Originally published in the summer edition of My Hometown 2021.
There’s no better time for going barefoot than summertime in the South. Kids especially know this to be true.
One summer afternoon when I was eight, I ran barefoot through the soft green crunch of my front yard grass, then suddenly sank my right foot into a bright red ant bed. The ants reacted to my misstep much faster than I did. I had clearly ruined their day, so they quite naturally set out to ruin mine. Within minutes, my foot swelled to twice its size, burning with the white-hot piercing sting of those unforgiving fire ants. As I stared at the blimp that used to be my foot, I tearfully vowed never to go barefoot again.
Thankfully, that was a promise I didn’t keep.
How else would I learn that raindrops falling on your feet feel like chilled pearls that dissolve, run, and cool your soles? That stepping on stones heated by the sun offer the same warmth as a hug? And after a long day, whether it’s a pair of heels, flip-flops, or work boots, nothing feels so good as sliding, pulling, and then kicking off those cages. Carpet, hardwood, and tile come alive under the 7,000 or so nerve endings in our feet. Research shows that barefoot contact with the earth can produce nearly instant changes leading to improved sleep, reduced pain, decreased muscle tension, and lowered stress.
Ready to kick those kicks to the curb yet?
The one place I think we all agree to leave our shoes behind is the beach. It’s the one silently agreed-upon place where we can park our shoes on the boardwalk and trust they will still be waiting for us when we get back. It’s irresistible––that moment when you step off the rough wooden planks and feel your soles sink into that silky sand. Burying my feet in a mound of sand, curling my toes as I go, I’m always surprised by how cold the sand gets the deeper I dig.
The only beach where I ever kept my shoes on was on a black sand beach in Hawaii. Even then, I couldn’t help but slip off one shoe, balancing like an awkward flamingo, just so I could experience the chilly Pacific firsthand, grazing my toes into the pulverized lava earth.
One of the most memorable days of my life was spent in my bare feet, exploring the natural wonders of a beach in the heart of California’s Big Sur, where the sand turns purple in the sun. I gazed at the vast rolling waves and thought, now, this is a perfect day, and it was at that exact moment a yellow jacket rose from the sand and stung my unsuspecting foot.
For me, going barefoot still takes courage. But, bring on the stings. Life is for living, and how much better is it when you get to experience it in your bare feet?