I’m missing the point of high heels

(A version of this post appeared as a column in The Sault Star)

The teetering question one recent Saturday was if a bunch of men could Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.

Suffering Sault Ste. Marie males donned two-inch red high heels and strutted or stumbled to raise funds for Women in Crisis (Algoma) Inc., to combat violence against women and children.

I did not take part. I need heavy-duty orthotics just to walk down a supermarket aisle. But reading about the event I couldn’t help wonder this:

Why would anyone — male, female or the gender of one’s choice — want to walk even a few paces in those instruments of tootsie torture?

Consider that 1.6 kilometres (a mile) is not a taxing distance; according to my Fitbit I tread nine or 10 Ks in an average day.

Yet the Walk a Mile site promised “a variety of foot care items” at a first aid station and suggested wearing band-aids to prevent blisters. Safer to play goalie without a cup, methinks. Or take up foot-binding.

Consequences of wearing heels can include lumbar spine flattening, posterior displacement of the head, spasm-producing spinal nerve conditions, bunions, tendonitis, heel spurs, stress fractures and, for relief, pulsing, constrictive, numbing pain. 

Sounds like giving birth through your arches.

So I think we can safely assume that physical pleasure has nothing to do with strutting heels.

Even women who wear heels daily tend to have a pair of flats in their locker, their desk drawer or their humongous purse to change into with groans of relief audible in the next building. 

Flats are part of the uniform of maids of honour and bridesmaids at weddings, to be donned as soon as the half-day of formal photographs is over.

Now, I would not dream — not nightmare — of telling a woman what to wear on her feet, even though dictating what women do with their bodies seems to be all the rage these days.

I know a few women with a cornucopia of high heels spilling from their closets; these women might chew up a scoffing male and spit out his pathetic bones.

But why wear them? It’s OK to ask, isn’t it.

There might be two reasons, not necessarily unrelated: femininity and power.

Scientists, apparently to satisfy my curiosity, conducted this experiment:

They attached glow-in-the-dark dots on women in both heels and flats, filmed them walking, then showed the images of just those moving dots to both men and women, asking them the gender of the walker.

Every single image identified as male was a woman wearing flats. Both male and female viewers found the walkers wearing heels unmistakably feminine.

High heels exaggerate how women walk, reducing the stride, increasing the rotation and tilt of the hips. As the Walk a Mile web page advises, put your shoulders back, tuck in your stomach, stick out your chest and heel-toe-heel-toe.

Other scientists, bless them, had women drop a glove. A man retrieved it 60% of the time, but that rose to 95% if the woman was wearing heels.

Then they watched women in bars (I guess that makes you a scientist, buddy). Women wearing heels were approached twice as fast as the same women in flats.

As for power, well, heels are the foundation of the power suit for female lawyers, professionals, executives.

They reason it doesn’t hurt to cushion the blow of bossing men around by displaying a feminine walk. And it doesn’t hurt to be four inches taller, because the business and professional worlds tend to give bigger salaries and better jobs to tall people. Scientists have studied that to death as well.

To put a point on it, I’m told spiked heels are the footwear of choice of dominatrixes.

So the answer to why women wear high heels might be “beats me.”

But men, if a woman should dangle a high heel from her stockinged foot and invite you to drink alcohol from it, as was fashionable a century ago and persists in frat houses today, tell her to forget it.

You might choke on a band-aid.

Slithering along the trails

(A version of this little ramble appears in May 11 Sault Star)

My first spring hike on a bush trail was no walk in the park.

Remnants of snowshoe trails might cover a bear trap for all you know

Some stretches still had remnants of once-packed-down snow, because we snowshoe on those trails in winter.

Rather than encounter whatever slippery surprises those drifts might hide, I straddled or skirted them, which made me look like a rickety version of my grandkids playing floor lava.

It’s harder to find the trail in spring, too.

In winter, even after a snowfall, you just follow the indentation made by those who shoed before you and hope they didn’t take a wrong turn over a cliff, like lemmings in long-johns.

But there are wrong turns to be taken when the snow melts. And some of the blazes on our sparsely marked trail have lost their youthful glow.

I missed one turn and had to backtrack when I realized that the maples, birches, oaks, pines and hemlocks through which I trekked were definitely not the correct maples, birches, oaks, pines and hemlocks.

It’s there, right before your eyes. How could you miss it?

I hadn’t noticed a faded yellow tape flapping in the breeze among strands of tattered bark on a paper birch that were also flapping in the breeze. How could I have been so blind.

Then there was the snake that I almost stepped on.

It was a garter, about two feet long. Possibly having just emerged from its hibernacula, it was as lazy as most of us are first thing in the morning.

That snake might have been randy as well, since in spring male garters hit the ground sniffing, looking for a slithery young thing to court and spark.

Even if I knew what signs of carnality to look for, I wouldn’t have gotten close enough to find out, because I’m considerably less than fond of snakes.

