and...you know, poop, is less likely to find them. (One can never be too careful—my last town boots carry a persistent, acrid tang from the time a cat mistook their patent leather for a litter box.) When one's feet haul around multi-species elimination on a regular basis, it's nice to know that, every once in a while, they won't.
But why are we talking about boots, of all things? When there are so many interesting topics in this world to discuss, why do we use this page to discuss footwear set apart by a distinct heel and increased coverage of the ankle and calf area? Even forgetting, for a moment, that when I expressed an uncharacteristic dearth of inspiration to my good friend and creative director of this magazine he replied, “Write about boots,” presumably because he and I discuss boots with an alarming frequency...there must be a reason to make boots the topic of a column as seminal to modern discourse as The Gamut.
Boots, in our culture at least, possess a certain metaphorical value, evidenced by the footwear's appearances in popular sayings. “Boots on the ground” can refer to actual military boots stomping around on soil, but in everyday life we use the phrase to indicate concrete action taken in a specific direction. A person who wishes to be viewed as hardworking may express a desire to “die with my boots on;” a person who actually is hardworking will often “put on boots and get to work.” People who reap benefits of hard work are said to have “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps.” Nancy Sinatra declared her boots “made for walking,” and I venture the vast majority of us enjoys “knocking boots.”
Action is implicit in a pair of boots, though not the simple kinetics suggested by sneakers or athletic shoes—boots send the message that something's about to get done. They invite the wearer to work hard, to walk far, to get dirty. Mind you, I'm aware boots are worn more often for fashion purposes than to actually muck out barns or bale hay, but the implication is still key. The Country Music Awards, where spray-tanned gym rats wear boots while singing about wearing boots, are concrete evidence of this.
Even my town boots, which I've been known to dab at gingerly with a damp tissue, defy present reality to convey the impression of impending activity, with a design that echoes classic field and hunting boots. And, if precedent holds true, they will eventually end up in a field, ankle-deep in a hog wallow—I have a pair of cowboy boots I once babied with saddle soap and mink oil that now slump in a corner, dirt ground into every seam and leather soles worn to a state of unwearable decay. Boots want to move, they want to work, to get stuff done.
I'd posit this is why we wear boots, even just to shove them under a cubicle desk for eight hours a day—we like to feel that something wants to drag us away, plunge us ankle-deep in dirt. We want to believe we could, if the situation demanded, roll up our sleeves and really get something done. Or we just wanna knock 'em. Either way—action.
/ Rodney Wilson is either a pig farmer who writes or a writer who farms pigs. Either way, he’s got a freezer full of bacon and a finished manuscript, and he’s trying to sell both.