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New Boots

I am often asked why I moved north in my fifties, a time in life when many people want to move south for the warmer climate. The answer is simple: I don't do so well with heat, especially combined with high humidity. The snow and cold weather are a big part of my moving north. Both enhance a fantastic place in the world, the north shore of Lake Superior; I love it. Even ice is beautiful and valuable. Although ice storms can be destructive.

Ice allows the lakes of northern Minnesota to become small seasonal villages. People move ice houses and shanties onto the frozen lakes, creating small fishing communities. Snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, ice skaters, and dog mushers take advantage of these wide-open, frozen spaces to play. Let's not forget hockey. Without ice hockey would be more like playing soccer with sticks and a flat rubber biscuit. Ice becomes art at the hands of sculptors, but nature makes some of the best ice sculptures.

The water movement in Lake Superior is powerful enough to break massive sheets of ice. The waves push the broken ice to the shore, causing it to pile up vertically. These ice shards are spectacular to see.

When ice storms hit, they transform the landscape into a magical scenery. People hurry to get photos of the beauty before the ice is gone. Despite its beauty, ice can be very destructive, snapping branches, breaking trees. Ice takes down power lines, leaving homes without electricity in harsh weather conditions. Fortunately, the north shore gets a lot more snow than ice.

We've had an exceptionally large amount of snow at home this year, and I feel like I've missed the best of it. Even though I love to travel, I don't like leaving the special place we call home.

In mid-December, I headed south to help with a project for two weeks. Unfortunately, we didn't finish the job, so I returned to Florida in January. The project grew, and I had been there for eight more weeks before I knew it. When we were finally done, I was ready to go home.

While we were in the sunshine state enjoying the mild weather, my wife's aunt and uncle called. Austin, Texas, was hit with its worst ice storm in history. They sent some pictures of their property; as with all ice storms, there was a natural beauty. But, unfortunately, the heavy ice did a lot of damage, too. Meanwhile, I called a neighbor at home who said Silver Bay had just received another two feet of snow. So, we deviated slightly off the trail going home (1,115 miles) to help clean up branches.

We arrived in Austin on a Friday. Melissa and I were stunned by the amount of ice damaged trees. So, we started right into work. Every time I moved a downed branch, more were hiding behind it. The hillside terrain was rocky, with a lot of sticks and leaves on the ground. I didn't have the proper footwear for this job, just an old pair of sneakers, but I figured I would be okay – as long as I didn't twist an ankle.

"It's getting to be the time of year when the snakes wake up," Kenny said.

"Snakes," I said?

"Yeah," Kenny replied. "The rattlesnakes and copperheads are just starting to come out of hibernation." (Another reason I like living in Minnesota.) "You don't have to worry about the big rattlesnakes," Kenny explained. "It's their babies that will get you." That didn't make me feel any better. "The babies shake their tails just like the big rattlers, but they don't have rattles yet. So, you don't hear their warning – they just bite you." Although I don't know why I still felt I'd be okay working the rest of the day. "You won't even see them," Kenny went on. "They hide under the edge of those rocks, blending right into the leaves and sticks."

I looked down at my feet. I lacked ankle support with sneakers and had no protection from these venomous serpents. I grabbed a log and pulled it up the hill to the driveway. As I knelt to cut the log into eighteen-inch pieces, I saw the leaves move, but I didn't see what moved them. Remembering Kenny's words, 'You won't even see them,' I was a bit nervous. I took a twiggy stick to poke into the leaves.

Just then, I saw what caused the movement. "It's just a scorpion," I said calmly. "A SCORPION," I repeated (loudly.) I might have screamed like a little girl and maybe wet my pants a little, too, as the poisonous spider made its way toward my leg, particularly my bare, unprotected ankle.

As I jumped, I wondered, "Just how bad could it be shoveling two feet of wet, heavy snow, in single-digit temperatures, even in a pair of old, worn sneakers? At least the snow won't bite or sting me."

My wife shared her knowledge of scorpions; “The smaller scorpions have more potent venom.”

Rather than complaining about the little bug, I told my wife, "I need new boots."

We drove to Academy Sports and Outdoors. The store was huge, and the place was crawling with youth. Apparently, it was the weekend for the kids to buy their seasonal baseball gear. I found a pair of boots I liked, but they did not have my size.

"They have this boot in your size at another location," a sales clerk told us. So we drove about twenty minutes to the next location.

The second store was smaller, which proved beneficial as there were few small ball players to contend with. Instead, aisles were filled with working men looking at boots. Finally, we were in the right store. Many of the men were speaking Spanish, which I did not understand.

I found the boots I liked. There were plenty of boots in sizes too big or small for me, but a limited inventory of my size. Shoe sizes seem to be an opinion these days. The 9s I tried on were way too loose. I forced my right foot into a smaller size 8; my toes screamed to be set free. So, I removed the packing that the manufacturer stuffed in the toe of the boot and tried it on again. It was still too tight.

I grabbed the last pair of size 8½ from the shelf. Then, having the boots I needed, I told my wife, "Let's go." (I'm not a big fan of shopping for footwear.)

"You need to try them on," she said.

"Why," I asked. "The 9s were too big, the 8s were too small. So the half size will be just right." (I'm no dummy; I read the Three Little Bears.) My wife gave me a look. "Fine, I'll try them on," I said, putting one boot on my right foot. "It's perfect. Let's go."

"You need to put on both boots and walk around a bit." She said.

There were no benches, so I found an empty bottom shelf and sat down. "They feel great," I said. "Let's go."

"Lace the boots, tie the laces, and walk around with both boots," she insisted. "You'll be sorry if you put these on at home, start working and discover they don't fit well.

Although I knew she was right, I sat under protest to properly fasten the boots. Finally, I stood up, shuffling my feet. A Mexican man standing close by said something to me. Not understanding Spanish, I shrugged my shoulders. He repeated it, then moved closer, demonstrating a few fancy dance steps.

I was puzzled but naturally mimicked his steps. He laughed and danced again. I hooked my thumbs into my belt loops like a real cowboy and matched his steps again. Next, we both danced a few steps at the same time. I do not speak Spanish, and he didn't speak English, but laughter means the same no matter the language.

I hooked my right arm with his, and we swung to the right, then caught our other arms and swung to the left. There was no language barrier, just laughter, and fun.

The dance was short-lived. Some other men looking at work boots may have been his co-workers. Being caught dancing with a guy in the Academy Sports and Outdoors aisle could get awkward for him.

My new friend and Melissa shared a little conversation (she speaks some Spanish.) Then, we said our farewells the best we could for two men who didn't speak the same language. "What was he saying," I asked Melissa.

"First, he was telling you, 'Nice boots.' Then he was asking if the boots were for work or dancing."

"Oh. I thought his footsteps meant he was asking me to dance." We shared a good laugh about that.

I had a lot of fun that day, and I was glad I listened to Melissa and tried on the boots; otherwise, I might have missed the dance.

Back at Kenny and Gail's house, I tied the laces on my brand-spanking new work boots, picked up a chainsaw, and walked into the rugged terrain littered with broken tree branches.

Eventually, I did see a small garter snake; he quickly disappeared into the brush. Kenny spotted a bright green snake that slithered into the tall grass by the road. But I never saw a rattlesnake or a copperhead, nor did I spot another scorpion. I'm pretty sure my new work boots intimidated the critters; either that, or they were afraid I would start dancing with them.


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