Monday, March 31, 2008


I acquired Berndt's moccasin boots by way of Christina.
They were given to her after he died, and although she's had them for a few years, she still considers them to be his and not her own.

This interested me, the idea of ownership, and how it is that someone's possessions can be so much a part of who they are. I think that perhaps possessions take on a whole other level of meaning after the person who owned them died. They start to stand in for something missing. Or else the stories that they held just become that much more pressing.

Christina told me that she had actually never met Berndt. Yet she feels very connected to him. He was the father of a close friend. He was also friend of Christina's step father, Dan. Dan and Berndt died within a week of each other.

Christina was excited to show me the shoes. She pulled them out of the basement, from the room we (appropriately) refer to as 'the abyss.' She came upstairs and pulled up the wool rovings that she'd put in there the year she wore them as winter boots. She hypothesized that Berndt got them from a reservation near where he lived.

Berndt's boots are leather moccasins. They are high--they go up almost to the top of my calves. They are simple in their construction: the only parts that aren't leather are the soles (which may or may not be rubber, and have a stickiness to them), and the grommets that the leather laces weave through. They are topped with a long fringe, and some shorter fringe skirts along the seam where the piece of leather sole meets the upper.

The bottom half of each boot is darker in colour than the rest. Presumably from water and snow. Berndt's boots are a good inch and a half or two longer than my own feet, but they somehow still felt like they fit just fine.

I was worried when I left the house that my feet would get quite wet. It was a grey day, and a rainy one. I actually packed an extra pair of socks, but I somehow didn't need them. I wore Berndt's boots as I walked downtown, bought split peas, rode the bus to school and went to class.

The first thing I noticed when I went to put them on was that it was quite difficult to discern which was the right foot, and which was the left. I don't know that there was a left and right foot. In the end I just went with what my gut was telling me, but I kind of chose at random. I laced them up over my wool socks and walked around the house. It felt like I was wearing slippers.

In fact, most of the day I felt like my feet never got out of bed. It was strange to feel so cozy in different public situations--scooping split peas, walking down the street, working in class. It was kind of like walking around with a strange secret.

Also, the soles being so thin, I could really feel what was under my feet in a way that I don't normally. And also in a way that was different than other thin soled shoes I've worn (like Cecilia's, Becca's and Evan's). I think that it would have been really lovely to wear them on a trail by the river, or a path that wasn't concrete or asphalt. Even so, I found myself purposefully seeking out interesting textures (a mostly-melted snow bank, a twig, the edge of a carpet).

At school I started to feel feverish. It wasn't entirely surprising since I'd been horribly ill on the weekend. My feet were super-warm. I don't know if it was boots or fever or end of term franticness, but the still-in-bed feeling began to feel a bit like that too-long-in-bed feeling where you finally discover the edge of coziness. It became something else.

It was uncomfortable, but at the same comforting to be feeling that sense of in-bedness when feeling kind of sick. I just hung out with it, and worked on an art project.

In relationship to the art project, I've been thinking a lot about 'enough' and how to tell when one gets there. I've been having trouble. I noticed myself doing this thing that I do a lot, which is to survey everyone on what they think, assuming that I have no valid sense of things myself. It's interesting.

After class I actually met with a reporter from the local paper. She asked me lots of questions and a photographer took lots of pictures in the hallway of the fine art building. She wrote an article about this project, which you can take a look at, if you'd like:
(In searching for the above article with Google, I also found out that I've been described as "whimsical." I think that's quite lovely.)

The process made me feel quite nervous and self conscious. But that's okay.

I yawned through the bus ride home. So tired. I walked up the hill through the mist instead of waiting for the next bus. I felt really tired, but also quite sad. Kind of lost. When I got home, I told Christina that. Some of my friends think that a person's shoes carry something of their temperament. I don't know whether or not that's true, but for whatever reason, I felt like I'd been through the wringer.

I found myself thinking about what it means to wear shoes that give one so much feedback about what they are walking on...a constant influx of information about texture and density, shape and so on. It was hard to take in at times. And yet it also felt really important.
I thought a bit about the pitfalls of being so sensitive to ones environment; and by extension the pitfalls of being a sensitive person more generally.
"A gift and a liability," someone once told me.
The two do seem to go hand in hand.

Berndt's shoes are simple and complex all at once. I was intrigued by how different my experience of a routine day was in them; by the way the fringe swung as I walked, by what I could feel through their soles, by the way they reminded my of the blankets on my bed. And, of course, by the stories that they hold. I was thinking about what it is that stories demand of us--especially stories of people who have died. Those stories seem to me to have a different quality. I'm not sure if it is an urgency or a preciousness, or what the word might be. Maybe they seem different because they are themselves at higher risk of being lost. Maybe because they cannot pretend to be very far from uncertainty. Maybe these stories demand more of us as they acknowledge our own mortality and ultimate vulnerability.

[I apologize for waxing poetic. These are thoughts that have been with me this winter.
As a side note:
Since I was little I have had some kind of unusual respect for objects...especially those that have belonged to someone else. I recently was talking with Mama Jean. I gave her a call because I had a dream that she was mad at me and came all the way to Guelph (where she tracked me down in the Stone Store) to tell me so. Her basement recently flooded. I used to spend hours down there carefully lifting one thing up at a time, holding it for awhile, putting everything back exactly as I had found it. I treated it as a kind of sacred space, and was really upset when my bother and sister discovered it and didn't follow the "rules." I think it has to do with some sense of curiosity and wonder and awe for the stories and memories that things hold. Maybe a photograph can just be a photograph, and a moccasin boot just a moccasin boot. But I appreciate it when they are caught up in a webs of association and happenstance.
I told Mama Jean I would help her clean up the basement. She is worried that between the two of us, nothing will get thrown out.
This is a possibility.
Regardless, there will surely be many stories told.]


Jennifer Hicks said...

whimsical...add to that intelligent, beautiful, intriguing, inspiring and beyond special....

aislinn thomas said...

thank you, jenn!!! I don't know what to say ;)