Greetings From the Northern Illinois Marshlands!By Straif I am--or rather, my feet are--a former prisoner of 30 years. Even as a kid, I wore shoes. It wasn't so much enforced by my parents as much as it was by myself. The world out there was sharp and scary, and I really didn't want to tangle with it so directly with something so much as my soft, tender and very white feet. Naive I know, but that doesn't explain the ignorance of my teenage years nor my young adult life either, when it came to embracing the use of my god-given feet. The irony of all of this, is that deep-down, my spiritual life would have to be considered one of more of the pagan variety. Of which specific flavor, I couldn't tell you. But, I just knew, perhaps like many of you, that I felt at home outside in the woods or in a grass field, or even inside, when just the thought of being in the woods would creep into my mind. The reason I bring up my spiritual ideology is simply because it was the inevitable path that played an important part in the epiphany of learning to use and love my own two feet instead of relying on shoes. It was late April, and the Morels were already starting to pop up. I had been out on walkabout already for the whole previous portion of the month, and it was all in anticipation for the sighting of that first Morel. (that and watching nature literally come alive right before my eyes) I live in northern Illinois, and if there are any fellow residents of the society that happen to reside in northern Illinois as well, then they can probably attest to the fact that there is a lot of marshland up here, and that fact is especially so in April. I've always been trying to search for the perfect wilderness footwear, and in my quest, I have had a few reliable favorites. The prime choice was my deerskin moccasins. I had purchased these as soon as I had come back from the Marine Corps. and, with slight help from my accrued hazardous duty pay and combat pay, managed to buy the most well-crafted pair I could find. I've had them for almost 10 years now. I have had to restitch them several times; apply a sort of rubberized tread to them for better grip and durability; and managed to keep them well-oiled and shiny with mink oil as much as possible. Despite all that, they are not the most favorable footwear for treading through marshes. And so, with this, I looked elsewhere. My next stop was a set of rubberized, one-piece injection-molded galoshes. These, are, believe it or not, great for late winter/early spring marsh navigation, BUT (a big but) they also happen to be cumbersome as hell, and part of the joy I get from traversing the wilderness is to be as light and as free as possible. So, given these options, and considering the weather of that particular day I had stepped out into (80 degrees, a freak occurrence), I made a rather impulsive judgment call. I ditched my shoes. I don't know how; I don't know why; I'm not even sure I knew exactly what. But I did it. And let me tell you: (Though you probably already know what I'm going to say next, seeing as how you're here, reading this right now.) IT WAS AWESOME!!! It was a little bizarre at first. I felt naked and vulnerable, walking through wet grass; through various weeds poking up through the green carpet; traversing onto a soft, compact patch of cool, moist dirt (amazing) that sloped down into a muddy puddle of equally cool water (and equally amazing). Once I managed to make my way into the woods where my own little secret stash of Morels were known to reside, I was hooked. I didn't want to go back. This made perfect sense to me. Here was the perfect footwear, and, ironically, I had been in possession of it my whole life. It was an extremely tactile experience, with excellent tread, and the sensory input managed to make terrain navigation so goddamn instinctual. It was also completely waterproof! No longer did I have to circumvent giant standing pools of swamp for sake of a more comfortable hiking experience. Here, I could just waltz right through, and, when I would arrive out on the other side, I was nearly dry and extremely comfortable; ready for the next obstacle! And, as an omen, I had found my first, young fresh Morels that very same day. Though, as exciting as it was to find them, I now seemed to be more interested in feeling all the sensations of the forest floor beneath my feet. I spent hours out in the woods moving through all sorts of sticks and mud, and patches of garlic mustard and dame's rocket. Stepping on a carpeted chunk of moss was literally heaven. I also tried to maintain awareness of keeping an eye out for dead branches of multiflora rose and other natural nasties that deserved a respectful nod. As I continued to wander, I realized, perhaps, a little bit of protection might be in order, but something that I could still get wet and not worry about. When I came inside from my excursion, with my girlfriend amused by my appearance, (barefoot, with my walking stick and a netted bag of mushrooms around my waist), I settled in to the computer to ask the question, "What sort of footwear would facilitate bare feet?" The first link I clicked on was a website called Xero Shoes. It was there I became saturated with the idea that there are many people out there looking for the same barefoot experience, and not only that, people make it a point to RUN BAREFOOT! I was hooked again. I read all I could on numerous websites after that. I was looking up YouTube videos, watching trail-runners effortlessly running over rocks and gravel and over mounds of roots and sticks. With all this saturation came the knowledge that I had been lied to my whole life once again! Just like when I learned that the water I had been drinking was taken for granted as safe (poisoned with the now known neurotoxin fluoride), or the food that I had eaten my whole life was fine (malnourished standard American diet, tooth-decay, hormonal malfeasance), or even that the "war" I had fought in was a legitimate protection of our nation (hah!). All of this sort of culminated for me in a single quote from a rather highly respected, and brilliant man, Leonard da Vinci: "The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." I discovered how nations with a higher barefoot population had far fewer leg injuries, I discovered a guy called Cody Lundin that pretty much hammered home the point that you can walk barefoot ANYWHERE, and I bought a book from a guy called Christopher McDougall that introduced me to a Native American tribe I had never heard of before, but I will now equally never forget. And all of this occurring just two months ago. As of now, I've been a "barefooter" as much as possible (sans work, another reason why work sucks). And I just completely my first official barefoot run around my town (three miles). There's no going back! How can I go back knowing what I know now? My feet look thick and muscular now, they are tanned. I have hair growing back that I'd never thought I'd ever see again. The bottoms of my feet are thick and leathery, and I have this weird sense of pride in knowing this. Now, when I put my "shoes" on, it's a matter of tying a piece of jute rope around my ankle just to indicate to any onlookers that I am not a guy that just happened to forget his shoes, but rather, I am a crazy man that has stumbled upon another one of life's glorious little secrets. A little rough gem for me to love and to polish. And as usual, it was hidden in plain sight.