In my youth, while canoe-tripping through massasauga rattler country, I stepped barefoot onto a fairly large snake. (We had been swimming; even as a goofy teen I didn’t canoe-trip barefoot.)

Harmless, right? Tell that to Eve

Thankfully, it was not a massasauga and did no rattling. Parts of my anatomy rattled quite loudly, however.

This time I was booted, but the thought of treading on this garter had me imagining it slithering up my body and going straight for the adam’s apple. Even a serpent might talk itself into tasting some forbidden fruit.

I did what anyone would do: I poked it with a stick.

Don’t have a hissy fit, reptile-lovers. I didn’t club it to death. On the contrary, I was curious if someone or something or the Grim Reaper had beaten me to it.

The poked snake sidled lethargically, perhaps unwilling to expend much energy on anything less than a female snake. So I gave it a wide berth.

Speaking of birth, throughout history snakes have been symbols of fertility.

Fertility is about the last thing a man of my age would hope for, having discovered that grandchildren require far less maintenance than children. Old people call that diminished responsibility.

But snakes are also considered symbols of creative rebirth and transformation.

Some cultures believe snakes appear in your life if you are entering a highly creative phase and need to make improvements.

Good news for a scribbler such as myself, you say?

Sure, a personal creative renaissance sounds appealing. Some of you might think it’s long overdue.

But that sort of reboot would require me to get off my asp and put in a lot of time. Time I’d rather spend in my hiking boots.

So hiss off, snake.

F-stopping by the woods

It was a beautiful day for a snowshoe trek, sunny and in the minus single digits, so I had thoughts of busting trail through the bush.

But I neglected to bring either my energy or my knee brace from home and it’s supposed to snow 15-20 cm tomorrow anyway. So I decided to put my ambitions on ice and take a snowshoe saunter instead.

Because I didn’t forget to bring my little point-and-shoot, I thought I’d put together a little instructional photo-essay on How to Find Your Way Along a Snowshoe Trail in the bush. (By the way, if you were to lose your way on the trails my neighbours and I have made, you could wander about 100 km in an easterly direction without running into a house or road, so it’s generally recommended that you don’t lose your way.)

Back in the bush, the snow from a couple of days ago was still sticking to the trees as if it had been painted there by one of the eight members of Canada’s Group of Seven. To show you, I took this picture:

Then I gave it back, because this Lawren Harris image cost somebody about $1.5 million.

Actually, I took this picture, which is almost as good, though my brushstrokes are a little clumsy:

This brings me to my first tip for finding your way along a snowshoe trail in the bush: Don’t spend all your time looking up at the treetops. If you do, you’ll almost certainly walk straight into a tree trunk.

No, you should look around you in all directions, because there are delightful sights to be seen. And if one of those directions is frontward, you might actually see some of the signs that show you which way to go.

The first of your low-tech GPS trail-finders is the blaze, or as veteran hikers refer to it, fluorescent flagging tape. You can see it in this picture if you really look hard or if you’re clever enough to realize that there isn’t a lot of fluorescent red/orange in nature at this time of year:

In the old days, woodsmen and woodswomen marked trails by cutting triangular shapes into the tree, using an axe. But as the trees grew the blazes moved farther and farther up in the air. Before too long people had to crane their necks to see the blazes. There were many accidents with people walking into tree trunks. So they invented tape.

But trail-marker lore has it that if you wrap tape around a tree one year, that tree will be lying on the ground the next year. So you should look for another signpost, a tree that has had all of the branches on one side lopped off in a uniform manner. Like this one:

This lopping is done by beavers, as a public service toward their human friends. They also do it because beavers believe that the faster they can get humans out of the forest the better it will be for the environment.

If you can’t find one of those trail markers and fear you are lost, one good strategy is to follow animal tracks. A fox is a good choice, because sooner or later he or she is going to lead you to your birdfeeder. Here are some fox tracks:

As you can see, following fox tracks through the bush can be tough sledding, particularly since the average fox is not 5’8″ tall and 185 pounds, so can go through some narrow passages and under fallen trees. If you do encounter a fox that’s 5’8″ tall and 185 pounds, you’re toast. And foxes will eat toast.

There’s one other snowshow-trail-strategy you might try, as a last resort. Look for the path that other snowshoers have followed before you. It will be a sort of trough, indented well below the level of the undisturbed snow. Follow it. Don’t lift your snowshoes high enough to step out of it. It’s a longshot, but this might give you a chance at survival.

If you follow the trail I use, eventually you’ll come to this structure:

You might wonder if you’ve stumbled across pre-Columbian architecture way back in the bush. Then you might wonder if the First Peoples invented poly rope, since that’s what’s holding the poles together at the top.

Okay, this tepee might not have historical or architectural or anthropological significance, but it’s a great place to replenish your body’s depleted levels of chocolate, nuts, butterscotch and perhaps beer. That’s vital.

After all, if you neglect your physical wellbeing, all the trail smarts in the world aren’t going to drag your sorry ass back to the comforts of home.