It won’t be long before we’ll be swapping winter bunny boots for summer footwear. Our assortment of boots sits on a shelf in the mudroom, out of reach of Lily, our shoe-chewing Aussie pup. The collection clearly shows that I prefer boots to pretty shoes. When I shop, I’m looking for comfort and mileage. I’m looking for a long-term, hard-working relationship.
Sadly, like good dogs and honest horses, boots have a limited lifespan. I have outlived five dogs and two horses. Now friends are telling me it is time to say goodbye to my old cowboy boots. My husband even offered to take me shopping.
The boots are literally coming apart at the seams. The inside lining has long since ripped out. They are tattered and stained. All that remains are worn soles, cracked leather that lets in daylight, and a whole lot of memories.
I bought them more than a decade ago in North Dakota in the small town where my late mother- and father-in-law at one time owned a working cattle ranch. We rode many miles checking and mending fences in the hot Dakota sun. In early spring, we pulled calves and watched newborn babies totter at their mother’s sides. We rounded up cattle on horseback and moved them from one pasture to another. We branded and vaccinated bawling calves in old wood-rail corrals. We hauled hay bales and planted trees and watched for deer that the guys would hunt in the fall. The day my father-in-law and I lay my sick horse to rest, those boots stood on prairie soil as our tears watered the ground. My old boots hold the memories of ranch life, hard and dusty but good.
The boots also saw many fine experiences on trails in Alaska. One day, attempting to keep my boots dry as we crossed the Little Susitna River, I draped my feet up onto my horse’s neck. A school of salmon swam by and bumped into my mare’s legs. Startled, she wildly leaped out of the water, leaving me and the boots behind for a thorough dunking.
The boots accompanied me twice as I went airborne off my new horse. That set me on a journey to learn a new kind of training and riding that expanded far beyond the cowboy way. I discovered that horses had more to teach me than I could have imagined.
Not long ago, I took my husband up on his offer and bought that new pair of boots, but I confess I’m having trouble parting with the old ones. The new boots are young and inexperienced. They are strangers to my feet and have not yet melded to my stride. They haven’t yet kicked manure, been buried in mud, or pressed their heels against the flanks of a horse. Every time I slip into my old boots, it feels like a hug from an old friend. To think about throwing them in the trash seems disrespectful somehow. It seems far more fitting that they should be laid to rest under a tall birch tree.
When I shared these sentiments with my husband recently, he listened without laughing. Then quietly he said, “I’ll dig a hole.”
So someday, when the ground thaws in spring, we’ll bury the old boots. I won’t be parting with the memories though. Those I’ll hold dear for the rest of my days. Soon it will be time to take some brand-new friends out of the box. And maybe the best way to get acquainted will be to go for a nice long ride together.